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Sermons

The Rector

St John’s (Animal Blessing in St Mary’s)

25th September, 2022

Luke 16: 19-31

In the name of God, Father , Son & Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel story really isn’t about the here after.

This is about this life and what we do or don’t do with our wealth

Two points are made:

Firstly its about the finality of judgment at the time of death;

and secondly its about the importance of listening now to Gods Word if we want to avoid the rich mans fate.

Mind you , the story never says that the rich man was evil or that the poor man Lazarus was virtuous.

It just tells us of their relative financial state.

Interestingly out of all the parables of Jesus, Lazarus is the only character who is given a real name? and ironically, the rich man has no name.

I wonder was that to forcibly give the poor man dignity that he didn’t have during his life?

The story in the parable is that simply that the haves and have-nots here then become the have-nots and haves there.

Underlining and emphasing the subversive nature of the Kingdom values..

What we treasure here is not what we will treasure there…

We are told that Lazarus is by the side of the Patriarch Abraham , a place of honour.

The popular notion in Jesus’ day was that wealth always meant that God had blessed you

and if you were suffering , then it always meant that you had sinned.

So this parable was revolutionary stuff – yet again Jesus flatly rejects the common assumptions of the day.


The Pharisees who were listening can hardly miss that the parable is aimed directly at them.

They would have regarded their prosperity as God’s reward for their good conduct.

Instead, the parable warns that, if they are like the rich man in life, they will be like him in death.

It portrays a great reversal that challenges their theology that wealth is a sign of God’s favour and poverty a sign of God’s displeasure.

The danger that faces us all the time is that we always seem to try to find our identity in our possessions.

We look for false security in our possessions.

We become blinded to the needs of others.

Here today is a perfect example of a sin of omission:

the wealthy man had the resources to help his neighbour and yet did nothing

The rich man’s wealth has so distorted his vision that he was actually unable to perceive the plight of the beggar at his gate,

He couldn’t identify with his predicament, he did nothing to ease his suffering, not even when he saw his own dogs licking the beggar’s sores…..

Dogs in the Biblical and rabbinic traditions are almost as unclean as pigs.

Both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures are clear witnesses to this.

Isaiah tells us that dogs are kept as guard dogs (Isaiah 56:10), but never as pets.

Only those who feed them dare approach them.

A rich man would have need of such dogs because they are his “home security system.”

The story assumes that the guard dogs are fed the scraps Lazarus longs to eat.

So Lazarus goes hungry but the dogs are fed.

Are things so different now?

The theologian Philip Yancey points out that for the first few centuries after Christ, his followers literally took his command to receive strangers, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned,

It lasted until the triumph of the Emperor Constantine, who then legalized the faith and established an official church, an imperial church. 

From then on, the church tended to spiritualize poverty and leave welfare to the emperor and to the state authorities and over time, the church itself became part of the establishment, more concerned about wealth than faith….which sounds familiar.

Like the story, we need to think about our attitude to those in need around us.

I think I told you before about a play on BBC TV about 20 years ago, I was still living in Holland so it must have been before 1996

It was fictional but it was about refugees from Africa trying to get into ‘Fortress Europe’

One of the characters in the play, an African man who was trying desperately to come into the UK said

‘Let us come to your country

We will be like your cats or your dogs

We will lie in front of your fires and be fed with the tidbits you feed your animals.’

I found that very disturbing then

And I find it very much more disturbing now.

As I worked on this sermon on Friday, I had just heard on the news about yet another boatload of people drowning… this time 73 people, including many children, drown when the boat they had boarded in Tripoli, a port in Lebanon sank off the coast of Syria…

It’s a disturbing thought that we might feel more for our domestic animals than we do for the poor and needy around us?

I of all people am not saying that our love should be limited…. we are having our Animal Blessing in Carrigaline in a hour, and you all know by now how much I love my dogs Nelson & Daisy

but have we become immune to the immense human suffering?

Are we so blind to the needs of others that we can’t even see their needs? Like the rich man in the parable…

Like the Pharisees of the 1st Century , today’s story should disturb us into looking around us and making us think about what we can do, in our own small way, to help others.

This is why Jesus told this parable then and this is why we still need to hear it today.  Amen.

25th September, 2022

St Mary’s Church

Animal Blessing Service

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I hope you can all hear me?

You can give a child a dirty look if they are being noisy in church but I’m afraid our little animal friends are immune to all that.

Anyway, what I want to say to you today is short and sweet.

our animals are not going to be impressed by my words so I’ll keep it short.

All these animals gathered here today mean so much to us.

They bring such joy into our lives.

We are thankful to our animal friends & helpers –

not only to the official helpers like seeing-eye dogs or sheepdogs or rescue service dogs

… but also to the cat purring in our lap, the dog curled up at our feet, the sparrows chirping away on the hedge outside our kitchen window…. the glorious flash of red on the head of the Goldfinch, or if we are really lucky – as I am in the Rectory garden, the swish of the bats in the dusk….

And then we have the exotic animals that we only see in Zoos or perhaps on the telly.

I was in Fota a couple of weeks ago and three monkeys had escaped and were wandering around entertaining us all… they had gotten into one of the wardens buggies and one of them was sitting behind the steering wheel!  It was hilarious!

But exotic or domestic, each one of them sends us a message of joy.

And animals also teach us gratefulness, the art of being in the moment.

The moment when you stop still to look at the Robin, who was come to join you in the garden… they are looking for a scrap of food, but we like to think they have come just to say hello!

Animals can teach us to be fully present in the moment.

Through their unconditional acceptance of each moment, they draw us into it.

We sometimes forget that it is All of Creation that longs for the Father.

When we read in John’s Gospel that

‘God so loved the world’ we are inclined to think of just us

We are the world

But it is much bigger than that!

The Greek word that is used by John is the word COSMOS

Meaning the universe, the entirety that is us, surrounds us

We are all part of that creation.

Finally I would like to remember all the pets that couldn’t come today, 

I know some of them were too sick or old to come,

And I’ve even had someone tell me that one of their dogs was too bold to come!

One of my dogs Nelson, or Nellie as he is known as, was that bold dog 5 years ago when he came to us from the Rescue and he didn’t come to his first Blessing Service but look at how good he is now!..

But anyway whether old or bold – the important thing to remember is that our animals love us unconditionally

And because of this love,

We get a glimpse of the way God has told us that he loves us….without conditions….. just as we are.

Every single breathing living creature in this church today is part of God’s wonderful creation.

As the words of the lovely hymn we just sang said

All things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made us all.

Or as our second hymn reminds us..

All created things, bless the Lord!

But it is truly lovely today to be part of this blessing of our little friends after a gap of 2 long years!

and as always I would like to thank the Church Wardens of St. Marys for welcoming all of us ,

whether we have skin or fur or feather or scales!

And we should remember to thank them by making sure that when we are leaving the church, we are not leaving any bits and bobs behind!

I’m sure that if everyone will tidy up after their own animal, and then there won’t be too much of a burden on the churchwardens.

Finally I would like to thank you all for being such good sports and bringing along your pets.

During the blessing a little later we will be asking God to help us to look after our little friends.

But first we are going to say some prayers about animals…

The Rector

St John’s (Baptism in St Mary’s)

18th September, 2022

Trinity 14, Year C

Luke 16:1-13

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today’s gospel tells us that

‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much’

Jesus again uses a story, a parable, to teach his listeners about the Kingdom of God.

Personally I always find this parable a bit confusing.

Jesus seems to be commending a person who had been dishonest with wealth, but then acted shrewdly to protect his future.

One thing to keep in mind when we are reading this particular parable is that the ‘Rich man’ or ‘master’ is not supposed to be God but just a human master.

Often in Jesus’ parables, it is the case that , say the vineyard owner, represents God, but that is not the case in today’s reading.

The story goes that a manager of a rich man’s property had been squandering the property; Therefore, the rich man fired him.

Before the rich man could inform his debtors about the change in management, the manager approached the debtors and reduced what they owed the rich man.

The manager does this to garner their favour, so that when he is out of work, they might look kindly on him.

You would think Jesus would’ve condemn the dishonesty of the manager and the clever plot to further swindle the rich man in order to secure the manager’s future.

At the very least, we might think Jesus would’ve condemned the deep desire for wealth and security that the manager displays.

But Jesus doesn’t.

Instead, the story lauds the manager for his cleverness, with an additional compliment to “children of this age” (that means those who are not followers of Jesus), for their shrewdness.

It’s no wonder It’s confusing.

It might help to think about the society the parable is set in.

In ancient Palestine, there was a complex social, economic relationship among landowners, stewards, peasants, and merchants.

The wealthy landowners sought to get as much profit as possible from their holdings and tenants.

The steward was the middleman between the landholder and the merchants and tenants in the exchange of goods and services such as buying and selling grain, oil, and crops and collecting rents.

If the steward was able to get an additional take for himself in these transactions, the master didn’t mind; in fact he expected it.

As long as the master’s profits kept rolling in and the steward did not get too conspicuous in his consumption, the master was fine with the steward’s benefiting from each deal.

As for the merchants and tenants, they were in a relatively powerless position, unable to directly confront the master. Their target, when they were disgruntled or felt put upon, was the steward, the master’s retainer.

In this parable, strange as it is, maybe Jesus is trying to teach us something about the nature of relationships and money, in particular  our relationships with money.

Perhaps the manager is praised in the story because he put relationships ahead of money.

His motivation was less than pure, but in the end, he valued his ability to “be invited into people’s homes” over his ability to please the owner.

And obviously the Master’s debtors were delighted with the reduction in their debts.

Basically I think what Jesus was saying to us in this parable was that while our life here on earth leaves a lot to be desired , we still are called to make the best of it.

‘If you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches’?

In other words, do your very best now, in this moment, so that you will totally appreciate what is to come.

We all know that what we have now is not perfect.

We see chaos in many parts of the world, we watch unbelievably cruel things happening all around us. Many injustices and many bad people going unpunished.

And yet, this is our World.

This is where we are the Body of Christ.

This is where we have to live and work and help and love each other

Not in some future utopia but here and now.

Here among the chaos.

When Jesus says we can’t serve both God and Wealth,

he is telling us that we have to choose who is our Master,

Who (and indeed what) is the driving force in our lives.

I think I told you before about being on a retreat in Glendalough many years ago , when I was in the Theological College, and the person leading the retreat (Bishop Ken Good , a Corkman of course and indeed the cousin of Vonla!) Anyway, the Bishop told us all that we had to examine who was playing the leading role in our Movie, who was the leading actor in our life…. that image always stuck with me.

We need to give a serious thought to whether God is actually just a bit player rather than the star of the Movie of our life.

We can’t live without God, we are made for God and we will always have a deep yearning towards God.

Or what about the words from Jeremiah in our first reading

‘My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick’

All of humanity yearns for God,

in many different ways, in many different styles…..

We all seek the Balm of Gilead….

Today from the second reading,  Paul is asking us to pray for everyone , EVEN kings and all who are in high positions …..

And this will certainly resonate with any anti-monarchy Christians in the UK listening to this reading today!

‘For God desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’

This is the bottom line ….. we were made for God,

we live in this world,

we live for one reason only and all else is just things.

Things are just things…. but we need things to live.

Wealth is both a blessing and a responsibility.

Throughout Scripture, we are held accountable less for what resources we have accumulated than how we use them.

From this point of view, perhaps the shrewdness or prudence of he manager comes through his recognition that he has given priority to amassing wealth rather than to developing relationships.

It may be that he earned his money by charging too much interest on the amounts his lord loaned out to others.

Finding himself between a rock and a hard place, he cuts the amount others owe by his own greed, avoiding further accusation that he is defrauding his master but strengthening, perhaps even establishing, relationships that will sustain him in a time of need.

Wealth – like status, power, and privilege – is fleeting.

One day this manager is on top of the world; the next he is faced with disaster.

We are no different.

Perhaps the current unstable world conditions and looming energy bills and rising cost of living is going to force many of us to again adjust our living standards.

When we think about the sentence that we cannot serve God and Wealth it reminds us  that whereas the Lord’s attention, care, and providence are constant,

Wealth (or Mammon as us older people remember the saying) will always prove to be a fickle and ultimately untrustworthy, master.

Despite all the potential ethical and practical pitfalls and dangers of wealth accumulation,

Jesus is suggesting in this reading today that it is possible to manage possessions and money in ways that can allow us to live a Godly life.

Being shrewd, in this case, means using what we have for God’s purposes, rather than squandering what we have for no gain at all.

We make money to live and not live to make money..

the difference is there, we all know it..

…we are placed on this earth to love and care for each other,

not to separate ourselves from each other with wealth, status, or privilege.

Money is essential but it is not life.

Our hearts belong only to God and that , I feel, is the underlying  message from our confusing Gospel today.

Amen.

The Rector

St John’s / St Mary’s
4th September , 2022
Trinity 15, Year C

Luke 14:25-33
Philemon 1-21

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Gospel today is often thought of as extremely puzzling

Why would Jesus say that we can’t follow him unless we ‘hate’ father & mother?……Why?

But of course, Jesus isn’t exactly saying that.

Jesus is not calling his followers to hate their families in terms of emotional response;
instead, he calls for undivided loyalty to himself above family loyalties.

Because Jesus in his person and message requires those of us who would follow him to answer the ultimate allegiance question, it is not surprising that that might bring about an element of family strife.
On a more frivolous note, in my line of work, I know I get into trouble for not being able to attend family events in Dublin on a given Saturday night…

Jesus often uses hyperbolic language to emphasise his points
and his rather extreme example of us having to hate our own close family is just being used here to underline and to illustrate the danger to becoming so possessed by our possessions that they possess us.

What Jesus is basically saying here is that if we want to be his disciples, we have to lose our attachment to the worldly things that surround us.
In the Gospels, we often hear Jesus using quite ridiculous scenarios to underline the all important ethical points he wanted to make.

Jesus uses these two parables / stories of the Landowner building a Tower and the King assessing the number of his troops to illustrate the necessity of “counting the cost” of discipleship.

Reminding us of the commitment that is required to finish the discipleship journey once we have begun it.

Warning us in advance of what will be asked of us.

Following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition.

The concluding summary makes the that clear:
“none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions”

Jesus warns us that we have to sit down and calculate the cost of being his disciple …. and he is very straight,
we must stop being owned by what we own if we want to be truly his.

And possessions take many forms……
It’s not just things, it’s also attitudes….

Humans can view other humans as their possessions too.

If you think I am exaggerating then just think about the indigenous people around the world who are being used and manipulated by big companies intent on plundering their natural resources.
Globalisation is devastating some of the most vulnerable people in our world….

In the second reading today Paul, writing to Philemon, asks that Philemon be merciful to his escaped slave Onesimus (On Ess Eee Mus) whom Paul was sending back.

Onesimus was a slave who had become a Christian.
Philemon , his owner, was also a Christian.

Whatever happened we don’t know but Onesimus the slave did something against Philemon his master’s wishes.

And then he ran away to Paul.

Paul writes a very nuanced letter to the owner Philemon to try and get him to forgive his Christian slave.

He uses his great diplomatic skills, to totally butter up Philemon.

Notice how he appeals to Philemon’s faith.
‘I hear of your love for all the saints and your faith towards the Lord Jesus’

and how he offers to transfer Onesimus’ debt to himself
‘if he owes you anything, charge that to my account’.

Paul wants Philemon to know that Onesimus has become precious to him, that he has been of service to him personally and introduces the radical idea that perhaps now Philemon might consider Onesimus as a beloved brother rather than a slave.

Paul is trying to help Philemon ….. to help him to shed his understanding of owning Onesimus,

to stop Philemon thinking of Onesimus as a mere possession,
to see him for a fellow human being.

We have to remember that at that time Slavery was common,
it wasn’t understood as the evil we know it to be, this was really radical thinking from Paul….

and yet Paul, having gotten to know Onesimus,
having come to value him as a partner in ministry, really hates having to send him back to his lawful owner but that is what must happen under law or Onesimus will be punished, perhaps even executed.
In viewing the owning of one human by another as wrong,
Paul was, as I said, actually being really radical for his time.

Not only was he asking Philemon, as the owner, to make a huge economic shift, but he was also asking him to fundamentally alter the ways in which he understood his relationship with another human being who was once a slave, but now a mutual member of the body of Christ

Interestingly this book of Philemon was used by both the Abolitionists AND the Pro-Slavery people to justify their stance in the 19th Century.

Those in favour of Slavery at the time used to say that if Paul was returning the Slave to his Master, then he was condoning Slavery.

Whereas the Abolitionists pointed out that Paul was attempting to make Philemon view Onesimus as a fellow human being
and then, if he was a fellow human being, he could not possibly continue owning him.

As William Lloyd Garrison, the abolitionist and joint founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 points out
“No man can love God who enslaves another,”

But the book of Philemon is not of just historical interest to us.

It speaks to us of issues that are current.
And I just don’t mean the big news Slavery cases.

It is real for us in this moment
because it speaks to us of our own attitudes to others,

how do we view others,

how do we treat others,

and most importantly of all, it challenges us to think about how the Good News of Jesus Christ should be changing not just our minds but how we relate to others.

Along with the Gospel reading,
it asks us to examine if we are owned by our possessions
or if we are owned by Christ…..

How we answer this question determines how we will live our lives.

Is it any wonder people who followed Christ and had their viewpoints so radically changed ended up in trouble within the rest of the families and society in general?

Christianity nowadays is so part of society that we tend to forget just how radical and counter cultural and ‘out there’ it once was!

Amen.

St John’s & St Mary’s

28th August, 2022

Trinity 11, Year C

Luke 14:1,7-14

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In the reading from the gospel of Luke today,

Jesus is at a meal to which he had been invited,

and makes the observation that people there who were trying to get the places of honour at the table. 

They were trying to put themselves ahead of the other guests. 

Jesus urged them to put others ahead of themselves by taking the lowest places at the table. 

And he gave them a very practical reason for doing so. 

If they sit down in the best places themselves, their host may have to ask them to give their seat to someone more important than they, thereby disgracing them. 

But…  if they sit in the lowest places themselves, their host may then invite them to a better seat, thereby honoring them. 

Jesus tells them that those who humble themselves will be exalted, while those who exalt themselves shall be humbled. 

Paradoxically, even if one wants honour, one should be humble.

I saw a very funny cartoon on facebook during the week that showed this woman winning first prize for humility at the Olympics but then she had to concede her prize because she attempted to get up on the highest pedestal!

Jesus goes on to mention another way in which we may think too much of ourselves. 

We may invite people to lunch or dinner, not for their benefit, but for ours, for what we hope to receive from them in return.

When what we really should be doing is inviting people to our meals for their benefit, inviting those who cannot give us anything in return.

There really is no end to the wisdom Jesus tells us relating to table etiquette !

In theological terms, this is what’s called ‘Table Fellowship’  and throughout his’ ministry, we see again and again how he never misses a chance to share a meal with others,

And then he rarely misses the chance to use what happens at the table as an occasion to teach.

Whether it’s welcoming a woman who anoints him,

or using the table as a way to talk about the kingdom of God,

or using the ordinary elements of a meal – the bread and the wine – to describe who he himself is:

the table, for Jesus, is always about right relationship,

about how we are to live in community and communion with one another.

And as I said, Table fellowship is the theological term we use to describe Jesus’ way of bringing people together and providing teaching while breaking bread together.

At the table that Luke tells us about today,

Jesus turns his attention not only to the kind of hosts we are to be—inviting those who owe us nothing—but also to the kind of guests we ought to be.

When we receive an invitation to share in the table of another,

Jesus says we should come with no expectations, no plan to have a seat of honour—from which, Jesus says, we might be ejected.

When approaching the table, Jesus says, our stance, should be one of humility, because that leaves room for surprise and for grace.

When it comes to humility, and finding out for ourselves how we are called to embody this sometimes perplexing quality as the people of Christ,

we can turn back to the desert mothers and fathers, or indeed our own early celtic saints,

because these people of the early church seemed embody this humility so well.

Of all the practices and habits that these early Christians engaged in, humility was the one that surpassed all others, and upon which all other practices depended.

These early saints understood humility in a different way than we tend to in the 21st century where we sometimes equate humility with being a doormat,

Roberta Bondi points out in her book ‘

To Love as God Loves: Conversations with the Early Church’  that

humility did not mean for them a continuous cringing, cultivating a low self-image, and taking a perverse pleasure in being always forgotten, unnoticed, or taken for granted.

Instead, humility meant to them a way of seeing other people as being as valuable in God’s eyes as ourselves.

It was for them a relational term having to do precisely with learning to value others, whoever they were.

It had to do with developing the kind of empathy with the weaknesses of others that made it impossible to judge others out of our own self-righteousness.”

humility remains the main foundational virtue upon which the whole spiritual quest is built.

It is really not in the heroic acts and death-defying stunts where love is nurtured but in the day-to-day small acts of service, hospitality and kindness.

I think here of Brother Kevin, now come back to his native Cork to retire.

He epitomises humility… It is never about him but about serving others… in his case all of the millions of dinners served up by the Capuchins each year to the needy.

At the root of our English word humility is the Greek word humus which means Earth.

The earth that God made and called good, the earth from which, as one of the creation stories goes, God fashioned us.

Humility is our basic recognition that we each draw our life and breath from the same source,

the God who made us and calls us beloved.

Humility not only prevents us from seeing ourselves as more deserving or graced or better than another.

It also makes us recognize that WE are no less deserving or graced than another.

But its not easy….

As that old Country & Western song goes

‘Oh Lord, its so hard to be humble, when you’re perfect in every way’!

And Benjamin Franklin once said that “If I ever achieved humility no doubt I would become proud of it.”

but its worth cultivating anyway……Humility draws us into mutual relation in which we allow no abuse, no demeaning, no diminishment of others

….but also not of ourselves!

And when we get things wrong – as we all do sometimes –  humility allows us to forgive ourselves, because it doesn’t demand that we be perfection itself.

Humility invites us to stay grounded so that we can find the treasures there. As the gospel always reminds us, where our hearts are, there our treasures are too.

Its a balancing act though… humility….We don’t lie so low on the ground that we become a doormat, and put up with whatever treatment others may dole out to us

but instead, humility helps us remain grounded in the best sense of the word: centered in the humus from which we have been created,

the ordinary but sacred earth from which God made each one of us.

Humility enables us to recognize our dependence on the One who fashioned us as well as our relationship with all others who share this earth, this humus.

In practicing humility, we leave room for the surprising ways that God works—beyond expectation, beyond privilege, beyond status—at the table and in every place beyond it.

It allows us to ask how might God be challenging us not only to offer hospitality but also to receive it in ways that bring wholeness to ourselves?

As Christians, we should see our value as a gift; not an achievement

but its a gift to be shared with others!

We remember that its not because we have value we are loved, but because we are loved, we have value.

As the American psychologist Carl Rogers said ‘I am not perfect but I am enough!’

So glorify in who you are –

and reach out with your gifts to grace and enhance the lives of others – in whatever way you can……..Amen.

St Mary’s only (Baptism in St John’s)

28th July 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s gospel, we hear the words of Jesus as related by St. Luke, which on the surface seems to say that we shouldn’t worry about things like planning for the future or storing away for a lean time.

But how can this be?

Surely if we don’t plan ahead we are doomed to starve?

Of course we need to plan ahead

and Jesus was not telling us to just throw the towel in and run around without a care in the world,

he didn’t say just live in a shiftless and reckless way.

What he is telling us is that there is no point in building up and building up and building up.

The underlying message is that there is more to life than things.

The Romans had a proverb which said that money was like sea water, the more a person drank, the thirstier they became.

So many of us give all our effort into accumulating things

Things which by their very nature can’t last.

During the last couple of years, between Covid and Wild Fires and Draught and now the devastation in Ukraine, the message of today’s gospel hits us very forcibly

Watching people dealing with their homes being totally leveled to the ground by missiles, walking across bits of masonry that was motorways….Well it really hits home…

We watch all of those beautiful houses, ruined by the force of evil.

All those possessions , the couches, the lovely wallpaper still visiblt…..all of which no doubt had proud owners at one time,

People had worked hard to buy these things

People had shopped for just the right shade to suit the room,

People had worked hard to keep &  maintain them.

But when it came to the crunch, they were only things…

the vast majority of people were only interested in preserving their own lives and helping to save the lives of their neighbours.

In the end, treasured possessions were just things

This is a painful , tough way to learn a lesson in priorities

and I pray that none of us will ever have to learn in such a way.

In our gospel today , Jesus is reminding us of priorities

Reminding us that if we fix our minds on the treasures of earth only –  our hearts and souls will be anchored to that level too,

He reminds us of what exactly what the really important things in life are …..  What really matters in the long run.

I know that I have quoted this Spanish proverb before,

but it puts it so well

‘There are NO pockets in a shroud’

Or remember what Job said

He said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’

Words of wisdom that we use at all our Funeral Services to remind us of what is important…..

For when we distinguish between our needs and our wants, we will be surprised to realise how little is enough.

People facing into health problems always say that ….

I have said that myself in this last year ….

But we forget…. Its just a shame that we can’t keep this uppermost in our minds when we are healthy.

There is a theory in psychology called Maslow’s hierarchy of needs which was proposed by a man called Abraham Maslow way back in 1943.

It is still being taught in schools today.

It proposes a hierarchy of needs that motivate us, with the most basic needs being at the bottom of the pyramid.

For instance, if you have enough air to breathe, and you haven’t eaten, then you will feed the need for food,

but take away your air and lo and behold, food suddenly doesn’t seem that important anymore….. for now!

That’s what comes to mind when I watch the News

When I see people, especially the children,

caught up in yet more carnage..

Their priorities at those moments are certainly different than mine as I sit on my comfortable couch, in my dry warm house.

All these earthly things are there just to provide for our immediate needs

but of themselves they can never satisfy the human heart.

Only God can give us the kind of happiness our hearts long for.

A certain amount of money and material possessions are necessary for survival , nobody can argue with that.

I certainly appreciate my couch and my dry warm room especially as I watch disasters unfold in other less fortunate countries.

but today Jesus is speaking not about need

he is speaking about greed.

The piling up of possessions, the constant urge to buy more and more and even more….

They say Greed is like a fire, the more wood you pile on,

the hungrier the fire gets.

In his letters to the early Christian communities,

St. Paul warns against greed, calling it Idolatry, pointing out that it was the worship of a false God.

In our epistle today he speaks of setting our mind on things that are above, not things that are on earth.

In our human vulnerability,

we tend to seek security by stockpiling possessions,

yet somehow,   deep in our hearts

we KNOW that security can’t be found in possessions

but only in God.

Like the rich man in the parable this morning,

we try and seek self worth in our possessions ,

And unfortunately in our western society,

This is quite the normal thing.

it often seems that what we possess is what defines us.

In our world, people’s worth is judged on what they have.

Yet we all know that our possessions don’t define us

and that our possessions will never give us inner strength.

What Jesus is telling us is that the only riches worth seeking are the riches of the heart,

the values of his Kingdom,

where the false values of this world are turned on their heads,

where the servant is the true leader.

We have to think about our own lives…. What are our values?

We know that our style of living, our accumulation of things, our demand for more and more is causing climate mayhem.

The motto of the Environmentalists is Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

And yet we keep buying,

keep piling possessions on possessions!

Our reading today pulls us up short.

Luke is not holding back.

He reminds us of what really is important

He reminds us that the treasures of this world are transient,

That when we build up so much stuff that we have to build some more barns just to hold it,

(We mightn’t be building new Barns but we are probably buying more Wardrobes, more bookshelves?)

God will say ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you . And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

So this morning, we look to the wisdom of Jesus to help us to seek out and value the right things of our lives.

We look to him to help us guard against the part of us

that is always wanting more.

We ask him to constantly remind us to seek the really important things in life,

The things which aren’t things at all!

And we ask for his help to appreciate the priceless things in our lives,

The love of friends and family,

and the love of our Father in Heaven. 

Amen.

Sermon 24th July 2022

The Revd Richard Dring

The Gospel reading while very familiar provides us with a lot of material to consider and think about. I commend you to look further into the reading today during the week ahead.

The passage contains an abridged version of the Lord ’s Prayer. A prayer to so many of us with is very familiar as we have probably recited this prayer regularly throughout our lives. It is probably the one prayer we can all remember and repeat without looking at the words. Our subconscious mind knows the words well. That does not mean we will be able to recite the prayer perfectly on all occasions. This is probably why it is reproduced inside the back cover of our prayer book, so we can turn to the words quickly.

All rabbis in the time of Christ will have encouraged their followers to pray regularly and will have helped them with a familiar set of words. Jesus is no different as we learn here the Disciples wanted help praying. We are all like this; we probably feel we need a “perfect” set of words to pray to our Father (God). I believe God knows our every concern and does not need a perfect set of words from us in our prayers; he accepts and knows us just as we are.

In Jewish culture God is seen as their Father, and asking for bread is a perfectly natural request. We have to only think back to the Exodus and all that happened as Moses under God’s direction led the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. On this journey God provided sustenance, daily bread to the Israelites so the prayer is reminding us of those events where God cares for us and provides for us. This had developed into a key aspect of daily life in the Eastern culture at the time of Jesus; hospitality was a must in people’s daily life. This is why Jesus tells a parable to help us understand the significance of God our Father. A request for hospitality was made at midnight. Initially there was a reluctance to meet this need, however eventually as the whole house was probably woken up by the persistent knocking and the request was granted.

In Palestine these were typical small houses where all the family slept together and if one member gets up then they will all likely be disturbed. In this case persistence paid off. We need to take this message into our daily prayer in that we must be persistent in prayer and God will answer. We however may not know at the time of our prayer how God has answered as it is not always apparent and only later will we possibly discern how our prayer was answered.

Another aspect of our daily prayer is forgiveness, and here we have to read the sentence as a whole and remember that it is only broken up for ease of reading the prayer, the sentence reads:

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.

The full sentence shows us that for us to be forgiven we have to forgive others, quite a challenge and maybe not always as easy as we think. The teaching of Jesus does however reassure us in verses 9&10 that God is listening and will grant our petitions. Jesus illustrates this by reinforcing the message by asking what Father would give a child a snake if they ask for a fish. This is a very powerful message and shows us how caring our Father is. Jesus earlier told us to address God as Father in our prayers and that he will respond as a loving Father would.

Tom Wright in his commentary on this section of Luke’s Gospel discusses the need for both structured and unstructured prayer. He compares formal and well known prayers, as the body of a car and the bits we add in our prayer life, as the fuel for the engine and are what makes prayer effective. He also makes the point that we are not able to pray for everything and this is the reason why we should be disciplined and regular in prayer as we develop our prayer life.

This is where we need to reflect on what we do so that we do not let the many issues facing us and our world today overwhelm us. As is so often said

“We can only do what we can do”

and it is important we see this as a benefit and do not let the ills of the world overwhelm us and move us to a place where we feel so helpless we do nothing. Through prayer we can share our burden with God our Father and help us not feel so overwhelmed.

There is also a saying possibly over used as well where

“A problem shared is a problem solved”

So we need to share our burdens and let God take these from us.

Plenty to consider and meditate on in the week ahead

Sermon 17th July 2022

The Rector

St John’s only (Baptism in St Mary’s)   

In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

In today’s Gospel, my sympathies usually lie with poor Martha.

She was only feeling what we all feel sometimes….taken for granted.

Doing all the work, while Mary sat and soaked up their esteemed visitor’s wisdom.

She too probably wanted to sit down and listen but she just couldn’t

She just didn’t have the time.

After all, someone had to get the food ready.

It wasn’t going to just get itself ready

And there are things that you must do for a guest in your home.

Whether or not you’d rather be chatting to the guest.

But this particular guest – Jesus, a most esteemed guest,  wasn’t trying to be dismissive of the practical work that had to be done.

The point Jesus was making was all about priorities.

About trying to get the balance right.

Getting that all important balance between the thinking and the doing.

When we think about it,

We probably all need to pay more attention to the Mary side of ourselves…

The reflective side

The prayerful side

The side that gets forgotten about in the busyness of our lives.

Be still and know that I am God….

We need to take time out to listen to God.

He wants each of us to lean on HIM

To live off HIS strength,

Be sustained by HIS help

We can’t do this if we are constantly flying around, busy with all the endless details of our lives.

We have to make time to just ‘be still and know that he is God’

And that is what Jesus was trying to get across to Martha.

It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate all that she was doing by way of service.

He , above all, knew how to be a servant.

But there are two sides to all of us

The Active side and the Contemplative side

Action and Contemplation are not meant to be contrasted, both are necessary,

and both have to integrated into our lives.

But we do tend to let the active side take over.

Forgetting that what seems to be urgent just at this minute is not necessarily what we should be doing.

At this particular minute!

And on THIS particular day, it was Mary who got her priorities right

– she dropped everything and listened to the words of Jesus.

But as I said it is easier perhaps to identify more with Martha,

we all have so many things to do – with so little time to do it.

Every week I make out a list of things to do.

The list is always longer than I can possibly get through but yet every week I do it!

I still haven’t learned and over the years I have attended several Time Management courses!

We are all ,

more than ever,

glued to this endless list of things to do.

Jesus was gently helping Martha to know that there are more important things in life than the obvious things…

More important than the things we write at the top of our list.

We need to remember his words

‘Come onto me , all who labour and are overburdened…’

We all have to try to be less of a Martha and more of a Mary.

But its more difficult than it sounds

as those of us who have tried to slow down and listen know all too well

We tend to be dragged along with our own busyness

That’s why holidays are so important to our mental well being …. And I’m not just saying that because I’ll be on holidays in a couple of weeks…

Yes, we are busy busy busy but with the HELP of God ….. even in the most hectic of times, we can make TIME for God

Time to just be still and know….

Amen.  

Sunday 3rd July 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The disciples were sent out ahead of Jesus

Two by two

Not in intimidating gangs

Not to bludgeon the Good News to the unwilling populance

But in pairs to quietly witness to the coming Kingdom.

Seventy was of course a very symbolic number to the community of that time.

When Moses found he could not cope alone and needed helpers, seventy members were chosen for the 12 tribes of Israel (numbers 11:16-25)

Seventy was a quantity complete in itself,

It was considered the symbolic number of ‘nations in the world’

In other words, everyone.

and Luke, in his gospel today , is thinking of outreach of Christ and of the day when every nation and person would be given the chance to know and love the Lord and be ready for his coming to each one of us.

Jesus is aware that there are many souls to save

‘The harvest is plentiful’ but sadly the harvest could be lost for lack of labourers who are willing to say ‘Here I am Lord, send me’

Back then, Jesus didn’t work alone

He chose 12 Disciples

Then as his ministry grew, he appointed another 70 to be sent out to prepare for his coming to other places that he intended to visit

Jesus gave clear instructions to these Seventy

and those instructions could be applied to us now too.

First of all was the instruction to GO….

Sounds basic but obviously that is the important bit!

 ……because so much of mission fails because we do not get going, we never start,

We never move out of our comfort zones

Jesus asks us to travel light.

Again because so often we don’t get started because our lives is full of clutter.

We are too often possessed by our possessions.

It is almost a cliché to say that  ‘Possessions don’t necessarily make you happy’.

And yet, increasingly in our society it seems that we are being saturated by possessions,

All of our spare time spent in the pursuit of that perfect outfit, or couch, or whatever

Just go to any shopping centres like Mahon or Wilton or wherever, sit with a coffee and watch the faces of the harrassed people going past…..

Andrew Tobias, a famous American Financial author, who put it this way.

‘Go down any day to the waterfront, and you will find a crowd of unhappy people. 

Someone will be having trouble getting the motor on their yacht to crank.

Someone else will be scraping barnacles,

another will be repainting.

Things just don’t make you happy,

Property brings problems.

It’s like an alligator that takes a bite out of your pocket everytime you turn around,

Don’t be burdened down by too many material things.

As you go through life, one of the secrets of success is to travel light.’

Good advice even if we don’t meet too many alligators around these parts…

but there is still a lot of truth in that quote.

We can get so bound up in what we own that we forget who we are, what we are really about.

Another quote I once read was about someone who declared that their aim in life was to get to Heaven and to take as many people with them as they could

Not a bad personal Mission statement!

I just hope the person didn’t reserve all their energies on the afterlife…

I used to love Christian Aid’s strapline a few years back which said

‘We believe in Life Before Death’

But back to the instructions from our Gospel,

He reminds them that Jesus sends someone on a mission, their success or failures do not depend on themselves or on what they bring with them.

It only depends on Jesus

I am certain of this ……..listen to what Jesus said

‘Whoever listens to you listens to me

And whoever rejects you rejects me

And whoever rejects you rejects the one who sent me’

Just as Jesus sent out the disciples that day,

He also sends out each one of us to be his disciples.

If we don’t tell others about Jesus…..who will!

I know that this is more or less what my fulltime job is……

Telling people about Jesus…

Although it sometimes doesn’t feel like that,

especially when I’m wading through some of the administration!!

But its not only my job ….

It’s everyone else’s job too!

I’m just lucky enough to be ‘fulltime’ you might say!

Today the words of this service, indeed the words of every Eucharist service,   ends with the sentence.

‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’

We say it so often , we don’t actually think about WHAT we are saying.

We are being asked to go, to leave the service, to leave the building in which we have worshipped…. And to do so ‘in peace’… with ourselves, with one another.

And most importantly , we are asked to then SERVE the Lord.

We ALL are being asked to  share the Good News that God’s Kingdom is near.

We are asked to bring the wholeness and healing of God to others.

We are asked to bring his peace and well-being to the sick in body , mind and spirit.

We are asked to let others know that the kingdom of God is very close to them,

That their God is not a God who is far away but is a God who is close to each one of them and loves each one of them.

This is the outreach of Christ through the Church , in other words, the outreach of Christ through us.

We are all asked to share with others what we have received from him.

But thankfully the results do not depend just on us.

We shouldn’t feel discouraged when our words fall on deaf ears

And equally, we shouldn’t think ourselves super special if people do hear about God from us

Because we have to always bear in mind, that in the end,

its all down to Jesus

We are just asked to go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

And we can safely leave the rest to him.

Amen.

Sunday 19th June 2022 – Beginning of Refugee Week

The Rector

the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit

As most of you were aware, Sr Jo McCarthy, a founder of the Cork Migrant Centre, was due to speak to us this morning.

Unfortunately she and her fellow sisters are in the middle of a Covid outbreak and she can’t be with us…. We will keep Sr Jo and all in her convent in our prayers.

As I only heard late yesterday afternoon I had no time to organise another speaker… so you’ve got me again!

It’s not that I couldn’t talk for hours about the terrible Refugee situation and tie what should be our response back into our scriptures but it was just that I was really looking forward to sitting and listening for a change!

After all, I KNOW what I am going to say!

It’s always so refreshing to listen to others……

As most of you know, our parish signed up to begin the process of becoming a  Church of Sanctuary last June. 

I thought you might like to hear more how this came about….

I first heard of the Churches of Sanctuary movement in late 2020 when I attended an online event , organized by the Revd Abigail Sines , the dean’s vicar in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin and a leader in the Churches of Sanctuary movement in Ireland.. funny but in a way Covid opened up new avenues as I found I was attending these online events in many areas that interested me… .

But anyway this event itself was about planning ahead for World Refugee Week and Sanctuary Sunday. The speakers and the subject matter had an immense effect on me at the time and so I registered my interest. Around this time, I had also spoken with Damian Jackson , now the chair of the Irish Council of Churches, and he encouraged me to get involved.

A couple of months later, in February 2021, I had an email from Br Kevin Mascarenhas, MASS CAR EEN HASS, a Presentation Brother based here in Cork who, like Abigail, is heavily involved in the Churches of Sanctuary initiatives, Kevin formally invited our parish to think about becoming a church of sanctuary.

Based on all that I had heard, I felt that this was something very much in keeping with our understanding of what it was to witness to Christ in our world.

We were already a Fair Trade parish (2012)

an Eco Congregation (2014) and an Open & Welcoming Parish to LGBTI+ people (2017)

so I knew I was pushing an open door by suggesting to the Select Vestry that we now explore the steps to becoming a Church of Sanctuary.

Following discussions, the Select Vestry voted unanimously to formally sign up to become a Church of Sanctuary, and at our Select Vestry meeting in June 2021 we signed the Churches of Sanctuary Statement of Commitment and began our journey.

During this last year we have tried to learn more about issues to do with sanctuary, from the theological understanding to actually listening to those who have been through the process of relocating to a new land.

If you remember, we had Fiona Finn, the then CEO of NASC Migrant Rights , speak to us on Sanctuary Sunday this time last year and I had been so looking forward to what Sr Jo would tell us this morning about her work on the ground.

During the past year, we have been involved in various initiatives to do with Refugees and Migrant rights… so painfully highlighted in recent months by our Ukrainian sisters and brother.

Myself and Fr Pat from Our Lady & St John’s Parish had already set up an ecumenical project team to look into the  Community Sponsorship Scheme back in 2019  and this of course had involved several people from both of our parishes in the plight of refugees as we went through the difficult and long process to fundraise and to help a family relocate in our area….and of course Covid-19 didn’t help!

The Alrahal family of five are here a year now and have settled in really well. While it is important that we respect their privacy, I’m absolutely delighted that they agreed to be part of the Photographic Exhibition across in our Parish Hall.  Apart from a couple of photos taken by Pamela Newenham in Syria, all the photos were taken by members of the Alrahal family and show their journey from Syria , through Lebanon to finally settle down the road in Ringaskiddy.

We had long been involved in refugee appeals, you might remember that we collected and organized for unused sewing machines to be distributed in the nearest Direct Provision Centre in Cork. 

We have also helped with seasonal needs like Back to School, Christmas and Easter.

In recent months, we have been involved in collecting items for the Red Cross for distribution to incoming Ukrainian Refugees and I have another load in my boot ready to be delivered to them.

Also along with Douglas and Templebreedy parishes, we helped to clean and kit out a house for an extended family from Ukraine, who have also settled in very well.

And I know some of you are heavily involved in getting the Kingston College houses ready to welcome Ukrainian families.

Last year I, along with some of you,  attended the excellent online event called “What’s the Story? Lives in Direct Provision” which was part of Christ Church’s Refugee Week 2021 programme, when we listened to five powerful and personal stories, told through poetry, images and spoken reflection from individuals who were currently in, or had been through the international protection process in Ireland.

The Sanctuary Network has also organized two trauma-informed pastoral care seminars in April 21 and May 22 which were a wonderful example of what the Sanctuary Network can provide to small groups around the country.

I advertised these on social media and a few of you managed to attend.

The Network also shared useful resources with all of us ,

for example the excellent  ‘God With Us’   which had worship resources on the theme of refugees, migration and sanctuary.   In that resource, there are short scriptural reflections, suggested points for discussion, prayers and other suggestions. It has been prepared by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, in partnership with several other churches and organisations.

As a busy working Rector , I found these particularly useful, you might remember , in the Pewsheet,  I was able to tie in the story of Ruth with the larger story of current immigration attitudes , especially combatting the idea that it is all one way… that refugees cannot add to the community in so many diverse ways…..

The network also organizes really useful gatherings of ‘Sanctuary in Faith’ colleagues. This small group setting gives each place an opportunity to share where it’s at in the ‘learn-embed-share’ process, to ask questions, swap ideas, or especially important, to enable those located near one another to organise to meet in person or to collaborate on upcoming activities. Rowland Newenham and Hilary Dring, who are actively involved in the Church of Sanctuary initiative, joined me for the last session.

Also during the last year, we have tried to use our parish social media profiles to promote various activities and be a voice for the voiceless refugee population in our locality.

Earlier this month, on 9th June, I was asked to be a participant at the Churches together in Britain and Ireland’s webinar to launch a new Resource book called ‘’Sanctuary: the hospitality of host, guest and stranger’ on June 9th, I was representing the church of sanctuary movement in Ireland, and telling of our experiences as a parish on the journey. There were about 5 others participating, from Wales, Scotland and England along with the authors of the Resource being launched. It was very interesting and humbling to hear from others involved in this area.

In the diocesan synod last Saturday, the Revd Canon Alan Marley, who is the chaplain to the University in Cork, UCC, which is itself a University of Sanctuary, proposed a motion urging that all the parishes in our diocese think about becoming a Church of Sanctuary.

I seconded that proposal, giving concrete examples of what it might involve and as it passed unanimously, I have great hope that there will be a growing network of Churches of Sanctuary in the diocese in the coming months and years

One last thought… the Revd Dr Inderijt Bhogal, the founder of the Church of Sanctuary movement in the UK and one of the authors of the resource being launched at the Webinar a couple of weeks ago, spoke very movingly about how, when visiting the island of Lampedusa , he picked up an old rope from a broken boat which had ferried Refugees from the coast of Africa to the island.

He actually had this rope around his neck as he spoke to us, wearing the rope as a “stole” around him.

He said ‘If this rope could speak, what stories would it tell of the people who were on this broken boat?

A clerical stole represents the yoke of Christ, it is like bearing the suffering of Christ.

This rope is now my stole, and I wear it to hold up the suffering of refugees, in whom I see the face of Christ’

Do you know that almost 2000 people drowned while attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea last year.

In one week in April this year more than 100 people drowned similarly.

These are facts according to Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders…..

It is now illegal for NGO rescue boats to save refugees from drowning.

This is criminal.

People fleeing danger need sanctuary.

Wars make refugees.

Long term the only solution to the unprecedented numbers of refugees in the world is the cessation of war and conflict, and a world without war. This is the clear lesson from the current Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Looking to the future, sadly, the prediction is that by 2050 will be around 1.5 billion people who are climate change refugees as weather becomes more extreme.

So it is urgent and essential to build sanctuary, cultures of welcome and hospitality and safety.

In the hostile environment of the middle east, to refuse sanctuary was to condemn the person to death.

If you didn’t welcome people into your tent, they died.

Biblical witness carries a call for protection and safety of people whose lives are in danger while their case is processed, even if they are deemed to have committed a crime (Numbers 35).

God called on Moses to set up Cities of Refuge to ensure this.

‘Remember YOU were once strangers in Egypt’

In this wisdom is the root of the contemporary movement and network of City of Sanctuary which has also led to the development of the Church of Sanctuary idea.

We are happy to be on this journey to become a Church of Sanctuary who will respond to refugees on the basis of

fact not fiction, (no they are not going to SWAMP us!)

hospitality not hostility, (look at what’s happening in the UK – Refugees having escaped from horrific conditions threatened with Rwanda… and now I hear that they are saying they are going to use electronic tagging anklets on people arriving for asylum!)

and we will do this as integral to our Christian discipleship, seeking to embed welcome, hospitality and safety right across the ethos of the whole church, the whole congregation.

A Church is a Sanctuary.

Our Church is a Sanctuary.

Amen.

Sunday 12th June 2022 – Trinity Sunday

The Rector

In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is Trinity Sunday.

And just like last week at Pentecost, I’m having a bit of a Déjà vu experience….

Because on the Sunday after Pentecost each year, we especially remember the Trinity.

And every year, like at Pentecost, I tend to say the same thing….

What can you say !

You all know that I always begin my sermons in the name of the Trinity,   God:  Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

And I’ve told you all before that interestingly enough, Trinity as a word, does not appear anywhere in the Bible,

But we all know that the Bible is FULL of accounts of the Trinity, the  Creator, the  Redeemer and the Comforter.

Each year, on this day, in celebrating Trinity Sunday, we are encouraged to think about what the Trinity means to us

We are brought face to face with the mystery of God…. And it is very much a mystery.

Far cleverer theologians than me have been known to quake at preaching on the subject of the Trinity.

Famously, St Augustine, back in the 4th Century, said that if we are asked to define the Trinity we can only say that it is not this or it is not that…

The Father is NOT the Son, the Son is NOT the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is NOT the Father etc. … you get the picture.

But you know, while the doctrine of the Trinity seems difficult, it’s really only about what we all know anyway.

For all it sounds forbidding Theology is nothing more that what you think and say about God.

Trinity Sunday has really only been celebrated in the Christian Church since the middle ages,

It had an interesting origin…. The famous Thomas Becket (1118–70) was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost (Whitsun), and his first act was to ordain that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity. This observance spread from Canterbury throughout the whole of western Christendom.….

and so on this day, in pulpits all over the world, we try to address the mysterious and difficult subject of what constitutes the Triune God.

One important thing to remember is that the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t attempt to totally explain God

It only begins to put in a very simple way what God has revealed about himself so far.

A good example might be to think about the tip of an iceberg, the bit above the water is not to attempt to get across the enormity of the whole iceberg.

So when we Christians affirm our belief in the Trinity,

we do it not as an explanation as such but as a way of describing what we know from experience about God.

As I said earlier, 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 involved.

The post resurrection early Christians soon discovered that they couldn’t speak of God without speaking of the three ways in which God had been revealed 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,

Who has been shown to us in three different ways

Whom we have experienced in three different ways ….

Down through the years, different theologians have used different metaphors to get the paradoxical nature of this mystery across.

Of course , the fable of St Patrick’s Shamrock is a famous one here in Ireland, three leaves but one stem, one actual flower.

Or one I have often used at school assemblies is 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.

But these are all only illustrations.

All are human attempts to get across what we know of God and how we experience him in our lives.

In our real lives, within the idea or concept of the Trinity,

our minds are brought into loving contact with the complexity and wonder of God.

We could look to the documented life and ministry of Jesus to give us an insight into the mind and being of God

and there we find compassion and understanding,

a commitment to truth and justice,

and the assurance that every single person matters irrespective of race, religion or colour…..

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 our epistle today

‘We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…….God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’

Reminding us that through the Holy Spirit, God’s love is able to pour into our hearts and we become his children, made in his image, sisters and brothers with his son.

We have been hearing extensively from the Acts of the Apostles throughout Eastertide,

and no better place to hear all about the role of the Spirit – enabling the small community – the Church – to continue the work of Jesus after Jesus has departed to the Father.

The role of the Spirit continues to be 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 now too – definitely Tik Tok!

But that is what we have been promised….

Our gospel said that.

‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’

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 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 15th century Russian Icon painter Andrei Rublev most famous Icon is called ‘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,

All looking at the person who is looking at the painting.

All inviting and welcoming us into relationship .

All three are inviting us into a relationship with Love itself.

And all we have to do is say Yes!

So , on this Trinity Sunday,

Instead of wrecking our heads trying to understand what really can’t be fully understood,

…. We can just hold onto the simpler understanding

that God is with us,  

that he is still active among us,

that he is still continuing his work of building his kingdom here in our troubled messy world.

Father, Son and Holy Spirit – still giving meaning and purpose in our lives.

and that is something we CAN understand!   

Amen.

Sunday 5th June 2022 – Pentecost

The Rector

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 17 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 19 years now .

Each Pentecost I say I will try and say something different this time but when you read the words from Acts,

it is almost impossible not to say the same thing!

But it is so dramatic isn’t it!!

Such a gripping story…..

How I envy those gathered disciples.

Thinking about how strong they were to become.

About how sure they were about what they were doing

How they were able to go into the world as witnesses to what Jesus had achieved for us.

How they were able to somehow enable others to see past the ordinary life to the extraordinary love God holds for each of us.

What is it about the Holy Spirit that they received that day that enabled these ordinary people to become so extraordinary? 

The Holy spirit gave them FREEDOM

The disciples were locked away in fear, yet afterwards they were afraid of nothing, freed from fear.

The Holy spirit created COMMUNITY

Just think of the unity in the diversity of all the people who made up that first fellowship. 

This is what the church is meant to be

A community worshiping, thinking, and working together’

bound together by the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in a common love for God and for his son,

In this way, the stronger in the community can help the weaker in how to be a Christian community

and when we learn to love with a love like Christ’s,

we affect others,

others more readily want to become Christian and so the ripples spread outwards.

This is really what it is all about.

The Holy spirit was a FORCE,

Like the great winds in the desert,

the Spirit ‘bloweth where it wills’

and today 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?

Dare we shut our ears to the Spirit speaking to us in the churches in the cry of the World’s hungry or oppressed ?

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 did tell them that the Spirit would come

He never promised his disciples that they would always be safe, but he DID promise them that they should not be alone….

And so it is for us, the Spirit is always with us, strengthening and helping us to become what Jesus knows we can become.

The Holy spirit – Giver of freedom, maker of community,

the unrestricted lord of life and the one who stands by us in our needs and fears.

The Spirit is not there just for extraordinary people like the first disciples at the first Pentecost,

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 still here for ordinary people

like you and me,

making US extra-ordinary by the Holy Spirit’s power.

Those early Christians in Jerusalem probably felt just as ordinary 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 Cork?

Regardless of our fears, the Holy Spirit still continues to burst out in every generation of believers.

On a personal note, it is over a quarter of a century since I first went to church in St Patrick’s Greystones

back from Holland and living in Wicklow,

On that Pentecost in 1996, I wandered in to an ordinary Church of Ireland parish, to an ordinary community celebrating Pentecost in their church… but in their midst I found that an extraordinary God was waiting there for me…..

We have been asked to mark today as ‘Vocations Sunday’ and to encourage people to think about whether the Holy Spirit is calling you to ordained ministry.

The Revd Peter Rutherford, the rector of Kinsale, is our diocesan Director of Ordinands, and together with the Revd Canon Paul Arbutnot, the rector of Cobh, who is the Diocesan Warden of Readers…. What a mouthful….

Anyway Peter and Paul (very appropriate names!) are planning a session in the autumn aimed at clarifying what different forms of ministry, both lay and ordained , are currently available for people considering offering themselves for training.

And there are many many ways of serving the church in this way.

Full-time ordained ministry – which is what I do..

Part-time ordained ministry – which is what Revd Tony Murphy does.

Ordained local ministry – which is what Revd Richard Dring does

Diocesan Lay Reader – which is what Simon Woodworth has trained for and will hopefully be commissioned for early next year

Diocesan Lay Pastoral Worker – which is what Hilary Dring has been commissioned as.

So do think about the possibility of ministry, lay or ordained, in our church!

Come and talk to me anytime.

Because I know that some of you are thinking this way….you are not on your own….people still feel their lives drastically transformed through an encounter with Christ, (I certainly never thought I’d be standing here 26 years later!) and while it doesn’t have to be ordained ministry…. It might do!

Today we celebrate the gifts the Holy Spirit, the enabler gives us,

Writing 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.

So thinking back on what I said earlier, I suppose we really shouldn’t feel too envious of the first disciples

We are ALL the direct descendants of those first disciples, spiritually if not physically.

God also has big plans for us,

Now….today in Monkstown/Carrigaline, in the year of our Lord 2022.

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…

Amen.

Sunday 22nd May 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father , Son & Holy Spirit…..


“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Another way to say this is that the proof of our “love” for Jesus is that we keep his “word”

Then we experience the “love” of the Father,

and the Father and Jesus will “abide” in us,

The Father and Jesus will make their home,  in us.

If we only had those words from Jesus and nothing else,

they would be enough to guide us through life and point us in the right direction.

We spoke last week about the kind of love Jesus was talking about, the love he modelled for us, non-judging, unconditional, abundant love.

For Jesus, love, by  which he means of course active loving, can be achieved by “keeping his word”.

When we say ‘ word’ , we don’t mean to limit the “word” of Jesus to literal words, actual words,

not just what we were taught as “commandments” or “doctrines” or moral behaviour,

although it obviously includes all of these.

The “word” of Jesus embraces everything we know about him through the Scripture ,

So that would be

  • his actual words,
  • all his actions,
  • his real relationships with people of all kinds,
  • the very guiding principles of his life,
  • all of his values and attitudes.

And above all, we mean his blueprint for the setting up of the Kingdom.  His Kingdom to come…. his Kingdom which has already begun ,  with us and in us.

And it’s not just in the past…


We could say that the “word” of Jesus also comes to us from all our interactions and experiences within the Christian community where Jesus still ‘speaks’ to us.

His ‘word’ also comes to us through the whole of creation

with which he identifies through his Creator Father.

It is through this community, our community, with its many many faults but also many virtues that the Spirit continues to speak as it did in the days of the first disciples.

That same Spirit of the Father and Jesus speaks through each and every one of the members of Christ’s Body whether we are

  • old or young,
  • educated or illiterate,
  • men or woman,
  • friends or enemies.

    We may think that this is something new

but we see it at work right from the beginning of the Church’s existence

when we listen to the readings from Acts of the Apostles, which we do , at length, during this season of  Eastertide (those 50 days between Easter and Pentecost)

Today’s story from Acts told us of Paul’s ever expanding journeys in the Roman world of 1st Century, and how the group meets Lydia, the seller of purple -I’ve always loved the thought of her and how the Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what Paul was saying.   These details from Acts set the scene for us when we read from Paul’s letter to the Philippians. We can imagine the people gathered to hear from this missionary who had visited them and set the seed of Christ in their hearts.

Collectively and individually, it’s good to become really aware of the many wonderful ways that Jesus comes into our lives.

Not just through the actual word in Scripture but also through the living word in each other…

We can teach ourselves to become more aware by planning to perhaps give a little time to God each day, in prayer certainly but we could also try to remain completely still for even a short while each day , to try and tune into the overpowering loving that is always ever reaching out to us from God.

And then , with the grace of the Holy Spirit of God,  we can start reaching out ourselves to others.

Next week on Thursday 26th we celebrate Jesus’ ascension into heaven….  As well as the Wednesday Holy Communion, there will also be a 10:30 Service on Thursday for Ascension Day.

Immediately after that very first Ascension Day,  when Jesus had returned to his father, the disciples gathered together, frightened and anxious, constantly devoting themselves to prayer while they waited for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the outpouring that they had been promised in the absence of their Lord.

Like them, we need to constantly remember that our reliance on the gift of the Holy Spirit is total – on our own we can do nothing.

Through the centuries Christians have used these 10 days between Ascension to Pentecost to pray for the coming of the Holy Spirit, dedicating these between days to pray ….‘Come Holy Spirit’.

We could tap into this, and pray that the Spirit would inspire and equip each one of us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with our own friends and families, our own communities and networks.

Today we heard the words of Jesus

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid

Surely the most comforting words in all the gospels!

In our troubled and troubling world, these are words we all need to hear now more than ever.

This is what drove Paul on his missionary journeys,

this love of God that he personally knew and personally experienced in his own life,

he was compelled and equipped by the Holy Spirit to pass it on to everyone he met on his way.

God wants to share with us more and more of God’s love

and then, with the help of the Holy Spirit,

God bids us go and share it with others – in whatever way we can…..

Amen.

Sermon 15th May 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Like our gospel last week, we are back in time to before the Resurrection

and Jesus, as we know,  is moving towards to the Cross.

It is the Thursday night, Judas had departed and Jesus is alone with the remaining disciples

(Judas is that ‘he’ of our first sentence in the Gospel ‘When he had gone out..’)

John in his gospel takes a lot of trouble to tell us that by dying on the cross, Jesus is giving glory to God,

who will,  in turn,  give glory to him.

Jesus knows that it is going to be a confusing alarming time for his followers so he tells them that in the meantime, they are to live by a NEW commandment, the commandment of Love

This was new in that it was setting a NEW standard….

‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another’

And while he walked with them and lived with them,

how had Jesus loved them?

Compassionately

forgivingly,

unconditionally

To begin with, the love that Jesus had for his disciples began with a willingness to ignore the limits of society.

He did not content himself with a little holy huddle,

A group made up of only his own kind.

He had reached out to ALL kinds, and especially to those whom the rest of the people in his world would shun.

This love that Jesus had for others had enabled him to take on tasks which would have been thought to be beneath him – servant work like washing dusty feet for example… which is what he had done at this very table where he now speaks of love for one another.

Jesus’  love was a love that knew no limit.

He loved them so much he was willing to die for them.

So this then is to be our new standard for love….

A hard act to follow as they say…

John tells us that he said  ‘Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another….by this , everyone will know that you are my disciples’

That is quite a responsibility.

by this people will know that we are his disciples: by our love for one another.

If this is how our discipleship is measured, how our life is measured, we have to take heed how we react to each other.

Jesus’ command was not that we LIKE each other

Obviously that would be nice,

but to like or not to like is in our emotions,

and we know from experience that our emotions do not respond well to commands

The kind of  love of which Jesus speaks is not an emotion.

It is a way of acting toward one another that says that what we want for each other is all good.

And we will do whatever we possible can to make that good happen for each other.

Christian love is not something Jesus wants us to just FEEL for each other but rather something that we DO for each other.

Love, in the style of Jesus, is not down to raw emotions,

It is a matter of will – something we decide to do.

This kind of love is a choice.

The love Jesus is talking about is not the romantic, St. Valentine’s day big bunch of red roses and chocolates kind of love. 

The I ‘HEART’ you kind of love….

It is, in a way, a disinterested love,

As in …loving someone even when there is nothing IN IT for us.

This love persists despite hostility and persecution

It is not a spasmodic enthusiasm but an enduring relationship.

And this kind of love expresses itself in service, affection and self-sacrifice.

It doesn’t sound easy does it?

And its not easy,

this kind of love can be achieved only with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus knew this – he promised us the Holy Spirit when he went back to the Father.

He knew that we couldn’t do it on our own.

Love makes us instruments of God’s providence in the lives of others.

OUR love becomes the channel through which THEY will experience the love of God.

I once read of something called the ‘prime attractors’ as defined by St Francis of Assisi

‘Actions visibly done in love’ was the first and most important

He also recommended that we follow a non-violent, humble and liberated lifestyle

And to always identify with people on the margins….

These ‘attractors’ give others reasons for spiritual joy.

Actions….Hands-on love….probably the hardest of all.

Its easy enough to love at a distance

Easier to send money to alleviate the famine in a third world country than it is to give time to alleviate the loneliness of someone living near us.

Its easy to love people who live far away

But not so easy to love those who are close at hand.

Easier to cry over a news item about Ukraine than to offer to have someone come live with you….

Yet Jesus asks us to love each other as he has loved us.

We have to begin by loving the people near us

That is where our love must start

But it doesn’t    and    shouldn’t end there !

Tielhard de Chardin say that it is impossible to love Christ without loving others, and it is impossible to love others without moving nearer to Christ.

I suppose that is what they mean when they talk about it is in giving that we receive?

Where there is love demonstrated in our world,

the world encounters Jesus.

Whether it is recognised or not, is not important

What is important is that we love….

Love as an action, not as a state of mind…..

For it is in loving that we show that truly we are his followers.

Amen.

Sermon 8th May 2022

The Rector

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Its all about sheep today,

that well-worn metaphor of many Biblical Stories…..

Throughout the Bible we find loads of stories of countless flocks and many working shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Amos, and the shepherds of Bethlehem – all in charge of flocks of sheep at some stage of their lives.

The image of a shepherd tending a flock can be found so many times… the flock of course usually meaning the people of Israel, or just God’s people – us!

In the Old Testament, shepherd imagery may point to God, or to the promised Messiah, or even to human leaders appointed by God: the prophets, priests, and kings.

Some of those human shepherds are said to have scattered their sheep, as in Jeremiah 23 or Ezekiel 34

Writing from a perspective of exile from their own country, in such passages, a worthy shepherd is typically promised to gather from the scattered remnants a new, well cared for flock.

But generally Sheep, US, in the main, are not viewed as being too intelligent.

Left alone, we wander off, get into tight spots, tumble over cliffs, and fall foul of predators.

After centuries of our human selection and domestication, whatever survival skills wild sheep might have possessed have long since been bred out of their descendants.

So to be called “the sheep of his flock” isn’t really a compliment when you think about it.

As I said on the Linksheet, the fourth Sunday of Easter is often referred to as ‘Good Shepherd Sunday’.

Therefore, our lectionary deviates to some extent from its Easter reflections on the resurrection and returns to the pre-Easter story of Jesus’ ministry.

Remember last week we heard of Jesus on the lakeshore eating with the disciples to convince them he wasn’t a Ghost….

But this week , we are catapulted back in the time BEFORE the Crucifixion, before the disciples had experienced the horror of Jesus’ death or the Joy of Jesus’ resurrection.

According to this section of John’s Gospel, Jesus has been involved in some kind of a discussion some Jewish counterparts, perhaps they were even leaders of the community,

but he was telling them about his mission and whether they will affirm it.

The setting is Jerusalem.

Jesus is there for the winter festival of Dedication or Hanukkah.

Actually this is the only reference to that particular festival in the New Testament.

We know this festival to be the celebration of the Maccabean rededication of the Jerusalem Temple, which had been desecrated by the Seleucid King Antiochus IV when he conquered Jerusalem in the 2nd century bce.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus regularly travels to Jerusalem,

he doesn’t just turn up in Jerusalem for Palm Sunday as the other Gospel writers tell us.

The “Jews,” the generic word used by John

challenge Jesus, as they do regularly in John’s Gospel.

They want Jesus to tell them exactly what are his messianic

pretensions ‘If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!’.

Jesus responds by telling them that he has already done so, but they wouldn’t believe him.

This particular debate in the Temple precincts takes place in the aftermath of the healing of the man born blind in the previous chapter of John (9).

After that there were questions flying around among Jesus’ audience as to whether he did this sign/healing by the power of God or the power of a demon.

The blind man believed that his healing came from God and while  his physical blindness was removed, the spiritual blindness of Jesus’ opponents remained.

The blind man was healed;

But by doubting Jesus, they were not healed, in other words, they remained spiritually blind.

One of the main themes throughout John’s Gospel is belief.

Will the audience believe in this message, and more specifically will they believe in Jesus?

In John Jesus doesn’t simply do miracles, he offers signs, like turning into wine or healing a blind man.

The question that arises from each of these miraculous events or SIGNS is whether those witnessing it are willing to believe in Jesus.

Today’s text from John 10 is a continuation of the much longer Good Shepherd discourse

(we read all of it divided into the 3 years of a,b,c).

In previous verses (10 & 11), Jesus has already declared that he is the Good Shepherd, who is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.

The question asked by John really is basically

Who hears the voice of the shepherd?

….. and follows that voice?

In other words, who is to be counted among those whom Jesus calls ‘my sheep’?

The relationship of shepherd and sheep is central to our understanding of the passage.

According to John’s Gospel   Jesus, the Good Shepherd is not like the hireling.

When danger comes the hireling flees, but the true shepherd remains with the sheep.

Therefore, Jesus had declared “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” (10:14).

“You do not believe,” Jesus says, “because you do not belong to my sheep” (10:26).

He tells them that if there were his sheep he would know them, and they would know him.

The fact that they refused to believe,

means that they remained blind to his identity.

Therefore, they were not part of the flock,

because the flock knows the voice of the shepherd.

And John tells us very plainly that the benefit of being part of the flock is eternal life……

……..So whether that makes me unintelligent or not, I am happy to be a sheep.

I mightn’t know it all but I do know the voice of the shepherd.

And all I have to do is to go where the shepherd chooses to lead me.

All I have to do is to listen …..

first and foremost for the voice of the shepherd,

but also I have to listen for the bleating of my fellow sheep,

whether in my own little band,

or a neighbouring one,

or a group just over the hill…

all who listen to the shepherd are worth listening to.

They may know something of the shepherd’s voice I’ve forgotten or ignored.

They can help me to hear that voice properly , or at least better than I can hear it now.

And I have to also remember that there are other sheep who’ve forgotten the voice entirely, though the shepherd remembers them

and I have to keep in mind that to the shepherd, their bleating is no less important than my bleating.

For we are all beloved.

All I have to do is to just be patient, to listen and wait on the shepherd’s voice and to go where he leads me.

Amen.

Sermon 1st May 2022

The Rector

In the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I’m sure you remember the gospel last week where we heard about the poor disciples hiding out in Jerusalem, well this week John tells us that they are now back in the place where it had all begun…..

Back to their original jobs….fishing in Galilee, where they had been when Jesus had initially said  ‘Follow me’…. and interestingly today’s reading ends with those very same words ‘Follow me’….. but what a lot has happened in between!

They have escaped from the City of Jerusalem and are now back to their homes, back doing what they used to do, hiding away really.

Certainly they were not doing what Jesus had commissioned them to do.

As I said last week,

and it is common in all the post resurrection stories,

somehow they just don’t recognise Jesus amongst them….

I always find this odd. Jesus was with them but they didn’t know him until something significant happened,

Just like when Jesus breaks the bread with the couple on the road to Emmaus…

Actually when you think about it, I suppose we could apply that same thought to our own lives. ….so often we miss recognising God in our situations. 

We live our lives as if nothing was a miracle when we should live as if everything was a miracle…. that’s what Albert Einstein said!

Indeed even at what is traditionally called an ‘Ungodly Hour of the Morning’ ….like me at 5am this morning…

we should hear that Dawn Chorus and think of God!

Ordinary, everyday situations… when we look at a hardworking and underpaid nurse helping a sick patient, we should see God at work. 

When we see families together, or friends gathered, we should see God in their shared love.

When we are out in the countryside or walking by the sea, we should see God in this world.

When we look up at a building or at a sculpture or painting, we should see God’s hand in what we created with our hands.

When we just take time to look up at the sky, or a full moon, we should see God in the moments of silence.

But back to today’s gospel and the lakeshore….

As I said earlier, the post-resurrection gospel’s constant feature of all the sightings is that Jesus is not recognised at once.

It seems to always take some word or familiar gesture for him to be known.

This was an effective way to make the point that the resurrection is NOT a return to earthly life – Jesus has risen to a new life beyond death.


He is still the same Jesus, but transformed.

He is not what he was

But he is still who he was

And as is always the case with John , there is just so much symbolism in our gospel today,

the amazing catch of fish symbolises the mission of the apostles to be ‘fishers of men’

and the huge catch shows how successful the disciples can be WITH Jesus’ help.

The breakfast meal on the lakeshore symbolises our continuing Eucharistic meal where Jesus is with us and feeds us.

And we see John’s symbolism especially with Peter in the story,

Peter who had denied his Lord three times,

is now allowed assert his love three times

somehow cancelling out that earlier betrayal.

But in a way this is John’s take on it…. For Jesus kept no record of Peter’s sins.   So instead of condemning him ,  Jesus  asks him to do something for him   – Feed my sheep…..

The three questions Jesus asks Peter , 

Do you love me?

Will you look after my people?

Will you love my people?

Peter had to learn that , in spite of his earlier denials, Jesus loved him ….And STILL trusted him to look after his flock…..

Next Sunday is traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday because the gospel reading is always from John chapter 10 which is about Jesus speaking of himself as a Shepherd….  

That is why Bishops carry the crook or crozier

because it is a symbol of the stick carried by shepherds the world over   

We know of course, from what we read in Acts of the apostles, how it all turns out for Peter.

We know that Peter more than lived up to Jesus’ expectations of him.  How he found the inner strength to stand up to the Sanhedrin and to bear witness for Jesus.

And we can recognise Peter as a great role model , indeed as a great comfort for us all.

Because what we learn from Peter’s experience, is that courage can fail us all….. but we have to learn to forgive ourselves for our momentary weaknesses and lapses and move forward with confidence in the grace of God.

We must try not to judge ourselves too harshly from these moments in our lives, because this is not what ultimately will define us.

What we CAN judge ourselves by is our commitment to our beliefs over a long time.

We fall, but we rise

And we rise – with the grace of God….

and like Peter at the Lakeshore,

we can be very thankful that THIS is the measure by which God holds us….

Not when we might have failed or denied him but that, given another chance, we rose to the occasion – with his help.

Amen.

Sermon 24th April 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Here, in today’s Gospel reading, we get a glimpse of the disciples gathered together after the Resurrection,

A bird’s eye view , in other words, of the church in its earliest days, and, all in all, it is not a very positive view is it?

Near the end of his life, Jesus had carefully prepared his disciples to be a devoted and confident fellowship of faith.

They were to be a community of profound love with the gates wide open and the welcome mat always out,

but here we find them barricaded in a house with the doors bolted shut.

They 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 (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.

If this little sealed-off group of Christians were to place one of those cheery church ads in the Saturday newspaper, what could it possibly say?

“The friendly church where all are welcome”?

Hardly, unless one counts locked doors as a sign of hospitality.

“The church with a warm heart and a bold mission”?

Actually more like the church with sweaty palms and a timid spirit.

In fact, 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 but it was a pretty important thing:

They had 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 of a little church community ,

How the risen Christ still enters our fearful chancels and naves and aisles in all of our churches and fills the place with his own life.

At the Annual Vestry meeting on Thursday , I was saying that.  If we want to be as Christ in our world , we have to get out there,

We can be as holy as we like in our churches each Sunday but that won’t bring Christ to the people who need Christ the most.

Of course , it is Thomas who is the star of the gospel today….poor old Thomas,  I think he should have been called “Honest Thomas” instead of Doubting Thomas!  Or even BRAVE Thomas!

Because in a way he speaks for all of us. That person who asks the question that we have all been thinking but none of us have been brave enough to ask!

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 gives us the chance to think about how we come to faith, about the demands we place on believing or not believing.

There’s a reason why every time archaeologists discover some inscription referring to King David, Pontius Pilate, or some other biblical figure that this news immediately makes a splash in the pages of the Church Times.

Here, we are told, is further “proof” that the stuff in the Bible really did happen!

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 understanding,

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.

Immediately after his death, his companions ran away.

Even Peter was to prove untrustworthy and deny that he even knew Jesus…. And this came home especially to me a few years back as I acted the role of the Kitchenwoman who calls poor old Peter to account in the High Priests Courtyard….

But I digress, because 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

Walked and talked with them on the way to Emmaus.

Broke open their scriptures with them… showed them how the ancient words of the Hebrew scriptures pointed to him

He cooked and ate meals with them,

They touched him,

He appeared and disappeared in an amazing way.

And sometimes they didn’t immediately recognize him , for instance the couple on the road to Emmaus didn’t know who was walking with them until he broke bread with them… then they realized who is was and why their hearts had been burning while he had spoken to them about their scriptures…

The disciples must not have recognized him initially this day,

because he identifies himself by showing them his wounded hands and side.

‘Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord…’

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, and they do not recognize him.

Mary Magdalene mistakes him for the gardener until he calls her by name.

As I said, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize the risen Christ until the 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 are of course different from those of the first disciples

But they are just as valid.

Finally lets think about the writer of our Gospel today…..

What is John’s intention?  

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 , not just to his contemporaries but to you and me,

John 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,

people for whom the Garden and the Tomb was in another far away place.

So John 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 living,

And 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 and unbreakable 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.

Our first reading is always from Acts of the Apostles in Eastertide

Acts (which was really Book 2 of Luke’s Gospel, for he wrote both of them) and it is in Acts that we learn of this fledgling community of Disciples…..  called to be witnesses to what had happened in that last week.

As Peter and the Apostles said in our reading today

‘We are witnesses to these things’

The early church were enlivened and emboldened by the close 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 look around in this church and see that in each other lies the proof of his resurrection.

And like Thomas and the first disciples, we are commissioned to bring that good news to others.

Like Peter and the Apostles WE too are called ‘to be witnesses to these things’ Amen.

Sermon 17th April 2022 Easter Day

The Revd Richard Dring

Luke 24:1-12

The reading today is a short reading when we compare with the readings we have been exploring during the week just gone by. It does however deliver an impact with the account of that first Easter morn, the risen Christ, and the empty tomb. The cornerstone of our Christian belief.

All the Gospels deliver the account of the events in a slightly different way; significantly this is to relate to the intended readers identified by the writers. There is one key element the same across all and that is the empty tomb. This empty tomb is where the women were expecting to find Jesus body, ready for the embalming with the spices that had been prepared earlier and were unable to complete because of the Sabbath. They did not expect the tomb to be empty, as they along with all Jesus followers had just witnessed his brutal death two days previously. There is no account of the event before the women find the empty tomb, which has been described as a masterpiece of suspense.

We have to remember that the Women and the Disciples expected to be able to roll away the stone from the tomb and find Jesus body there. We however have the wisdom of hindsight and we know with confidence that this was what Jesus had prepared his followers for and it was no surprise to find the tomb empty. This was however not fully understood by all present, as while they expected Jesus to rise again in their eyes it was to be on the last day when all were to be raised together; forming part of a large scale event. They did not interpret what Jesus had been saying, that He would be raised from the dead as an individual.

No one had expected what had taken place and the empty tomb. The unexpected nature of the event was clearly demonstrated by the presence of the Women at first light going to the tomb to prepare Jesus body. If the disciples had expected a risen Christ, they would have been the first to the tomb. A key message was then delivered to the women before they returned to the disciples by the two men who appeared to them in dazzling clothes alongside. These men delivered a message that reinforced the earlier message of Jesus.

They said two very key sentences

First:               “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen”

Stating the obvious in the current situation and then reinforcing this by reminding them as follows

Second:         “Remember how he told you, while in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified and on the third day rise again.”

These words helped those present to truly believe and appreciate what had taken place.

We are then told that Peter ran to the tomb to verify what the women said. This was to be expected but was also unexpected. In the society of the time of Jesus, women were not to be believed, so Peter would have gone to the tomb to verify this. One aspect of this was unusual; Peter ran to the tomb. This would be very unusual as men of the time did not run in situations such as this, which goes to show how significant the event was and the need to verify what had been related by the women

Coming back to Peter, how was he feeling with all the events of two days previously where he had denied Jesus three times in public?  We should not judge Peter, but possibly reflect on how would we have behaved in a similar situation, where admitting to know Jesus could mean that we lose our life alongside Jesus. Maybe we would behave no differently. Peter can give many of us comfort in how he put behind him the events of that fateful Friday morning and with confidence returned to the group of Disciples he knew so well.

To Peter this was probably what we would say was a wakeup call as we know the key role Peter played in the formation of the early Christian church. He paid a very high price for his loyalty and faith being crucified for this dedication and solid belief following his stumble on Good Friday morning.

We can join together today in the joyous celebration of the risen Christ knowing what happened, for the Disciples and other followers of Jesus it was still a very challenging times with Jerusalem still very tense following all the events of Holy week, this shows us the power of the risen lord in the development and formation of the Christian church following the traumatic events.

We take our faith from the risen Lord and the example and faith of the band of Disciples whom Jesus had chosen to follow him and spread the word. Remembering in particular the actions of Peter over the preceding days and how he was still welcomed and the life he went o to lead by example to us all.

Alleluia Jesus Christ is risen today!

Sermon 10th April, 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On Palm Sunday Jesus’ disciples openly acknowledge their belief in him. They shout out their loyalty to him.

We know that there was fierce opposition to Jesus and his followers from the Priestly class and yet today we see that the disciples displayed their support in full and open view of all.

This was to change….

There were also Pharisees in the crowd who try to tell Jesus to shut them up,

But Jesus replies that if his disciples were silent , the very stones would shout out!

There are times when a public demonstration is required.

And this was one of them.

Interestingly this was the only time that Jesus had accepted this kind of hero-worship from the people.

He understood that his disciples needed to express publicly their belief in him.

Of course, we know that will change, we know what is to happen in the following 5 days.

This public display was only on the surface, as so many of these mass displays often are

There is no 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 church

We are here, surrounded by others who think and feel the same way about Jesus.

The real test for us comes when we try to witness to him out in an indifferent and indeed sometimes hostile world.

But like the disciples on Palm Sunday,

There are times when we too need to state our faith in Jesus publicly.

There are times when the occasion demands it.

There are times when God demands it.

The stones can’t cry out.

Only we can cry out.

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.

A word of peace when the world is in turmoil around us.

We have to remember that while we profess our faith in Christ here in church,

We must not forget him or deny him outside of this church,
In the shops,

In work,

In our homes.

Each year on Palm Sunday, we hear about how the disciples shouted Hosanna

But in the 2nd reading from the Gospel , we hear what happened afterwards…..

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

They began the week well… on Palm Sunday they were strong and bold in their witness to Jesus.

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 Jesus said that if the people kept silent, the stones would cry out – let us not be afraid to let our voices be heard in worship of our Lord of Lords.

Amen.

Amen

Epilogue at Choral Evensong

The Rector

Today is Palm Sunday and this morning over in Carrigaline ,

Billy the Donkey came to us again, after a gap of two years and we processed with our Palm branches…

His owner Adrian Bateman had kindly brought him along

but in the Palm Sunday stories, no names are given for the actual owners of the donkey…

and yet what owners….. just agreeing to allow their animal to be taken away and used by the disciples.

Donkeys were expensive enough animals in those days…. still are…. and they don’t just wander around,

Well…at least not decent donkeys that you could get on the back of anyway.

The disciples really needed a proper decent animal for Jesus to make his entrance into Jerusalem.

They needed that one kind owner,

whose name we will never know…,

a person playing a minor role,

a little bit part in the drama unfolding in the City of David.

And yet ……. it was a vital part.

In order to fulfil the prophecy ,

Jesus had to enter the city on a donkey

So it was important that said donkey be procured…..from someone!

The anonymous donkey owner gave Jesus what exactly what he needed at that very moment in time.

I have often wondered about the story of Palm Sunday …..

I wonder if I would just hand over my property in the same way…. I doubt it….. Would you?

I wonder what do we have that is needed by God at this very minute  ….

What have we to offer?

What gifts do we have to give?

What sort of gifts or talents do we have which we have the option of using in order to further God’s work in the world?

In other words . . . . . . ‘What’s the equivalent of my donkey in this place and time?’

And I’m not just talking about giving to the various Ukraine appeals that are here..

The Red Cross items

The Bishops’ Appeal retiring collections.

I’m thinking specifically about what WE have ,

in ourselves, to offer.

Just think about all of us here sitting in this church in Monkstown.

Each one of us has something different to offer….

It might be that you are good at chatting to people?,

this is a gift!

And when you use that gift to make someone feel welcome, especially here in the house of God,

it is a ministry in itself

It might be that you can see good in someone when

no-one else does? Again a gift from God, and I hate to say it – a rare enough one!

And if this is your gift, you are being a reflection of God in this world….reminding us that God sees each one of us as good in ourselves.

Maybe you are good at baking?

No prizes for guessing how much of a help this is in Church circles!

During the deepest darkest days of Lockdown, the socially distanced Cake Sale was a highlight…..

I will never forget the joy of opening that box of cakes!

And the wonderful cakes that people baked for the Ukrainian Book & Cake sale last week…. We raised a little over 2,000 euro!

Or perhaps good at fixing things! Again self-explanatory but so so necessary…. Only today I brought over the new  Pascal Candles to William Warren-Perry to drill holes into so they don’t topple on the stands.

I tried to do that myself once and I managed to shatter the candle… and those Pascal Candles cost 40 quid each so I  patched it up with Sellotape…. But felt awful!

I really appreciate those people who can fix things!

Or maybe you are a good administrator…..

Or good at playing the Organ

Or very importantly , good at singing in the choir…..

Or looking out at the congregation …. maybe you are just faithful….. you turn up!

But what we must remember is that we all have something to give…. We all have that donkey that Jesus is looking for!

On Palm Sunday Jesus’ disciples openly acknowledged their belief in him. They all shouted out their loyalty to him.

We know that there was fierce opposition to Jesus and his followers from the Priestly class, the establishment

 and yet at that stage, before the horror of what was to happen, the disciples still displayed their support in full and open view of all.

But the lynchpin , the cornerstone if you like, of Palm Sunday was that someone, whose name we will never know, just handed over the only thing he had to offer

His donkey.

So please think about your gifts, your talents,

Don’t take them for granted,  remember that they are God given ….. and given for a reason

Given so that they in turn can be given –  to others!

Amen.

Sermon 3rd April, 2022

The Rector

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus again trying to warn his disciples about his imminent death.

Leave her alone….she bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial’

We, knowing the horror that is soon to come, find these words disturbing.

In almost all of the gospel accounts of this period of Jesus’ life, Jesus is trying to prepare his disciples for the future,

when he wouldn’t be with them in body,

when he wouldn’t be physically there to support and uphold them in the trials that he knew were to befall them all.

The Disciples consistently either ignored him or misunderstood him.

The idea of Jesus’ death was just too difficult for the disciples to accept.

They would not – and could not – envisage life without him.

Yet on several occasions, Jesus tried to talk to them, to prepare them, to warn them of what was to come.

But each time the reaction to his words was a mixture of doubt, fear and disbelief.

This morning’s reading is set at the time just before Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem , an even which we will celebrate next Sunday, Palm Sunday,  in all our churches across the Christian world.

And yet another opportunity had arisen for Jesus to attempt to get across to his disciples what was to come.

He tries to use the incident to again warn his disciples about that was to happen.

This time it is at a dinner given in Jesus honour, and perfume was poured on Jesus’ feet ,

expensive perfume….poured by a woman…..

Judas, one of those gathered, and still a valued member of the group of course,  objects to the waste of good money ,

And you know its hard not to be on Judas’ side on this one.

It does seem like a waste of money

Judas loudly decries the injustice, the immorality, of the act.

Just think of the poor who could have been fed for what that perfume cost!

Our Gospel writer John, like a good screenwriter, doesn’t miss an opportunity to tell us what Judas is really like,

He writes Judas  (“the one who was about to betray him”),

and tells us why he really protests (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.)

But it is Jesus who interprets the act for those at the table: “Leave her alone,” he says. “She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

Jesus even uncharacteristically brushes aside the concern for the poor that Judas had disingenuously raised by saying

78You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.’

Rebuking Judas. 

Telling them all that now IS a time for perfume,

it’s not a time to be without. 

We are surrounded by darkness. Now more than ever.

We see the problems of the world every day. 

The temptation is to pour our whole selves solely into saving the world in any way that we can…. Feeling guilty for every passing pleasure… because we are so aware that so many are suffering. 

But Jesus seems to be saying to us that it is alright to celebrate the moment you are in…..

Telling us that we must not always address the darkness. 

That sometimes we are called to celebrate in the light.

Like we did last Sunday when we celebrated Mothering Sunday. 

Sometimes we must sing, even if the poor are still poor. 

Sometimes we need to eat well, even feast, even if there are hungry people in the world. 

We are not called to a life without anything that brings us pleasure; instead, perhaps, we are called to a life of moderation. 

As I read somewhere , the Buddhists have a saying, “everything in moderation including moderation.” 

We can fast

but we must also learn to feast when it is the right time.

We must learn when to go without and when to spend..

And Jesus seemed to instinctively understand this.

He said ‘Let her alone…. ‘

But his prophetic words about what is to come manage to just get lost in the dual horror felt by the disciples

They couldn’t see past the woman behaving out of her role and the sight of good money being literally thrown away.

Jesus’ gathered disciples seem to be more worried about a waste of money then the impending waste of life that he is trying to warn them about.

Isn’t a fact of life that we obsess about the minor things while the really momentous events happen around us!

While Mark also tells us about the perfume incident, only John gives us the name of this audacious woman

He tells us that it is none other than Mary,

not Mary of Magdalene, from whom we would almost expect the extravagant gesture,  but Mary , sister of Martha,

Mary, the distraught sister of Lazarus,

The woman that had to be coaxed out to greet Jesus after her brother’s death,

yet who showing great faith, had immediately said to him

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Mary, the quiet one,  who to her sister Martha’s disgust had sat and listened at Jesus’ feet like a man, instead of helping her in the kitchen.

In fact, each time we look through the spiritual window given us by the Gospel writers concerning the life of Mary, we find her at the feet of Jesus.

So this then is the Mary who flings a bottle of expensive perfume over the feet of her Lord and dries it up with her own hair.

What had possessed  Mary to do it?

Some have commented that when Mary emptied the perfume over Jesus feet, she must have acted on impulse because she had nothing on hand to catch the excess perfume and had to dry Jesus’ feet with her own hair.

Yet…

She was in her own home….surely she would have been more organised, even with a spur of the moment gesture.

I believe that she deliberately used her hair to dry his feet.

To underline what real service and devotion was all about.

So she used her hair to dry his feet…. further shocking the assembled guests who would have been aghast at a woman anointing their Lord’s feet anyway!

And as for a Woman, even one that they knew, with her hair loose ….well no respectable woman in that time would go about in mixed company with her hair undone.

Mary was behaving in a startling and improper way in addition to wasting the costly perfume!  What could be going on?

John tells us that only Judas voiced the disapproval but it must have been felt by all of the group……… you just didn’t waste money like that and you didn’t dress like that either.

Those present viewed Mary’s display of love and devotion as something shameful and disgusting.

But it was they who didn’t grasp the deeper truths of God.

Jesus was approaching his final days on earth, and Mary was somehow aware of this. Maybe she had listened to Jesus’ warnings when the others had ignored them.

The anointing of Jesus brings out an important contrast,

a contrast of the insight and devotion of the woman Mary compared to the indifference and deadened responses of the rest of the disciples….

In Luke’s gospel, we had heard about Mary sitting at Jesus feet at an earlier time, soaking up all he had to say.

There would have been disapproval of her action then too.

We are told that her own sister Martha had certainly been disgusted about this un-Womanly behaviour and at the time had even asked Jesus to give out to her.

Luke tells us that in fact Jesus gently told Martha that Mary was doing the most important thing of all, listening to him.

Funnily enough I came across a poem this week written by the Revd Abigail Sines, who is the Dean’s Vicar in Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin, and she wrote it 10 years ago but as I read it  – it really hit me in the context of this week’s Gospel

The poem is called ‘Mary gets up’ and it is about the action of Mary and the difference our actions make in our world…

But the bit about her sister Martha says

‘Martha-

Take a seat

Take note

Take a moment for your soul

Then you can take on the world.’

On this particular occasion, Jesus knew that for Mary, pouring the expensive perfume was taking the most precious thing she possessed and spending it on him.

It was a recognised sign of honour to anoint a person’s head but Mary didn’t aim this high,

as a woman of the 1st Century, she was content to just anoint his feet.

And then her deliberate act of humility in using her own hair to dry his feet spoke for itself. 

Jesus doesn’t give out to her or doesn’t call her presumptuous.

He understood that love is not love if it has to stop and calculate the cost.

And we know that he didn’t calculate the cost of loving us.

Mary’s audacious actions revealed her godly priorities.

She sat at the feet of Jesus to learn from him as his disciple.

She took a moment for her soul….

He was more important to her than her possessions, which she willingly gave for him.

Her great love for Jesus compelled her to assume the role of a servant in anointing his feet and to go beyond duty in wiping them with her hair.

An  unself-consiousess act of love –

Mary didn’t count the cost – As Judas did.

Poor misguided Judas couldn’t see it

but Mary’s deed was so beautiful that everyone who reads of it now is affected by it as we read that the whole house was filled with the glorious fragrance.

We can almost smell it!

Mary of Bethany’s story is a beautiful story of love, devotion and recognition of glory to come

As we head into Palm Sunday and the week of horror that is to follow, it is surely comforting to remember the fragrance of love …..

Amen.

The Rector

Sermon 27th March, 2022

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We always celebrate Mothering Sunday on the fourth Sunday of Lent.

In the Church of Ireland, we tend to make a point of calling it Mothering Sunday… but really, here is Ireland it’s often called Mothers’ Day but to be pedantic it actually has no connection with the American festival of that name.

I know I’ve mentioned it before that traditionally this day, the 4th Sunday in the season of Lent,  was a day when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants were given a day off to visit their mother and family…

The history of Mothering Sunday is quite interesting,

In our experiences, most Sundays in the year churchgoers here in Ireland worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church’.

But centuries ago it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year.

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.

(and remember it would have been common in those days for children to leave home for work once they were ten years old.)

Most historians think that it was the return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given that particular day off to visit their mother and family.

As they walked along the country lanes, children would pick the wild flowers to take to church or to give to their mother as a small gift.

Mothering Sunday also became known as Refreshment Sunday because the fasting rules for Lent were relaxed a little for that day.

(Here in Ireland, we tend to look on St Patrick’s day as the traditional day for ‘relaxing’ our Lent!!

And in many cases, have taken the ‘refreshment’ to extremes!)

Although not very popular anymore, the food item specially associated with Mothering Sunday is the Simnel cake.

A Simnel cake is a fruit cake with two layers of almond paste, one on top and one in the middle.

The cake is made with 11 balls of marzipan icing on top representing the 11 disciples. (Judas is not included.)

The name Simnel probably comes from the Latin word simila which means a fine wheat flour usually used for baking a cake.

There’s also a lovely legend that a man called Simon and his wife Nell argued over whether the cake for Mothering Sunday should be baked or boiled. In the end they did both, so the cake was named after both of them: SIM-NELL.

I have to say I like that version better!

The readings we just heard are the set readings for Mothering Sunday as opposed to the readings for the 4th Sunday of Lent…. So both our Gospel and our Old Testament readings tell us about two biblical mothers….  

Hannah, the mother of Samuel the prophet

and Mary, the mother of Jesus our saviour

Although I find the history of the origin of this day is very interesting … each year I actually find it quite difficult to preach on Mothering Sunday

and had fully intended to stick Richard with it this year but unfortunately he was off somewhere exotic on business again!

I hate to preach on Mothering Sunday because as with most things in life, Motherhood is not a simple concept for a lot of us.  

  • 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 whether we are male or female, everyone in this church 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.

My own mother is dead over 50 years now but I find that she is still in my head…. All that time and I still quote her constantly!

From a Christian perspective, motherhood is probably best epitomised in the person of Mary, mother of Jesus.

We had the feast of the annunciation on Friday , here was a young girl who said ‘yes’ to God

and who gave birth in the most difficult of circumstances, risking the condemnation of Jewish society

(Joseph did after all initially intend to divorce her).

Mary watched as visitors barged in to the stable and allowed them to worship her son.

She received the wise travellers from the East a little while later and understood that while their gifts of Gold and Francincense symbolised her baby’s greatness

The gift of Myrrh foreshadowed his death.

She saw Jesus stir up hatred, and opposition – just by speaking truth to power.

And, of course she watched as Jesus is led to His death and crucified.

As far as we can tell from scripture, all the time through these events, she affirms and supports her son.

From the few glimpses we get of Mary in the Gospels, she bears all the marks of a loving and protective mother.

After all she had gone through quite a bit to bring t life into the world.
Considering the shame and the misunderstanding around the circumstances of his conception, she would have been anxious to spare him any scandal.

Her feelings of protectiveness were very evident in the mixup when Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem,

and what we see from that encounter is in the classic tradition of a mother’s supportive, protective and enveloping love.

Over against this, however, is the pull of ‘his Father’s business’.

He told his naturally upset parents ‘Did you not realize that I was about my father’s business?’

His curiosity about the temple and the traditions of his people represent a sort of pulling away from his mother and a reaching out to bigger things.

It has been pointed out that  one of the great struggles of Jesus’ life grew out of the tension he felt between the love of his mother and the call to be about what he called ‘his Father’s business’.

And of course this was only the beginning of what proved to be many frightening episodes for his mother.

On several occasions Mary attempted to intervene and to save Jesus from all this danger,
but with no effect and finally her worst fears came true as she saw him executed as a common criminal.

A nightmare come true…

A cross was where all this talk about ‘His Father’s business’ had gotten him,

and Mary’s soul ended up

– just as Simeon had predicted,

pierced through by the sword of suffering.

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.

We have all seen the distressing images of the mothers fleeing Ukraine…..

We all have our memories , distant or not , of our Mothers

and today we celebrate that memory

Whether we are female or male,

married or single,

parents or not,

we all have had Mothers

We are all humans

and none of us would be here without Mothers.

So on at least this day, we can honour those who gave birth to us and brought us into the world.

Amen. 

Sunday 20th March, 2022

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

Today is sometimes called 2nd chance Sunday!

Which is just what we need in the middle of Lent… especially as we tend to ‘Break Lent’ on St Partrick’s day here in Ireland.

It called 2nd chance because in the Gospel reading I just read, it’s all about second chances.

Jesus is telling a parable.

As was his wont!

Jesus was always telling parables to help people to understand the nature of God.

Today he tells us about a fig tree in a vineyard.

A fig tree that has had no fruit, produces no figs!

Then as now land is precious in Palestine and a tree that doesn’t produce fruit is of no use to anyone

Its just taking up precious space and giving nothing in return.

So the owner wants to cut it down, but the gardener of the vineyard asks for one more year for the tree. 

The gardener knows the land better than any owner.  

Absentee Landlords/owners only tend to see the balance sheet but the actual person who tends to the land sees the land in all it’s potential.

The gardener knows what will fix the problem and assures the owner that he himself will fertilise the ground around it and generally mind it well in order to help it become a fruitful tree.

As always Jesus’ parables are symbolic and always mean more than is said the story.

And in this parable today,

the owner is God the creator of us all

but the gardener is of course Jesus,

Jesus who became one of us,  who got his hands dirty just like a gardener would.

And of course,  WE are the tree that is not bearing fruit.

In this parabolic view, bearing no fruit means that we are not living to our potential…

Not living as true disciples of Christ

The fruit we should be bearing are things like Love, Kindness, Peace and so on…..

and many of you may remember our Flower Festival we had back a good few years ago, the theme of ‘Fruits of the Spirit’

and just a couple of weeks ago I was telling the Confirmation Class about the fruits of the spirit… in fact, the lovely poster is still hanging over in the Parish Hall (and if you go for coffee after church today , you can see it!)

well, these are the nine fruits  of the Christian that St. Paul talked about in his letter to the community living in Galatia…..

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control;

As I said, I was just going through this with the Confirmation Class when we were talking about the Holy Spirit. 

The Holy Spirit cannot be seen or touched but the effects of the Holy Spirit are visible to all…. in the fruits that we bear….

It’s a bit like those familiar words from St Patrick…. I was only quoting from the Breastplate on Thursday!

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me

Christ in every eye that sees me

Christ in every ear that hears me.

Our Christianity should be visible ……

Jesus loved using parables and there’s no doubt that parables are such a wonderful way of getting eternal truths to be understood….

the owner of the garden observes a barren fig tree.

Reasonably, he orders it yanked out.

But the gardener, who is on the ground so to speak, 

suggests that the owner give the fig tree yet another year…..

and the Gardener has a plan to help that fruitless tree.

he’ll break up the hard earth,

aerating the ground around it so the roots can breathe and drink and take in nourishment.

He’ll put manure around it, the substance which is the very basis of life and fertility – changing the very soil nurturing the fig tree.

In Parable terms, here is Jesus is pleading with God to give us more time….

To allow us that second chance to show the fruit of God’s love in our lives.

AND Jesus promises to help us produce the fruit,

and if we do allow Jesus to work in our lives, to nurture us,

we WILL produce the kind of fruit that God expects from us.

You couldn’t get a better time than Lent for aerating the soil and adding humble manure.

This season of penitence is the perfect  time to develop good habits whether it’s daily prayer

or reading the Bible,

or getting involved in community projects,

or whatever it is that in YOUR own life nurtures your soul.

Normally I always give up Social Media for Lent as I find facebook and twitter and instagram, while endlessly fascinating, are not nurturing to my soul…. quite the opposite actually…… but I’m afraid this year I had to just stick to giving up chocolate and biscuits… I felt I really needed the uptodate news on Ukraine that you can only get from Social Media.

So today might be a good chance to think about that second chance that is always so lovingly offered to us

The chance to make ourselves more fruitful, to nurture our souls so that we can be an example for others…

And as I always always seem to be saying…

We don’t do it on our own….

Running with the idea of today’s parable.

We have a very special gardener, one who loves us,

One who will mind us, nurture us, grow us

So that by the power of the Holy Spirit, with the grace of God,

we can become good and fruitful people.

Amen.

St Patrick’s Day

The Rector

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I can’t think of any other saints whose feasts have become so hyped up as that of our own St Patrick.

It is difficult to think of any saint, patron or otherwise,  whose day is celebrated so widely or on such a grand scale.

Wherever the Irish have gone, they have brought St Patrick’s Day with them.

And it’s especially big in the US of course..

I read that 1737 was the first parade – in Boston, when a few Irishment decided to walk down the streets to celebrate the culture they had left behind…. Little did they know what they were starting up!

What is even more extraordinary is that celebrations overseas often went far beyond what was done in Ireland itself.

The massive parade down Fifth Avenue in New York and the celebrations in cities like Chicago far outstripped anything that went on in Dublin.

I remember being in San Francisco in 1983 during St Patrick’s day and being amazed at what was happening there compared to Ireland!

It was such a big event there and that was 40 years ago!…

This year my heart goes out to our Taoiseach who won’t now be able to present the shamrock to President Biden as he has Covid!  I suppose it’ll be the Ambassador who will give the President the customary bowl of shamrock now?

It never used to be the case that St Patrick’s Day was this big here… I remember it being just a fairly boring parade when I was a child… mainly a couple of marching bands from the US and the odd float from Jacobs Biscuits etc along with a few army jeeps and soldiers…

It is only in recent years that Dublin has been trying to catch up on its fellow-Irish overseas by having exotic parades and in fact a whole two day festival.

Although obviously these mega celebrations were curtailed for the ‘Covid years’… actually I think it was the first big thing that was cancelled in March 2020 wasn’t it?

The growth over the years of the event has also meant, unfortunately, the over-the-top commercialisation of the feast not to mention the traditional over-indulgence in you-know-what that is so strongly associated with the Emerald Isle.

The side effect of that is that the person in whose honour the day is celebrated gets forgotten.

What used to be primarily a religious celebration, a ‘holyday of obligation’ as it is known in our sister church, has become overwhelmingly secularised.

It’s even called ‘Paddy’s Day’ most of the time now too.

However, we are here , gathered here in this church as we , and many others, still honour the day by joining in a Eucharistic celebration .

By doing this, we also look back on the person who is supposedly at the centre of the day – Patrick – and the meaning of his life for our country and for each one of us.

Being kidnapped by Irish raiders from his home somewhere in Britain and finding himself keeping body and soul together as a shepherd on an Irish mountain did not seem a promising start to any life.

And yet, it is said that on those long days on the mountain he first began to think of sharing his Christian faith with the people around him.

Somehow, after some six years, he escaped back to Britain. He himself tells us that at this time a voice, which he believed to be from God, told him to leave Ireland.

After his return to Britain, another revelation told him to return to Ireland as a missionary.

During some 15 years of formation he was ordained a priest and then sent to Ireland to work among the Christians there and to evangelise those not yet converted.

And it was in Ireland that he spent the rest of his life tirelessly working in many parts of the country.

Over a period of more than 30 years he made Ireland a Christian country.

In the course of time, it would be the fruit of his work, monks from Ireland, who would bring the Christian faith back to a Europe devastated by the invasions of the so-called ‘barbarians’.

It was Patrick, too, who from the very beginning gave a peculiarly Irish stamp to Christianity in the country.

His years as a shepherd had made him familiar with Irish language and culture.

In introducing Irish people to the Christian message, he incorporated much of traditional ritual rather than totally eradicating native beliefs as ‘superstitious’.

For instance, he used bonfires to celebrate Easter because the Irish honoured their gods with fire.

He superimposed a sun, an important symbol in Celtic culture, on to the Christian cross, creating what we now know as the Celtic cross.

This way of behaving is what we now call ‘inculturation’.

But perhaps the Church in Ireland today could learn something from his successful approach.

The old, traditional ways of presenting the Gospel are perhaps no longer as effective as they once were.

There have been deep cultural changes in Ireland in recent times and the message of the Gospel has to be presented in ways that speak to Irish people today.

It is not good enough to simply reject people as being ‘materialistic’ and ‘consumeristic’.

In presenting the Gospel vision we have to begin by taking people where they are and not where we think we would like them to be.

If we want people to change, the way we present our message may have to change first.

After all communication is not just about speaking;

it is primarily about being heard and being understood…and listening listening listening!

And, hopefully, what we have to say will be accepted because what we say make sense and gives meaning to life.

Jesus is as relevant today as he was in the time of Patrick.  

In this new frightening world of war and aggression, it is more important than ever to communicate Jesus’ message of truth and love, of justice and compassion and the unconditional acceptance of every single person as a brother or sister.

The world needs more than ever to hear this…. As Paul said in our first reading

For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

And yet, as Patrick himself well knew, the message of the Gospel can come up against the most vicious opposition.

The history of Christianity carries a long list of people, men and women, who gave their lives in trying to share this simple message of truth, love and fellowship.

Patrick knew this and from his writings we know that he tried to live the Gospel to the full.

It is thanks to him and to all those who followed in his footsteps to bring the Gospel into our own lives.

But it is an ongoing work…. There is still a huge need for the message of Christ and his Gospel to be made known all over our country and all over the world.

So surely the best way to honour Patrick is to learn from him and follow in his footsteps and, as far we can, to make his mission our own.

I will finish with a short passage from Patrick’s famous ‘Confessions’.

Part of his own ‘Lorica’ prayer

I bind to myself today
God’s Power to guide me,
God’s Might to uphold me,
God’s Wisdom to teach me,
God’s Eye to watch over me,
God’s Ear to hear me,
God’s Word to give me speech,
God’s Hand to guide me,
God’s Way to lie before me,
God’s Shield to shelter me,
God’s Host to secure me,

Against the snares of demons,
Against the seductions of vices,
Against the lusts of nature,
Against everyone who meditates injury to me,
Whether far or near,
Whether few or with many.

Christ with me, Christ before me

Christ behind me, Christ within me

Christ beneath me , Christ above me

Christ at my right, Christ at my left

Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me

Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks to me

Christ in every eye that sees me

Christ in every ear that hears me.

Amen.

Sunday 13th March, 2022

The Rector

Epilogue at Choral Evensong

Luke 14:27-33

‘So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions’   Luke 14

I have been thinking a lot about possessions over the last two weeks. 

Looking at the pictures coming in from Ukraine.

Watching the masses of people leaving everything behind , apart from a wheelie case and a shoulder bag or whatever they can tie onto it…

The odd person clutching their beloved dog or cat

It is truly heartbreaking.

It makes me think about what is important to me.

It makes me wonder about all the STUFF I have collected over my 63 years on this planet.

Even though I do give away things to charity or even to friends sometimes, it still amounts to a huge pile of things…

Just one extreme example is the box under my bed that contains all of the Chanel No. 5  perfume bottles I have ever owned….

I dread to count but I have  been wearing the stuff since I was in my late teens so we’re talking about probably 40ish bottles, big ones, handbag size ones and so on…..

What earthly use will keeping these bottles serve? 

I’m reliably informed that some of them are quite ‘collectable’ at this stage… vintage even!

But I can’t see me ever actually selling them!  I only keep them because of the sentimental value really.

But if bombs were to rain down around Carrigaline, those bottles would soon lose their importance!

This is just one example of many.

And I’m sure each one of you have your own.

My point is that we are all drowning under the weight of our possessions and this is exactly what Jesus is getting across in our second lesson tonight.

Jesus is saying not to let things get in the way of being.

Not to let things tie you down.

If we truly want to follow Jesus, he tells us that we must pick up our cross and follow him

….. now.

not when we have rearranged our collection of cat figurines and dusted our collection of original Victorian postcards or whatever!

I’m being a little flippant of course but sometimes we spend way too much time maintaining what doesn’t really count and ignoring what is important…

And what is important….

Relationships,

Giving time to others,

Spending time with ourselves… and I don’t mean heading to the Spa Girls!

Lent is a time when we traditionally ‘downsize’

We give up things like chocolate and biscuits

We take up things like spending more time in prayer, reading the bible , and other worthy pursuits.

It is our desert time. Like Jesus did, we spend those 40 Lenten days being tempted and resisting… building up our moral muscles!

It is a time to reassess what it is that is important to us.

And hopefully we come to the conclusion that it is our faith, our family and our friends

….. and not our possessions.

I pray that this Lent, we can learn from the hardship we are seeing on our TVs

and really try to redirect our energies from looking after all the stuff we have manage to accumulate

and turn to minding the things that really count…

Our relationship with God and with one another.

Remembering that the best things in life are never THINGS

Amen.

Sermon at Holy Communion morning services

Luke 13:31-35

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

For me, what jumps out from today’s Gospel is the fact that not all the Pharisees were baddies.

This can come as a surprise to us.

We just assume that all Pharisees are hostile to Jesus.

When we call someone a Pharisee we are saying that we view them as dangerously legalistic…sticking to the rules without any consideration for the human situation…. A bit like the UK government with their Visas at the minute you could say.

And yet here we have some pharisees actually warning Jesus that he is in danger, and telling him to seek safety.

The gospels themselves tend to give us a one-sided view of the Pharisees

and yet we know, from our own lived experience that any grouping of people will have good and bad contained within that group.

Yes, most of the Pharisees seem to have been caught up in appearances,  with their outward signs of holiness and their inward bigotry….but what else is new?

We don’t have to go back 2000 years for examples of that kind of behaviour.

But there were the God loving Pharisees too, who sincerely tried to live in faith and charity.

Who perhaps looked at this Jesus of Nazareth,

saw his innate goodness and decided to warn him of that old fox Herod’s designs.

There may have been many more hypocritical Pharisees to the one or two good ones, but this passage shows us that there were some who admired and respected Jesus.

This understanding of the Pharisees as a diverse group demonstrates yet again how dangerous it can be to box people or label people into groups and then condemn them en masse.

We need to constantly examine our attitudes to others.

For if we are to be followers of Jesus then we are called to transcend boundaries and most of all to reach out to others. That’s what he did.

It is a common human failing to label people and to assign faults to an entire group rather than looking and evaluating each individual.

We are all guilty of this.

You know the kind of thing,

We hear it…… or indeed we say it ……..all the time.

All men are that….’

All women are this…’

All travelers do such and such…’

All foreigners are that…’

And we can add

‘The Russians are all like this….’

In our gospel today, Luke lets us know that it wasn’t true to state categorically ‘All Pharisees hated Jesus’

So… what was Jesus’ reaction to the warning?

Did he quake?

He certainly could have been forgiven for being nervous at this news.

Don’t forget that his cousin John the Baptist had recently lost his life at the hands of this Herod.

But no…

Jesus calls the reigning king a ‘Fox’

He says ‘Go tell that fox for me, Listen I am casting out demons and performing cures …..’

In other words, I am about my Father’s business and no sly and conniving earthly king is going to stop God’s work.

There is a story told of the famous bishop Latimer,

who was to preach in Westminster Abbey when King Henry 8th was in the congregation

The absolute monarch was to listen to him

… so no pressure!

While he waw in the pulpit about to preach,  the bishop said to himself

Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say today  for the King of England is here’

But then he thought about it and paused and said to himself

Latimer! Latimer! Latimer! Be careful what you say today for the King of Kings is here’

In other words, our duty is to our King in heaven, not to any earthly power.

As a sad postscript to that story I have to tell you that Bishop Latimer was burnt at the stake in 1555, in the end it was Mary, Henry’s daughter that did for him!

Going back to the gospel, it is obvious that Jesus is using  the word ‘Fox’ very deliberately. 

For the fox in Hebrew culture was a despised creature.

Sly

Destructive

Worthless and insignificant

And this would have been the total opposite of King Herod’s view of himself as the Lion of Judah!

Nothing could have been more insulting to him than to have this itinerant preacher insult his royal dignity by calling him a fox.

Jesus laments for Jerusalem, for he knows that the foxes of this world too often sway the hearts of God’s children.

Jesus is powerless to stop it.

He cannot make us love him.

He desires it but he can’t force it.

We can slam the door shut in his face, leaving us defenseless against the waiting foxes in the shadows

The hardest thing in the world is to love someone you know you can’t shelter and protect.

We’ve all heard of ‘tough love’

Friends of ours in Holland had to face this.

Their young son was addicted to drugs.

He was stealing things from home,

Selling them for a pittance.

They couldn’t seem to get help for him while he was still living at home… the authorities wouldn’t take him on,

They had to put him out of home, and once he was officially ‘homeless’ , all of the awesome  Dutch administrative wheels swung into action and he was brought into a residential drugs rehabilitation program.

But it nearly killed them to abandon their teenage son to the streets…..

even though they knew that it wouldn’t be for long and that it was ultimately for the best.

It is in our loving natures to try to protect those we love with all the resources we have.

This then is what Jesus must surely have felt for the people of Jerusalem.

He cries  ‘How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…and you were not willing’

The lament of Jesus over Jerusalem is that it’s inhabitants  have rejected his offer – God’s offer of love.

Jerusalem had rejected and killed the prophets…as it

would very soon reject and kill him.

Jesus wants to take the city ‘under his wing’ to give it love and protection….but it was unwilling.

He deliberately uses the language of the Psalmist.

Language that would have been well known to his listeners who have been reared on the psalms….

Just listen to the familiar words from Psalm 17

Guard me as the apple of the eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Ps 17:8

Or from Psalm 57

Be merciful to me O God, be merciful to me

For in you my soul takes refuge

In the shadow of your wings I will take refuge

Ps 57:1

Or Psalm 61

Let me abide in your tent forever

Find refuge under the shelter of your wings

Ps 61:4

Or Psalm 63

For you have been my help

And in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy

Ps 63:7

Or Psalm 91

He will cover you with his pinions

And under his wings you will find refuge

Ps 91:4

Remember, all of these psalms were like the hymns of the day and would have been well known to all who sat in synagogues each week.

So the symbol of God’s wings as protection have been a familiar one.

Jesus suffered when Jerusalem rejected him as it had rejected others.

His love was rejected.

Jesus still offers us the love of a Mother Hen,

He still offers us the protection of his wings.

He will follow us again and again into the darkness that we ourselves have chosen to surround us.

He will place himself between the darkness and us.

We look at images of Jesus with his arms outstretched on the cross and can easily visualize the span of the wings of one who longs to protect us.

We just have to say yes.

Amen.

Sunday 6th March , 2022

The Revd Julia Cody , from our Link Parish of Perton, Diocese of Lichfield

Saying ‘No’… to Temptation

Luke 4: 1-13

I wonder if any of you’ve ever been in a desert? One of the most powerful and memorable experiences of my first trip to the Holy Land, back in 2007, was in the desert. There were 40 of us – all training for ministry – who spent almost a month exploring the Holy Land. On this particular day, we travelled south into the Negev desert. The terrain we passed through was barren, dusty, inhospitable… and yet strangely beautiful too.

We stopped at the remains of an ancient city in the desert. Having explored the fascinating ruins of ancient streets, shops, houses and churches, we were invited to head off into the desert with our guide. He led us away from the site, about 20 minutes’ walk into… well nowhere really! It was rocky, dusty and extremely hot – about 42°. We clambered over rocks and down into a valley where our guide suggested we rest under an over-hang of rock.

He encouraged us to take a few minutes there; to sit in silence; to become aware of all around us, using all our senses. It was an incredible experience. We were just 20 minutes away from our coach; there were 40 of us; we had water bottles and decent walking shoes… and yet it felt like we were totally alone – isolated – that no-one knew where we were. It was extremely hot, very dusty, very tiring. We sat in silence, taking in all the sights and smells and our impressions of this wilderness. It felt like we were there ages – actually it was only about half an hour! And then we clambered back to our lovely, cool, air-conditioned coach…  Jesus was led into the desert by the Holy Spirit – by God. He was entirely on his own, without food, for considerably longer than half an hour!

Just before the passage we heard this morning, if you look back to chapter 3 of Luke’s gospel, we read about Jesus’ baptism. If you remember that occasion, as he came out of the water of the river Jordan, the voice of God said, “you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased”. Jesus had just received this incredible affirmation from God of who he was – his calling and vocation were clear. It must’ve been a huge encouragement and endorsement as his public ministry was about to begin. And then, the passage for today opened with the line, “Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit to heal and preach the gospel”…. No!…  “was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for 40 days he was tempted by the devil”. Before his public ministry began, Jesus was led, by God,  into the wilderness, where he spent 40 days fasting, and he faced the devil’s temptations.

What’s this all about? What was God doing leading his Son into such a hostile, and tough time and place – on his own – for all those weeks? Well, firstly, let’s unpack that significant number of days – 40. It’s actually unlikely that Jesus’ time in the wilderness was literally 40 days. Forty is an incredibly symbolic and important number throughout the Bible. When, in the Bible, we hear about something lasting 40 days, it’s referring to a significant time of preparation, and of transformation.

Here’s just a handful of some of the other “40s”:

  • Noah’s life being first transformed by 40 days of rain, and then by 40 days of waiting as his ark rested on Mount Ararat before he sent out the raven to search for dry land.
  • Moses prayed for 40 day periods on Mount Sinai.
  • The spies spent 40 days scouting out the promised-land.
  • Elijah travelled for 40 days on the strength given him by the meal that an angel brought him.
  • David was prepared for kingship through a 40 day challenge issued by Goliath.
  • When God sent Jonah to Nineveh, God gave the people of the city a period of 40 days to change their ways.

So, to describe Jesus’ fast as lasting 40 days makes it clear that this was a significant period of preparation and transformation in his life; a significant time before he began his public ministry.

By speaking of Jesus’ 40 days, St Luke – and St Matthew who also writes about this time in Jesus’ life – give us a big clue as to what it was all about; about what God was doing by leading his Son into this tough time. It was 40 days, in other-words, it was a period of preparation and transformation for what lay ahead.

The three temptations Jesus faced during this period of fasting and preparation would’ve really focused his mind and heart on his ministry – on his priorities; on the way in which he was going to operate; on the kind of Messiah he was going to be. They’re temptations which are actually common to anyone who’s going to have any kind of influence over others – how are you going to treat others and use the position / power / authority / reputation you have?

As I wrote that thought, about how leaders treat others, what immediately came to mind, and probably to yours too as you listen, is the horrendous situation in Ukraine; and the kind of leader Vladimir Putin is – how he is treating others and using the power he has. There’s a quote from Jimi Hendrix which is very neatly phrased and which I found deeply challenging and profound; in a sense, it summarises the entire message of Jesus. Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace”. The essence of the gospel is that the power of love – ultimately demonstrated by Jesus’ sacrifice of his life on the cross – overcomes the love of power and brings peace. Perhaps this truth, and hope, can help us pray for Ukraine.

As we return to Jesus’ temptations, there’s a really interesting parallel between Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, and the time when thePeople of Israel, with Moses, found themselves in the wilderness. The people of Israel were led from slavery in Egypt, to freedom. God’s chosen people were delivered into freedom as they experienced the miracle of crossing the Red Sea on dry ground, and then, immediately after that, God led them… straight into the wilderness! where they spent not 40 days… but 40 years! The Israelites also faced temptations and testing in the wilderness. They grumbled about bread; they were idolaters – with terrible consequences; and they continually put God to the test – the very same issues Jesus was later tempted with.

Jesus came through the waters of baptism, he heard God’s endorsement that he was his unique, beloved, Son, and then found himself in the wilderness, being tempted as to how hewould operate as God’s son – would he miraculously provide food for himself?; would he gain sovereignty by idolatry – by worshipping the devil?: would he test God, provoking God to reveal his power and endorsement of Jesus by rescuing him?

In other words this period of testing and temptation for Jesus was all about the manner in which he was going to be the messiah. And the real test – the very heart of it – was whether he was going to act in the way God wanted him to, or give-in to the temptation to be a very different kind of messiah. 

Jesus said ‘no’ to the temptations he faced; he didn’t use his own power to ease his hunger; he was not self-reliant – rather he drew strength to overcome the struggles he faced by relying on God’s word, on God’s promises and teachings which he’d grown up knowing. He relied on who God is; and said ‘no’.

Jesus’ temptations that we read about, year-in, year-out,  in the Bible, were hard! Jesus is God – and he’s also fully human: he knew the battle of fighting temptation. The temptations he faced might be hard for us to appreciate, but these were the things that truly tempted him – it wasn’t easy for him to stand firm and resist – but, as the writer to the Hebrews said, “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” – he was tempted, just as we are, yet, he was without sin.

I’ve thought quite a lot about what these events in Jesus’ life can teach us – how they challenge us this Lent. Of course, we all face temptations and trials. There are the issues each of us struggle with, personally, and which I’m sure I don’t need to spell out here – we all know what it is that’s the nub of what tempts us.

But I just wonder, in 2022, whether perhaps we can also learn from Jesus’ example of saying ‘no’? Last Sunday around 35 of us from The Church At Perton had the privilege of joining the congregation at our Cathedral in Lichfield for their patronal festival, as they celebrated St Chad’s day.  As you may know, this wonderful act of worship was blessed with a group of visitors from Cork, Cloyne and Ross. There was the musical director and 7 members of the choir from St Fin Barre’s cathedral, joining with members of the Lichfield choir, who beautifully led our sung worship; and the guest preacher was none other than your wonderful Bishop, Bishop Paul. It was lovely to see Bishop Paul, and Susan, again, to catch up and chat about my hopeful visit in July, and it was great to hear him preach.

One of the things Bishop Paul spoke about was weariness, and the sense that many of us are so very weary at this time. As we emerge from all the complexities and challenges of the past couple of years, one of the legacies is that many of us are weary – not just tired, but deep-down weary. One of the ways to combat weariness is to say ‘no’. That sounds so simple, doesn’t it?! I wonder if you remember the advertising campaign, back in the 1980s, aiming to discourage young people from taking drugs with the slogan, ‘just say no’. It makes saying no sound so easy, but, for many of us, saying no really isn’t easy.

I’m sure you know the idiom, ‘to plough on regardless’? Often we just keep going; keep ploughing on. We commend those who manage to keep all the plates spinning; who are busy and keep going; who plough on regardless. Yet I will never forget my Spiritual Director reflecting on that phrase with me. She’d been driving somewhere and in a field she passed a farmer was using really heavy machinery to plough the field. She could hear the deafening sound of the equipment before she saw it, and then suddenly, she saw whatever piece of machinery it was, towering over the hedge, almost bearing down on the road. And she said, if that machine had, ‘ploughed on regardless’ – had been out of control and just kept going – it would’ve been incredibly destructive and dangerous.

We tend to see ‘ploughing on regardless’ as a virtue; but it really isn’t! If we continue to plough on, to keep going, there could be dangerous consequences to ourselves – our mental health – and to those around us. Ploughing on regardless – at what cost?

My husband, Paul, is good at saying ‘no’; and I am not! One of his pithy sayings is that, ‘no is a complete sentence’! Grammatically, I’m not sure if that’s actually true, but it’s a good phrase! What he means is that when you say ‘no’, you don’t have to justify it, make excuses, or explain. Just say no – no is a complete sentence!

What’s this got to do with anything?! Well, this week I’ve been pondering on how perhaps a Lent challenge for me, certainly, and maybe for many of us, particularly at this time when so many of us are weary, is to say ‘no’. The temptation is to keep going, and going and going; the temptation is to be totally self-reliant, digging in deeper and deeper into our own reserves of strength and ability – as if we’re superhuman!

And now it’s Lent, so we ‘should’ do more – we ‘should’ make extra time for God; we ‘should’ add some additional Lentern discipline of prayer; we ‘should’ add a Lent practice of helping others; we ‘should’ make sure we attend a Lent house group or similar…. All good things, of course, and yet, all these ‘shoulds’; they are all extra things to add to already busy lives; if we added all these ‘shoulds’, we’d have to dig even deeper into our reserves. The temptation is to keep going and keep going… but at what cost?

Jesus said ‘no’ to what tempted him – to doing things in his own strength; to being self-reliant. He said ‘no’… and he chose to rely on God’s word and promises. Can we follow Jesus’ example? Can we saying ‘no’ to doing things in our own strength; to being self-reliant?

Let me challenge you – and me – what can we say ‘no’ to this Lent? That might sound really odd and counter-intuitive, and yet, when we say ‘no’ to things which simply add to the burden of our lives – which pull us into self-reliance – that ‘no’ creates a little breathing space, a little space for God.

When we say ‘no’, and as a result discover we have a little more time, it means we don’t have to try and add God on as a ‘should’ of Lent! Rather, as we say ‘no’, and as we look after ourselves a little more, we find we have the space and capacity to say ‘yes’ to God; ‘yes’ to time with God; ‘yes’ to journeying through Lent relying on God’s word and promises; and so learning from how Jesus dealt with temptation.

Jesus time in the wilderness was hard; however long it was, those symbolic 40 days were a significant time of preparation, and of transformation for what lay ahead. He said ‘no’ to the temptations he faced; he wasn’t going to be a self-reliant, power-wielding Messiah – rather Jesus said ‘no’ to those temptations, and instead chose to lean on God’s word and found strength to be a different kind of Messiah, one of humility, love and service.

May we, this Lent, follow Jesus’ example, saying no to temptation, leaning on God’s word, finding strength for the journey. Saying no, so that we can say a whole-hearted ‘yes’ to God.

Rev’d Julia Cody

March 2022

The Rector – Sunday 27th February 2022

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We don’t know and can never know what happened up on that Mountain top.

But something marvelous did happen.

Jesus was praying

He was just about to begin his journey into Jerusalem and all that lay along the road to the cross and here he is taking some time out to seek his Father’s approval and to ask for strength to face what lay ahead.

Up there on the Mountain top (which is where almost all important things had happened in the Hebrew Scriptures), on this Mountain top, Moses and Elijah appeared to be talking with him.

Moses – the great Lawgiver

Elijah – viewed as the greatest of all the Prophets

These two represented all of Israel’s life and thought and religion, they were there – approving of him and his path.

But while the moment of the Mount was absolutely necessary, it could not be prolonged beyond its own time.

Jesus knew he couldn’t stay there… he had to come down from the Mountain top and face his destiny.

But you can understand why the Apostles wanted to stay in that perfect moment.

Why they wanted to put up dwellings and just stay put.

It was one of those perfect moments.

All was well with the world.

We are granted those kind of moments sometimes.

I know that during Epiphany, I often speak of these type of moments….these epiphanies

These moments when you see a bird as if for the first time, its heartbeat underneath the feathers,

or really SEE the colours of that Rainbow,

or look in amazement at the exuberant life of the spring buds on that old dead stick of a scrub….

and for that minute you just kind of get it… you just know what its all about.

But those moments are by their very nature fleeting

And indeed afterwards its hard to believe it happened.

Now we know that Peter was always the man of action.

The man for doing something….anything!

He wants to build dwellings, in other words, he wants to put up something semi permanent, like tents or booths for Jesus and Moses and Elijah to live in.

To keep them there for a little while longer, to keep the moment happening.

To put off the inevitable end of this special time.

But we all have to accept that most of our lives are spent down in the boring everyday valleys rather than at the exciting top of mountains.

We gain strength and purpose from the vivid mountaintop experiences

but those experiences are more to be shared than to hoard just as memories.

There is a time for stillness, a time for contemplation

‘Be still and know that I am God’

Then we have to head back down to the valley

But we return , refreshed and renewed by our time with God.

Ready to make a difference in our world

As we have been commissioned to do…..

And I’ll again throw in a bit of my favourite prayer from Teresa of Avila

Yours are the feet with which

He is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands

with which He is to bless us now.

We are to be in the world making a difference.

But the opposite to this being out in the world is to somehow try and artificially stay in the transcendent moment….that moment of intimacy and nearness to God.

And so we thank God for our Mountain Top transfiguration experiences  and long may we seek & find them

But we also thank God that we have been given the wherewithal to use our inner strength and conviction

to be his hands and his feet in a world which so badly need him.

Poor old Peter wanted to stay in the sheen of Glory and not have to return to the everyday common things…

and who can blame him….

Just before our reading today, Luke tells us that Jesus had spoken about what was ahead for himself

He told his gathered disciples plainly that

‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’

And he warned them…. ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’

Is it any wonder that Peter wanted to stay put!

But the Mount of Transfiguration moments are not wasted, but are given to us  to provide strength for daily ministry

…. to help us walk in the way of the cross.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of the famous John and of our lovely hymnwriter Charles,  apparently used to pray  

Help me Lord, to remember that religion is not be to confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I go, I am in thy presence’

…..

Richard’s favourite theologian ,William Barclay, has put it  beautifully too…. He says that

‘The moment of glory does not exist for its own sake

It exists to clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before’

That’s what I meant about the bird’s feathers, or the rainbow…. Clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before…

So glad as we are to experience the glory of God in many special moments….

Like Peter, it is our job is to bring Gods glory from the mountaintop back down to the valley for all to see.

And our mountaintop experiences will give us the strength that we need to do just that.

Amen

The Rector – Sunday 20th February 2022

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I think that the gospel today is difficult to fathom with our  21st century understanding.

We will never even begin to understand this story unless we realize that , whatever we might think about demons, they were intensely real to the people of Jesus’ time.

And from our reading we can see that the demons were also very real to the deranged man himself!

This poor man seemed to be a case of violent insanity.

He was deemed to be too dangerous to live amongst other people and now he lived among the tombs.

We have to remember how the Jewish people of that time felt about dead bodies and tombs…

To even touch one was to be defiled, impure…  

Never mind actually living amongst the tombs.

So here was a man who was terrifying, on many levels

Someone totally outside of the pale,

A man whose fellow men wouldn’t even approach

Neither to help nor comfort him.

Yet Jesus approaches him , seemingly calm and unafraid.

Giving the man the respect due to any human being, Jesus asks the man his name, and the man answers   ‘Legion’

In other words… not one name but many many names.

A roman legion was a regiment of 6,000 soldiers.

This poor man must have seen a Roman Legion on the march and his poor afflicted mind may have felt that there was not just one demon but a whole regiment inside him.

I have read some commentators saying that perhaps the word ‘Legion’ haunted him because he had seen atrocities carried out by a Roman Legion when he was still a child.

So perhaps it was the sight of such atrocities that left a scar upon his mind and sent him demented…. Obviously we can’t know but this was in 1st Century Palestine, not a time where Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was understood, where the symptoms of PTSD would have seemed to be many demons afflicting the victim.

One thing about today’s story that often puzzles and indeed worries people is that Jesus might have deliberately sent a herd of pigs to their death.

Jesus has often been condemned for sending the demons into the innocent swine.

The act has been characterized as a cruel and immoral action.

We have to ask ourselves …. Knowing what we know about Jesus, is this actually the sort of action that Jesus would have done?

It is so totally out of character.

One way of thinking about it is to put ourselves back in time and view the incident in context.

The demented man was demanding a visible demonstration of his ‘cure’

The pigs , who were probably feeding on the mountain side, were terrified by the man’s screams and shouts and began running.

Jesus, on seeing the pigs stampeding, might have jumped at this opportunity to show the poor afflicted man that his demon legion were really departed from his troubled mind.

This , to me, sounds more plausible, knowing what we know about Jesus and his way.

But what I find particularly interesting is the reaction of the people in being afraid ….. why afraid? why weren’t they celebrating?

If we read on the next few verses it becomes clear

Those who had seen it told them how the one who had been possessed by demons had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them; for they were seized with great fear.

They told Jesus to leave them, go away……

They didn’t want their life disrupted, their life was peaceful before he came along. Yes, the poor man was living a torturous life but they were aright…. They valued their swine more than they valued the soul of this poor man.

One of the dangers we constantly have to avoid is danger of valuing things more than people.

Historically this is what has created slums and horrific working conditions all over the world.

Putting profit before people….the greed of wanting more things , more money , more more more…

No thing is this world can ever be as important as a person.

Last week I attended an online gathering run by the people in the UK who organize Refugee Week , which is in June each year.

One of the elective workshops I attended virtually was on Climate and Refugees and I know I have spoken before about how climate crises feed into people’s displacement but to hear the stories directly from refugees themselves was very stark.

One man, Roh Yakobi, a Hazara from the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan spoke of how in his childhood he remembered playing in the knee deep snows of winter, how fertile the land was but then his village rivers and streams had dried up, he watched his younger brother die of malnutrition, how he himself had fled to Kabul, and then he had to escape from the Taliban …. How he had been used, still a young teenager,  as a drugs mule into Iran, finally making it via Pakistan to the UK…. All of this 22 years ago. He wanted to emphasise the geo-political effects of Climate Change, with the vicious cycle of violence, persecution and war.

And certainly I have read that the Civil war in Syria was in part triggered by climate changes and the movement of people internally in the country.

The reason I mention the workhop is in the context of valuing things rather than people.

The other person who resonated with me that day was called Emmanuela Yosohelo.

Emmauela was a young woman, a refugeee from the Democratic Republic of Congo,  who wanted to point out that it was the historic effects of colonialism, neo-colonialism and capitalism, along with the changes in climate, that had triggered the dire societal problems that forced her to be a refugee.

In her experience it was irresponsible mineral mining that had caused most of the climate crises in her country with all it’s terrible effects on her society.  She said that there were many layers involved but that is usually all comes back to one thing  

‘GREED for PROFIT’

Small-scale mining in the DRC involves people of all ages, including children, obligated to work under harsh conditions.

If we take just one mineral – Cobalt – which is an essential mineral for the lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, laptops and smart phones,  and the leading country in worldwide cobalt mine production is the Democratic Republic of Congo, having produced an estimated 95,000 metric tons in 2020 alone.

But of the 255,000 Congolese mining for cobalt, 40,000 are children, some as young as six years!

The nature of the work that involves children in artisanal or small scale mining in the DRC is extremely hazardous, harming children’s health and safety. … In fact, most children working in these mines do not have the most basic protective equipment, such as gloves, boots, helmets or facemasks.,,

Cobalt is used for many everyday things that we need I know ….

Most importantly for us is perhaps as battery materials, especially those batteries used in our mobile phones  

but the mining of it should not be unethical… if we have to pay more , then we must pay more

for things should not be more important than people…..

In each and every story we read about Jesus in the Gospels, he put people before things…..

Again reading on from today’s portion of the gospel, listen to  what happened with the man himself..

‘The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.’ So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.’

He had, perhaps naturally, wanted to follow Jesus.

But Jesus tells him no….

‘Return to your home

and declare how much God has done for you

In other words,

go and be a witness to the life-changing power of God.

Christian witness, like charity, always begins at home, always begins where you are at this very moment in time.

Witness to Christ , to Christian values and ethics, wherever you find yourselves.

And if we are the only one witnessing to Christian values

in the shop, the school , the office, the factory

or the circle in which we live and work

So what!

It is a challenge that God sets all of us.

We are all asked to go and declare what God has done for you!

Amen.

The Revd Richard Dring – Sunday 13th February 2022

Luke 6: 17-26

The Gospel reading today is a text we commonly call the Beatitudes and are detailed in the reading from Luke we have listened to today.

The Beatitudes are also found in Matthew 5, 1-11. It is also of interest to read the verses just before the reading from Luke, verses 12 to 16. Luke tells us that Jesus has come down from the mountain where he chose his 12 Disciples. This is different to the way we are told Jesus chose his Disciples in the other Gospels. The extra verses do however set more of the context of the Beatitudes as it does suggest that the main focus of the teaching was to the Disciples he had just selected. The fact that there are more present than the chosen 12 is not really of any significance, just part of the story.

Another difference between the Gospels is where Jesus addressed the Disciples, in Matthew we are told he went up the mountain, yet in Luke we are told he came down the mountain and addressed the crowd on the plain. While these are differences, we should not be distracted by the differences, and must focus on the core message and content of the Beatitudes.

Tom Wright compares the passage to the selection of a team, as we know the team has just been selected and here Jesus is setting out in very clear terms as set of Do’s and Don’ts. Jesus has used the scriptural code set out in Deuteronomy as the basis for his teaching. These laws as set out in Deuteronomy would have been very familiar to all present as the book of Deuteronomy is one of the core texts of the Torah. The Torah forms the basis of the texts used in the Synagogue every week. These were an important part of the Covenant between the Jews and God so are sacred to the Jews.

In today’s reading Jesus has taken a small number of what he considered key teachings and in doing so has turned popular opinion on its head, as he so often does with his teaching and interpretation. Jesus has said that Blessed are the hungry, the poor, those who weep and you, when people hate you for your belief in the Son of Man. Jesus is saying the kingdom of God is there for everyone no matter where or what they may have experienced. This is turning society on its head as the expectation was more along the lines that God favoured those who had everything. Society in the time of Jesus favoured those who were privileged and had everything. Those who were on the edge of society would have felt initially the Kingdom of God was not for them. This group were never included and indeed were in most cases rejected. Here Jesus is clearly saying NO, that is not the case and the Kingdom of God is for all. In many ways not that different from the society we live in today.

The second four teachings are reinforcing the message of the first four as Woe to you if you are Rich, Well fed, Laughing and others speak well of you. What a contrast!

This brings us to the key challenge we are all facing in the World in which we live today. Are we any different to the Society of Jesus time? Where do we fit in the picture that Jesus delivered with the 8 beatitudes?

I have no simple answer as we are living in a world where many of the issues that confronted Jesus are no different today. We are seeing the mass migration of people across the globe. These people are moving for a variety of reasons, some are workers being moved to new opportunities in a different country by their employer or Government, and many more are displaced persons fleeing a repressive regime, starvation or even economic migrants looking for a better opportunity and lifestyle. In our connected world they see an apparent better life and want to have this “better life” as well.  The key challenge for us is that one group is welcomed and the other group is treated as an unwelcome migrant. Where does this fit with Jesus teaching.

We can all justify and enjoy the lifestyle we are accustomed to, however how do we reconcile this with the teaching in the Gospel reading today. I have no simple answer and believe it is up to each one of us individually to take time and consider are we fulfilling the principles of Jesus teaching in our own lives.

Coming back to Tom Wright and his analogy of selecting a team, he then challenges us to consider what team Jesus would pick if he came among us today. Would we consider that we should be part of the team. As I have said I do not have a simple quick answer to the questions raised, simply presenting us all, myself included, with the questions posed by the challenging content of today’s Gospel and where we fit in the picture presented by Jesus.

I leave you with this to think about in the week ahead.

The Rector – Sunday 6th February 2022

4th Sunday before Lent

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel story today seemed to be all about fishing but like almost every story in the Gospels, there is something more going on deeper down, beneath the surface (if you’ll forgive the sea images) and I think the gospel today was about trust more than anything else.

Nighttime was the time for fishing, and it was now day.

If anyone else had said to Peter to ‘launch out into the deep and let down the net for a catch’

He would have said ‘Are you mad?’

Do you want me to make a fool of myself in front of all the other people?’

But because it was Jesus speaking to him, Peter’s immediate response was to do as he asked.

He said ‘Lord , we fished all night long and caught nothing,

but if you say so, I will let down the net’

For Peter, the word of Jesus was different from the word of anyone else.

You’d imagine that he’d say to himself ‘sure what would a Carpenter from Nazareth know about fishing….’

I looked it up on Google …. Nazareth is 30 km from any sea, a very very long way in those days.

But for Peter, Jesus’ word carried an authority which no other word carried.

If Jesus called for it,

then no matter how hopeless the situation might seem,

or how tired Peter was ,

or how foolish he was going to appear,

well then he would try again.

So the Gospel story is not so much a story about fishing but about trust.

Jesus was saying to Peter,

How far are you prepared to trust me?’

It was a turning point in Peter’s life.

Peter had absolute trust in Jesus.

At his word, he was prepared to attempt the impossible…..

Actually we’ll see that demonstrated later on in the Gospel when Peter tries to walk on water too.

Whatever Jesus told Peter to do, he was prepared to do

Fishing was an important occupation,

then as now.

Look how seriously the lads down in Castletownbere took it…. Enough to stand up to the Russian Navy if need be!

We are an Island people and we all know just how much fishing can demand from people, many lives are lost each year at sea in the fishing industry.

Here in Carrigaline , we hear the rescue helicopters over us on a regular basis.

Remember too that this wasn’t recreational fishing that Peter and his companions were up to.

This was serious fishing…. This was their livelihood.

The lake of Galilee is 13 miles long and about 8 miles across.

The river Jordan flows into the lake from the North and then the river flows south from the lake into the dead sea in the south.

In the time of Jesus there were at least 9 cities around the lake with a population of more than 15,000.

Josephus , writing around the same time as Jesus was alive,  tells us that on one expedition he was able to commandeer 240 fishing boats.

In fact fish used to be sent from Galilee as far as  Rome!

But while I’m sure Jesus appreciated fisherman, he was calling Peter and his companions to an even more important occupation

He was offering them not just a new job but a new way of living, to which they could dedicate their entire life.

They understood that he was calling them to service of others.

‘from now on you will be catching people’ he told them.

Jesus called the apostles not be his personal servants…. We know that he had no  need of that kind of subservience.

But he did call them to be of service to others….as he himself was!

And the Lord still calls people.

the need is just as great today.

And there are still many who respond.

Our first reading from Isaiah has those lovely words ‘Here am I Lord, Send me’

(this reading is often used at Ordinations, mine included, to remind the person being ordained that they are called by God!  – terrifying!)

Some who are called, like the apostles, feel called to devote themselves full-time to serving Christ in some capacity.

Some, equally importantly, are called to serve Christ in whatever walk of life they happen to be in.

But one thing is clear, and there is no getting off the hook on this one (again sorry for the fishy reference!)

In our first reading it is the commission of Isaiah that we are called to witness, and in our Gospel the call of Peter.

Such events do not always happen in temples filled with smoke and chanting seraphim.

Sometimes it happens in the midst of daily life on a lake in northern Galilee.

It begins rather than ends with a sign.

For Isaiah it was a burning coal that followed his objections.

For Peter it begins with a sign – a boat filled with fish.

Peter’s reaction,

like most of the prophets who we hear of being called ,

is one of backing off

‘I am a sinful man, go away from me’

But there is no getting away from God, and there is no getting away from the fact that we are all called.

We were called at our baptism to follow Christ

So this means we are called to be a Christian

wherever we find yourselves

in whatever is our chosen profession or situation.

This ties in with what I was saying in the front of the Pew sheet today…  the quote about ‘Sometimes I want to ask God why he allows poverty, famine and injustice in the word when he could do something about it, but I’m afraid he might just ask me the same question’

If not you, then who?

There are many many ways of serving Christ…

You often hear people say

oh such & such is gone into ‘the Church’’!

As if only ordained people were the church.

Those of us who are ordained are just serving Christ in one way among many ways.

The primary call is always to discipleship,

and that call is for us all.

We are all called to be catchers of people!

Amen.

The Rector – Sunday 30th January 2022

(4th Sunday after Epiphany / Candlemas celebrated)

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today’s sermon is in two parts in a way.

 … this, the usual words exploring what we have just listened to in the appointed readings from Scripture….

and then at the end, we will light our candles with the flame from the Pascal Candle (first lit at the Easter Vigil) and we will remember the Crib as we extinguish the flame and look toward the Cross.

As most of you know, in previous ‘normal’ years, we would have gathered in a clump around the font but this year we will stay in our pews for this bit ….

So why do we do this?

Well ,in the rhythm of our Christian liturgical year,

2nd February is exactly 40 days after the 25th December and is always been remembered as the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the temple.

Though the 12 days of Christmas ended with the 12th night and the feast of the Epiphany, there is also the tradition where we reflect on the great mystery of God born as one of us, as an infant, until February 2nd, until the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

This feast, which we keep today, the nearest Sunday to 2nd , came to be called by the shorter and more beautiful name of Candlemas because it celebrates, as we heard in our Gospel, the old man Simeon who took the baby Jesus in his arms and recognised him as ‘A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.’

If you think about it, ‘Christmas’ proper name is the Feast of the Navity but no one ever calls it that!

So on the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, it became the custom of the church to light a central candle and bring it to the altar to represent the Christ-light,

and also on the occasion of this feast to bless all the ‘lights’ or candles in the church,

I was reading a wonderful poem about Candlemas by Malcolm Guite, who pointed out that it had always been prophesied that God would one day come into the Temple that human beings had built for him. Though Solomon, who built the first temple had said that ‘even the Heavens are too small to hold you much less this temple I have built’.

He said that he thought ‘Candlemas is the day we realise that eternity can come into time and touch us in the form of a tiny child, that God appears at last in His Temple, not as a transcendent overlord, but as a vulnerable pilgrim, coming in His Love to walk the road of life along side us.’

On the 8th day of his life, the baby Jesus had been brought to the temple for his circumcision and now on the 40th day Mary, accompanied by Joseph had to visit the Temple,

There were three ceremonies to be undertaken, Mary had to undergo the postpartum rites of cleansing, to be purified in other words , and also the couple had to present their baby Jesus on the fortieth day following his birth, just as Jewish law required, the redemption of the first-born and the presentation of the child to the service of God.

Luke’s Gospel tells us that in the temple as well as a resident prophet named Anna, there was a man named Simeon who immediately recognize and welcome Jesus.

Taking the child into his arms, Simeon turns his voice toward God and offers praise for the “light for revelation” that has come into the world.

And in time, with a nod to Simeon, some churches began to mark this day with a celebration of light, praying that all who saw that outward and visible light would remember also and be blessed by the inner light of Christ ‘who lightens everyone who comes into the world.’

And so we had the ‘Candle Mass’,

and during this particular service, the priests would bless all the candles to be used in the year to come.

Of course in secular terms the 2nd February also coincides with the turn toward spring and lengthening of light in the Northern  Hemisphere (most of you know the Groundhog Day film? That’s also 2nd February!)

and so Candlemas offers a liturgical celebration of the renewing of light and life that comes to us in the natural world at this time of year, as well as in the story of Jesus.

Like the little snowdrops that poke their heads up out of the brown leaf sodden ground… shouting Spring is on the way…

Actually in the UK, Snowdrops are often called Candlemas Bells! Isn’t that lovely!

So just as we are emerging from the deep of winter, the feast of Candlemas reminds us of the perpetual presence of Christ – our Light – in this and every season.

In a phrase that I love, Candlemas is called a ‘hinge moment’ in our liturgical year.

It is the hinge moment when we turn our back on the crib and turn our face towards the cross.

As hymn 203,-  which we will be singing a little later puts it

When Christmas greets Easter on Candlemas Day’

This year Lent will be beginning quite late – 2nd March….

Easter this year is 17th April…. quite late!

But when we begin Lent , we have really have left the incarnation and infancy of Jesus behind us

and we begin to focus on the adult Jesus, the healer, teacher, prophet and priest.

Luke tells us that Simeon was ‘looking forward to the consolation of Israel’  – what a lovely name for the Saviour to come

‘the Consolation of Israel’

And of course, Simeon’s prayer is so familiar to us all.

We say it at every Evensong,

I say it at the end of every funeral , as I walk out ahead of the coffin, I say the words of Simeon.

Now Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace …..

Simeon’s words telling us that he is welcoming a more peaceful transition for himself,

a retirement from Temple service and eventual death,

since , like Anna, what he had been awaiting is now fulfilled.

Interestingly it is only Luke who tells us about Anna,

The prophet Anna, who recognizes Jesus as the child who would be the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke always tends to include the witness of women to Jesus at a time when such witness was not allowed or acceptable in law courts.

And I know I have mentioned many times before that the tradition is that Luke was told of all that had happened by Mary, the Mother of Jesus,  and that explains why we hear women’s words  compared to the other evangelists….. who knows! But I love it!

And it is lovely to hear of this woman, Anna – so long a widow, so dedicated to the temple.

A woman who was granted her fervent prayer to see the Messiah before she dies.

It is almost 40 days since we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ

Today we recall the day on which he was presented in the temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

As I mentioned, at the end of our normal service, we will end with a short Candlemas liturgy , all in the Pewsheet

We will light our candles as we sing hymn 203.

Then together , as a community, we will carefully extinguish the candles….

And do be really careful blowing it out, do make sure you move your mask first!  I have almost set myself on fire many times over the last two years blowing out the church candles!

As we blow out the candles slowly and thoughtfully ,

we take the time to remember the baby Jesus

who grows into the man Jesus

Jesus who was Man but also Son of God.

Fully man but without sin.

Not unapproachable but one who understands us in all our weakness,

We begin our liturgical journey towards Lent,

We give one last glance back at the baby Jesus

before we turn our faces towards the cross.

We celebrate the joy of his coming,

by looking back to the day of his birth

AND then looking forward in time to the coming days of his passion, death and Resurrection.  Amen.

The Rector – Sunday 23rd January 2022

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

In our gospel reading for this third Sunday after Epiphany,

we hear again from Luke’s Gospel ,

from the continuing story of Jesus,

who today is preaching in a synagogue in his home town of Nazareth of Galilee,

I mentioned last week when we were talking about Cana of Galilee, about how I was in the Holy Land in 2006 and when I was in Nazareth, I was delighted to see the little church which is built on the very site of the synagogue mentioned in todays reading.

I had always loved this story of Jesus, preaching for the first time in his hometown, and because of this association,  I took lots of out of focus photos of the church, which I really like, even if no one else quite sees the importance of these grainy prints!

In that synagogue, Jesus read from the appointed reading for that day, which happened to be the reading from Isaiah

‘The spirit of the Lord is upon me for he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor’

And then when he’d finished reading from the scroll,

he  told the people listening to him that ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’

This is an example of the sort of Scroll Jesus would have read from… it is sized down obviously, this is just something from Jerusalem that I can use when talking to children but I thought you’d all be interested in it today.

In a bigger version, this is what Jesus would have rolled out and reverently read from…

For Jesus, along with all of his community, had total respect for their Scriptures. 

These ancient scriptures told the story of his ancestors, how God had chosen Abraham, Isaac & Jacob, had guided the people of Israel, out of slavery in Egypt into the land of Milk & Honey, Israel.

Their precious scriptures told them all they needed to know about how their nation had evolved , from their nomadic beginnings, through strange lands, through slavery, through glorious kings & abject exile, through limited freedom and total foreign occupation.

Our first reading today from the Prophet Nehemiah emphasised the importance of the communities sacred scriptures..  the Scribe Ezra reads from the recently retrieved book of the Law – the Torah – the first 5 books of the Bible : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy….

And when he read ‘the ears of all the people were attentive to the book of the law’

These people, so recently returned from their exile, were finding themselves again as a nation, in the words of their scriptures.

As you know, a group of parishioners are reading through the bible each day this year… we are on Exodus now! Which is the second book of the Pentateuch (literally means 5 books!)

Lots of questions come up at the Zoom sessions on Wednesdays….

And there is no doubting that some of the readings from the Old Testament are hard to digest….

We expect to find the word of God is a somehow pure form, like a handbook of morality

But instead we find stories about the past of a tiny people, stories of an unedifying and immoral kind which you can hardly read without blushing….. wars, murders, antiquated morality, out of date and misogynist…

It was no wonder back in the middle ages that bible reading was discouraged as being perhaps detrimental to your faith!…  not of course that there were that many people educated enough to actually read it in the original Hebrew or Greek… or even in the only available translation at that time – Latin.

And nowadays, although we are better educated AND we have great translations into English, well now, a lot of what we read in the Old Testament just sounds so dated…. Well of course it would be! …

We are talking about a series of books – 39 in all, all different genres of literature, written over a period of 1500 years….

That’s like having a book like the Canterbury Tales side by side with Harry Potter in your bookcase!

Or Shakespeare love sonnets beside Tolkiens ‘The Hobbit’ beside Winston Churchhills memoirs of World War II!

Each book of the Old Testament must be read as a product of the time it was written, apart from the Genre (is it poetry, is it semi-biographical, is it an Epic, is it a list of genealogy for a family)… we need to ask what were people experiencing when it was written… Was it written in the happy days when David was King or was it written five hundred years later in a camp of exiles in Babylon…. ‘How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land’?

While we might wonder is it worth the effort?

In fact we might think that we don’t really need the Old Testament… after all we have Jesus and our New Testament….

We have to remember that yes, the Old Testament is needed ,  apart from its own fascinating self,

it is also needed so that we may understand Jesus and his worldview.

Many of the words used by Jesus or his disciples are part and parcel of the religious culture of the time and have far more than a surface meaning.

For example, if I said to you ‘Red Cross’ or ‘Pentagon’ you’d know I wasn’t talking about geometrical figures… these words are part of our culture and are all symbolic – with profound historical connotations.

Similarly, scripture – the Old Testament – formed the basis of the culture of Jesus and his disciples.

Titles applied to Jesus like Messiah, or Christ, son of David, son of God, suffering servant, Shepherd, prophet

Or expressions like Covenant, Vine, Zion, Water, Breath have a rich content which has come to maturity over a long period in the history of Israel.

It’s very important that we understand symbolic language.

If I said to you, ‘that man is a lion’ – you would get that I mean that man is brave….

but only because we understand that we are transferring to the man all that the image of a lion evokes….

C.S. Lewis knew this imagery worked well when he chose Aslan to be a lion in his Narnia books.

But symbolic language only works when we all have the same experience and understanding of the symbols.

If I’ve never heard of a lion or a lion’s bravery ,

well what does ‘that man is a lion’ mean?

Never mind the first reading from the Old Testament, even todays Gospel reading from the New Testament wouldn’t make as much sense to us if we didn’t have the wonderful books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

What is a Synagogue , What is a Scroll, Who is Isaiah?

But we do know…

We know because we have the Old Testament,

we know that Isaiah lived in the 8th/7th century before Christ, and that the words Jesus read aloud from that scroll in that synagogue in Nazareth that day were written 700 years before he was born…. 700 years but still pertinent to those listeners in Nazareth.

And still pertinent to us.

Because we also know that Jesus is the awaited Messiah, so we understand that he can claims these words for his own…

He can, with confidence,  tell those gathered in his home town synagogue that today  

‘this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’

The Prophet Isaiah’s words have become his mission now.

To bring good news to the poor

To proclaim release to the captives,

Recovery of sight to the blind

To let the oppressed go free

Amen.

The Rector – Sunday 16th January 2022

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Well, last week was all about Baptisms

And this week it’s all about Weddings!

In our appointed gospel reading for this second Sunday after Epiphany,

we heard from John’s Gospel of how,

at a small wedding in a small town in a small province of a small country in the Middle East, 

Jesus actually begins his own ministry.

I was in the Holy Land in 2006 and when I was in Nazareth, I was thrilled when our guide pointed out a little settlement on the way into city of Nazareth itself which, he said, was Cana, the very site of this first miracle.

The first time ‘he let his glory be seen’ as John puts beautifully puts it.

And Jesus chose to do it , not in a fancy temple, but at a community event.

(although to be honest, his Mother did a bit of pushing on that one!)

But the point is that it was in the midst of his own community that he chose to give the first of his signs as John calls his miracles.

Jesus had an agenda, but he let himself be diverted from that agenda so that  some ordinary people wouldn’t be embarrassed in public.

For it would indeed have been a disgrace to the couple and their family had they run out of wine.

Mary his mother had gently but firmly put it to Jesus that it didn’t matter whether he felt his hour had not yet come, the occasion demanded action.

And so it became the scene for his glory to be seen and ‘his disciples believed in him’

And for his Glory to be seen, we his followers surely need to speak with one voice of this Glory….

The week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins on Tuesday 18th January.

This year, the theme is  ‘We saw the Star in the East, and we came to worship him’ from Matthew 2:2

The story of the Magi visiting the Holy Family in Bethlehem is one very familiar to us.

The Magi have sometimes been seen as a symbol of the world’s diversity – different religions and cultures – that comes to pay homage to the Christ–child. The story might therefore represent the unity of all created that God desires.

The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in 2022 has been prepared by the churches of the Middle East, the history of which was, and still is, characterised by conflict and strife, tainted with blood and darkened by injustice and oppression.

The Christians of the Middle East hope that the resources offered this year will help people be conscious that the world shares many of the travails and much of the difficulties that they themselves experience, and that the whole world yearns for a light to lead the way to the Saviour who is the light that overcomes darkness.

In the last couple of years, the parish priests from Carrigaline and Monkstown have preached here and I together with Revd Tony Murphy and Revd Richard Dring, have preached in their churches.

This is always worthwhile but this year from a logistical point of view we weren’t able to organise it.

I’m afraid that the height of our ecumenical endeavours in the week that follows is that on Wednesday I will be joining Fr Pat and Fr Sean for lunch!

Next year we will hopefully have a proper Ecumenical Service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity…. That’s the plan anyway!

But you know, in a way, even meeting for lunch is something….and not a bad thing seeing as how we are doing our ecumenics all year round…..

Well , we used to … in non Pandemic times!

But even in this restricted year, in December, we did manage to have the Carrigaline Community Carols and both Fr Pat and the newly ordained deacon Revd Giacomo attended.

But Fr Sean didn’t join us for the 9 Lessons & Carols as we were so tight for space in St John’s, and so it wasn’t really a community event as would have normally been the case.

I haven’t actually seen Fr Sean in months so I look forward to meeting up on Wednesday…. And we all will certainly feel the lack of Fr Con on that day, especially as we will be in the Bosun.

But in normal times, both Pat and Sean are frequent visitors to our services, Harvest, Remembrance and so on.

We used to always have a joint service in Monkstown at dawn on Easter Sunday.

Pat and I join together for the Community School remembrance and graduation Masses , I join Sean for the Golf Club Mass and so on and so on.

The local clergy have a really good relationship which goes beyond the formal week of prayer for Christian unity and I know this mirrors the very real bonds that exist among all of the laity too.

This was seen in all its glory in the combined efforts of the Carrigaline Ecumenical Group who organized for the Syrian Family to live in the area. As you know they arrived in June of last year and are settling in very well but obviously we need to respect their privacy.

But even saying all that , I do think that we still need to ask ourselves, even now, in 2022,

Whether within all our different Christian denominations,

with all our preoccupations with those fractures, those differences,

I think we can still do with asking ourselves just what is all our Christian ministry about?

What is our agenda? 

As groups of churches as well as as individuals.

We need to ask ourselves , whether ,

as Jesus let his ‘Glory be seen’ in Cana of Galilee,

do we in our own lives and actions allow his glory to be seen?

or in our divisions have we managed to hide that Glory somewhat?

Are our divisions stopping us from bringing good news to the poor?

Are we being hampered in proclaiming release to the captives? or recovery of sight to the blind?

Are we too busy maintaining our own little holy huddles to help the oppressed to go free,

Do we expect people to conform to our particular way of being before we offer them the Good News?

Do we believe that our brand is somehow more effective than theirs?

We don’t deny or ignore the many differences between our traditions,

God created diversity and there would be nothing as boring as everyone being exactly the same.

but those differences don’t have to be divisive… especially if the divisions stop us from doing good.

We are indeed Christ’s own community….

people made one in the unity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We all have one Lord, one faith, one baptism

We need to be sufficiently courageous and imaginative to embrace God’s gift of church unity.

How can we, if we focus on our differences rather than what we have in common, avoid diluting his Glory?

What kind of picture do we present as Christians if we don’t attempt to bridge the gaps between Christian traditions in any way we can?

No matter how small!

 When we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he showed us a consistent pattern of responding positively and often unconventionally, to difference,

He crossed ethno-religious/sectarian boundaries in his choice of disciples,

He welcomed traditional ‘enemies’ such as Samaritans , and the so-called ‘unclean’

He used non-violent subversion of oppressive social mores to make his points.

All people , even women, were welcome in his radical community.

and now the entire Christian Church, is charged with being the steward of his gospel,

we are responsible for the incarnation of such a welcoming, grace-filled community:

and as I said earlier, I observed this in actuality in the Refugee welcoming group.

For if we say we follow him,

WE  are to cross boundaries,  to love ‘enemies’,

WE are to offer healing and challenge oppression in all its forms.

We have to keep remembering that we,

in all our individual Christian denominations,

lift our eyes and hearts to the same Lord and Saviour on the cross.

We are all charged with helping to display his glory

We are just different families of peoples,

but we are all the one family of the one Lord.

And we, his people, can make a difference.

Each one of us, now, in 2022 , here in our community in Monkstown & Carrigaline.  

Amen.

Amen.

The Rector – Sunday 9th January 2022

In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit

I wasn’t here last week so I can still say ‘I cannot believe it is 2022!’   Although in a way, 2021 was a bit of a non event for so many of us…. It seemed in a strange way that life stood still between March 2020 and now…. All that worry, all those lock-downs, the church is open, the church is closed, stand well away from each other, wash your hands…. On and on and on and on

And it’s still not over.

Over Christmas, as most of you know, I caught the dreaded Covid

And while I was sick of course, it was nothing like it would have been 18 months before,

I was double vaccinated with a booster and I was still sick….

Are anti-vaxxers out of their minds?

Anyway, I thank God for science and all it’s benefits and I thank God I’m standing here today.

Now , on with the sermon, which on this first Sunday of Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord , is of course all about Baptism….

All of our readings this morning have Baptism as their theme.

Our first reading from Isaiah doesn’t mention it explicitly as Baptism but listen to this

‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine’ –  he obviously didn’t use the word Baptism or

Christening but this is what he speaks of and when Isaiah has the Lord saying ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you’ our minds immediately turn to the waters of baptism.

In one way baptism is an obvious choice for the readings after Christmas, after all, in our Christian tradition , we baptise infants and Jesus has just been born,

….but …..we know that Jesus was an adult when he was baptised by John in the Jordan river so it isn’t just a cosy slotting together of texts after Christmas.  This is not why the Baptism of our Lord is celebrated on the first Sunday of the Epiphany…

The story of Jesus’ Baptism comes at the beginning of this season and that is no accident.

An epiphany is all about sudden revelation, a sudden understanding about something….

as in the Epiphany that the Wise Men had regarding the tiny baby they had travelled so far to see.

And what an epiphany is recounted in the gospel today ……

when literally the heavens open and the Holy Spirit comes down upon Jesus.

We are asked to see baptism as an epiphany, as a  beginning, as an eyeopener.

It fits in beautifully with New Year doesn’t it…. the whole idea of new year resolutions, of beginning a new way of living, which is what most of us try to do each January

Actually , this year, the only resolution I made was to read the Bible in a Year, along with a fair few of you!

So we don’t remember Jesus’ baptism because we have just celebrated his birth… we’ve established that.

But because , for various reasons, infant baptism is the norm for us, we can sometimes forget the theology that is behind baptism

When a baby is baptised in our church, it is usually a wonderful opportunity for us all to think about the promises that we made when we were welcomed into the Church.

Which is why I really am sad that the last couple of baptisms had to be outside of the normal service times as we wouldn’t have fitted the extended family along with the normal attendees in the church.

But in normal times, I have found that in a service where is a baptism, we really get to think about the words of the Creed as we all repeat our commitment to the Church.

I often get asked what is the difference in the wording… some people get confused about the words Christening and Baptism but it basically means the same thing.

Baptism comes from a Greek word which means washing and this is what happens of course – the washing at a Baptism is a sign of the new beginning which Baptism is all about, this word was used prior to Jesus’s own life

and of course Christening is, as the word suggests, about being ‘in Christ’ and this word only became used by the early Christian communities.

But what I am saying, is that what is really important for all of us is to realise is that when we were baptized / christened, 

we became part of the Church, the so-called ‘Body of Christ’ because everyone in it is part of Christ, we are what Jesus has left here to do his work .

And it is also important to remember that Christian Baptism is NOT denominational baptism… you are not baptised into the Church of Ireland, or the Roman Catholic Church, or the Lutheran Church or whatever…. you are baptised into the Church of God fullstop.

So in Baptism, you become a member of the Body of Christ, a member of THE Church.

You belong to the Church and the Church belongs to you.

It is now your Church and you are one of its members.

This is a serious commitment and the promises that were made for you at the time of your baptism are very serious too.

It’s not just the giving of a name ,

I was Elaine before I was baptised on 19th December 1958 in the Pro Cathedral in Dublin – 5 days after I was born…  back in the ‘olden’ days, when I was born, the baby was always baptised fairly promptly…. A combination of superstition and higher infant mortality.

My baptism back then was all about making me a member of the Church, both the world wide church and the individual local church.

In families, when a new baby comes along, everyone gets involved and excited

and when the family of the Church has a new member, we all get involved and excited too.

And that why there really is no such thing as a private baptism, they do and should take place in front of the normal congregation along with the baby’s extended family, 

 And of course sometimes, there is often a very good reason for having a baptism outside of the normal service times, e.g. Pandemic! and I am happy to go along with that.

Generally as our baptisms are for infants who are not old enough to speak for themselves,

parents and Godparents usually speak for them.  

They say, in public, that they want this baby to be part of the Church, just as they are.

Sometimes I am asked whether I would refuse to baptise a baby when I believe that their family won’t bring them to church enough…..

Baptism is the free gift of God, not my gift , not something I am qualified to adjudicate on – the Holy Spirit will blow where it wills.

However the gift of Baptism isn’t something to take lightly,

It should make us all think about our current relationship with God.

Whether we are treating God with indifference or as some kind of rich Uncle to be called upon when we want something.

What God hopes from us is our commitment!

Baptism is just a beginning, not just a matter of being ‘done’ on a Sunday morning and forgetting about it

and that is where the Holy Spirit is involved.

Baptism was the beginning of Christian life for us,

Again, I meet people who say their Christian life began on such and such a date when they felt that strange warming in their heart just like John Wesley spoke about and lucky those people are to have felt such a connection.

But for us all, without exceptions, our Christian life began when God calls us by name, when God created and formed us,

‘do not fear, for I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, When you pass through the waters, I will be with you…’

Our hearts may be warmed at some later occasion when we realise just what God has done for us but that is a separate mystery altogether.

One famous Anglican bishop was asked by a zealous Christian,

‘But Sir, are you Saved?’

to which he replied,

‘By the grace of God,

I WAS saved, I AM saved and I WILL BE saved’

I know I mentioned on the front of the Pewsheet that I was disappointed not be have been well enough to celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany with the usual Francencense burning from up here and wafting through the Church building…..

But we don’t need charcoal and incense to remind us that our Christian lives should be infused with the grace of God

Today is a reminder that the sacrament of Baptism allows the wafting of that grace to begin to do its work in us.

We are given our salvation freely and we are asked to manifest that grace in our lives, to be as Christ to others.

This is the commission we have been given as children of God.

This is why on this Sunday we are reminded of the importance of Baptism.

And if we do agree that our baptisms were the start of a new and different life ,

Then we need to ask ourselves

how has the gift of Baptism shaped our lives so far?

and how might this gift shape our lives tomorrow?

Amen.

Amen

The Revd Richard Dring – Sunday 2nd January 2022

John 1: 1-18

The background to the origins and direction of John’s Gospel make very interesting reading. The origins of the Gospel are very different to the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, also known as the Synoptic Gospels. It was written by John who at this time of his life was living in Ephesus, and while there is a lot of discussion about the author we will not explore that today.

The Christian church was very different to the church that began to form after Pentecost. The early church was predominately Jewish in origin, however by the time that the fourth Gospel was written it had become predominately a Greek church; those of Greek origin far outnumbered the Jewish portion. John was grappling with the challenge to reach out to the Greek majority with teaching dominated by the Judaic tradition, and based on a very strong knowledge of the Old Testament.

The challenge facing John was how to make the teaching of Jesus relevant and alive to a group of people who had no grounding in the Old Testament books and teaching. This group of people would have no idea of a Messiah as they were not familiar with the teaching. They had little interest and knowledge of the significance of the genealogy of Jesus as it did not mean anything to them. This is why John did not include some parts of the other Gospels in his writing. He chose a different emphasis to present the word.

The concept of the Word existed in both Greek and Jewish thought.  In Jewish teaching and in the Old Testament there are many references to the Word of God, so the WORD had meaning and significance to the Jews.

In Greek philosophy a belief in the Word had developed through the work of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who also happened to be from Ephesus. He developed a concept for an ordered world and that there was a pattern to all events in life and that there was a purpose, pattern and design. He determined this pattern was the Logos, the Word, and the reason of God.

While what I have referred to is a very brief summary of what was written to demonstrate that the concept of ‘the Word’ was familiar to both Greeks and Jews, it helps us to understand why John chose to talk about the Word at the start of his Gospel.

Back to the Gospel reading. The passage we have read today is the introduction to John’s Gospel, known as a prologue. This introduces us to the Gospel and what lies ahead in the text. The Gospel will show us how much the prologue is integral to the Gospel and where there are recurrent themes relating back to the Prologue.

There are four sections to the prologue we have read: 

1             The pre-existent Word and how this brings us back to the opening words of Genesis. This helps us to understand the importance of the Word and how this existed right from the start. The importance of this section to both Jews and Greeks as already indicated in what I have already covered.

2             John brings in the importance of John the Baptist in the next section and how his ministry was by divine appointment. John is however pointing out that the ministry of John the Baptist was not the light but simply was preparation for what lay ahead. John does not provide a detailed account of John the Baptists ministry other than a different slant to Jesus baptism.

3             The light coming into the world, here John is indicating that while the light was there before Jesus, Christ is the central light. John is also talking about those who believe and those who do not and went on the reject Christ.

4             The final stage leads us into the account of the historical life of Jesus, and the importance of this. John indicates there was no other possibility of knowing God other than through Jesus Christ, the Word. Here he states the Word became flesh and lived among us!

In all a complex piece of inspired writing which sets the scene for a very different Gospel with a different emphasis on the life of Jesus and how this relates to us all.

The Revd Richard Dring- Sunday 19th December 2021

Luke 1 39-55 .

The Gospel reading today centres on two key Women of the New Testament, along with the Magnificat which Mary sang to give thanks for all that was about to happen in both Elizabeth and her life. Today we said the Magnificat in place of our normal Psalm. We have also listened to a different translation in our Gospel reading, which can help us in our understanding of the message.

 The two women, who we know have had a long friendship as they were cousins, are both sharing the good news of a joyous occasion. While outwardly there is celebration, there may also have been some doubts which we are not aware of. However with our current day medical knowledge we can determine some of the risks of childbirth associated with Elizabeth’s age. We know that Elizabeth was not in her youth and had been unable to have any children, finally her prayers were answered and Elizabeth bore a child who went on to prepare the way for Jesus. That child was John the Baptist.

 Mary was in a slightly different situation which may also have given her cause for concern. Mary was engaged to be married to Joseph when she was visited by the angel Gabriel to be told she was expecting a child. We all are very aware of the consequences in the past and indeed still in many parts of the world today to give birth to a child outside marriage. Mary’s situation was no different and Joseph could have rejected her and refused to marry her. In the Israel of this time there was no social welfare system so life would have been a challenge. We know that Joseph did not reject her and went on to marry Mary.

 The different situations that both Elizabeth and Mary find themselves in are shared by many women today, so life in many ways has not changed. The outcome for both women was similar as we know in great detail much about the life of John the Baptist and Jesus, and how much both suffered as a result of their mission and message for the world. We can look at the example of both women and their close families and how much support both had. This should help us in our society today to learn from the context of today’s reading from Luke to help us to be very aware when passing judgement on individuals in similar family situations.

While both mothers were overjoyed with their news, it must have been with a certain amount of reservation as what they were promised they would have known was not an easy path. Like most parents Mary and Elizabeth would have wanted much for their children and also likely hoped they would be outlived by their children. It must have been with a sense of foreboding that they possibly knew that this was not going to be the case. They both would have been very familiar with the Old Testament and the characters who spoke out against society paying a very high price.

Moving on to the second and key part of the reading, and quoting from Tom Wright’s commentary with his comments on the Magnificat:

 “Yes, Mary will have to learn many things as well. A sword will pierce her soul, she is told when Jesus is a baby. She will lose him for three days when he’s twelve. She will think he’s gone mad when he’s thirty. She will despair completely for a further three days in Jerusalem, as the God she now wildly celebrates seems to have deceived her. All of us who sing her song should remember these things too. But the moment of triumph will return with Easter and Pentecost and this time it won’t be taken away.”

Mary and Elizabeth were celebrating together and while the quote above reminds us of what was ahead, both were celebrating the moment with much enthusiasm in the belief that they would change society. That did happen but not in the way expected. Both were living in a brutal age under the tyrannical rule of Herod the Great and all were hoping for a Saviour to deliver them from that rule.

While we know that did not happen, both John the Baptist and Jesus did make a difference which is why we are gathered here today some 2000 years later. What a legacy!

Tom Wright points out that the meeting of these two women could have developed very differently for many of the reasons outlined above. That however was not the case as we learn about John leaping in Elizabeth’s womb on hearing Mary’s voice. This resulted in Elizabeth’s praise inspired by the Holy Spirit and then Mary’s song which has been everlasting; containing the challenges that were a central part of Jesus teaching about the hungry and the rich and powerful with the difficulty they will face in commitment to the Lord

Much for us to consider in the week ahead as we prepare to celebrate Jesus birth on Saturday.

The Rector – Sunday 12th December 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit

On the third Sunday of Advent 10 years ago, I was instituted as Rector for this Union of Parishes.

Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday! Pink Candle day!

What a fantastic day to be instituted!

And I know I say it every year but  I have to say that today I really am STILL rejoicing !  because it’s my birthday too!

As you all already well know, each week of Advent, we focus on a group of people or person who prepared for the coming of Christ.

You’ll remember that last week we spoke about the Prophets?

And the week before we remembered the Patriarchs.

Well this week, the third Sunday of Advent,  it is now the turn of John the Baptist.

And he is very much with us in our gospel reading.

This is classic John the Baptist.

Tough words…..calling his listeners ’You broods of vipers’ and so on

Speaking uncomfortable truths, reminding them that while they pride themselves as being ‘children of Abraham’ it won’t save them from damnation.

John speaks the sort of truths that hit us right between the eye. The ones we have been avoiding.

We could substitute the words ‘Children of Abraham’ with ‘Good, clean living Christians’ and perhaps understand what he was trying to say to them.

He was telling them that they couldn’t just sit on their laurels , they had to actually do something!

So after hearing what John had to say,

they asked a very sensible question

So what must we do then? Come on then, enough of the guff….what do we do!

John the Baptist knew exactly who his audience was….

There were the ordinary ‘crowd’, plus in that crowd were ‘Tax Collectors’ and even ‘soldiers’

So he spoke to each of the groups of people listening in order to suit their own particular life circumstances.

To the Tax collectors – who we know had a terrible  reputation in Jesus’ time – he tells them to be JUST in what they collected – as simple as that.

He didn’t tell them to renounce their occupation and to do something different but he told them that they had to adjust their lives to fit in with the values of God.

Collect what is owed and no more!  Sounds easy enough but you don’t get such a reputation as they had without a lot of underhand deeds and excessive exhortion!

To the soldiers – another most unpopular bunch in those days – to these, John again gives sound advice which could equally be applied to occupation soldiers anywhere today

No intimidation, No extortion – be content with your official pay, so don’t try and make money off the back of the occupied people.

And to the ordinary people , the ‘crowd’

he tells them to just share what they have – their clothes and food – with those who are in need.

There is always someone else who is in even greater need than you.

Find that person and share what you already have was his advice.

It’s what I am always saying in this season of Advent, this season of light, and it is simple really……..

Be the light in someone else’s life.

John told them exactly what they should do with their lives.

The actual changes they should make here and now in order to put themselves right with God.

To make that road straight for the coming of our Lord (as we heard last week)

No wonder that the people John the Baptist spoke to thought he actually was the Messiah.

But John immediately puts them right on that issue.

He tells them that the real Messiah will be much greater,

John says the words that we all know so well…….he will not even be worthy to untie the thongs of the sandals of the one who is to come.

This was to say that John the Baptist is not only NOT the Messiah but will not even be good enough to be his SLAVE.

So absolutely no ambiguity there!

John the Baptist tells the people what they must do in order to prepare for the Lord’s coming.

And at the same time he makes it very clear that he is subordinate to Jesus.

So he gave them all sound advice, but did they take it?

As one of my old lecturers in the theological college used to say    ‘Did they heck!’

It reminds me of the story I know I’ve told you about before…. but sure a good story deserves retelling!

It’s about when the budding communist who was asked a question to determine if he really was a true communist.

He was asked whether, if he had two houses , would he give one away to his fellow worker.

Of course he said.

And what about if he had two cars,

Would he give one car to his fellow worker?

Of course he would!

And what about if he had two coats?

Would he give one to his fellow worker?

No way, he answered.

But why, if you would give away your second house and your second car , would you have a problem giving away a coat?

Ah…. its because I actually have two coats , he said.

And herein lies the problem, not just for our budding communist but for all of us…..

we all hear each week what the gospel tells us to do.

It seems simple, its certainly not ambiguous

Love God, Love your neighbour as yourself

or my favourite quote from the Prophet Micah

Love Justice,  Do Kindness, and walk humbly with God.

But somehow it all gets difficult when we try to bring these scriptural values into our own lives.

Our own complex, messy, unstraightforward, complicated lives….

When it comes down to really affecting our own lives,

we somehow fail to deliver…. most of the time anyway.

We always mean well and think we will do something but somehow we fail to take action….

I have said it before that I know when I am saying the general confession, it’s the bit about what I have left UNDONE that really bothers me.

The bit about ‘what I have FAILED’ to do….

Its fairly easy not to be a murderer, even not to be an adulterer ,  but it’s the things that I should have done and didn’t that really trip me up.

So , just like John the Baptist’s audience,

We, the crowd,  must again ask ourselves the very same question

What must we do, then?’

After all, as I keep harping on about ….

Advent is a season of Penitence ,

and repentance calls for a change in behaviour

and not just regret for the past.              

So, what must we do then?

We ask the question and in a funny way, we already know the answer.

If we look carefully at ourselves,

we will identify what it is in our life that could be called the ‘Two Coats syndrome’

What it is in our lives that must be addressed in order to actually effect the sort of change that John the Baptist is advocating.

I’m always saying that we are luckier than the people listening to John the Baptist 2000 years ago.

…..After all WE have the Holy Spirit to help and guide us haven’t we?

John the Baptist was a very practical man.

He wanted those listening to him to do something

Not just to listen but to actually do something… to repent, to change, to do something to prepare for the coming of the Saviour.

In our epistle today, our lovely Gaudete reading…

what Paul says in this letter to the Phillipians, can actually help us in our quest to know what we must do.

He writes,

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice

Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

The Lord is near..…

Do not worry about anything , but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus

So on this Gaudete Sunday,

this Rejoice Sunday,

this Sunday when we lit the Pink candle to remind us of the joyous nature of our faith,

Let us begin by rejoicing in the Lord always…..

and in our rejoicing we will receive the help and the guidance we need to put right our paths and to prepare to welcome the one who is to come.

Amen.

The Revd Richard Dring – Sunday 5th December 2021

Luke 3 1-6

The reading today is setting the date in context for the time of John the Baptists ministry at the river Jordan in Judea. On hearing the considerable detail of who was ruling Israel and which high priest was in control sets a very specific time period for John.

This time period will also help us to very clearly determine the time period of Jesus ministry as this followed on from John. We know John was preparing the way for Jesus. We also need to be aware of the historical context of this time period. The Jews were awaiting a Messiah to fulfil the prophesies of the Old Testament. These prophesies foretold a leader to come in the future and the Jews were awaiting this event. They had however expected a leader to be sent to help them overthrow Roman rule and free the land from the oppressors. This we know did not happen and the prophesy was fulfilled in a way they did not expect.

John came to prepare the way for Jesus.

 John came with a very clear message and called things out as they were. We know he paid a very high price for this honesty as he was beheaded by Herod to fulfil a rash promise made in the heat of the moment. John was a straight talker and as we read proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He drew very large crowds with his simple straightforward message and as we know unsettled those in power.

John’s message was powerful as it was drawing on the events of the past; the Exodus from Egypt has freed the people from slavery by delivering the people to Israel by crossing both the Red Sea and the river Jordan both significant waterways. Here the people were again in slavery in their own land and looking for a way out. All the Jewish people were very familiar with the Old Testament texts and in particular the Prophet Isaiah which was quoted in today’s reading. This is why the reference would be significant to those early Christians who in many cases were very familiar with Isaiah, and the way John was Baptising people with water to encourage repentance.

John had a significant influence on those he baptised through his Honesty and straight talk. We have to remember this was achieved through non violent intervention. This non violent way of achieving ones goals is a very powerful message and from my recent business trip to the USA, has made me think about a key individual, Rosa Parks, in the American civil rights movement. She has a building at the Mayo clinic named in her memory, a place I have visited many times. Until my most recent working trip to the US, I had never really thought about what can be achieved through peaceful intervention and what this woman achieved. Rosa Parks became more alive in my thinking following my recent visit to Montgomery Alabama. This woman was asked to vacate her seat on a public bus in Alabama because of the colour of her skin. There were more white people getting onto the bus than were able to sit in the allocated seats. The whites sat at the front and there was a moveable sign on the bus that would be moved towards the back of the bus by the driver as more whites got on. On this occasion Rosa Parks refused to vacate her seat, this action led to a boycott of the public bus system in Alabama for over a year, almost bankrupted the bus company. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the segregation laws of many states were overturned and legislation was struck down.

This achievement started by Rosa Parks has been recognised as a significant turning point in History resulting in Rosa Parks being awarded many accolades including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She has had many other buildings and roads named in her Honour including a building which is part of the Mayo clinic complex in Rochester. This all goes to show that a lot can be achieved through peaceful means where individuals stand up for their rights. In many ways this is following in the example set by John the Baptist. In the Bible there is no mention of difference in any way least of all through the colour of one’s skin.

John demonstrated the power of words in action. He preached an honest message that unsettled the leaders of the time through the message and led to him paying a very high price for his honesty and straight talk. We know that many individuals down through the centuries have paid a similar price. In all cases this price has been paid not through violent protest but by delivering an honest message which unsettled the leaders.

Rosa Parks is one of the lesser known individuals who stood up for equal rights and equality which was achieved using the systems in place and resisting a recourse to violence.

There is much for us to learn in the way we follow the message of both John and then Jesus. Let us take time to reflect on this message and what we do each and every day as we try to live out this message in a peaceful way.

The Rector – Advent Sunday 28th November 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So here we are again…

the first Sunday of the Church’s new Liturgical Year

This new year is Year C,  the 3rd year in the 3 year cycle, when we will mainly hear from Luke’s Gospel……

Our year begins, and for the next year we begin again our great theological journey. 

Following the footsteps of Christ.

Revisiting all of the mysteries of his time on earth

From his expectation – which is what Advent is all about

waiting , waiting…..

To his birth in a stable in Bethlehem

his life as he travels around with his followers,

his death on a cross at the hands of the Roman Authorities,

His Resurrection from the dead after three days

His Ascension into heaven 40 days after his crucifixion

and his sending of the Holy Spirit on his terrified followers just 10 days later.

In the course of this coming year we will relive this whole story in our readings and in our liturgies

Most of us have heard the story many times

and our challenge is to see it as new and present and alive – not old and stale.

Allowing the celebration of each feast to bring back the event in its original clarity and vitality

Never allowing it to grow cold and lifeless, just something in a book.

Advent, the season of four weeks where we wait and prepare to celebrate our belief in the birth of Jesus Christ, the One we believe to be God.

We won’t say the Gloria or the Alleluia as we wait in expectation….

Actually in this season, there is some uncertainty as to what the dominant theme of Advent should be,

Should it be focussed on the traditional ‘last things’

the end of the world, the general Resurrection, the last judgement?

And certainly our reading from Luke today is strongly on message there!

In this reading from Luke,  Jesus declares the cosmic signs that will accompany our redemption and counsels us to be alert at all times, praying for the strength to escape, and to stand before the Son of Man.

This passage from Luke is sometimes called ” Little  apocalypse’ – in contrast with “big apocalypse’  of Book of Revelation. 

Over the generations, the word Apocalypse reminds us of nuclear disasters, ‘we are all going to die’ scenarios but the

Greek word “apocalypso” just means to uncover or reveal.

Michael Burrows, my old bishop (who was also the dean of Cork before Nigel so a lot of you know him well) wrote something about this a few year ago in his monthly newsletter to his diocese of Cashel Ferns & Ossory. 

He was saying that it seemed like a long time since he heard clergy preaching in Advent on the ‘Four Last Things’ – namely Death, Judgment, Heaven and Hell.

He reckons that only the very old-fashioned among us would do so… but he feels that there is merit in thinking about these weighty things… in particular Judgment.

Not just the idea of the Last Judgment but the everyday gift of sound judgment.

Our lives are a constant series of choices, whether big or tiny, and the choices and the judgments we make do affect the well being of other people as well as ourselves.

What about the way we choose day by day what to spend our money on…. this does have a major impact, whether on local job creation, or on the income of poor coffee & tea farmers in the developing world or the whole area of ethical investment…..

or our choices in how we choose to travel, do we use of public transport, do we fly more than is wise and in particular do we burn fossil fuels…  all of these choices have an enormous collective impact on the health of the Earth …. Although at the moment, travel seems like a distant memory!

We also make choices at election time or when there is a referendum and the results from these will shape the values and the ethos of the society in which we AND our neighbours have to live.

We make choices too when we don’t turn off ,at least sometimes, our mobiles and ipads and laptops etc. and just concentrate on being in the moment… in the conversations and the true friendships that really matter.   I can’t be the only person in this church who checks their mobile every few minutes ‘just in case someone is trying to contact me’ ….. what happened years ago when , if you left the house, someone had to wait until you were back at home to ring you!

Advent might well be a perfect time to think about this aspect of Judgment, so not only the ultimate judgment of God but also our own responsibility to judge well and to choose well, to take time to reflect upon the great ethical complexities of contemporary life.

Advent, like Lent, is a penitential season so a perfect time to take stock of ourselves and our lives.

Time to stand a little to one side and look hard at ourselves.

What is it that is important to us?

What really matters in our lives?

You know, I was with senior infants on Friday in the school and I was trying to explain what a pentitential season was… very difficult to explain this to 5/6 year olds… but in the end I said it was a time when we prepared ourselves!… btw that’s next week’s Gospel!

A lot of people I know that have had major illnesses or brushes with death in their close families or friend seem to have this awareness of what exactly is important.

I know myself in recent weeks that this has been foremost on my mind…. What is important!

But I don’t think that we should wait until we don’t have much time left or until something tragic happens to someone we care about.

I know that we don’t know what is ahead of us but each of us is capable of learning how to be more present to the now.

That lovely collect for today

‘give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light NOW in this the time of this mortal life’

Our daily living should be lived within the armour of light, our actions should shine out, a beacon for others.

Light is so important… think about stained glass windows… I once read the phrase ‘the multi-coloured dullness of stained glass viewed from the wrong side’

 When we walk around churches and from the outside look at stained glass windows, they seem so dull and lifeless viewed from the outside but when we are inside , in the church and the light is shining in through those very same windows, then there is no comparison…. 

We need the light….

We need to live within this armour of light… our lives, lived in the light, will then shine invitingly to others.

In Franciscan theology, there is something called the ‘Prime Attractors’, in other words, how can we as Christians live in order to attract others to Christ….

  • Actions visibly done in love
  • Non-violent, humble and liberated Lifestyle
  • Identification with people on margins

all of the above giving others reason for spiritual joy….

So, welcome to Advent ,

where it is said that everything is charged with the beauty and grandeur and light of God.

Be open to God’s light and God’s glory!

The glory of the one who was the light coming into the world.

and by your lives reflect that light to others….

Amen.

The Rector – Christ the King 21st November 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son & Holy Spirit.

This is the last Sunday of the Church’s Liturgical Year. Next Sunday is Advent Sunday and a whole new year begins!

So today, in our Church year, we remember the Kingship of Christ.

We can see from today’s appointed gospel how even Pilate was deeply impressed by Jesus.

It is obvious that he didn’t believe in the accusation the Jesus claimed to be king of the Jews.

In his capacity as Roman Governor to Palestine, he thought he knew a political revolutionary when he saw one

and in no way was Jesus such an individual!

(although little did Pilate know!….)

Pilate’s own secret intelligence –  his spies – would have kept him informed of any plotting in the country.

But Jesus didn’t really fit into any other category either.

There was an air of mystery about him.

Pilate , somehow , sensed the power of Jesus

but just couldn’t put a name on it.

He sensed the power but was afraid to allow it to influence him.

Throughout Jesus’ public ministry, when he was speaking to his disciples or when he was healing,  in the events leading to Calvary – even when he remained silent – Jesus seemed to always be a commanding presence.

And now, standing in front of the most powerful man in the Roman Province of Palestine ,

in spite of his vulnerability,

we feel that Jesus is somehow still in control.

But, even though Pilate acknowledged the innocence of Jesus  , he still did not set him free.

Jesus declares before Pilate that he is indeed a King,

but , and this is a really important point, he tells Pilate that his kingdom is not like the kingdoms of this world.

So Pilate misses his opportunity, and he turned his back on this truth…the truth of the presence of God in the man standing before him.

Nowadays, the title ‘King’ still presents us with some problems, because in our human experiences , certainly in history, less so now perhaps , earthly ‘kings’  tend to lord it over their subjects.

But the kingdom of Christ is far, far removed from any kind of earthly domineering

Remember today’s gospel when he told Pilate that ‘My Kingdom is not from this world’ .

I read once that when King George III of England lost the colonies in the American war of Independence, he and all his royal cronies in Europe were sure that George Washington would have himself crowned ‘Emperor of the New World’

I suppose they all thought that because that’s exactly what they would have done in George Washington’s place!

So when King George was told that Washington intended to surrender his military commission and to return to farming, the king said,

‘Well if he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world’

For it is the accepted wisdom that one who possesses power will ALWAYS use it for his own advantage.

I mean why be a king if you can’t prove it by spectacular demonstrations of force and might?

But there is power in willingly giving up power.

Jesus knew this.

Pilate didn’t

Jesus is concerned , not about domination,

but about the spiritual liberation of the weak and oppressed.

Jesus, although IN this world , is not OF this world

and so Jesus will not defend himself through violence.

Jesus will not establish his claims by violence.

Jesus will not usher in God’s kingdom by violence.

Jesus will make no followers by violence.

(which reminds me of my sermon last week, for Remembrance Sunday!)

Rather we are told that Jesus has come to witness to the truth,  the truth that God is love (John 3:16),

and that because we have not seen God and have such a hard time imagining God (John 1:18), all too often our imaginations are dominated by our experience.

Rather than imagining that God is love, we imagine God to be violent because we live in a world of violence.  This is kind of all we know.

Rather than recognize the cross as a symbol of sacrificial love,

we assume it’s the legal mechanism of punishing Jesus on our behalf because we have way too much experience with these kind of punitive relationships.

Rather than believe that God’s grace and acceptance are absolutely unconditional, we assume God offers love, power, and status only on the condition that we fear, obey, and praise God – and despise those around us who don’t – because so much of our life is quid pro quo.

But Jesus is not OF this world.

and therefore his true followers will not fight for him

because to bring the kingdom about by violence is to violate

the very principles of the kingdom and cause its destruction.

Could there be a more timely passage to reflect on after all the atrocities we can see being perpetrated in our world…..

In Syria and Yemen, we see children starving to death while evil forces fight with foreign guns to annililate each other….

On the border with Poland and Belarus , we see people , frightened vulnerable people, being used as a tactical weapon against a neighbouring country.

Someone said during the last week that President Lukashenko is ‘weaponising refugees’…..

Horrible!

We live in a world dominated by the view that the only

answer to violence is more violence.

And we all know how that works out……

So does this mean that Jesus is calling us to be pacifists?

Well some traditions – particularly Mennonite, Quaker, and Church of the Brethren believers – have given vivid testimony to the power of Christian non-violence.

These churches are often called ‘Peace Churches’ who say that Jesus advocated nonviolence.

They remind us that in the Gospels Jesus explicitly taught his followers not to kill, but rather to love, bless, and pray for those who make themselves to be your enemy.

He taught that if struck we should not physically strike back, but rather turn the other cheek.

In the Garden, he told Peter to put away his sword explaining that his Kingdom is spiritual, not earthly; therefore members of the Kingdom of God will live by spiritual principles, primarily Love.

And as we read ourselves today, the peace churches remind us that he told Pilate that his Kingdom is not earthly, not from this world…..

and therefore, the Peace Churches say, if we are his followers, we should not use earthly weapons to fight.

The weapons of our warfare are to be Love and Prayer.

These courageous and counter-cultural witnesses have at times shaken the powers that be .

As Martin Luther King, Jr., a champion for Christian non-violence, wrote,

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

We are called to witness:

to witness to the One who demonstrated power through weakness,
who manifested strength through vulnerability,
who established justice through mercy,

and who built the kingdom of God by embracing a confused, chaotic, and violent world,

taking its pain into his own body,

dying the death it sought,

and rising again to remind us for all time

that light is stronger than darkness,

love is stronger than hate,

and that with God, all good things are possible.

In the synagogue in his home of Nazareth, where I was back in 2006, Jesus compared his mission to the Suffering Servant that Isaiah had written about

He has sent me to proclaim the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour  (Lk 4:18)

This then is the blue print for the Kingly role as laid out by Jesus himself.

All these amazing things which he once did in person in Galilee and Judea, still go on in our time.

Through him, those who were blind to God have new sight given to them.

Through him, those who were deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit have begun to listen.

Through him, the poorest and the despised of this world inherit the

immeasurable riches of the love of God.

In all this Christ shows us that he still watches over us, and that for us today – he still is our King.

It is only by faith that we can come to recognise him as the chosen one of God , and the true and universal King.

Thanks be to all who proclaim the radical gospel of Christ,

the King so different than the world’s kings,

the One who testifies to the truth

and calls on us to do the same, in our own time & place. 

Amen.

The Rector – Remembrance Sunday 14th November 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is Remembrance Sunday.

We always use this 2nd Sunday of November to remember and give honour to all those who have died in wars and conflicts.

For some of us, this is very personal.

I have seen such moving photos of grandfathers, posing for cameras in areas of France or North Africa, their faces youthful and hopeful.. yet in the middle of the carnage of war.

I have seen the medals, proudly brought along by their descendants…. medals for bravery , campaign medals, victory medals….. such poignant reminders of sacrifices made.

We are right to remember these sacrifices in this month of remembering our dead.

Yet…. Remembrance Sunday is a day not without controversy.

It is really important that we concentrate on the fact that we are remembering the peace that came after the war.

We talk about remembering those who have given their lives for the peace and freedom we enjoy today.

But the political, and for that matter theological implications of such a perspective, is nuanced.

We know that this remembrance should be an impartial event, devoid of political considerations.

Remembering without reflecting sits uncomfortably with some of the Anglican church’s own teachings and beliefs, not to mention the positions it has taken on recent conflicts.

Some of our families were involved in the wars of the last 100 years. We honour their bravery and courage, and that of

the millions like them.

Unlike the UK, here in Ireland, on Remembrance Sunday, we do tend to concentrate on those who died in WWI and II,  

… I think we would find it a lot more difficult to sign up wholeheartedly to the idea that those who died in the Falklands, Iraq,  Afghanistan had given their lives for ‘peace and freedom’.

In fact some people feel strongly that the military campaigns worked against ‘Peace and freedom’.

In 2003, in Dublin, when I was in the theological college,  I myself marched in protests at the Iraq War…

the whole idea of ‘bombing people’ back into the Stone Age horrified me then and still horrifies me ….

We all saw the horrors as the troops pulled out of Afghanistan just a couple of months ago.

And just because it’s not on our 6 o’clock news doesn’t mean that the horrors have ended.

But whenever the war and whatever the justification, there still remains the matter of the people who were on the receiving end of  bombs and bullets…. Whether they were OUR bombs or Bullets or not.

That horrible phrase ‘collateral damage’ – desensitizing us to the fact that someone’s mother or father or sister or brother or child is now horribly mutilated or dead.

Or the ‘Drone Strike’  ‘taking out’ targeted victims…..

Our Christian tradition, so often ignored by so called Christian nations,  insists that all are equal in the sight of God.

True remembrance requires that the dead on all sides are brought to mind.

It can be difficult to say this, difficult to hear this… especially if one has family who have fought and died in previous wars.

I remember back a few years ago when the then Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie, himself a Military Cross holder,

prayed for the Argentinian dead at the Falklands war memorial service at Westminster Abbey – a huge political row ensued.

Thatcher’s viewpoint ruled at that time.

This was a woman, who if you remember, actually used the words of St Francis of Assisi on the day she came into power..

I’ll quote exactly what she said at the time….

‘And I would just like to remember some words of St. Francis of Assisi which I think are really just particularly apt at the moment. ‘Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope’

Historically Christians have found it difficult to navigate the choppy waters of military action.

The problems of course began when Jesus Christ urged love of enemies, unconditional forgiveness and turning the other

cheek…. no terms & conditions…. unconditional forgiveness, Remember ‘no not 7 times but 70 times 7’

That’s the amount we must forgive.

As Christianity grew in influence, soldiers who were converting had problems reconciling their new faith with their vocation.

A strange dualism began to emerge.

Upon baptism (in those days undertaken by complete immersion) some soldiers left their sword arms above the waterline so they could continue killing with a clear conscience.

Others prayed for the dead they had just killed on the battlefield.

Later, it was considered acceptable for the laity to kill,

but clergy had to keep their hands clean.

In the 4th Century , it was the Emperor Constantine’s conversion though that fully institutionalized the problem.

Christianity was now aligned with an empire built on conquest.

It was no longer a question of whether Christians could take part in wars.

It was now simply a matter of when and how they were going to do it.

Some fairly dodgy theological footwork was undertaken and a theory of the ‘Just War’ emerged to guide most Christians through the next 1700 years.

Augustine began the Just War theory in the 4th Century and Aquinas developed it in the 13th Century.

The just war theory  attempts to reconcile three things that are perhaps irreconcilable :

  1. taking human life is seriously wrong
  2. states have a duty to defend their citizens, and defend justice
  3. protecting innocent human life and defending important moral values sometimes requires willingness to use force and violence

But we can see immediately the difficulties here…

what if the state is a rogue state…..

where does collateral damage fit it….

Listen again to our Gospel for today, which is the actual words of Jesus, unadorned by Augustine or Aquinas…

‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’

Remembrance Sunday, if commemorated in a triumphalist way,  can remind us only too clearly that the double standards are still alive and well even today.

I think it is about 12/13 years since the Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow talked about the ‘poppy fascism’ in the broadcasting industry, which required their display by public figures every November.

And it’s not just for serious talk shows… we have seen ‘Poppy Fascism’ go to ridiculous measures such as the Strictly Come Dancing contestants having to wear visible poppies as they whirl around the floor.

There is a similar unspoken oppression in the way that the Anglican church deals with Remembrance, particularly in Commonwealth Countries.

Only the very brave or foolish might mention that the dead might not all be ‘glorious’,

or that some might have died in vain,

or that our recollections should encompass those that our country’s soldiers killed –  the ‘enemy’

even though that is what a Christian Church, the Anglican Church, is supposed to believe.

As Christians we are called to hold society to a more ethical view, a broader view, and to remember both friends and enemies.

If we accept the Remembrance Day rhetoric, that soldiers laid down their lives to give us the liberties we enjoy today, then surely that must include the freedom to choose how we remember the dead, and say what we believe?

Indeed, it does a disservice to their memory not to allow such choice and conscience to be expressed.

Remembering is important

and doing is also important. 

Today, injustices still occur, war still rages in various parts of the world, people are still dying horribly, needlessly, where the natural order has broken down…. we just need to look at our TVs –  Yemen & Syria are particularly sad examples at this time, where big powers are still fighting proxy wars on the backs of unimaginable suffering.

Each of us can make small steps towards a more peaceful society and world.

We can step in where we see injustice, in whatever sphere we find ourselves.

In the present, we can advance a way of living in peace with our neighbours.

Why should we accept a world where people are exploited?,

where big businesses decide foreign policy to suit themselves?

We can advance the process of peace in our own patch of the world.

… Be the person who has a civil word to say to that person whom nobody else has the time of day for, the person in our community who has no voice…. Always keep an eye out for who is being silenced and ask why.

… Be part of international justice groups like Amnesty or Human Rights Watch, show  our solidarity with those who are ignored by the great powers of the world.

… We can vote with our money by choosing not to buy goods produced by Multinationals who interfere in the internal politics of small dependent countries. Keep yourself informed of what is going on globally

… And we can pray, and in praying,  we can be with them in their pain.

I attended an online lecture during the week which was hosted by the Holocaust Education Trust Ireland group.

The title of the talk was

‘Poland and the Holocaust: The Search for Justice’

and was given by the historian Michael Fleming of The Polish University Abroad, London

HETI organize a public lecture on the anniversary of Kristallnacht every year, marking the anniversary of the 9th November Pogrom in 1938 (it was called Kristallnacht because of all the broken windows of Jewish Businesses)

The lecture discussed how the Polish Government in Exile disseminated information about German atrocities and war crimes taking place in occupied Poland.

Of course the Second World War and the Holocaust remain much-discussed topics today in Poland where the public “History Wars” have recently made  the international newspapers….

This is history being misremembered to suit the current politic climate.

Anyway Professor Fleming spoke very well on his subject but the thing I remember best is when he spoke about a Survivor speaking at the Auschwitz commemoration in 2020.

This Jewish man, his name was Marian Turski,

had been through unimaginable horrors  and he said

 And that is what I want to say to my daughter, to my grandchildren.

To the peers of my daughter and my grandchildren, wherever they may be living: in Poland, in Israel, in America, Western Europe.

It is very important.

Don’t be complacent, whenever you see historical lies.

Don’t be complacent, whenever you see the past being misused for current political purposes.

Don’t be complacent, whenever any kind of minority is discriminated against.

The essence of democracy lies in the rule of the majority.

But democracy itself lies in the fact that the rights of minorities must be protected.

Don’t be complacent, whenever any government violates already existing, common social contracts.

Remain faithful to the Eleventh Commandment:

Never be a bystander.’

Roman Kent, the President of the International Auschwitz Committee,  formulated this ‘Eleventh Commandment’ that embodies the experience of the Holocaust, the terrible epoch of contempt.

It simply says: “You should never, never be a bystander.”

On this Remembrance Sunday

I would suggest that we can’t just remember the sacrifices of the past and ignore what is currently happening.

I would suggest that the most respectful way to remember is to not stand on the sidelines.

I would suggest that the best way to honour the memory of the many who were slaughtered in past wars would be to help to ensure that no other generation should suffer as they did.

We will remember them.   

Amen.

The speech by Marian Turski at the memorial ceremony on 27 January 2020 in Auschwitz

“Never be a bystander whenever a minority is discriminated against.”

Dear gathering, dear friends,

I am one of the remaining survivors, and one of the few who were in this place almost up to the last minute before liberation. On 18 January my so-called evacuation from Auschwitz concentration camp began. After six days it turned out to be a death march for more than half of my fellow prisoners. We formed a column of more than 600 people. In all probability I shall no longer be alive for the next anniversary. These are the natural laws of human life.

So please excuse me when what I have to say to you might be somewhat emotional. What I have to say is, above all, for my daughter and my granddaughter, who I thank for being here in this room, and for my grandson: I am concerned about the peers of my daughter and of my grandchildren. In other words about the new generation, especially the youngest, the very young, who are even younger than them.

When the war broke out, I was a teenager. My father had been a soldier and had suffered a serious bullet wound in the lung. That was a drama for our family. My mother originated from the Polish-Lithuanian-White Russian border area. The armies had moved in and out of there, they plundered, robbed, raped and burned down villages, so that nothing would be left for the troops that followed. So you can say that I knew first-hand from my father and my mother what war meant. Despite this, although the war lay just 20 to 25 years in the past, it appeared to me to be as far away as the Polish Uprisings in the 19th century or the French Revolution.

When I meet young people today, I realise that they must be a little tired of hearing about the subject after 75 years: both about the war as well as about the Holocaust, the Shoah, the genocide. I understand them. That’s why I am promising you, you young people, that I shall not be telling you about my sufferings, about my two death marches, about how I experienced the end of the war, when I weighed just 32 kilos, verging on the edge of exhaustion and life itself. I shall not be telling you about the very worst experience, the tragedy of being separated from my nearest loved ones and sensing what awaited them after the selection. No, I shall not be speaking about this. I want to talk with the generation of my daughter, and the generation of my grandchildren about themselves.

I see that our gathering includes the President of Austria, Alexander Van der Bellen. Do you remember, Mr President, when you invited myself and the Presidium of the International Auschwitz Committee to be your guests, and we spoke about those times? At one point you used the phrase “Auschwitz didn’t appear from nowhere”. One could say, as we say in Polish: was not an implicit matter of course.

Of course it didn’t appear from nowhere. That might seem to be a trite observation, but it contains a deep, and very important conceptual abbreviation in order to be understood. Let us for one moment go back in our minds, in our imagination, to Berlin in the early 1930s. We are almost in the city centre. The neighbourhood is called the Bayerisches Viertel, the Bavarian Quarter. Three underground rail stops from the Kurfürstendamm and Zoologischer Garten. Where the U-Bahn station is today there is a park. And one day in the early 1930s a sign suddenly appears on the park benches saying: “Jews are forbidden to sit on these benches”. Some might say: that’s unpleasant, unfair, not OK, but after all there are so many benches nearby, so people can go and sit somewhere else, it’s no disaster.

It was a quarter where representatives of the German intellectual elite of Jewish origin lived, including Albert Einstein, the Nobel Prize winner Nelly Sachs, and the industrialist, politician and foreign minister Walter Rathenau. A bit later the sign appeared at the swimming pool: “Jews are forbidden to enter the swimming pool”. Some people might again say: that’s unpleasant, but Berlin has so many places to swim, so many lakes, almost as many canals as Venice, they can just go somewhere else.

At the same time the sign suddenly appears: “Jews are forbidden to be members of German choral societies”. So what? If they want to sing or make music, they should meet up separately, and then they can sing. And the sign with the order appears: “Jewish non-Aryan children are forbidden to play with German Aryan children”. They shall play by themselves. And then the sign appears: “Bread and food products will only be sold to Jews after 5 p.m.”. Well that’s a bit more difficult, because the choice is more limited then, but people can still go shopping after 5 p.m.

But be careful, be careful, we are already beginning to become accustomed to thinking, that you can exclude someone, stigmatize someone, alienate someone. And slowly, step by step, day by day, that’s how people gradually become familiar with these things. Both the victims and the perpetrators and the witnesses, those we call bystanders, begin to become accustomed to the thoughts and ideas, that this minority that produced Einstein, Nelly Sachs, Heinrich Heine and the Mendelssohns is different, that they can be expelled from society, that they are foreign people, that they are people who spread germs, diseases and epidemics. That is terrible, and dangerous. That is the beginning of what can rapidly develop.

The rulers at that time were pursuing very clever policies, for instance by meeting the demands of the workers. May Day had never before been celebrated before in Germany on such a scale – now it will be done, if you please. On the work-free day they introduce “Strength through Joy”. It becomes an element in the workers’ holidays. They are able to overcome unemployment, and to play with national dignity: “Germans arise from the shame of Versailles. Win back your pride”. At the same time these rulers recognize that the people are slowly being overtaken by insensitivity, by complacency. They no longer respond to a sense of evil. And then the rulers are in a position to accelerate the process of evil even faster.

The rest follows in swift succession: the ban on employing Jews, travel prohibition. And this is quickly followed by deportation to ghettos: to Riga, to Kaunas, to my ghetto, the ghetto of ?ód? – Litzmannstadt. >From where most people are taken to Kulmhof on the River Ner, where they are murdered in trucks using the exhaust fumes, and the rest go to Auschwitz, where they are murdered in modern gas chambers, gassed by Zyklon B. And this is where it was proven, what the Austrian president said: “Auschwitz didn’t appear from nowhere”. Auschwitz crept up, step by step, came closer, until what happened, happened here.

My daughter, my granddaughter, you who are their peers – maybe you haven’t heard of Primo Levi. Primo Levi was one of the most famous prisoners of this concentration camp. Primo Levi once used the following formulation: “It happened, therefore it can happen again.” And that means, that it can happen everywhere on this Earth.

I would like to share just one personal experience with you: in 1965 I was on a scholarship in the United States, in America, and it was at the height of the struggle for human rights, civil rights, rights for the Afro-American population. I had the honour of taking part in the Selma to Montgomery March with Martin Luther King. And when they discovered that I had been in Auschwitz, the people asked me: “What do you think. Was something like that only possible in Germany? Or could it happen somewhere else as well?” And I said to them: “That can happen here too. When civil rights are violated, when the rights of minorities are not respected, when they are abolished. When justice is perverted as in Selma, then yes that can happen.” – “What can be done to prevent it?” – “You yourselves can prevent it,” I replied. “If you are prepared to defend your rights, your democratic order, by protecting the rights of minorities – then you can overcome it.”

We in Europe are mainly rooted in the Jewish-Christian religion. Both religious and non-religious people regard the Ten Commandments as their civilizational canon. My friend, the President of the International Auschwitz Committee Roman Kent, who gave a speech here at the last anniversary five years ago, could not come here today. He has formulated an Eleventh Commandment that embodies the experience of the Shoah, the Holocaust, the terrible epoch of contempt. It says: “You should never, never be a bystander.”

And that is what I want to say to my daughter, to my grandchildren. To the peers of my daughter and my grandchildren, wherever they may be living: in Poland, in Israel, in America, Western Europe. It is very important. Don’t be complacent, whenever you see historical lies. Don’t be complacent, whenever you see the past being misused for current political purposes. Don’t be complacent, whenever any kind of minority is discriminated against. The essence of democracy lies in the rule of the majority. But democracy itself lies in the fact that the rights of minorities must be protected. Don’t be complacent, whenever any government violates already existing, common social contracts. Remain faithful to the Eleventh Commandment: Never be a bystander.

Because, if you become complacent, before you know it, some kind of Auschwitz will suddenly appear from nowhere, and befall you and your descendants.

International Auschwitz Committee 
Stauffenbergstraße 13/14, 10785 Berlin, Germany

The Rector – Sunday 7th November 2021

In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

It’s often said that that which we cannot give away, owns us

And we all know in our heart that we don’t own our money….

God does. 

And we could say that we only manage it –  in God’s interest. 

That’s stewardship, the only question is, How well do we manage it in the interest of God?

In the background of COP26 we might also remember that we are stewards of this world and look how well we are managing that!

I remember a good few years ago watching on TV,

the entire Cabinet, even the President and Vice President,  of the Maldives Islands sit in session 15 feet underwater.

Fifteen men and one woman, all in wet suits with diving apparatus.

Maybe some of you remember it? It was back in 2009 during the COP in Copenhagen.

It was a stunt of course but a stunt with a very serious message.

They had gathered underwater at the request of the President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, to sign a document requesting the world to reduce our Carbon emissions.

Their message was stark – if we don’t then this is the only way their cabinet would be meeting in the not so distant future – underwater!

Their country, a group of Coral Atolls, are the lowest lying country in the world, at just an average of 10 feet above sea level.

This doesn’t allow for any rise at all in sea levels.

They knew that if things continued as they were, their country might not exist in another decade……

That was 12 years ago

What about the Maldives now?

One of that underwater cabinet was as I said Mohamed Nasheed, who is no longer the President but is now the speaker of the Maldives Parliament

He was in Glasgow for the talks and on Friday addressed the Globe Cop26 Legislators Summit being held at the Scottish Parliament

He said that while there had been a “mood of pessimism” before these talks began, there has already been some “encouraging outcomes”.

Mr Nasheed, , said : “We must close the gap between ambition and reality, and that means delivering on the pledges we have had.”

His plea came as he told parliamentarians from across the globe: “I stand here today as an elected representative of one of the most vulnerable countries on earth.

“No point of ground in my country the Maldives is more than a couple of metres above the sea level, we are already seeing our coast eroding as the seas rise and the waves eat away at more and more of our land.”

He insisted politicians across the world cannot just declare climate emergencies but must set out “in legislation how governments must meet their promises”.

He added: “I will not sign a suicide note for my nation. None of us will sign a suicide note for the world.

“Despite all our differences, we all know what the outcome must be.

“Let us unite and let us use the power of parliaments to deliver 1.5C. Let us save this planet. We are the generation to do that.” 

All of us, all of humanity bears the responsibility and the burden of what is happening to our world.

Have we really gotten to the stage of allowing a country to cease to exist because of our lifestyle choices.

Do you know that for the last few years, researchers are attempting to trap all 16 of Ireland’s known species of mosquitoes to determine whether any of them are now capable of carrying diseases like Malaria or chi-kung-gun-ya fever.

Apparently now that we have what is called an ambient temperature we are possibly going to have what we used to call ‘tropical’ diseases here in Ireland.

That definitely hits home!

I remember seeing a really sad sad picture on the front page of the Irish Times…. It was of a Masai Warrior, standing in his tribal clothes, under an umbrella on a very wet Grafton Street in Dublin a good few years back.

He had been here in Ireland to plead the case of his area of the world, where our lifestyle is having such a devastating effect on their climate patterns.

He was here to try and persuade our politicians to plead his country’s needs in yet another of those COP gatherings.

I could go on and on and on,

but the last remaining one I want to mention is something I read once about two hospitals in Bangladesh that have set up solar energy and tree planting schemes as part of their response to the challenges created by global warming….

This is in Bangladesh!

In poorly funded hospitals which have difficulty in obtaining money for even basic facilities and medicines for their patients!

They are being forced into thinking of what they can possibly do to combat the effects of climate change

because they are living in the front line of the consequences of Global warming.

They are not worried about whether or not their local insects may be carrying diseases, they KNOW they are!

What they are seeing is that there are heavier and heavier monsoons yet less rainfall for their crops,

they are experiencing flooding because of the rising sea levels and more and more cyclones.

All these changes will mean even more deadly insects will thrive so more and more diseases will plague them

Their drinking water will become salty and undrinkable,

There will be smaller harvests and more malnutrition.

These are the conditions which have forced these hard-pressed people to think what they can possible do to try and slow down global warming…….

But you know, we have to do something.   Even the Government knows we have to do something!

We can no longer leave it up to the people who are affected most by climate change – they are in desperate straits as it is and they can’t do it by themselves!

Its just like the Widow’s mite in todays gospel reading,

Listen again and see does it ring any bells

Then he called his disciples and said to them,

‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had,

all she had to live on.’

Although we are all effected now…. Climate change bears most heavily on areas that have the least resources to mitigate against the effects.

The Scientists expect increased droughts in dry areas and more floods in wet regions.

Millions of people in low-lying areas like Indonesia, the Maldives and Bangladesh are at risk from sea level rise, and have little opportunity to build defenses

Basic fairness dictates that we embrace necessary change ourselves,

and that we lobby for , give to  and pray in the interests of those who are most helpless and are also victims of our own profligate use of fossil fuels.

We need to take seriously the negative consequences of our oil dependent lifestyles,

and actively encourage our own communities to increase the pace of their initiatives to meet the challenge of climate change.

We need to put pressure on our politicians to deliver on what they have now  promised at COP26

We continue to try to live as if there was no tomorrow.

But this has to be challenged because our lifestyles are fundamentally unsustainable.

We are dependent on ‘cheap’ oil, and its excessive use means supplies will dwindle, and meanwhile pollution becomes worse.

We are slowing poisoning the earth, the earth that we are stewards of!

This is a hard message….. It’s a dismal message…..

But we have to bear in mind that we are part of the interconnected community of creation, interrelated with all other creatures.

From a Christian point of view at least three values come into play:

We have to respect the non-human world for its own value and not as a human commodity, we have to remember that everything is part of God’s wider Creation.
Don’t forget that God created the Universe before the Earth;

the Earth before people;

and people before the Church!

The purposes of God go way back into history and don’t just start with us!!

We have to emphasise the need for justice for those places and people who bear the brunt of the damage and pain provoked by human-induced Climate Change.

For poor communities around the world, like the people in the 2 hospitals in Bangladesh, or the Masai man standing in the wet Dublin street,

For those who are living in far more extreme climates, there is no switch to flick.

For the starving people in Madagascar that Simon writes about in the intercessions today.

For them a changing climate means droughts, floods, crops failing and diseases spreading, with no resources to adapt to the changes.

 ….there must be a “preferential option for the poor”.

It is nothing less than a Gospel imperative.

And we have a responsibility for future generations – human and planetary.

Our Christian tradition speaks of the life of the world to come,

But this needs to be earthed and not totally spiritualised!

We should not pass on a poisonous legacy for others to sort out in the future.

This mess can’t be just passed on down the line to our grandchildren and their children.

As Christians, God calls us to engage with our world.

We are supposed to be stewards of his Creation.

We really CAN develop visions for being and living differently in an excessively consumerist world.

Local action can make a difference and it begins with each of us.

The widow in today’s Gospel is held up to us as a Role Model….. Even the smallest amount can make a difference,  You can make a difference, we all can!     Am

The Rector – Sunday 31st October 2021

Before we hear the first reading today from the book of Ruth  

I’d like to mention the fact that we, as a parish, are in the process of becoming a ‘Church of Sanctuary’ within the ‘Places of Sanctuary Ireland’ Group.

What this means is that we are part of an all island network of groups in towns, cities and local communities which share the objectives of promoting a culture of welcome and inclusiveness right across every sphere and sector of society, so that wherever people seeking sanctuary go, they will feel safe, find people who welcome them and understand why they are here, and have opportunities to be included in all activities.

The book of Ruth is all about migrants and being accepted and I thought that as this was the appointed scripture for today 4th Sunday before Advent, I would take the opportunity to speak about the Sanctuary movement and read a few words written by a chap called David Bradwell about the very bit of scripture we are about to hear.

Before Israel was ruled by kings

David Bradwell

The first verse reminds us that it was a time ‘when judges rule’.

That is, before the days of kings.

This is very important.

The first verse also points out that when there was a famine, Elimelech took his family to live in Moab.

We could have a debate about whether they were economic migrants looking for a handout, or refugees forced to flee otherwise disaster would overtake them.

Perhaps when you see refugees on the news you might think that the world today is not so different from ancient times, where many people have to live precariously.

Compare then this first verse with the last verses of the book.

Here we read about Ruth’s descendants: son Obed, grandson Jesse and great-grandson David.

Remember how the book started – in a time before kings.

And here as it ends it is looking to the future, to David, to the greatest of all the ancient kings.

And that at the heart of his ancestry is this woman Ruth, a Moabite. Someone with very little social standing.

And yet without her story, the history of God’s people would have been very different.

When we meet migrants and refugees in our society, what do we imagine their contribution could be? Do we ever think about what impact their children or grand-children might have in years to come?

Instead of thinking ‘what can we do for refugees’, how can we as a church community reframe the question to be

‘what are the gifts and potential of the stranger in our midst’?

Thanks for indulging me in this mini-sermon!

Now, with our ‘church of sanctuary’ hat on…. we will hear the words from the Book of Ruth.

.

.

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is being tested yet again by the religious professionals ,  and this time they are bringing in the heavy guns…the Scribe – an expert at preserving and interpreting theology…. Although to be fair, the scribe is fairly friendly.

But we have to remember that the Scribes and the Pharisee’s raison d’etre was the Law….their whole understanding of God was based around their undertaking to try and live their daily lives strictly according to the Law.

This is actually the third question asked of Jesus in this chapter of Mark… the first was about tax, was it right to pay taxes to the Romans etc.. clearly to trap Jesus, if he opposes the tax, the Roman authorities will arrest him, if he accepts it, he will lose popular support.. we of course know Jesus skirts the question magnificently by saying ‘render unto Caesar what is Caesers etc’

The second question in this chapter is about resurrection, the Sadducees were very worried about this of course as they didn’t believe in it (remember my old joke ….. they were ‘sad you see’ !!)

The question they had posed was of course absurd… the 7 brothers and so on, Jesus uses the situation to hammer home that God is the God of all the living and as God is the God of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Moses etc), then they must still be alive and not dead… the immortality of the soul.

The question now, the 3rd question is about which is the Greatest Commandment.

As I said, this time the questioner doesn’t seem to be hostile as such, he is a ‘scribe’ but unlike other scribes in Mark, this one seems friendly.

So his question to Jesus is

‘Which commandment is first of all?’

Jesus answers with words which are familiar to us,  telling them the greatest and first commandment. ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. 

But what we sometimes forget is that these words would have also been TWICE as familiar to his listeners as they were quite literally taken from the books of Deuteronomy and Leviticus, their Hebrew Scriptures, our ‘old testament’..

This part of scripture is called the ‘shema yisrael’  

 the Jewish prayer that serves to this day as a centerpiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.

Its first verse encapsulates the monotheistic essence of Judaism: “Hear, O Israel: the LORD is our God, the LORD is one”  

And to this day observant Jews consider the Shema to be the most important part of the prayer service in Judaism, and its twice-daily recitation is considered as a religious commandment.

It is traditional for Jews to say the Shema as their last words, and for parents to teach their children to say it before they go to sleep at night.

So…. Obviously this was what Jesus stated was the commandment that was ‘first of all’

But then he added a second

‘You should love your neighbour as yourself’.

Jesus told them that there is no other commandment greater than these two

Can you imagine the consternation that answer would have caused!

The Scribes and Pharisees had built their lives around adhering strictly to the most pernickety interpretation of the Law.

And not just the basic law as handed down from Moses, but the law as added to and dickied up for  hundreds of years.

The ever expanding law that was proving impossible to stick to, with ever harder tasks to perform in order to be perfect and acceptable in God’s eyes.

But now here was this Jesus bringing it back to basics again.

This is what God requires from you…. Love God and love your neighbour. Full Stop.

He brings it all down to this primary task…

to love God with all your mind and heart and being

and at the same time, as an natural extension to the love of God,

to love humankind,

to love ourselves as being of God’s creation and made in God’s image and therefore worthy of love.

The Scribe had asked Jesus to name ONE commandment, but in fact he had named two, because he viewed the second as following directly and necessarily from the first.

Love of Neighbour arises out of love of God.

As I said, Jesus would perhaps have initially shocked him by giving them equal importance

but to be fair to the Scribe, he seems to get it.

He understands that what Jesus has told him IS much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices

More important than cultic rituals.

Jesus sees his understanding and it surely must have been gratifying for him….

especially as we have been constantly told in Mark’s Gospel of the disciple’s lack of understanding…

so he says to the Scribe “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”

But then Mark tells us that ‘After that no one dared to ask him any question’.

Not because they’d heard enough but because they didn’t want to hear what Jesus had to say.

Because in the Pharisee’s world view,

We were all law breakers and sinners,

Humankind were just not worthy of that sort of consideration.

But Jesus’ message was that we are made in the image and likeness of God,

He told us that our CORE is original blessing not original sin.

Now, in the 21st century,  we like to think that we have moved far away from the way the Pharisees thought,

but we still gain from being reminded that Jesus put the two commandments together.

Nowadays we have people who exhaust themselves working for a better world, but never think of God in the scheme of things, and though that extreme is healthier than the Holy Joes obsessing on finer points of canonical law,

but they too only are living half of the Gospel way.

Jesus showed us how to live the total Gospel,

how to love God and our neighbour as well.

He didn’t say that they were the same thing,

he said that we can’t have one without the other.

If we separate the two great commandments,

it is a tragedy and goes completely against the Gospel.

But this is unfortunately what often happens,

Those with faith often have no love for other human beings, reserving all of their love for God

while those whose love for their fellow humans is paramount often find that faith or a belief and love for God escapes them.

As I said, Jesus had replied by quoting from their own scripture, quoting Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy

It was a familiar instruction, one that pious Jews then and now recited in their morning and evening prayer services, the prayer that they urged their children to say at bedtime, carried in script on their wrists or on their foreheads

– the phylacteries, little black boxes tied on with black tape?

This was the prayer that was attached to the doorposts of devout homes in a small container called a mezuzah.

The prayer on their lips as they die

But then Jesus added something….

He added the quotation from the Holiness Code in the Book of Leviticus: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18b).

“There is no other commandment greater than these,” Jesus said.

We have a habit of overlooking the final phrase “as yourself,” or consider it merely a form of comparison, a measuring stick, but I think Jesus intended that his hearers realize that they are indeed esteemed by God, ‘that Love loves them’ as someone beautifully put it.

In his linking of the love commandments, Jesus was telling us that concern for others and oneself was a natural consequence of a fully integrated devotion to God.

Two commandments

The first – that we should love God

And the second – that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.

He didn’t say that they were the same thing but that they were like two sides of the same coin.

If we want the complete Gospel we must have both.

Amen.

The Rector – Bible Sunday , 24th October 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

On the final Sunday before we have the countdown to Advent, there is provision in the lectionary to use the readings for Bible Sunday …. I don’t do this every year

Funnily enough I did it last year live stream only … no one in the church except myself & simon and  I thought it might be good again this year as we are planning, as a parish community, to attempt to read the entire bible from cover to cover during 2022.

Not an easy feat…. I’ve only done it myself twice before and it was tough….

The Bible…. Not just one book of course, but a whole library, written over millennium , in vastly different cultural settings , for vastly different sets of readers.

Our holy book, our Scriptures….

Paul said ‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope’

When Paul spoke of scriptures, he was of course speaking about the Old Testament or as the scholars nowadays tend to call them  – the Hebrew Scriptures.

These were the Scriptures that Paul knew so well, the Scriptures that Jesus knew and quoted from …..

The old testament…..

Our Theology Professor in the College used to say to any of his students who overlooked the Old Testament’s importance

‘Ah! so the Bible that Jesus knew and loved is not good enough for you?’

That used to do the trick!

When Paul wrote the words I quoted , in his letter to the Christian community in Rome,
He was making the vital point that Christian fellowship should be marked by the study of scripture,

and from that study of scripture the Christian then draws encouragement. … a circular relationship, the more you study the bible, the more you will be encouraged , the more you study and enjoy and learn and apply and so on….

Paul was highlighting that our Scriptures provides us with a record of Gods dealing with the nation of Israel,  

reminding us of the great and precious promises of God.

The promises of a God who never breaks his word.

In the same way scripture gives us comfort in our sorrow and hope or encouragement in our struggle.

So it shouldn’t be viewed as a chore……Scripture is meant to be savoured….

As the Psalmist today puts it ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul….’

It’s meant to be a treasure to be found and enjoyed

not a task or toil to be just gotten through.…..

Of course, we now have an even larger collection of scripture than Paul did….

In fact I often wonder what Paul would think of the fact that we now read his letters with the same reverence as he once read his beloved ‘scripture’?

I’d say he’d be horrified!… I know he wrote the letters as instructional documents but to raise them to the same level as the Prophets or the Psalms would have left Paul baffled!

But to us , Paul’s words are ‘Scripture’

Our collect today which we will say together later on in this service , is the one for ‘Bible Sunday’ on Page 336 of our prayer books.  The words are very familiar to us….

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, help us to hear them

To read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them,

That, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word

We may embrace and for ever hold fast

The hope of everlasting life

Which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

To hear them,

to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them,

…..there is so much in this one sentence.

All my life, I have loved reading and I made sure to teach my own children the gift of reading so that they too would enjoy books,

This is also the way I feel about the bible. 

I get so much out of it that I can’t help but try and encourage others to take up the habit.

Mind you, it is now a requirement of my job so it’s probably just as well!

When a child is baptised in our parish, we give them a little children’s bible…. Very cute it is but what impressed me most about it at the time and the reason I chose it, was that at the end of each little story, the actual bible reference was printed so that any interested adult reading the book for a child could then look up the chapter and verse for themselves.

We hear the words of scripture every Sunday, but in order to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words,

we actually do need to pick up a bible and read it for ourselves.

As the saying goes… no one ever got drunk on the description of wine!

We need to pick up our bibles and read them….

We all know this and we all probably would like to do this

and yet I’d hazard a guess that most of us don’t actually pick up the Bible and read it.  

Why is this?

Is it because we have tried to do just that several times already in our lives?

We probably began at the beginning with the book of  Genesis and then got bogged down in the different language and society portrayed?

Eventually giving up in despair somewhere among the awful dense and practically unintelligible Laws in the book of Leviticus.

And yet we really DO want to know what God is trying to say to us through his living word.

What we will attempt to do next year, when we read the bible from cover to cover, will be tough, especially if we want to truly read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words.

If you don’t have your own bible at home , don’t worry! 

feel free to borrow one from the church ….

It was our recently departed and much missed friend Vivienne Sharpe’s good friend Mrs Enid Brook, whose kind bequest which allowed the parish to purchase all of these pew bibles, and Mrs Brook would , I’m 100% sure approve of the lending out of these bibles…..

Because from all Viv told me about Mrs Brook, she was a lady who knew her bible by heart.

As did Viv herself.. She would also  be thrilled to think that these bibles were going to be put to good use…. Although Viv might bemoan the fact that they aren’t the King James version!  

The Pew bibles are, quite rightly, the same version as we read each week in Church , the New Revised Standard Version.

Each Wednesday evening, I host a Zoom Bible Study that looks at the Gospel reading for the coming Sunday.

In preparing for this hour, I use reference books around that point out the different customs and attitudes that we are coming across in scripture,

helping us to understand the word of God in the context of the time it was written.

The cultural norms of the time, which when the words were written would have been obvious to the people it was written for but after a gap of two millennium the distinctions are literally lost in time.

The more we know of the customs and cultural understanding of the time can really help us, enrich our understanding, it makes the people real somehow.

I sometimes show pictures of maps of the places we are talking about, It helps to actually see a map of the journey of Abraham, or the Israelites journey through the desert, or Jesus’ travels through Palestine…

or Paul’s travels …. Giving us a better understanding of who Paul was writing to in his letters.

Along with understanding more about the culture and times, it helps me each week to look up fabulous commentaries available on every one of the 66 books in the Bible.

Most good commentaries will walk with you sentence by sentence and explain perhaps archaic language,

or highlight the animosities that might have existed that are not mentioned but that the original readers would have been aware of , for instance, the hostility that existed between the Samaritans and the Jews,

If you don’t know about that,  then the Woman at the Well story just doesn’t have the punch it should have…

We need to be aware of just how much Jesus was pushing the boundaries,  breaking down the taboos,  by talking to a Samaritan woman in broad daylight.. or which Empire was in occupation when which Prophet was writing… vital knowledge to put the text into context.

I find it really helpful to seek out the right book to help me understand what I am reading….

… and believe me, there are endless books written about the Bible, not even to mention all that is available on the internet!

I mean , I even have a book which has paintings of each flower of the Holy Land that Jesus may have stepped on during his life!

What I am planning to do next year is turn this Wednesday Zoom Bible study from looking at the upcoming Sunday Gospel text into an hour where people can ask questions about what they have read in their daily Bible sections in the previous week….

I will have looked up all my various books on these texts and hopefully will be able to help those of you who might have questions around the text.

I’m hoping that people will dip in and out of the Wednesday Zooms, as and when they need to , and that this will complement their daily reading. The interaction and discussion within such a group can be very helpful to understanding what we are reading.

The thing about reading the bible, whether you are going to commit to reading the whole thing from cover to cover or whether you are just going to pick it up now and again is that any effort at all will repay so much more that the amount of energy expended.

The scriptures have been written and preserved not just to give us the information that shapes our thinking but also to enable the faith that directs our living.

The scriptures tell us what we need to know about God and ourselves so that our lives can find their meaning and become satisfying and productive.

I’m always amazed at what I get out of the Biblical texts, something different each time, because I am different each time I read them.

So do think about joining in with the daily Bible readings next year.

I have produced this lovely little booklet with each days readings clearly shown… there is even a little tickbox so that you can tick it off as you’ve read it…. Very satisfying.

I will have copies of these booklets in the churches over the next couple of months so that you can pick up a copy before 1st January.

I will also email it out nearer the time so that anyone who is not getting physically to church each week and join in as well.

I think it will be a most rewarding 2022!

AMEN

The Revd Richard Dring Sunday 17th October, 2021

Mark 10 35-45

There are a number of aspects to the Gospel reading today which are worth exploring further:

If we read the same story in Matthew we see an immediate difference, in Matthew the request is made by Salome the mother of James and John. Matthew is trying to protect the reputation of James and John, whereas Mark tells it to us as it was. There could be many reasons for this divergence, but does it really matter?

Jesus went on to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the question and challenge the brothers along with the other Disciples to explore what they were really asking and did they understand the consequences of the question. The Disciples were on their way to Jerusalem and undertaking the final journey of Jesus ministry on earth.

Jesus took the opportunity to help his disciples understand what they would face and what was expected of them, he tells them that they will experience all that he does but their final request to sit on his right and left was not his to give here he is saying that only God can give this.

What else can we take from this teaching and story relayed to us today? James and John are still loyal to Jesus and this setback does not dull their enthusiasm. This shows us the charisma Jesus had and why people still followed him even to the very end, and went on to be such a key part in the ongoing development of His ministry. His followers at this stage were still expecting a Messiah to lead an uprising against the Roman rulers, and the events to come in Jerusalem would eventually show this was not going to happen.

James and John may well have come from a privileged background and therefore were looking at what they expected to happen and develop in a way that would have been familiar to them. A little like a royal court where the leadership team would have an exalted position. James and John wanted to be part of that set up. Were James and John any different to many of us today, where we strive to improve and better ourselves?

 This passage helps to show us that the Disciples were a group of ordinary people who have many of the failings we have today. This has to give us all hope and confidence that we to can follow Jesus and are not excluded because of our failings. Jesus loves and cares for us all without any pre judgement.

The reading shows us what it means to follow Jesus and be a Disciple:

1. To be a Christian means to totally submit ourselves to the will of God

Jesus is saying to James and John, “I am about to be overcome by a huge calamity through which I will suffer and die. Can you go through that?”

As I have said they did not leave, they decided to stay with Jesus regardless of what he might suffer. James and John are not to be ridiculed or despised as a result of their selfish request in this passage. This event actually allowed Jesus to discuss for a third time with the Disciples what lay ahead, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and ending with the Cross. Jesus has always encouraged his disciples to question, and then used both the questions and events to continue His teaching. This is something that is forgotten in some Churches today where an exploring and questioning mind and the ability to make our own decisions can be suppressed.

God after all has given us free will and the ability to think, question and discern his message. This is an ongoing learning as we find and study both new texts to compare and study with existing Bible passages. There is also an increasing desire to study and compare the historical texts of the time to place the writings in context.

History tells us that James and John had a strong and resilient faith which was challenged and led to James being killed by Herod and John sent into exile on the Island of Patmos having been tortured by Caesar.

They both humbly submitted themselves to the will of God and were prepared to walk the way of Christ whatever the personal cost to themselves, and we can see the consequences, as they lived out their commitment.

2. The life of Christian discipleship is hallmarked by serving others

A key message contained in today’s passage show us the contrast between worldly power and Godly power. James and John have interpreted the Messianic journey in a different way and want to have a triumphal entry into Jerusalem to establish a new world order with Jesus at the head and the Disciples by his side.

In contrast Jesus does not see the future in this way and turns worldly power and authority on its head. In describing this there is a reference back to Isaiah and the Servants song in the words “to give his life a ransom for many”.  The cross is about more than simply forgiving our Sin through Jesus death but about setting the World and Ourselves to rights, it challenges all our systems which claim to put the world to rights but only succeed in bringing a different group to the top. We can all think of many examples of this in history, and indeed if anyone has read George Orwell’s book Animal farm this describes the very scenario I have just described. The cross calls in to question all human pride and glory which is bound to be challenging.

Jesus came to serve and not to be served which is where many have gone wrong including the disciples James and John in today’s passage. Their action demonstrates how easy it is to make this mistake so we have to keep reminding ourselves how easy it is to fall into this trap. We can take the example of James and John to give us confidence to know and follow Jesus. We are here today through the leadership and faith of many Disciples of Jesus following the message contained in the Gospel today.

Revd Julia Cody (Team Vicar in our link Parish ‘The Church at Perton’) Sermon for Sunday 10th October 2021

Dependency Mark 10: 17-31

Loving Father, we thank you for your Holy Word and we ask that through your Holy Spirit you would speak to our hearts and minds as we explore it today, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Well hello! It’s fantastic to be able to share with you again – even if it is on screen! Thank you Reverend Elaine for suggesting today for our virtual pulpit swap and I know the folks in Perton are looking forward to hearing from you as we celebrate our Harvest Festival. I hope that you had a wonderful celebration of harvest last weekend.

As I said, it’s fantastic to be able to share with you today, however, having said that, I would understand if at this point, you choose to have a little nap, because today’s Gospel reading comes with a serious health warning! It’s a tough passage where Jesus really doesn’t mince his words; it’s deeply challenging for us all – so don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Last Sunday in Perton we welcomed Caroline and Gary Price as guest speakers. This lovely, humble and faithful couple run The Well, the local food-bank, based in Wolverhampton, and serving Perton. The Church At Perton has collected non-perishable items for The Well for a number of years, including at our harvest celebrations, as well as giving financial support, but this was the first time we’d heard from Caroline and Gary about The Well and its 15 year story. They explained that it began running from a cupboard in the back of a local church, and has grown from there. Last year The Well supported 11,627 individuals with food parcels – and over its 15 year life has supported around 85,000 people.

As Gary and Caroline were quick to make clear, in sharing these huge numbers, in no way were they celebrating them, as each refers to a person in such need; however they did want to celebrate God’s provision for each of these people at times of real crisis in their lives. Just this week, I gave thanks for The Well as I was, once again, able to refer someone in Perton to them.

Caroline and Gary shared how near the very beginning they’d prayed, asking God to provide £50 so they could expand the fledgling food bank, which at that stage involved them delivering food parcels a couple of evenings a week after work. Their inspirational story spoke powerfully about their utter dependence on God – praying for new premises, money for rent, volunteers, donations, vehicles and so on. The Well has grown to become a large local charity, supporting so so many people, based on the belief that Jesus loves Wolverhampton and the surrounding area and that he cares about people who are hungry. Gary and Caroline both now work full time for The Well and oversee a small army of volunteers, and give thanks to God for his provision.

Listening to them was truly inspiring and also deeply humbling. A couple who continue to put their faith into action, utterly reliant upon God and dependent on him day by day. As I read and pondered and wrestled somewhat with today’s gospel reading, their testimony kept coming back to me – particularly their utter dependence on God, every day.

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God” – these words of Jesus are well known. This encounter between Jesus and the rich man is so vivid, and is found in all three of the Synoptic gospels, each providing nuances. Here in Mark, the man is described as having ‘great wealth’; St Luke tells us he was a ‘ruler’; and St Matthew that he was ‘young’.

In preparing for today, I discovered that this saying, and slight variations of it, in which something almost impossible is described in contrast to a camel going through the eye of a needle, seems to have been a common idiom at the time. There are, for example, references in ancient Jewish rabbinic materials to an elephant going through the eye of a needle – which I guess might be even harder than a camel!

So let’s delve into some of the details of this moment in the life of Jesus, his followers and this rich, young ruler. I wonder if we can try and imagine the scene and picture it? Jesus had been teaching people as they came up to him. In the verses immediately before ours, is the famous passage where Jesus takes a child in his arms and blesses them, rebuking those who tried to stop the children coming to him, and proclaiming, “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. Words which we’ll come back to – and then St Mark simply writes, “As Jesus started on his way…”

As we picture the scene, Jesus and his disciples were walking along, when a man ran up to Jesus, fell on his knees before him and launched in, saying, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” It’s quite startling really – they were just walking along, and suddenly a man runs up to the group, falls on his knees and blurts out his question! It must’ve been quite a sight – a rich, young aristocrat falling at the feet of a penniless wandering rabbi from Nazareth who was already seen by some as a rebel against the authorities.

How did Jesus respond? He immediately challenged the man for addressing him as, “good teacher”. It’s as if he wanted to calm this young man’s overflowing emotion and enthusiasm; rejecting the man’s flattery, “why do you call me good, no one is good except God alone”; and he encouraged the man to think; not to get carried away with his emotional outburst; turning his attention to the commandments. The man assured Jesus that he’d kept the commandments since boyhood. Maybe his hopes rose – thinking that as he had kept the commandments, he’d be ok, he would inherit eternal life.

And then there’s that beautiful, poignant pause as St Mark records, “Jesus looked at him and loved him”.  Jesus wasn’t angry or frustrated – he loved him. He knew that this man was sincere in his quest; and yet…

Jesus explained that he lacked one thing, just one thing, saying, “go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me”… the man’s face fell; he went away sad.

You can’t help but feel sorry for this young man who was so sincere. It seems like he got a raw deal – he’d done his best to obey the commandments all his life and he was genuinely seeking God. There’s nowhere else in the gospels where selling everything is presented as a pre-requisite for inheriting eternal life. Jesus set the man an enormous challenge – so hard in fact that later on Jesus admitted that it’s almost impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. As I said, this is a tough passage and challenging to us all.

It’d be nice to be able to offer some spiritual way of interpreting this encounter and Jesus’ stark words – to spiritualise them – but that’s not appropriate; Jesus’ words are plain. Here we get a clear, unequivocal message about what it takes to follow Jesus – that keeping the commandments, being respectable, is not enough.

St Mark records that the disciples were amazed at Jesus’ words – amazed because at the time the popular Jewish view was that prosperity was a sign of a good person and so if someone was rich, God had clearly honoured and blessed them. So what were they to make of Jesus’ contradictory teaching?

Jesus said that keeping the commandments and being morally respectable was not enough; entering the kingdom of God required a total response to Jesus; that nothing else in life is more important; that our focus is to be on the treasure in heaven to come.

This brings us back to the earlier verse where Jesus stated that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it”. We talk about children as being ‘dependents’ – they’re not yet able to live independently, and instead depend on others. To enter the kingdom of God we must be like children; we must recognise and acknowledge that we are dependents – that we are totally dependent on God; that we can’t enter the kingdom of heaven under our own efforts.

Paul and I have not been blessed with children, but many of you are parents, and an essential goal of parenting, where possible, is to nurture our children to the point where they fly the nest and become independent adults. Independence is something we value in our societies. Yet Jesus is clear, we’re to be like children – children are our example – we’re to recognise that we are dependent, no matter our age and status in society; there’s no way to follow Jesus and inherit eternal life other than embracing our utter dependence on God.

For me, and perhaps for many of you; for most of us in the Western world in 2021, this is so very hard. Most of us are fortunate and blessed to have warm homes; jobs which provide a salary so we can feed and clothe ourselves and our families; many of us are able to be prudent and save money, go on holidays, pay into pension funds. All of this is wonderful and something to be thankful for. At the same time, this means that we rarely have any tangible sense of being dependent on God. We’re self-sufficient, we don’t ‘need’ God and yet… our self-sufficiency and security can change in a moment, revealing how very little control we actually have.

I have a friend who won’t mind me giving you a snapshot of her story. She and husband and their two young sons lived in their own home, both worked, they enjoyed nice family holidays, all was great. Until the day her husband had an accident at work and broke his back; she had to give up her career to be his carer; their home was re-possessed; they were penniless; their self-sufficiency came crashing down almost overnight. What we depend on can be snatched away, through no fault of our own. Our ‘riches’ gone.

So here’s the really challenging question for each of us – what is it that you and I are dependent on? What are the ‘riches’ we each struggle to give up? What would it take for us to be fully dependent on God, like a child? Do we seek God above all?…  Hard questions and I encourage all of us, me included, to take time to consider them.

Whatever our riches are, those things which we depend on, they make it harder for us to be a disciple of Jesus, and it may be that we have to sacrifice them. Jesus called the rich man to follow him, having given up his riches; and he couldn’t do it – he went away sad. He’s wasn’t called to poverty for poverty’s sake – he was called to follow Jesus; he was called to be a disciple. His riches were a snare and a hindrance to him following Jesus. We don’t know what happened to him – maybe in time he was able to make those sacrifices and follow Jesus. But at this point in life, it was too high a cost for following Jesus.

After the man walked away sadly, Peter pointed out that he and the other disciples had given up much when they did respond to Jesus’ call to follow him; and Jesus reassured him that anyone who has given up their riches – whether that’s money or even relationships – to follow him, will inherit eternal life. However, alongside this assurance, Jesus also tells Peter that they will have persecution along the way! The disciples had made sacrifices to follow Jesus, ‘for me and the gospel’ as Jesus puts it. The disciples were dependent on God, and they’re promised that eternal inheritance, that treasure in heaven – but the journey won’t be easy. Following Jesus is costly, and God will honour the sacrifices which are made.

The good news is that entering the kingdom of heaven, inheriting eternal life, being saved – however you want to express it – is all about God! It’s not dependent on our efforts, it’s God’s free gift to each of us, in love. This isn’t something we can achieve or earn in any way at all. God promises us eternal life, all we have to do is follow Jesus, and fully depend on him.

The things we place our dependence on, our trust in, are not nearly as secure as we might think, and can change in an instant…. God is truly reliable…. May we be open to hear his challenge as to what are the ‘riches’ we depend on, and to whether he might be asking us to sacrifice them as we follow him and depend on him.

I want to close by reading a poem. It’s a slight tangent, perhaps, but it connects with the truth that we have no real control, even over today; that every single day is a gift and opportunity from God; and our choice to depend on him.

          Today’s Gift

          Today,

          this day,

          this moment,

          this gift.

          As any, this gift is given, freely,

          how do I choose to receive it?

          A beautifully decorated gift,

          wrapped in sunrise… sunset… this day.

          As I wake, I receive this gift, with

          gratitude,

          wonder,

          curiosity,

          faith.

          Will I take time to acknowledge it,

          explore its myriad possibilities,

          treat it with care?

          As I begin to unwrap this gift,

          do I rip it open,

          mindlessly careering into this day’s busyness,

          do I savour this gift,

          take a moment,

          express my thanks,

          peel back the wrapping with

          expectation,

          hope,

          open to receive this new gift,

          play,

          enjoy,

          marvel,

          treasure,

          this gift,

          this moment,

          this day,

          today?

The Revd Richard Dring Sermon for Harvest Sunday 3rd October, 2021

Matthew 6. 25-33

Before I start I would like to express my personal thanks and appreciation for the support and prayers I have received on my journey this far to be ordained a Deacon to serve in this Union of Parishes. It has been truly uplifting to feel the joy and celebration by all on Sunday 5th September. It was a pity that more could not be present on the day, we look forward to the next stage where we trust we shall be able to gather and celebrate together for the next stage.

What a year we have experienced yet we are still able to come together to celebrate the wonderful bounty God has given us. We have a lot to give thanks for this Harvest, we only have to look around us both inside our Churches and outside in the wider world to see that God has provided more than adequately for us. He has provided the food for our tables and that is traditionally what harvest is about, giving thanks at the end of a busy year for the food we have. Not forgetting the work that has been put into getting the food we eat from the seeds sown in spring through to harvest and then processed and delivered to our table. We still have to remember however those who still wake up each day wondering where their next meal will come from.

I believe it is also important to recognise the wider bounty God has given us, and here I am referring to the ability he gave us to develop the technology and vaccines to help deliver us through the trauma and challenges of the last 18 months. While we are not there yet, we can now see a new beginning ahead where we will be able to get back to a more normal way of life this is all part of the bounty God gives us. In moving forward we have to take time to determine what God is saying to us both in the word we have read today and our own thoughts. Do we truly want to go back to the way we were, should we not evaluate the beauty and wonder of creation around us and take time out to determine are we respecting what wonderful bounty we have been given, and what we should change in our lives to live up to the challenge of the Gospel reading today.

The key question for us all, including me is to ask are we living up to the challenge Jesus gave us. Are we truly looking after our neighbour; and in doing as challenged, are we looking after the world around us? Are we preparing to pass on to future generations what has been given in trust by previous generations for the future? Another aspect to consider in the celebration of the wonderful bounty around us, we have to ask ourselves: do we truly need all we have? It boils down to the classic definition of our Needs vs. our Wants.

This brings me back to the Gospel reading. The two Commentaries I looked up have a slightly different focus, Barclay focuses on Worry and how that can become uppermost in our everyday lives. He goes on to discuss the Lilies of the field and the Birds of the air having no worries in their day to day. He then reminds us the beauty around us can be as transient as the lilies (he describes this as Flowers as Lilies is too defined a definition) where they can be here today and tomorrow thrown in the oven as fuel for our fire. He also points out that the Birds are fed and do not store up food for the future they live each day as it comes. We have to look deeper into the message which encourages us not to sit back and believe God will provide for us without us doing anything. Barclay points out that the birds have to work for what they get to eat, and we have to do likewise. The Jews believed that they all should learn a trade to be able to support their family as not to learn a trade could result in descent into theft and petty crime. We can relate this to other key individuals in the bible; we all are aware that Paul earned his living as a tent make, he did not sit back and wait for others to provide for him, he was financially independent through having this skill passed on to him.

Barclay also points out that he believes this text has been miss-interpreted on occasion by those individuals who believe we should not dress ourselves like the lilies of the field but dress in sack cloth. Barclay refutes this and this view is supported by Tom Wright in his commentary. Tom Wright makes the point and focuses on the fact that Jesus was a happy person; this does not detract from the difficult times faced by Jesus on his journey leading to the Cross, it shows that Jesus experienced the ups and downs in life we are all so familiar withy, he was in this respect no different from us all. We however only have to look at the Gospel reading today to see how much Jesus is aware of and appreciates the joy and beauty in all creation around him. He is drawing our attention to the Birds and Flowers, the beauty that is all around us. Tom Wright also draws our attention to the Cross and the importance in the small details of the events surrounding the Crucifixion, one of these being the Roman soldiers drawing lots for Jesus tunic. He makes the point that this must have been a high quality garment for such an event to happen, if it was a poor quality garment there would have been no drawing of lots. It helps to demonstrate to us that Jesus enjoyed the good things around him and gives us the encouragement to be no different.

Another key aspect of what we read in the Gospel is the key message to enjoy these benefits we have to do our bit. We cannot achieve the benefits and bounty that we see around us today without doing the work required. God will provide however we have to do our bit to enjoy this bounty.

Coming back to my initial comments on Worry, we live in a world today where it is overwhelmed by worry, with many so consumed by this that they worry they have forgotten something and worry about that.

While it is very easy to dismiss this and be somewhat flippant about how we deal with worry, I am sure we have all had plenty to worry about over the last 18 months; we still need to find a way of relieving ourselves of the worry that can overwhelm us and as is well documented be detrimental to our health. This is where our faith and belief in God is our support as we can share and place these worries with God to allow him to help carry us through the dark times into the light. He is there to help us overcome our worries and move on. It is well documented that worry is a debilitating and difficult place to be and has consequences for our ongoing mental health,

We know that God has experienced all we can possibly imagine when we crucified his son Jesus on the Cross. He knows us each individually and is aware of all our issues and only wants us to ask and share these with him.

All of this is a challenge for us to accept that God is there to take our burdens and help us through each and every day. Our God is a joyous and happy God who loves us more than we can imagine. He does not bring misfortune on us and does not want us to be consumed with worry throughout or live. He is there to be alongside us in all we do, we only have to ask through prayer for this.

Sermon for Sunday 26th September, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel reading today makes a number of important and indeed very practical points.

Although these points were addressed originally to those around  Jesus, they still have relevance to us as disciples, as followers, of Christ.

The apostles had come upon a man, not of their company, who was healing people in the name of Jesus.

And even though he was doing good rather than evil they tried to stop him.

Why? – I’d say it was simply because they were jealously guarding  their own special relationship with Jesus.

And indeed we can all be guilty of thinking that our own denomination, our own variety of Christianity, has a monopoly on the best relationship with Jesus!

But Jesus said ‘do not stop him’  – the fact that he was acting in Jesus’ name meant he was not against them.

… and importantly Jesus pointed out that if this person did a deed of power in Jesus’ name, then he’d never again be able to speak evil OF Jesus….very clever move I’d say!

So Jesus gave us a lesson in openness and tolerance. 

.. in our liturgies, all our prayers are said, all our sacraments are administered in the name , that is, in the power of Jesus…. But our Church of Ireland does not have a monopoly on Jesus.

Sometimes we can feel threatened by the gifts or achievements of others, whether other denominations or other persons, yet we need to have a more open attitude so that we become enriched rather than diminished by those gifts.

God bestows his gifts freely , our responsibility is to welcome and indeed nurture those gifts wherever they appear and in WHOEVER they appear!

We have just read that Jesus said that anyone who gave the someone else even a cup of water would be rewarded and a ‘cup of water’ is a symbol of a small kind deed…. You wouldn’t have to put yourself out too much to dispense a cup of water would you?

You have probably all heard of Mahatma Gandhi, a great man who is rightly famous for both his own heroic life and for inspiring many others.

This is just one story of many told of him, and I used it very recently in a Zoom School Assembly to illustrate to the children just what kindness could look like….

As Gandhi stepped aboard a train one day, one of his shoes slipped off and landed on the track. He was unable to retrieve it as the train was moving. To the amazement of his companions, Gandhi calmly reached down and took off his other shoe. As the train continued to move forwards, he threw it back along the track to land close to the first. Asked by a fellow passenger why he did so, Gandhi smiled. ‘The poor man who finds the shoe lying on the track,’ he replied, ‘will now have a pair he can use.’

Few of us are given the chance to perform the great deeds as Gandhi did in his lifetime but that little story demonstrates that the chance to give a ‘cup of water’ may come our way several times in the course of any given day…. Even in our ordinary lives!

A small act of kindness can turn winter into summer at least briefly for another person because even the smallest kind deed can and does make a difference….  Just think about how someone in your own life has made a difference to you – just by a kind act.

You all know the lovely story about a young man walking along a beach when he comes across an old man who is picking up washed-up dried out starfish and throwing them back into the sea.

The young man said to him  ‘Why do you bother, look at all the hundreds of starfish on the sand…..you can never possibly throw them all back into the sea’    ‘Sure what difference can you make?’

The old man quietly picked up another starfish and then threw it back into the sea and said ‘Well….It made a difference to that one!’

As I said , a well known story but it is a story that really brings the importance of doing something rather than nothing right home to us….

Deeds don’t have to be big in order to be of help and comfort to the person for whom they are done.

They just have to have a certain quality, and that quality is warmth.

All deeds which come from the heart have warmth.

In the reading Jesus also deals with the sin of scandal – He speaks about those who would cause others to sin.

The Greek word used for  ‘cause to stumble’ is ‘skandalizo’ which we get our term ‘scandalise’.

Jesus is giving a grim warning to those who would lead astray any of the ‘little ones who believe in him’. 

We hear the term ‘little ones’ and think of children and indeed when we think of the crimes committed against children today, whether through war or neglect or abuse, it chills us

but when Jesus spoke here about ‘little ones’, the meaning was ‘those beginning their journey of faith’, these were the little ones who were beginning to believe in him….

Jesus warns us that some of the causes of sin may come from within ourselves, that our enemy may be within, that sin must be ruthlessly dealt with, the vivid image in the Gospel of grisly examples of cutting off a hand or a foot or plucking out an eye

But don’t take these words with a crude literalism.

The point Jesus is making is that serious sins are to be avoided at all costs.

We ought to be prepared to go to any lengths in order to eliminate evil from our lives.

He is telling us that the kingdom of God is worth any sacrifice.

As usual , there is,  as they say,  ‘ateing and drinking’ in our gospel, and the words give us much food for thought.

Jesus taught his disciples, giving them sound advice for living.

And his words speak to us still

We just have to attend to them……

Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it?* Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.’

We have to decide are we going to be the stumbling block for others or be the salt that seasons all it touches.

Are we stepping stones for others, inspiring by our way of living?

Remember the words of St. Francis of Assisi…… whose feast day is coming up fairly soon –  4th October

St Francis famously said something on the lines of

‘Preach the gospel wherever you go…..and if necessary, use words!

Our lives should be our witness.

Which brings us back to Mahatma Gandhi,

They say that all who met him were inspired by him.

They saw clearly from how he behaved that in his life was integrity and a yearning for justice,

Indeed the great Civil Rights Activist  and Christian Leader, the Revd Martin Luther King said that

Christ gave us the goals and Mahatma Gandhi the tactics’

In fact, Gandhi, although a devout Hindu, was a great admirer of Jesus, although he did point out that a lot of the so-called followers of Jesus showed little of their masters teaching in their lives!

He said “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians.”

As a true Hindu, he believed all religions to be equal, and rejected all efforts to convert him to a different faith but he was an avid theologian and read extensively about all major religions.

Although Mahatama Gandhi was not the originator of the principle of non-violence, he was the first to apply it in the political field on a huge scale

When you hear of ostensibly Christian leaders behaving in such a way that it is like they had never heard of Christ,  

Remember Gandhi

I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians,

I hope and pray that each of us, with the help of God, find the strength to live in such a way that when people look at us, they will know that we are followers of Christ.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 19th September, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In the Gospel today, we have the second prediction of the Passion…. In Mark’s gospel, there are three altogether, the third and last prediction is in the next chapter, chapter 10.

Mind you, also typical for Mark’s gospel is that once again the disciples don’t understand.

This time they are too busy arguing about which of them is the greatest.

Like most of us (and I spoke about this last week) they are motivated by their own plans and ideas, in this case their selfish ambition, busy jockeying for position ,

The kind of ambition that is condemned by Jesus in the gospel reading

and also by James in our second reading this morning when he speaks about ‘bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts’.

But remember that it is not that ambition itself is condemned, but the kind of ambition that involves a desire to rule others.

The kind of ambition that creates conflict and division and is of course damaging to any community.

There is a right kind of ambition – that is when the ambition is to desire to serve others, to enable others, to involve others, the sort of service that we give to ‘the little ones’, that is to say , the sort of service that we are called on to give to the least significant persons in the community.

And it is a good thing to be ambitious, to have goals , to want to be good at what one does and to succeed in it.

But, as we are all only too aware, ambition can get out of hand.

It can cause us to forget everything and everyone while we chase success in business or in a career.

I wished I had spent more time with the family’

is apparently a familiar refrain of successful business people on their death beds.

How sad for them – and for their families.

We have to be careful what we are sacrificing in the pursuit of our goals.

In the gospel, we see the apostles fighting over who would be first in Jesus’ Kingdom.

The scene is not an edifying one at all!

The fact that they are still driven by selfishness and false ambition shows how little they had being taking in Jesus’ radical message.

Their value system was still firmly grounded on the principles of Dog eat Dog.

Jesus used the child as an object lesson.

Look, he was saying, Look at this child.  

Those who receive such a little one receive ME and not only me but the ONE who send ME.

He was telling them that being his disciple has little to do with greatness as defined by others but everything to do with being God’s child and welcoming God’s children.

Actually, when you think about it Jesus has given the first ‘Children’s Sermon’

Children’s Sermons or Assemblies in School usually involve boiling the gospel down to the absolute essentials , I know in Greystones when my children were young, Archdeacon Swann used to give the most wonderful children’s sermons. He had a great gift.

So this was what Jesus was doing.

He used the example of the child to hammer home to his deluded apostles just what his kingdom was really about.

That the first would be last , that the last would be first.

And both sets of people glad just to be in line!

There is a wonderful Assembly that I have done in schools which uses the text from today’s gospel.

You ask for a volunteer from each of the classes, beginning with 6th class and that child was first in the line, then someone from 5th class, and that child was second in the line and so on until you have the little-ist one at the back of the line.

You have a basket of goodies (I usually keep the kind of things that you get in posh crackers at Christmas) and the children chosen knew that they were about to be allowed to pick from the basket so there was merit in being first in line.

THEN  you walk all the way down the hall, ask the children to do a complete turn and lo and behold, the last in the line from the Junior Infants was now the first in the line and THEY get first choice!

All of the children understood completely what I had done, I had redefined the meaning of this particular line!

Jesus didn’t abolish ambition, he just re-defined it.

For the ambition to rule OVER others, he substituted the ambition to SERVE others.

The greatness we should seek is the greatness that we find when we put away our self interest, our greed and our ambition to lord it over others.

Jesus had set the example himself.

Just think about how he washed the feet of the others that last night in the Upper Room.

A task that only the lowliest servant would baulk at.

He did this for others (and was to do so much more!)

And by doing it, he gave it a grace, a sacramental quality.

Those able bodied people who live in communities like L’Arche will always tell you that they are the ones who are gaining something from the lived experience.

It is hard to believe this I find, but I can’t deny that this is their actual experience – that in giving they are receiving.

Its almost like a mystery and sometimes hard to understand.

I usually have to think about how I feel when a present I have bought someone gives them so much pleasure that I , in turn, am delighted, genuinely delighted, for them.

I suppose this is how Mother Teresa , or Alice Leahy, or any of those people who give their lives for others feel.

Any of those who devote their lives to enriching the lives of other, less fortunate people, are the really great ones in our society.

Their ambition is truly fulfilled in the words of Jesus ‘As long as you did it to one of these, the least of my brethren , you did it to me’ 

Children were the least valued members of the community Jesus was a part of, and by telling his disciples

(who don’t forget would have expected to be the MOST valued in Jesus’ eyes)

By telling his own disciples that they must turn and serve these little ones if they wanted to truly follow him…. Well that must have been some shock!

Maybe they heeded, or maybe this was just one more thing that they chose to misunderstand….

But we can’t get away from the facts as presented to us in today’s gospel…

If we follow Christ, we are expected to be as servants to one another.

To put the other first and to give rather than receive.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 12th September, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The disciples have been with Jesus a fair while now and are getting to know him better – his healing power, his teaching skills and his authority.

In today’s gospel reading from Mark, we hear of Jesus and the disciples making their way towards Caesarea Philippi.

They speak together as they walk and Jesus is using the time to try and gently teach his disciples what is to happen.

He begins by asking them what the general opinion about him is. ‘Who do people say that I am?’

They answer what they have been hearing around the place…John the Baptist, Elijah and so on

Then he gets personal and asks them directly

‘Who do YOU say I am?’

Mark tells us that Peter answers, presumably for all of the disciples

He tells Jesus that ‘You are the Messiah’

Now, with our hindsight, we know that Peter was spot on!

But really what Peter meant by the Messiah was not what Jesus was about.

Peter and the other disciples were men of their generation.

Their idea of the messiah was of a conquering King,

one anointed by God to free them from foreign oppression,

Indeed the word Messiah – and also the word Christ – literally means the anointed one.

But we know, looking back across 2000 years of Christianity that wasn’t what Jesus was about at all.

Mark tells us that Jesus tries to explain what his messianic mission was about, that he will suffer greatly, will be rejected by the leaders of his own people , will be executed as a criminal and on the third day he will rise to life.

This, obviously, comes as a great shock to Peter and the disciples.

It just doesn’t make sense.

This is definitely not the Messiah they had been taught to expect.

But we know what will happen to Jesus, and when we hear these words, we think of Jesus’ humiliation and execution at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities

We know, but the disciples would never have dreamt that this could happen to their long awaited Messiah!

Peter steps forward, again surely speaking for all of them, and insists that this couldn’t happen to Jesus.

And Jesus , knowing that Peter has become a real stumbling block in the way of his mission and life  says those famous lines

Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’

We have to remember that at that time, Satan means adversary, opponent rather than the full blown devil we think of nowadays tempting us to evil but indeed, at that time, Peter’s attitude must have seemed like a real temptation to Jesus.

Jesus goes on to tell the disciples

and indeed to tell anyone who reads this gospel and has ears to listen

That not only will he, Jesus, go the way of suffering and death to life but that anyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus must also go the same way.

Heavy duty stuff!

How many of us are following a double standard?

Setting our minds totally on human things and ignoring divine things.

We want to be morally good people but our values in life are often indistinguishable from the rest of society – what is it about us that makes us stand out as followers of Christ? Anything at all?

Most of us are get totally caught up with day to day living,

concerned with material wealth, worrying about professional success ,

caught up with the business of saving our lives

not losing them as Jesus instructed us.

He told us to let go

To stop clinging – To be really free

To give and not to grab

To share and not to hoard

To see others as sisters and brothers not as rivals and competitors.

We live in a world that we are meant to reach out to

rather than to guard against.

Yet we all suffer with a ghetto mentality

An ‘I’m all right Jack’ attitude,

To be a Christian disciple is not primarily to ‘save my soul’ or to ‘go to heaven’ but to enter fully into the mainstream of human living and human concerns

To become part of that mainstream by loving and sharing and building up others.

It is not a matter of everyone for themselves

But each for the other , one for all and all for one!

In our current approach to life, there are only a few winners and many, many losers

Jesus is proposing a subversion of that worldview,

His good news proposes that we all let go and live our lives for others

If we all lived like that , wouldn’t our society be wonderful!

This is what Jesus is telling us in our gospel reading today,

‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 5th September, 2021

St Mary’s  9am only (Revd Arthur Houston preached at 10am & 11am)

 In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel today begins with a mother who wouldn’t give up on her little girl who was sick.

She was sick with what, in those days, people called a “demon.”

She may have had something like epilepsy and was unable to live a normal life because she had moments when she would go unconscious and fall down.

We know her mother must have really loved her because she took a huge risk to ask Jesus to heal her daughter.

She was from a culture that in those days was looked down on by Jesus’ people.

She knew that she would have a hard time getting Jesus to listen to her, but still she went,  knowing full well that she might be rejected.

This mother’s love for her daughter was extraordinary. She never gave up.

We all have times in our lives when we need someone to love us in an extraordinary way.

The mother’s love in the story is like God’s love for us.

God will never give up loving us even when we feel hopeless

The conversation between the woman and Jesus is very interesting.

At least one commentary claims that in the original language, Jesus and the woman use different words which are both translated as “dogs” in the NRSV, which is the translation we use in our churches. The NRSV is ‘The New Revised Standard Version’ and is accepted as being the most up to date scholarly translation although I know some of you still long for the King James version, it is to the NRSV that we go to try and interpret exactly what was meant.

So here we have Jesus saying it’s not fair to throw children’s food to the “puppies,”

but the woman says that even the “mutts” get a few crumbs from the table.

She takes his insult and turns it back on Jesus.

This is probably the first instance in which Jesus is taught by someone else, which makes it even more interesting, because it was a woman and a foreigner.

Jesus is challenged by the response of the woman from Tyre, and has to adapt his thinking and perhaps expand his vision. 

Faith is found beyond Israel ….  in a mother who will fight for her child,

And yet….

As with most of our Sunday readings , we have to think what has gone before this particular passage…

Last week’s gospel dealt with what was impure and what was pure to eat and this passage shows its linkage with what preceded it because the conversation again takes place in terms of food — whether it is right to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs, and, in response, that even the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.

Jesus’ refusal is based on the then universally understood prior right of the Jews, but it is so cleverly circumvented by the Gentile woman and so easily set aside by Jesus that I think it is an illustration of what Jesus wants us to know for ourselves….

Its not so much an assertion of Jewish priority but rather its repudiation.

As a parable teaches us a lesson, this conversation hammers home that the Kingdom of God is for all – not just the actual children of Israel but all of the humankind.

Interestingly,

while Jesus’ own disciples were offended by Jesus’ remarks to the religious leaders ,

remember when he called them hypocrites and so on  –

they seemed to have no such problems with what Jesus had to say to the Gentile woman.

In another account of this story, Matthew tells us that

… his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’  Matthew 15:22-23

Nowadays, we react differently. We tend to be most offended by what Jesus says to the Gentile woman, don’t we?

(And we don’t bat an eyelash at what he says to the religious leaders.)

This is the kind of passage that often offends our personal views of Jesus as someone who wouldn’t say such things.

When he calls the woman a dog, we wonder how Jesus could possibly have said something so mean and insensitive.

Some people simply doubt that Jesus said such a thing.

Others might take almost the opposite tack, not minding a very human Jesus,

one who might have bought into the stereotypes of his own people or tribe to some extent,

but who was then a quick learner when the persistence of this woman taught him to be more open to the faith of Gentiles.

One could even conclude with this human Jesus,  that the woman was his teacher.

She taught him greater tolerance toward those of other faiths.

Then later on in our reading, we hear of another healing ,

in the Decapolis, a deaf and mute man, who was probably a Gentile into the bargain  …

Part of the lake region was occupied by ten pagan tribes, the so-called Decapolis.

In the general thinking of the time of Mark’s gospel account deafness and muteness, which was probably from birth, are among the afflictions which are viewed as punishment.

Those suffering from them are seen as sinners or perhaps children of sinners, morally deficient.

By opening the ears and releasing the tongue of the man brought to him, Jesus brings him back to health and the man is no longer sick.

At the same time Jesus reintegrates him into society, giving him back his religious rights so that the man ceases to be marginalised!

Everything I have said today keeps reminding me of all those people who flee their own countries and become refugees.

The love that these people have , to face all kinds of obstacles to try and secure a better life for their families’ sake…escaping from a living death in their native wartorn Syria or Afghanistan or the crippling poverty of equatorial Afria. …

this was the sort of love that drove the woman in our reading to take on Jesus….

Our reading today tells us that we are to not let ourselves remain intolerant and bigoted because God is the God of all the earth.

Instead, like Jesus we should seek to bring wholeness and healing to those in need,

even when we might initially think that their need seems to indicate their moral poverty and worthlessness, as viewed by society’s values

Refugee, Economic Migrants… some of the older people in Germany pointed out over the last few years that in the aftermath of WWII , there was no distinction made…

Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist   –

people were dispossessed and needed help… so help was given.

True faith is not a possession but a motivation.

Jesus healed a Gentile girl and a man who was deaf.

Both were social and religious rejects, as was he.

He also forgave us, and thereby brought us into company with them.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we are called to bring health and wholeness to our world.

In any small way we can.

May God make us firm in faith and strong of will to reflect his image in our broken and suffering world.

Amen.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 29th August, 2021 ‘Climate Sunday’

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In today’s gospel, Jesus says to the Pharisees and the Scribes

Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hyprocrites ,

 as it is written

This people honour me with their lips,

But their hearts are far from me’

In vain do they worship me,

Teaching human precepts as doctrines’

We often attach more importance to the Head than the Heart.

Just think about school…..

The clever child is admired more than the good child.

And in business or indeed politics

We reward cleverness rather than goodness….

Yet, we know and admit how important our hearts are!

we are always going on about we must ‘have a good heart’

lots of sayings…..

‘his heart is in the right place’

‘She has a heart for the youth’

Someone is ‘warm hearted’ or ‘soft hearted’

All of these are compliments!

And we use the heart to describe how we feel

‘I was broken hearted’

‘I had a light heart’

‘Heart sore’

Indeed when we are in the deepest sorrow or worry we would say we have a ‘heavy heart’

When I was doing my Masters back in 2009, I chose to write my Thesis on Climate Change… it’s hard to believe that was over 10 years ago…

I remember, when I was in the middle of doing ALL the reading,

I remember feeling my heart was heavy..

All of the statistics!  All the indicators pointing the wrong way…..

I was writing about the failures of COP15, in Copenhagen and it was depressing reading…

And here we are, 2021, heading into COP26 in Glasgow and nothing seems to have changed…. It has gotten demonstrably worse.

We see it in our extreme weather events

We see it in people fleeing from drought and starvation.

I wrote my thesis about how there was a continuum between the extremes of Denial on one hand (We are not experiencing a climate crisis) and Despair on the other hand (what can we do?)

I wrote that it is only in the middle of this continuum between despair and denial was HOPE possible…..

And if we are truly Christian Communities…. Surely Hope is what we are about!

We are Easter People, we believe in Resurrection and Redemption!

But how do we look around us at what is happening and apply this hope?

What can we do?

I think James in our first reading puts it well

‘Be doers of the word… not just hearers who deceive themselves’

Jesus is talking about the spirit of the law trumping the letter of the law.

We have to look at our world with critical eyes but we also have to pull out that hope that is deep within us and apply it to our own lives.

We are being asked to make real changes in our own lives.

We are asked to be doers not just hearers.

Each of you received two separate little pieces of paper in the Pewsheet today.

One says ‘What can WE do in our everyday lives?’ and the parish eco group have listed just a few things…. Suggesting that we call be more resourceful, less wasteful and consider how our lives are affecting others.

We can make small changes to how we live our lives… changes that cumulatively WILL make a difference…

The other piece of paper is a Postcard which I designed and created (and I’m very proud of my handiwork I must say!)

Have a read of what it says and if you are in agreement, sign it , stick a stamp on it and send it into Eamon Ryan who is our Environment Minister.

I’m sure you’re all thinking , but sure isn’t he already the head of the Green Party, why does he need convincing!

But when he gets maybe 40 or 50 postcards from Carrigaline, he can turn around to his less environmentally friendly cabinet colleagues and say ‘Look , people DO care! And that might spill over into how they vote in the next election!’

That’d get their attention!

Never underestimate the effect of doing something rather than nothing…. Our own Edmund Burke said it well a few hundred years ago when he said that we had better light a candle rather than sit and curse the darkness!

We can’t continue as we were….. We need to do things differently.

You all know that we are an Eco Congregation and we , as a parish community, have made changes to how we do things based on a greener approach to life…

But now it’s time to change our own individual lifestyles…..

We HAVE to change or the beautiful world we know will not be there for the next generation.  (Look at how beautiful it is in this poster, a photo taken by NASA from space)

I mentioned that I had to do a lot of reading when I was writing my thesis on Climate Change….

Many many authors who I honestly can’t remember at this stage.

But there was a wonderful woman theologian from the US who made a great impression on me.

Her name was Sallie McFague.  She had a way of getting across profound truths in a simple way.

She likened our relationship to the Earth with our relationship with a Hotel rather than a Home…

She said that we must treat the earth as our home and not as a hotel, for if you are living in a home, you follow the house ‘rules’ –

you take only your share, you clean up after yourselves and you keep the house in good repair for others,  as opposed to hotel living where as McFague says :  

One uses hot water copiously, orders from the room service menu whatever one wishes, dumps the thick, dirty towels on the floor, and heads down the road to the next night’s hotel.

When the earth is treated as home rather than as a hotel, attitudes are markedly different. I thought this was a wonderful way of putting it…..

She also had something to say about our lack of action….

She recognized that the one critical issue is the motivation to act.

That we had to realize that the ‘problem’ is in our heads and hearts as much as it is in the policies of governments and of multinational corporations….

There is no point in living unsustainably and saying ‘ah sure look at what China is doing!’

We can only control what WE do!

If I said to you about someone worshipping here today that

‘Their heart is not in it’

it would be a fairly derogatory remark.

It would mean that they were only giving it lip service…. Like the Pharisees did,

that is why Jesus called them hypocrites. 

They were paying more attention to the outside than the inside… they were more preoccupied with having clean hands than having clean hearts.

Jesus tells us plain and simple in our reading today that it is what is INSIDE of us that counts.

It is what is from within… from the human heart

that evil intentions come

and we have a long long list in our text.

And it is this that defiles us,

Not that we haven’t washed our hands,

We need to ask God to help us to come to him with a sincere and loving heart, all else is gloss.

If we have the heart sorted, the rest will follow.

This is what Martin Luther was saying when he famously said

‘Love God and do what you will’

For decades, he has been badmouthed over this sentence but he wasn’t saying do what YOU like

he was saying if you LOVE God,

then your heart will guide you right.

You will do what is right

if your heart is tuned into what God is about.

Our worship and our lives should honour God

The love of God that flows from our worship literally transforms our lives…. And it can transform our world too….

Think of what we will say today at the end of our Communion Services…..

May the grace of the Sacrament we have received remain in our hearts so that strengthened by it, we may accomplish your plan to renew all Creation.

We are being sent out to the rest of the world to demonstrate to all those we meet exactly what it means to be a follower of Christ.

This morning all of us – together -honour God

with our lips

AND

with our hearts.

And hopefully we will go out after this Climate Sunday Service and continue to honour God with our lips and our hearts and in our actions…..because that is what this is all about…..

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 1st August, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is desperately trying to make the listeners (and us!) understand that there are two types of hunger……

and while the listeners had enjoyed the free meal of the bread and fishes that we heard about last week, ultimately this is not what Jesus was about…. He made no bones about that

‘You are looking for me, not because you saw the signs(miracles), but because you ate your fill of the loaves’

Jesus had come to do more than fill our bellies…

He had come to show us the way, the truth, the life.

He had come to tell us that he would be with us always, through all of our trials and troubles.

He was here to tackle our spiritual hunger, not our physical hunger.

Jesus wasn’t just a superhuman food producer,

His miracle or sign of the loaves and fishes was a sign pointing to the Father,

Just as a sign on the roadside which says Cork means that Cork is so many kilometres in that direction….

We know that the sign itself is not Cork!

So it was too with the Loaves and Fishes.

In this miracle, Jesus had fed the people with ordinary food, and had done so with great generosity,

Remember the 12 baskets of leftovers! Symbolising enough for the whole 12 tribes of Israel… in other words, everyone!

But the miracle was always about pointing to his Father in Heaven… probably why John calls it a sign!

It wasn’t just about a pleasant picnic by the lake.

Last week we heard that Jesus and his disciples crossed the lake, more than likely to get a rest from the crowds

And now today we hear that the determined people, seeing they had ‘escaped’  followed them

and found their quarry on the other side of the lake.

Jesus knew that they followed him in the hope of receiving more of the same kind of food.

But this time Jesus refuses to give it to them.

He was a spiritual teacher not a Caterer.

Part of his task was to challenge people to go beyond their immediate tastes and needs.

It was like the first temptation in the desert all over again, when Jesus had been tempted to turn the stones into bread…now the temptation was to use his special powers to give people the material things that they so obviously wanted,

But Jesus knew that material things by themselves could never satisfy the people.

Food is only the beginning.

We eat in order to live…

….we don’t live just to eat….

Or at least I hope not!

Jesus made it clear that the Son of Man had not come down from above to merely satisfy people’s physical hunger,

He had come to give them heavenly bread

Heavenly bread which people could eat and never again become hungry.

He challenged them to go deeper.

He said ‘do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, food that the Son of Man will give you’

Jesus liked people to work things out for themselves.

He didn’t seem to like to be too obvious.. which is why he seemed to spend so much time explaining things to his disciples!

Its like when someone asked a famous abstract painter about his painting

 ‘but what is it?’

he answered ‘ If I tell you, that’s all you will ever see’

I often feel that if I interpret the scriptures so that there is nothing surprising or even shocking about it ,

then I am missing something and its time to go back and read it again.

And today is no different …..Jesus’ words about bread 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’ words tend to work a bit like that,

When we give it a bit of extra thought, Jesus’ words  usually end in a shocking reversal of our expectations

or at the very least they dislocate us from what is comfortable

in order to free us to understand a different way of being…..the kingdom of heaven within us.

If Jesus had yielded to the temptation and given the people more loaves and fishes,

he would have made himself very popular

 …..in the short term,

But in the long term,

to give priority to physical needs would be to diminish humanity, to make us no higher than beasts.

Jesus challenged them then at the lake

and he challenges us now

to face up to our deeper hunger, our spiritual hunger.


Jesus was showing us that he would provide for all of our real needs,

our spiritual hunger….

our restlessness…

our longing for something that we don’t even understand.

As St Augustine put it

 ‘our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you’

The crowd of listeners around Jesus would have settled for another free meal

But they had other hungers and needs,

As do we!

A hunger for truth, 

for an understanding of the meaning and purpose of life…..

the hunger for life itself…..in the abundant and enriching form that Jesus promised .

that hunger for love that is in all of us

…To love …… and to be loved

That hunger

which ,at its deepest level,

is a hunger for God himself,

…..God – who is Love.

When Jesus said ‘I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’

We know that he wasn’t talking about bread as we know bread,

While ordinary bread nourishes and strengthens us physically,

Only He is the one who,

when he lives within us,

can nourish and strengthen us spiritually.

And this is the bread our hearts desire,

This is the bread , without which, we have nothing.

The bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.

SO

They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 25th July, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This week, we leave our Year B progress through the Gospel of Mark and read instead from the Gospel of John  

Mark, in his gospel, tells the story of a very human Jesus who has a messianic secret. No one knows Jesus’ true identity until after his crucifixion.

John, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish, and in his gospel he relates the story of a superhuman Jesus.

From the very start of John’s Gospel ‘In the beginning was the word ….‘ the scene is set and there is no mistaking who Jesus is for John and his readers.

For the next 5 Sundays we will be spending time in John chapter 6. These five weeks will centre on Jesus’ proclamation of being the Bread of Life and the Bread of Heaven.

Mind you I will only be with you in spirit for three of those Sundays in August as I will be on holidays !  But I’m sure Wilfred & Helen who will be with you in August will do justice to John’s great ‘I am’ texts!

A couple of things to keep in mind in the following weeks: first as we have already said… John is not Mark.

We are encountering an entirely different type of gospel account with John.

There is no Messianic Secret, John is quite upfront that Jesus is the Son of God and reveals himself consistently as such through his words and actions.

Mark has what’s called a low Christology

and John has a high Christology,

and I know that I’ve mentioned to you before that in my head I always think of John as being like a Cathedral and Mark as a small Church (perhaps just like here!)

Anyway, in the first story from John in our Gospel today, we have what Biblical scholars commonly refer to as a  ‘Feeding Story’ , and the feeding stories are very significant in the Gospels.

The feeding is the only miracle that is shared in all four Gospels, and two of them may have told the story twice as both John and Mark have two feeding stories each.

So, either both of them thought the story was so important that they wanted to share it twice (which would attest to its significance to the early church)

or … Jesus did much more feeding than most of us had assumed (which would attest to its significance in the ministry of Jesus).

Either way, it tells us that this is an important part of what Jesus did during his ministry .

Today we heard about Jesus feeding a huge number of people, we are told 5,000 in all.

They were probably far more than 5,000 people, because in those days they only counted men, not women and not children….. and of course women and children would have been there …So a good guess based on 5,000 men would be at least ten thousand people, perhaps as many as twenty thousand people!

The reason that there were lots of people in and around the place was because the Passover festival was coming up and lots of people came in from villages all around to be near the temple in Jerusalem for the big festival,

perhaps a little like the way in normal times Carrigaline would be full of people for  the St Patrick’s Day parade

or perhaps like Crosshaven during the Cork Week…. anyway you get the picture (and sometimes it’s hard to remember now what crowds were like!)

Anyway, there were lots of people following Jesus and the disciples around , because they had seen that Jesus was curing sick people and they were very impressed and perhaps they wanted to hear for themselves what this man had to say.

In the story today, Jesus had gone up a mountain on the other side of the lake with all of his disciples , presumably to escape the crowds but even up there lots of people followed.

When Jesus saw how many people there were, 

he asked one of his disciples, called Philip, where they could they possible buy bread for all of these people!

Philip told Jesus that not even 6 months wages could buy enough to feed this crowd!

And that was if even there WAS a shop on the top of the mountain!

Which of course there wasn’t!

One of the other disciples with Jesus, Andrew, was a bit more optimistic…….He had seen a boy with some food and told Jesus this.

But even optimistic Andrew couldn’t see how this small amount of food would stretch to feeding the large crowd.

Of course what they were all forgetting was that Jesus was no ordinary man.

And while Jesus’ heart is touched by the hunger of the crowd,

John’s emphasis in todays gospel is to teach us about what seems to be his favorite subject: not the feeling for his fellow humans but

the power of God in Jesus….. and who this Jesus is

John tells us that Jesus took the bread that the boy had, gave thanks to his father for it, blessed it and began breaking it into pieces to pass around to all of the people.

And amazingly and miraculously they ALL had enough to eat!

And with lots of food left over.

John, the evangelist tells us that there were 12 baskets left over…..that’s one basket for every apostle!

As you may have noticed by now, 12 is a very important number in the Hebrew Scriptures,

being the number of tribes of Israel and the number 12 crops up all over the place…. So saying that there were twelve baskets left over was very meaningful… meaning enough for the 12 tribes of Israel.

Going back to the beginning of the story, when Jesus asked Philip where they were to buy the bread to feed the people, Jesus had obviously known that there wasn’t really anywhere around to buy bread even if they had the money,

Jesus knew that this wasn’t what was going to happen but  wanted Philip and the other disciples to think about their responsibility to others.

I mean, we pray to God for a good harvest each year but we don’t expect God to actually plant the seeds, do we!

So the little boy gave what he had – John tells us it was just 5 loaves and 2 fishes

And with this offering, Jesus was able to work a miracle and feed all the gathered people.

The willing offering of the boy, the spontaneous desire to sacrifice his lunch for others, is what enabled Jesus to feed the vast company of people…. To show the power of God in that situation.

God blesses us with much more that we need.

And we, in turn, need to share what we have with others.

Some of us only have a little

Some of us are blessed with much more than we need

Either way, we please God when we share with others.
Like the boy with just some lunch left over, when we put what we have to offer into God’s hands, he can do so much more than we either ask or think….. if we trust in him and rely on him.

As it says in our second reading and as I often say in the words of dismissal at our Morning Prayer Liturgy ….

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine

Which brings us to the final part of the Gospel today,

where, at the end of what must have been a very confusing but wonderful day,

the exhausted apostles , on the boat returning to Capernaum see Jesus walking towards them ON the water,

Forgetting all that they had witnessed about the power of God in Jesus, they are terrified…… and they have to be reassured by Jesus who says to the cowering Apostles

‘It is I, do not be afraid’

Always and ever, this is the comforting message coming across in the Gospels, through the ages …. Be not afraid, trust in me.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 18th July , 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In today’s gospel, we see the care of Jesus for his apostles as well as his compassion for the ordinary people.

How he tries to bring them away to rest but can’t escape the attentions of the crowds…..needy people surrounding him and his disciples, not allowing them quiet to gather themselves.

I may have told you the story about a man who went to see his friend who was a professor at a large university.

As they sat chatting in the professor’s office, there was constant interruptions….students were continually interrupting the professor  by knocking on his door.

Each time , the professor would get up and speak with the student and answer the query, or somehow deal with the student’s problem.

Eventually the friend asked the professor how he ever got any real work done in such circumstances.

The professor replied that he used to resent the interruptions until one day it dawned on him that that WAS his real work……

The professor could have locked himself away and devoted his time to his own private work.

He certainly would have had a quieter life.

But instead he made his work consist in being available to his students.

It was no coincidence that he was the most successful and best loved professors in the university.

Unselfishness is not easy.

Well, sometimes it can be fairly easy

We plan what we are going to do that is ‘good’ and then we make time for it and fit it into our lives, so it really doesn’t involve any extra pain or effort.

But at other times, more often in fact, we find that we are called upon when we least expect it, when we haven’t got the time,

when we really don’t feel in the mood.

It is at these times that we have to forget ourselves,

Set aside our feelings and plans.

This then is when a real sacrifice is involved.

It’s a consolation to us to know that Jesus too had to cope with interruptions.

He too had his plans upset.

Today’s gospel tells us that he was in such demand that he and his apostles hardly had time to eat.

Jesus had decided to take some quiet time, both for himself and for his disciples.

He knew that they were tired after their mission,

Remember the gospel from a couple of weeks ago when he had sent them out ‘two by two’

Now that they were back , Jesus decided that they all needed to go somewhere quiet, to recharge their batteries, to retreat.

But it was not to be.

The people followed them.

How did Jesus react?

Did he get all hot and bothered and talk about quality time with his disciples?

About his right to some time to himself?

No….quite the opposite in fact…..

Far from getting annoyed, he felt for the people

He understood that they were leaderless, he knew how much they needed him.

he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd

True caring is never easy.

Most of us are willing to care a little, provided we are in the mood.

But to care as Jesus did

When it upsets our plans

That’s the real test.

Yet people do it all the time…..

how many times would we get out of bed at night to see to a sick child? It would be unimaginable to deny a child comfort in that way.

So all of us are capable of that kind of caring.

And the need for caring is so great…we just have to look around us to know that.

People are crying out for lack of someone to care about them.

Our society is being devastated because of a lack of caring.

When we truly care we are living the gospel.

Remember Jesus didn’t see the crowd as a crowd but as individuals, each with their own problems,

Not just a great mass of people but each with their own worries and their own needs.

He cared precisely because they were wounded and in need.

he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd

I read that Mother Theresa was once asked how she kept from being overwhelmed by the masses of the needy.

She replied, “I love them one at a time”

They weren’t a needy crowd to her but each one an individual deserving of respect and love.

I think she also said that if we didn’t know where to begin, then we should begin by loving the one nearest us…

True Compassion or Caring is a matter of the heart….think about the doctors and nurses and teachers you have known that really stood out..

They are always the ones who seemed to really care about you as a person.

I remember back in Kilkenny, when I was a chaplain to the local County Hospital, I was talking to an old lady there, who told me how much she had appreciated the care shown to her by a nurse the last time she had been in the hospital, over a year ago.

She said that she had wanted to write to the local paper, the Kilkenny People,  praising him but somehow had never gotten around to it and she really wished he was caring for her still but unfortunately he had been moved to a different ward in the interim.

As luck would have it , I was visiting another patient on his new ward and spotted his name tag. So I was able to pass on the lady’s greetings to him…..

He had obviously cared….. and was remembered fondly for it.

Funnily enough those who give of themselves above and beyond the call of duty find that somehow , with the grace of God, they are recharged at the same time.

And remember too that good can come out of interruptions.

Interruptions can prevent us from becoming preoccupied with ourselves.

Our selfishness can become a kind of prison

Love for others, on the other hand, can and does set us free.

As the south American Bishop, Helder Camara said

‘Accept surprises that upset your plans

that shatter your dreams

they can give a completely different turn to your day

and – who knows? – To your life

Its not chance

Leave God free to weave the pattern of your days.’

What a wonderful expression …

Leave God free to weave the pattern of your days…..

If we kept that in mind,

That God’s hand was on our every moment

It would stop us from ever considering anything

Or anybody!

A waste of time

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 11th July, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This is the reading is part of what we call the ‘ Sermon on the mount’, where basically Jesus is setting out his blueprint for his Kingdom, the beatitudes are from this sermon as well… blessed are the peacemakers and so on…..

In the section we read today  he says twice

‘You have heard it said’ …. but I say to you….

I say to you….

Its like, ‘never mind what you have heard …. I’m telling you now what the real truth is’

It wasn’t that he was throwing overboard what his listeners already knew of the law.

Jesus has always been very insistent that his mission was not one of abolition but of completion,

and he expected those who follow him to show this in their behaviour and in their relationships.

He doesn’t want the old laws thrown away

but equally he doesn’t want them followed superficially and blindly, thinking that once you do that, you’ll be grand!

Anyone who appeals to faith and freedom in Christ and who doesn’t at least aspire to what he is telling us about the spirit rather than the letter of the law has somehow misunderstood Jesus’ message in this sermon on the mount.

Jesus is telling us that there is a huge difference in blindly following the law as laid down by the scribes

and the actual living of the letter of the law in your hearts as laid down by Jesus himself.

‘You have heard it said’ …. but I say to you….

The law consisted of worthy rules to live by and Jesus told us many times that he didn’t come to abolish such rules.

We are not to ignore the law as laid down by Moses,  if fact, Jesus asks us to expand on it!

But not in a narrow legalistic way

He doesn’t ask us to become better Pharisees!

In our churches, week on week,  we proclaim the good news of God’s presence with us, the presence that lightened the darkness.

Our response to that proclamation,

our recognition of God’s life and work here and now,

is much more than just going through the motions of church.

Jesus calls us to a whole new life in God. 

In some ways he takes the law to whole new levels ,

the traditional teachings become doorways into the examination of many internal dynamics as well as external behaviours in our life:

anger, derision, slander, false generosity, litigiousness, arrogance, lust, temptation, alienation, divorce, and religious speech.

Jesus joins the dots for his listeners from outward acts to internal orientation,

Going backwards from the act of murder to the originating feeling of anger,

from the actual act of adultery to the first stirrings of lust.

It is one thing to behave rightly.

But it is an even more basic thing entirely for our hearts to be oriented toward love.

Just as it is easier to just make a sacrifice at the temple than it is to do justice

Or perhaps in our 21st century terms, we might think of it as being easier to just pay towards the upkeep of the church and to actually turn up at church!

(although the pandemic put paid to that for many of us!)

Our first reading today was from the prophet Micah, beautiful words, words of peace….

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,

and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between many peoples,

and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;

they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,

and their spears into pruning-hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more;

but they shall all sit under their own vines

and under their own fig trees,

and no one shall make them afraid;

for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

a couple of weeks ago may spring to mind.

I love Michah….one of my favourite biblical texts and the one I picked for my ordination ‘ember’ cards many years ago was from Micah, you all know it well I’m sure….

it was when he spoke about all of the burnt offerings and money gifts going to the temple

and then reminded us what the Lord actually was actually requiring of us…..

to do justice,

to love kindness

and to walk humbly with our Lord,

We know that Jesus said ‘I am the way’

But it is a way of life that demands more and promises more than just ordinary existing.

It is life abundant.

And in our readings this week, we have the final two of his antitheses. (ant thiss is siss)

You have heard it said ‘an eye for an eye’

but I say to you

turn the other cheek,

give your cloak as well as your coat,

go the second mile,

give to everyone that begs from you.

You have heard it said ‘ Love your neighbour ‘

but I say to you

‘love your enemies too’

This was a massive shift.

Love your enemies!

Give to all that beg!

Turn the other cheek!

Go the second mile!

This was demanding , as we’d say

‘above and beyond the call of duty’

We can fall into the trap of reducing the work of God to ritual formula,

of trying to use our communal practices to avoid giving our hearts and lives to God and neighbour.

Jesus reminds us again and again of the primary importance of personal relationships

And today he really drives home the importance of being holy 

Not the surface holy of the scribes and the Pharisees, who need to be seen as being above all of the other people

Set apart from the sinners.

Jesus speaks of the true meaning of being holy

–  of not allowing the evil of others to infect us.

As Paul pointed out to the people of Ephesus in our second reading today.

He has abolished the law with its commandments and

ordinances, so that he might create in himself one new

humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

Remember – Paul was speaking not to an individual in his letter but to a community, a church, just like us.

We are to remember that we are a temple…..

When evil is done to us,

we are to turn the other cheek,

go the extra mile, love our enemies.

In this way, we remain the holy temple of God’s spirit.

God’s in-breaking presence in Jesus Christ

re-orders the relationships of this world and

re-orients the internal landscapes of our lives.

It can be difficult and uncomfortable but Jesus is asking us  not to just tick the boxes.

He is challenging us to examine our own reaction when other people’s evil deeds affect us.

While we might be allowed , on paper, to extract an eye for an eye

in the light of God’s law of love,

we are expected to turn down that opportunity,

When we are asked to go one mile, instead of moaning and doing the mile – we are expected to go the second mile,

For this is to love as God loves ….

Abundantly … without exception, without condition, without partiality.

Jesus quotes from the Old law, and he takes it to whole new levels.

Living with the values of the Kingdom,

The values as listed in the beatitudes from this Sermon on the Mount,

Being meek, being pure in heart, being merciful, being a peacemaker..

Living these values will involve doing serious work on love

At the least Jesus is asking us, once again, to love those we wouldn’t usually have anything to do with.

The people we avoid.

Those who we’d give a second look to if they walked into our church.

Those we’d rather keep our children away from.

In this teaching on the mount,

Jesus calls us to re-examine what we know and understand as the ‘Law’ in the light of his Love.

And then he demands we live up to that love.

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 4th July, 2021

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today’s gospel reading had one very familiar sentence in it which we tend to paraphrase as

‘A prophet is never appreciated in their own hometown’

There is a story about a bishop interviewing an ordinand who was about to be ordained, and he asked him where he thought he would like to be assigned as a deacon.

The ordinand said quickly 

“Oh, bishop, anywhere but Cork!”

“Why not there,” the bishop asked?

“You know,” the ordinand answered, “that’s where I come from , my hometown — and we all know that a prophet cannot be honored in his hometown.”

The bishop replied by saying, “Don’t worry my son, nobody is going to confuse you with a prophet!.”

A prophet……

The Greek, (pro + ph-e t -e s) literally means one who speaks on behalf of.

A prophet speaks on behalf of God,

as God’s messenger and on behalf of those who have no one to speak for them,

giving a voice to the voiceless.

Its often explained that a prophet is not primarily a fore-teller, pointing out what is going to happen in the future

but a forth-teller, someone who has insight into the present

and we all know how popular that would make you!

The reason his own people did not believe in Jesus was that they thought they knew him so well.

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and so on?”

It was inconceivable to them that God could be at work in the commonplace

In one of their own! Not a High place King but a mere Carpenter….

The community of that time were well used to the idea of prophets, Isaiah, Elijah and so on but perhaps felt that prophets  are best when they are far away and long ago!.

Jesus’ words and actions were tough and rough to a certain extent, abrasive even,

His close followers who were open and received him didn’t notice this roughness, they allowed their reality be reshaped by his message and good news

Jesus’ followers knew that life had been strangely and inexplicably changed.

In fact it was not roughness at all to them.

They saw it as abrasiveness against the old order, the establishment

which they knew was not answering the needs of their community!

Mark is sensitive to the fact that ‘hardness of heart’ can stop Jesus’ work

He describes Jesus’ return to his home territory and underlines the point that where there is no belief Jesus could not energise.


So it was possible to resist the new energising.

Free will and all that!

And it could so easily happen to the best of us

it could well be written of us, “He could do no deed of power there.”

Not because God doesn’t have the power,

but because our own fear can prevent us from believing in it, from accepting it, in our lives and in the life of the church.

How sad it would be if it were ever said of us,

“He was amazed at their unbelief.” …..

In our gospel today, the response of those who valued what is old, resisted.

They wanted none of it!

But the others who were open became aware of a fantastic making anew of what they had previously understood to be unchangeable…

Written in stone you might say!

In his work and teachings – especially his healing work ,

Jesus had contradicted the norms of society concerning “clean” and “unclean”, deserving and undeserving.

Remember last weeks Gospel?

When Jesus had spoken openly to the woman who had been hemoragging for 12 years

Had held the hand of Jairus’ daughter, even though she was thought to be dead…..

The examples could go on and on….

The Samaritan woman,

The curing on the Sabbath

Telling people their sins were forgiven!

And his amazing parables which challenged the listeners to think outside of their cultural boxes…..

Just think about the shock felt when the despised Samaritan is revealed as the goody in the story!

Jesus wasn’t thanked for causing such a radical rethinking about these fundamental characteristics of Hebrew tradition.

After all he was calling in question all the moral distinctions upon which Hebrew religion and society was based.

If these foundation beliefs were questioned

it jeopardised all those rules that justify political and economic inequality.

I read something that Philip Berrigan , one of the famous Berrigan Brothers who were high profile priests in the US during the 60s and who were constantly in and out of jail for their peace activism,   anyway Philip wrote this

‘The poor tell us who we are,

the prophets tell us who we could be,

so we hide the poor and kill the prophets’

When Jesus sends them out two by two , he says that they need nothing else but the power that he will give them.

The famous German Mystic Meister Eckhart pointed out that

A pear seed grows into a pear tree,

and a hazelnut seed grows into a hazelnut tree

and a seed of God grows into God. 

God does not ask anything else of you but to let yourself go

and let God be God.

in you!.

But unfortunately we tend to reject not only the prophets around us but the prophet within us too!

We don’t trust ourselves to be the bearers of the Good News…

But at our baptism , we were each commissioned to do just that!

We are all involved in this great commission….

We just have to start acting like prophets,

and that doesn’t mean that we need to grow beards and start eating locusts

But it does mean that we need to take seriously the fact that we are all called…..not just the ones wearing collars!

But all of us.

The “job” of the church is not to convert the world, but to love and serve the world as Jesus did.

Which would mean that our “job” is not primarily to “get new members,” but to love and care for people in our current communities. 

The church should be about not only about meeting my needs but also about helping me , guiding me to re-prioritise my needs,

In fact, the church should be giving me new needs that perhaps I would never have had had I not come to church in the first place!

But Jesus doesn’t say it will be easy…..

Up to now, Mark’s Gospel has given us great shows of power, from stilling storms to returning people to life.

You would have thought that this was enough to persuade people, and you would have thought that at least his own family would be buy in!

However, not even the family was behind Jesus. Despite the impressive shows he is rejected and looked down upon even in his own home town.

This is the way of it for Jesus …. and he takes this opportunity to speak about the difficulty in proclaiming the Good News when he tells his disciples to expect more of the same.

The jist of the text today is that it offers a shape to the whole ministry of God’s People.

This is not something in which you shall find fame and fortune.

If you do, then perhaps you are doing something wrong!

The marks of the faithful are sandals and staff and that is about it.

That in itself speaks volumes against the traditional power bases of family and religion and land.

Jesus is telling us that his is not a gospel of prosperity.

but a gospel on and for the breadline, for those on the margins.

Gordon Linney . The retired Archdeacon of Dublin, and a man I admire, has said that in the future the Christian cause in Ireland will be best served not by those who seek to impose their views or control people’s lives

but by those who can convince others by the integrity of their lives

that what they represent is worth having.

I hope that you and I will think new thoughts and see new possibilities when we leave this building ….

Remember ….

A prophet speaks on behalf of God,

as God’s messenger

and on behalf of those who have no one to speak for them,

giving a voice to the voiceless.

I hope and I pray that we will all be prophets for our times! Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 27th June, 2021

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We continue with Mark today , with we have two of the most vivid miracle stories of that Gospel.

These two stories are not put together by accident but because each one of them informs the other

The two stories show Mark’s habit of ‘bracketing’ one story within another. It seems, when this happens, that the meaning of each of the stories enlightens the meaning of the other.

It’s a technique called  “sandwiching,” 

The stories are interwoven in a way that enriches both.

The narrative begins with Jairus, a synagogue official who throws himself at the feet of Jesus, begging him to heal his daughter, who is near death.

Jesus goes off with Jairus, and the second story begins.

In the crowd is a woman, whose suffering Mark vividly describes.

She has been afflicted for 12 years “with a hemorrhage,” She has spent all she had on doctors without any improvement (sounds very modern and familiar!) and is growing worse.

In first century Judaism, women with uncontrollable bleeding were considered unclean.  The town gossips would have defined her as a sinner, who was in some way morally responsible for her illness. 

Her illness not only alienated her from her husband, if she had one, and polite society, but also from God, whose stern hand of punishment had been visited upon her.

Yet she is a woman of faith and courage and moves through the crowd to touch Jesus.

And don’t forget this woman was unclean and everything she touched was unclean so by deliberately touching Jesus , she is making HIM unclean!

When she touches him, she is “immediately” healed,  but then she hears Jesus asking , “Who touched me?”

I’m sure she was terrified as when she touched him, she couldn’t have known that he would cop that she’d touched him so afraid of being told off so she comes “in fear and trembling,” but Jesus just says to her  “Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Her encounter brought her both Salvation and peace  – she broke all the taboos but her faith was rewarded and she was healed.

The first story then resumes with the report of the death of Jairus’ daughter

and Jesus’ tells them  “Do not be afraid; just have faith,”

reminding us of the faith shown by the woman who has just been healed.

After a short and vivid description of the wailing mourners,

And we can visualize that scene from all we have seen on the telly of the funerals in the middle east, from Iraq or Palestine…..

Where the mourners are all swaying together holding the body of their loved one aloft.

And into this sort of scenario Jesus enters the house and says that she has not died but is asleep,

And as you would expect really …..the mourning turns to ridicule.

Jesus ignores the laughter and with great tenderness Jesus then takes the dead child by the hand and says simply, “Little girl, I say to you arise.”

She “arose immediately and walked around.”

Jairus’ daughter was 12 years old,

this is what provides the key to the linking of the two stories,

since the woman in the crowd had suffered for 12 years.

In the culture of that time 12 was thought to be the marriageable age.

The “little girl,” then, has died just before she could become a wife and mother.

The woman had suffered an illness that prevented her from being a wife and mother.

Jesus not only rescues these women from death,

but restores to them their life-giving capacity.

Both can now bring forth life from their bodies,

one who had been racked with disease,

the other who had lost life itself.

At that time and in the culture of Judaism , bringing forth children was seen as an imitation of the life-giving power of God and a fulfillment of the command to make the earth fruitful.

The Jesus who emerges from these stories is one who is compassionate in the face of human suffering

one who makes the needs of these sufferers foremost in his actions,

and remember he was breaking all of the social taboos and conventions.

He talks to a woman in public , an unclean woman who touched him and made him unclean and then violates the stringent taboo against touching a corpse.

These are two more illustrations of the power of the Word to bring abundance of life where no life seemed possible:

In the last weeks of Mark’s Gospels we heard parables of growing huge trees from mustard seeds, then calming the storm and now today, healing….

Jesus’ miracles are perhaps best understood as acted-out parables,

living sermon illustrations

– bringing his words home to us in a concrete way.

Like the Parables , the miracles are all ways of saying something important about Jesus and about the Kingdom of God.

In today’s gospel we realize that God’s power is greater even than the power of death,

and that Jesus has authority over both life and death

Reminding us yet again of his gift of eternal life to all who believe in him.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 20th June, 2021

Fiona Finn, CEO of NASC speaking at the 11am Serivce in St Mary’s Church

St John’s / St Mary’s (9am only)

Trinity 3 (World Refugee Day)

Mark 4:35-41

In the name God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This weeks gospel reading is all about faith.

Mark tells us about how the Disciples lost their nerve in the big seas and had had to wake Jesus to help them,

Jesus then accused them of having no faith in him to see them safely through the storm.

Sometimes when we think about this particular reading and it’s application in our own lives , our emphasis is perhaps more on the fact that we are relying Jesus to be with us in our boat

but I once read that perhaps the hardest thing required of us is to actually GET into the boat and since I read that, this is what I now automatically think of when I hear the story of the calming of the Storm.

Its one thing to say that whenever your boat is in trouble, Jesus will be there beside you – your refuge – but what if you haven’t even gotten into the boat!

I think it is a really good point.

We often just don’t engage… with whats going on around us locally, or nationally or internationally.

You are here today, sitting listening to me,

you got up early and made the effort to be here in church.

You are already in the boat

and what you read and hear and pray this morning helps you to know that Jesus is beside you in your boat

but what about those who aren’t here?

I understand that it is hard

– when you’ve worked all week and are exhausted

It’s hard to actually get up early and get out to church on Sundays…. Although we do really appreciate it after being closed for so long during the worst of this Pandemic….

I do remember what it was like though… I was once that young family (albeit 25 years ago!)

but I thank God that somehow I drifted down to my local church in Greystones in June 1996,

I sat alone in that pew and it suddenly dawned on me that this is where I should be – every Sunday I possibly could.

I thank the Holy Spirit that I realised then that this is what I needed to do in order for me to be fully in the boat.

Now the shoe is on the other foot and I spend my time worrying about how we can help those young frazzled families to realise that what we have here is worth coming down here for.

I pray about it a lot – and I invite you to pray with me –

I pray and hope that we can think of ways of getting people to jump into the boat.

I know first hand the difference being part of a praying loving community can make to your life.

I would love for those families within our community who are finding it hard to get to church to get to feel what it is like

to really know the love of God within a spiritual community.

And what’s it like in the boat,

those of us who are here each week,

or most weeks,

what about us?

Is there something that we need to be doing as we continue in our own personal journey of faith?

Are we thinking about doing something and backing away from it?

I know myself that for several years I thought about offering to read in church before I actually had the courage to put my name down.

And the first time I read, I read so fast that absolutey no one in the church in Greystones had a clue what I had just read!

But I learned (although I still go a bit on the fast side , or so I’m told!)

So perhaps you have been thinking about doing something in the line of reading in church, or helping out with the Intercessory prayers, or even doing the odd week of the Random notes!

or if there is anything at all that you feel called to do within our community – please do come and talk to me……

Whenever you are prodded in some way,

in my experience it is usually the Holy Spirit that is gently leading you in that direction.

Now, I had no idea  – at first – of where I was being led,

but I thank God each day that I stepped out in faith.

At my ordination in 2005, in St Canice’s Cathedral , Kilkenny, I promised to ‘strengthen the faithful, search out the careless and the indifferent , and minister to the sick, the needy, the poor and those in trouble’

I have tried to do this to the best of my ability, aided by God’s Grace.

And this is why I worry and pray for the people still not in the boat, for those who , for whatever reason, do not know God and his saving mercy.

But I do know that God is in charge,

the story today of Jesus calming the storm underlines the fact that when we put our trust in God, we know that we won’t be led astray.

The last question asked of me when I was ordained deacon was

‘Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known to all people?

And I answered ‘By the help of God, I will’

The Bishop then prayed ‘Because none of us can bear the weight of this ministry in our own strength, but only by the grace and power of God, let us pray earnestly for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on this person’

And it truly only is by the grace of God that we can really come to believe and trust that God is our father, our Protector and our Guide. Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 13th June, 2021

In the name of God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today’s reading from the gospel of Mark contains more of Jesus’ famous  parables….comparing his Kingdom to seeds, growing from nothing into something enormous, universal.

Jesus really was a master storyteller

He shaped parables to provide rich food for the human mind.

He sat on a hillside and taught crowds of learned and unlearned, rich and poor, downtrodden and powerful, using the power of story as an effective way to preach something as hard to describe, let alone define, as the kingdom of God

The parables were simple yet complex, trying to help us to understand what the Kingdom of God was to be…. A difficult enough concept but one that was made a little bit more understandable in a homespun parable.

The disciples never seem to get what Jesus is saying,

Mark is fond of portraying the followers as just not getting it…. I don’t know whether this is a literary device to allow the Gospel writer to go into more detail or if they were just thick….

but I do know that our understanding is shaped by our hindsight

We know what Jesus is talking about

himself, his kingdom….

In both the parables today, its about the growth of the Kingdom…. In the first parable, the seed would sprout and grow… in the second parable its about something so small growing from its parochial beginnings in Palestine to encompass the whole world.

I love that one,  the Kingdom of God being compared to the tiniest of seeds…a mustard seed. 

And how something can grow from this almost invisible seed to an enormous tree. 

(We had much chat about the Mustard plant at our bible study on Wednesday… googling pictures of Mustard trees etc )

These words though would have been so comforting to those early disciples hearing this gospel.

I’m sure that they felt so small, so insignificant, so worried about what was to come…..

Hearing that Jesus promised that the Kingdom would grow exponentially would have given them hope for the future.

Hearing that the kingdom would grow even without their input must have also helped them to relax!… ‘The earth produces of itself’  and ‘it grows up and becomes the greatest of all scrubs’

In earlier verses of this same chapter, there is the parable about the seed being scattered on rocky soil and on good soil.

Now , in this parable, Jesus is warning them and us about underestimating the power and potential of little beginnings.

The parables’ central point is that God’s Kingdom grows gradually and naturally, instead of suddenly and dramatically, and it grows with or without us!

As Jesus always does in his parables, he uses an example of a plant that would have been well known to his listeners.

The unimpressive first beginnings of the mustard seed,  and yet this was capable of growing into something impressive enough to provide shelter for others.

This was a truth that the disciples knew to be a fact…

Unlike a lot of what their leader said – which let’s face it was often hard to fathom, this idea of the seed into the tree must have made sense to them, for this they had actually experienced….they had seen this phenomenal growth actually happen.

The parable reminds us that once this seed is sown, no matter how small and insignificant it is now, God will cause his word to grow into his ultimate global kingdom embracing all  peoples of the world.

We are only encouraged to be witnesses,

to just quietly continue Jesus’ preaching and teaching of this word or seed of the Gospel of God’s Kingdom.

And we are to be patient….

and we often can learn patience from watching nature.

Things take time to grow….and they take time to ripen.

Nature doesn’t take shortcuts, all the seasons are needed.

great undertakings begin with one small thing..

A building begins with one brick on another

A book begins with one word on a page

A journey with a single step.

We are all born with the potential for greatness,

we may disagree about the definition of ‘greatness’ but it is certain that we all have within us the seeds for growth.

Our actions and our life choices determine whether we use what we have been given to help grow the Kingdom of God.

And while our seemingly insignificant actions can have repercussions for good and unfortunately also for evil,

….It’s as I always say….  its not just down to us……

There’s so much around us today, as there always has been,

that may depress us in spirit.

As we discussed last week…

It’s not blasphemy to wonder where is this kingdom to come?

We see war and hatred, prejudice and injustice, hunger and violence, the everyday grind of so many lives, the apparent hopelessness and intractability of some problems and conditions.

It’s sometimes very difficult to know the ways of God, so often hidden from view or not detected or noticed by us.

Nonetheless God is at work always and everywhere,

bringing about God’s will in unexpected and marvelous ways, like the amazing things that can grow from the tiniest of seeds

The first of the parables in our Gospel reading today is key.

‘The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how’

…the building of the kingdom is God’s work.  It goes on whether we are working with it or not; whether we are aware of it or not. 

It will not be frustrated by any opposition or passivity on our part but we can help in God’s work, as that lovely prayer from St Theresa of Avila says ‘We are his hands on Earth’.

And of course, prayer is so important in our growth and in the lives of our community.

I’m not just talking about our corporate prayer, what we experience when we gather on Sundays

but the daily, often hurried prayers that we include in our day to day lives.

I read once that helps us get the power of prayer across….

‘Our prayers may be awkward, our attempts may be feeble. But since the power of prayer is in the One who hears it and not in the one who says it, our prayers DO make a difference’

Our prayers do make a difference…. Karl Barth, that amazing super intelligent Theologian once said that ‘to clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world’

Never underestimate the power of a small beginning…

That’s what the Mustard Seed parable teaches us.

God is the one who helps us to take those first mustard-seed sized steps ,

It is God who remains with us, guiding us,

It is God who is helping us to grow those seeds of faith into a tree big enough for others to take shelter under.

We just have to trust in God and wait.  Amen.

Sermon for 6th June, 2021

In the name of God ; Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

A very interesting Gospel reading today and one that has always troubled me to be honest.

What exactly is it that I could do that was unforgiveable.

‘but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin’

According to my Dictionary, blasphemy is great disrespect shown to God or to something holy. 

Wikipedia defines blasphemy more unforgettably, more damningly, as the act of insulting or showing contempt or lack of reverence for a god or gods, to religious or holy persons or things, or toward something considered sacred or inviolable.

Whereas Ricky Gervais, the English comedian defines it slightly differently again, somewhat tongue in cheek, he says that ‘Blasphemy is a law to protect and all-powerful, supernatural deity from getting its feelings hurt’

But the full impact of Blasphemy is probably best summarised in the Ten Commandments,

which as we know are the moral foundation of Judaism and Christianity.

Thou shalt have no other gods;

thou shalt make no graven images or likenesses; 

thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain;

remember the Sabbath; 

honour thy father and mother;

thou shalt not kill; commit adultery; steal; bear false witness; covet.

It isn’t hard to see the blasphemy in any of these, to break one of the 10 commandments could indeed be seen to be showing great disrespect to God.

And then of course we each have our own lists of blasphemies

Some of us more strict than others…..

perhaps swearing would appear on our lists,

When I was a child, a Sunday morning spent lazing around instead of being physically in Church might have been considered blasphemous, but this is hardly the case nowadays.  

And as for gods of our own making,

in our popular culture, adoration of money looms large

and we are also so mesmerized by images,

the icon of celebrities is huge, and we follow them slavishly (a form of worship in itself) in our choices of clothes, cars, beer, etc

In pre-Covid times, when I used to get my hair done, I would have flicked through all of the wonderful glossy Hello Magazines, and wanted to get thin and young and beautiful again!

With these types of magazines, never mind what would Jesus do… it’s what would Kim Kardashian or Kate Middleton do!

Nowadays , in an odd positive effect of the Pandemic, I have to bring my own book with me so it is much more edifying than the glossies!

(edifying is another word for boring!)

And then we slander one another,

and nowadays this happens more often or not online…..

Bullying on Facebook or Twitter is a common occurrence, in the recent past, our own bishop left these social medias for a time as he was under relentless pressure from some other users. Thankfully he returned to twitter and facebook. His online presence , as a Christian Bishop is, I believe, in itself an important modern witness to the truth of Christ.

When we think about the gospels, we realise that Jesus was always being accused of blasphemy. 

He broke Sabbath laws. 

He ate with sinners. 

He healed people and what powers was he using to do that? ….A lot of his contemporaries accused him of being demonic. 

He offered himself as an image of God. An enormous blasphemy in the eyes of the ordinary people of the time. 

Jesus interpreted scriptures in new and challenging ways, outraging the clergy everywhere. 

He encouraged people to forsake traditional ways of thinking about God, and to embrace their own experiences as better wisdom.

Mark writes today that  the scribes called him Beelzebul and said he got his healing powers from Satan.  They said he was out of his mind.  … THIS is the unforgivable sin that Jesus refers to in our gospel today…. That the Scribes knew Jesus, saw what Jesus was actually doing and then said that he had demonic powers!

This slander about him was loud and public, and his family obviously got to hear it, and came out to restrain him. 

They were probably mortified and worried for him ….

But he wouldn’t back down. 

He threw the accusations back at the crowd, asking, 

How could I use Satan’s power to cast out Satan

And he told them parables with images that they could remember, like a house divided against itself cannot stand.

He meant by this that if he was performing miracles for the good, AND he was acting for Satan, then that would mean that Satan was acting against Satan’s own interest so surely that was ridiculous!  

He told them people would be forgiven for their sins, and for whatever blasphemies they uttered, but what would not be forgiven was sins against the Holy Spirit

By his life and ministry , Jesus taught us that the Holy Spirit was a spirit of welcome for foreigners and for strangers, for people in trouble; and for new ideas and new hope.  

This was the important good news he had come to deliver

and when his family came to the door of the room where he was preaching, he said to the crowd, Whoever does the will of God is my brother, my sister, my mother,

This public gesture , of valuing the family of like-minded people over and above his own biological family, strongly demonstrated to his followers that this was a new way of being.

He was demonstrating that the Holy Spirit was embracing and inclusive. 

And those who were rejecting and exclusive,

those who would put a limit on God’s love,

these were the blasphemers whose sins were eternal,

There are so many lively arguments over blasphemy, and who is committing it in our world.

But let us look into our own souls before we condemn others for blasphemy.

I have to agree with Ricky Gervais on this,

Our God is big enough to look after himself.

I believe that the real blasphemers are those who are intent on building up an exclusive rarified little heaven on earth , a cosy circle which will keep out the riff-raff.

This is something that Christian Communities have to be on a constant guard against.

The cliché is that we are the only ‘club’ who exist for those who don’t belong to it.

I believe that this is the blasphemy to fight against.

And fight against it we must.

We can’t ignore the kind of behaviour that would exclude any others from the love and care of God,

we must challenge those who we see as being a deterrent to others finding Jesus,

those who try and limit his mercy to our human small-mindness.

As that wonderful hymn puts it ,

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy….

……………and goes on to warn us

but we make his love too narrow, by false limits of our own’

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who resisted Nazism and was executed in 1945 said

Silence in the face of evil is itself evil, God will not hold us guiltless, not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act’.

So be on the watchout for anyone who would say that the love of God is only there for you if you think this way, or your sexuality is this way, or whatever it is that is being used to exclude…..

Jesus’ every action was to embrace and include and WE are the blasphemers if we let ourselves forget that.    

Amen.

Sermon for 30th May, 2021

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.

I always begin sermons in the name of the Trinity,

God:  Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

Interestingly Trinity as a word, does not appear anywhere in the Bible,

Yet the Bible is full of accounts of the Creator, Redeemer and Comforter.

Each year on this day, in celebrating Trinity Sunday, we are brought face to face with the mystery of God.

Good sound Theologians have been known to quake at preaching on the subject of the Trinity.

And traditionally, Trinity Sunday is the day when if you’re lucky enough to have a curate, you get them to preach, and the Rector just sits back and listens

It’s supposed to be that the training Rectors sits back and listens in order 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!

Unfortunately I don’t have a curate so no excuses here!

Famously, St Augustine said that if asked to define the Trinity we can only say that it is not this or it is not that…

But you know, while the doctrine of the Trinity seems difficult, it’s more about 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 is nothing more that what you think about God.

Even the person who shouts ‘I don’t believe in God’ is speaking theologically ….whether they like it or not!

I know I’ve told you before about my one friend who claimed to be an agnostic  …

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!

That’s how to drive them mad!

Trinity Sunday has been celebrated in the Christian Church since the 10th Century.

And on this day, in pulpits all over the world, we try to address the mysterious and difficult subject of what constitutes the Triune God.

One important thing to remember is that the doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t attempt to totally explain God

It only begins to put in a very simple way what God has revealed about himself so far.

A good example might be to think about the tip of an iceberg, the bit above the water is not to attempt to get across the enormity of the whole iceberg.

So when we Christians affirm our belief in the Trinity,

we do it not as an explanation

but as a way of describing what we know about God.

As I said earlier, 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 involved.

The post resurrection early Christians soon discovered that they couldn’t speak of God without speaking of the three ways in which God had been revealed 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,

Who has been shown to us in three different ways

Whom we have experienced in three different ways ….

Down through the years, different theologians have used different metaphors to get the paradoxical nature of this mystery across.

Of course , the fable of St Patrick’s Shamrock is a famous one here in Ireland, three leaves but one stem, one actual flower.

Or one I have often used at school assemblies is 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.

But these are all only illustrations.

All are human attempts to get across what we know of God and how we experience him in our lives.

In our lives, in the concept of the Trinity,

our minds are brought into loving contact with the complexity and wonder of God.

We could look to the documented life and ministry of Jesus to give us an insight into the mind and being of God

and there we find compassion and understanding,

a commitment to truth and justice,

and the assurance that every single person matters irrespective of race, religion or colour…..reassurance in plain words!

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 our epistle today

‘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 that through the Holy Spirit, God’s love is able to pour into our hearts and we become his children, made in his image, sisters and brothers with his son.

We have been hearing extensively from the Acts of the Apostles since Easter,

and no better place to hear all about the role of the Spirit – enabling the small community – the Church – to continue the work of Jesus after Jesus has departed to the Father.

The role of the Spirit continues to be 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 now too – definitely Tik Tok!

But that is what we have been promised….

Last week’s gospel said that.

‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’

And today, we heard all about Nicodemus (which is a sermon in itself for another day!) and echoing on from our experiences of Pentecost, we hear how 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 found it helpful to depict the Trinity as a triangle,

each in relationship with each other.

all three inviting us into relationship with Love.

As we heard in John’s gospel today

‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life’

This is sometimes referred to as the entire Gospel in miniature….. 

The 15th century Russian Icon painter Andrei Rublev most famous Icon is called ‘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,

All looking at the person who is looking at the painting.

All inviting and welcoming us into relationship .

All three are inviting us into a relationship with Love itself.

And all we have to do is say Yes!

So , on this Trinity Sunday,

Instead of wrecking our heads trying to understand the incomprehensible,

…. We can just hold onto the understanding

that God is with us,  

that he is still active among us,

still continuing his work of building his kingdom here in our troubled world.

Still giving meaning and purpose in our lives.

This is small but powerful

and something we CAN understand!   

Amen.

.

Sermon for 23rd May, 2021

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 preaching at Pentecost for almost 2 decades now… Ordained since 2005 and Student Reader before that while in the theological college .

Coming up to each Pentecost I always say I will try and say something different this year

….but when you read the words from Acts, it is almost impossible not to preach about this particular text…

Today I believe really belongs to the account of the first disciples in Acts of the Apostles… And I know that I have told you before that we are obliged to read this on Pentecost… its not an option.

I think this is the only day of the year where we have no wriggle room in the lectionary….. one of the readings today MUST be from the 2nd chapter of the Acts of the Apostles… it’s that important….

Nor, as most of you know,  is Holy Communion an option… Christmas, Easter and Pentecost must be a Eucharistic Service.

High Holy Days…

As I said, 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!

The reading from Acts that we always use at Pentecost is just so dramatic isn’t it!!

Such a gripping story…..

How the leaderless disciples were enabled to be strong enough to get out and do what they had been commissioned to do…..

How strong they were to become.

How sure they were about what they were doing

How they were able to go into the world as witnesses to what Jesus had achieved for us.

How they were able to somehow enable others to see past the ordinary life to the extraordinary love God holds for each of us.

What is it about the Holy Spirit that they received that day that enabled these ordinary people to become so extraordinary? 

I have tried many gimmicks in the past to get us engaged with Pentecost….

I usually try to do something gimmicky at Pentecost…

one year we had tongues of flame……

Remember that ?

Or another year I had little hearts that we could put in our shoes and remember that the Holy Spirit is with us each step of the way…..

Another year I organised Red Balloons to come floating down from the galleries….

Last year, we were locked down for Pentecost and I blew up loads of red heart shaped balloons and tied them to the railings of our two churches for people to take away….

This year we are back!

And to celebrate that AND the coming of the Holy Spirit

In happiness I am waving these !  (red cheerleader pom poms!)

Today the Spirit is still outpouring on us….

it blows in some very strange and unexpected places.

For me, this is what the Holy Spirit does to our lives and understanding….

The spirit pours love on top of all of our human failings…..enabling us to see others as worthy of our love and remember this love is the love that recognises that the other is just as valuable as person in the eyes of God.

Everything interpreted by love…

I believe that this is what the Holy Spirit is saying to us

But are we listening?

Are the cries for Justice from economic and political

oppression cries of the Spirit?

Dare we shut our ears to the Spirit speaking to us in the churches in the cry of the World’s hungry?

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 told his disciples that the Spirit would come and remain with them…

We have just today moved the Pascal Candle to the Baptismal Font where it will remain except for Baptisms and Funerals until it is replaced at the next Easter Vigil.

This is symbolic of Jesus having returned to his father in Heaven at Ascension and having ‘organised’ the Holy Spirit for us….

We understand this Advocate as the Spirit is called in today’s gospel, as also  ‘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.

Those early Christians in Jerusalem probably felt just as ordinary 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,

They pleaded and argued for Jesus,

They explained to the people in the street what Jesus stood for.

Could what happened to these disciples also happen for us?

or do we secretly believe that this was a once-only event in history which couldn’t possible happen outside of Palestine in the 1st Century,

never mind 21 centuries later in Cork?

But luckily for us, regardless of our fears, or indeed our low expectations – the Holy Spirit still continues to burst out in every generation of believers. (wave pom poms again!)

I mention it almost every year but I always feel a powerful connection to Pentecost as it was 25 years ago at Pentecost that I first went back to Church

– in St Patrick’s 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 me…..

to make a huge difference in my life (how huge I didn’t get for a year or so!)

People still feel their lives drastically transformed through an encounter with Christ,

(I certainly never thought I’d be standing up here 25 years later!)

many still find the spirit so real and invigorating that sacrifices are made with joyful serenity,

unpleasant and dangerous work is gladly undertaken,

individuals stand firm to witness in a corrupt society and countless numbers spread love and peace daily amongst those around them.

There is still much to be done, but, living in the Spirit, we too can work as harvesters and take part in the establishing of God’s kingdom on Earth.

At Pentecost we celebrate the gifts that the Holy Spirit, the enabler, comforter, strengthener gives us all…

Writing 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.

We ARE the direct descendants of those first disciples, spiritually if not physically.

God still has big plans for us,

Now….today in Monkstown/Carrigaline,

in this year of our Lord 2021.

and as I am always and ever reminding myself and all of us…..

….. he doesn’t expect us to do it alone

That is why Jesus was reassuring his disciples that the Holy Spirit would come to them…. So they would never be alone…

I am going to give another little cheerleading RARA to underline to every person gathered here, physically or via the Internet

that the Holy Spirit has come for them too!

Amen.

Sermon for 16th May, 2021

In the name of God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today is the 7th Sunday of Easter,

it is exactly 43 Days since Easter day.

I know this because Ascension Thursday was 3 days ago and that day is exactly 40 days since Easter day

and 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?

We generally overlook it in our gallop from Easter to Pentecost.

Even in the 21st Century some of us still think of the universe as being like living in a three-story house—

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.”  

And yet our common understanding of the Ascension is that Jesus was lifted UP to heaven….

But the Ascension is so much more than that… whether we visualise Jesus drifting up on clouds, or on a blast of wind or whatever…..

The disciples were just ordinary people who saw what they saw and reported it as they understood it.

What they knew to be important, what they understood completely is that Jesus was gone from them, no longer with them , gone home, returned…  to his father.

As I said, sometimes in our liturgies, the Ascension story is treated as a bit of a damp squib, at best it is remembered as it is transferred to the next Sunday, as we are doing today….but sometimes the Ascension just gets lost somewhere between the stools of Easter Day and Pentecost.

But I think this is a shame.

Because what happened on that mountain top , when Jesus was ‘taken up’ to his father in Heaven,  is worth thinking about.

The poor old disciples had only just gotten used to having him around after the fright of the Crucifixion and now he was gone again.

They immediately get totally afraid again and return to Jerusalem to huddle together for another 10 long days and nights in that upper room

until the promised comforter, the Holy Spirit , comes to them at Pentecost and enables and empowers them to carry out what they have been commissioned by Jesus to do.

I think I told you before that when I was growing up my Father would often say ‘Famous Last Words’ to us when we said something rash like ‘I am NEVER going to talk to her again’ etc.

His meaning was that while you might say that now and you might believe that is the truth…. unless they are actually your last words, you might have to eat those words some day,

because you probably will talk to your best friend again…. In fact, nothing surer!

In our reading from the Gospel today , we have Jesus’ last words….we are brought once again back to the Upper Room, before the crucifixion, before the Resurrection,

Back to just after Judas had left the room, going off to betray Jesus

and Jesus is now talking to the remaining faithful disciples

The ‘Farewell Discourse’ it is sometimes called

and like all last words, they are words carefully chosen and delivered.

And because this is John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words actually go on for almost 4 chapters!

In our gospel reading, Jesus is speaking directly to his father

‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world’

He is praying to and pleading with his Heavenly Father on behalf of these… these gathered disciples, because he knows that he will soon leave them leaderless.

He knows that they have to carry on his work without him and he knows that they will badly need support,

The kind of support that only comes from his Father in Heaven.

Jesus knew that just as he had been sent into the world by the Father, he was now going to send them out into the world on the great commission….

The great commission to bring his word to others

…. Others who needed it to hear it just as they themselves had needed to hear it.

But Jesus knew that they couldn’t do it alone, they needed help.

So what kind of things did Jesus pray for his disciples within that Farewell Discourse on that fateful night?

Well …..he prayed that they would remain faithful.

that they would remain united together in his truth,

protected and preserved in his truth and guarded against evil.

‘Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth’

The truth that they were remain faithful to, and united in,

was the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the revelation of the unseen God.

To our ears here today in Monkstown/Carrigaline ,

that doesn’t sound so difficult a truth…

We feel it to be self-evident in a way, no one here is going to murder us because we believe that Jesus is the son of God.

But this was going to be a difficult truth to the scared disciples who would soon be huddled together in this upper room, terrified of ending up on a cross like their leader,

After Jesus ascended, this was a huge truth.

A truth that had the power to destroy them.

They had seen their leader tortured and crucified.

Yes of course they had seen him resurrected

But now he was gone again.  Gone to his Father.

The promised Holy Spirit had not yet come upon them and they were scared.

and this is what was behind the final discourse….

why Jesus had prayed to his Father for his disciples,

back in that upper room, before the Crucifixion..

He knew this time of tribulation was to come for them and he feared for them.

We know that Jesus is also speaking these words to us , that he is praying the same thing for us.

Not that we might be spared trials and sufferings…

He, above all people, knew that that was an impossibility.

No – his prayer was not that we might be offered a release from our problems

but that we might have the strength to cope with them.

We can’t blame our troubles on God.

It is God who is with us in all of our trials and suffering.

It is to him that we turn in our troubles.

For comfort, for strength, for patience and for hope.

And this is what Jesus prayed for that night, for them , for us.

Showing us how we too should pray…..

Not that we might be spared trials….

Because while we breathe and live, we will face life’s trials.

But that we will feel God’s hand in ours during the difficult times.

Richard Rohr, the American Franciscan Theologian, whom I am always quoting. wrote that

Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us

choosing gratitude until we are grateful

and praising God until we ourselves are an act of praise

I find this so comforting….

I think you all well know by now how one of my favourite hymns is ‘Great is thy faithfulness’

And why wouldn’t it be with lines in it like  

‘Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow’

This is what Jesus prayed to his Father for in that farewell discourse

His famous last words.

that we would know that his strength would get us through this day and every day

and that his truth guaranteed us hope for a better tomorrow.

Amen.

Sermon for 6th Sunday of Easter, Rogation Sunday, 9th May 2021

Pulpit Swap : The Revd Julia Cody, Team Vicar of our Link Parish of Perton in the diocese of Lichfield preached for us in Carrigaline but unfortunately her sermon video was too large a file to upload to this site, but here is the text along with a photo (the Rector’s video is below)

Rogation Sunday ~ 9th May 2021

John 15: 9~17

Creator God, we thank you for your Word and, as we unpack it a little now, we ask that by your Spirit’s work, you may plant it within each of us and that it may bear fruit for you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So… Rogation Sunday – it probably doesn’t come as a great surprise that many people have never even heard of Rogation Sunday. I was chatting with someone here in Perton, and mentioned today and our virtual pulpit swap, and having never come across Rogation before, they misheard me, and rather than ‘Rogation’ thought I’d said, ‘Rogue Nation’ – which is the subtitle of one of Tom Cruise’s ‘Mission Impossible’ movies! Sadly you’ve got me, not Tom Cruise, this morning!

During my 9+ years serving as Vicar here in Perton, Rogation Sunday is not a festival we’ve ever observed before. However, unlike my parishioner friend of ‘mission impossible rogue nation’ fame, when Rev’d Elaine suggested our next pulpit swap for ‘Rogation Sunday’, I did at least know what she was referring to! So thank you to Rev’d Elaine for this opportunity and thank you for the incentive to explore something of what Rogation Sunday is about.

I’ve really enjoyed shaping and crafting today’s act of worship for The Church At Perton, exploring the themes of Rogation, and it’ll be great to have Rev’d Elaine preach. There are even a few intrepid folks planning to ‘beat the bounds’, walking around at least some of the parish boundaries later today!

Rev’d Elaine explained to me that whilst beating the bounds isn’t one of your traditions in Carrigaline, that you do have, what I think is a really special and meaningful practice: that of handing out sunflower seeds to the younger members of your church family. She told me there’s then a competition to see whose sunflower is the tallest by the time of your harvest celebrations later in the year. This year, given all the restrictions, I understand that your lovely Rector has posted the seeds out to each of you! So, happy planting, and growing!

What is Rogation Sunday all about? The word ‘rogation’ comes from a Latin word, ‘rogare’ which means ‘to ask’, so ‘Rogation Sunday’ is ‘Asking Sunday’! The answers may be obvious, but that title, ‘Asking Sunday’, begs two questions: asking for what and asking who?

Well, as you know, Rogation Sunday has something to do with sowing seed; with the natural world and the farming community. Today, Rogation Sunday, is the day we ask God to bless the seeds, the soil and the crops which are beginning to grow. It’s the day in the church calendar when we ask God to bless the land; that this would be a fruitful year; that this cycle of the seasons would be blessed, so that when we reach the autumn, not only will there be lots of really tall sunflowers(!), but there will be an abundant, bountiful, harvest of the crops now growing; that having, today, asked God to bless the land, those prayers will be answered, and we’ll have much to thank and praise God for as we enjoy the fruitful harvest.

Today we do indeed pray and ask God to bless the land, and those who work it, cultivating and nurturing the crops which, in due season, will feed and clothe us. We ask God that the land would be fruitful. And that’s where today’s Gospel reading ends, with fruitfulness. But Jesus isn’t here speaking about the land bearing fruit, but rather that each of us, in our lives, would bear fruit – fruit which will last.

The Gospel reading for today, which we just heard, is part of a much longer section of St John’s gospel. Chapters 14-17 are often known as ‘Jesus’ Farewell Discourse’ – 4 chapters which together comprise Jesus’ words to the 11 disciples immediately after the Last Supper on the night before he was killed. If you think of that context, this is the last opportunity Jesus had to speak with his closest followers before his death. He knew what lay ahead, and after the practical teaching through washing their feet and taking bread and wine during the Passover meal that he’d shared with them, he then gave his final spoken teaching.

It’s true, isn’t it, that we sometimes ask what people’s last words were – sometimes they’re funny or perhaps very poignant. But if someone knows they’re close to the end of their earthly life, it may be that they have the capacity to choose very carefully and specifically what they want to say and to whom.

Here, in St John’s Gospel, you can imagine the sense of urgency – after spending 3 years living with Jesus, learning from him, witnessing his teaching and miracles, this the last chance for him to share with them. What Jesus chooses to reiterate and focus on in this farewell discourse, in these last minutes gathered alone with his followers, must surely be hugely significant. No matter how this record of Jesus’ life came to be compiled, surely here we have Jesus’ most important lessons for his followers – the things he really wanted them to get, to grasp, before he died.

In chapter 14, Jesus begins by telling them he’s going to leave them, and that he’ll send the Holy Spirit, and in chapter 17, he ends with his amazing prayer for his friends, and all his followers to come, including us. A recurring theme amongst the rest of these chapters is what today’s extract focuses on – love. Love for God and loving one another. The heart of what Jesus seems to have wanted his disciples to hang onto, in the face of his imminent death, is love.

The verses we heard today follow on directly from last Sunday’s reading. If you were able to join last Sunday’s service, you may recall we heard the first chunk of John 15 – the wonderful teaching of Jesus about him being the vine and we being the branches. Jesus’ words are sort of cut in two by the lectionary, but as I thought about that, I realised it’s not a bad thing, because if we’d had the whole of these verses today, beginning with Jesus’ statement, “I am the vine and you are the branches”, I know I’d probably have focused on that first part – the vine and branches – and maybe that would also have been an excuse to return to the local vineyard, which is now open again! 

Instead, today’s reading is just the second part, which returns to Jesus’ key theme of love. But it’s important to remember that these words are part of a rather larger section in the bible. In last Sunday’s reading about the vine and branches, Jesus’ words are very challenging – speaking about the imperative for his followers, the branches, to abide in him, the vine; otherwise they’ll be thrown out and burned; and that even the branches which do abide in the vine, will endure pruning, which is necessary for them to bear fruit. It’s a tough passage and paints a picture of following Jesus that’s not easy; that there are things in our lives which will require cutting back – pruning – if we’re to abide in Jesus and bear fruit.

Jesus draws on the cycles of the seasons, of the process of growing crops – vines – to illustrate the life of his disciples. Like a plentiful harvest of grapes from the vine, the goal of the cycle of our lives, is bearing fruit for God, and this follows through to the verses we heard this morning which also speak of us going out and bearing fruit, fruit which will last.

I’m not a knowledgable gardener, but I do understand the rudimentary cycle of growing crops, and the seasons leading up to harvest. There’s hard work involved and time needed to grow a crop; for a plant or tree to bear fruit. So what’s involved in us bearing fruit – fruit which will last?

Jesus spells it out in the verses we heard. We will be fruitful if we remain in Jesus’ love, and we do that by obeying his commands, and as he plainly declares here, his command is that we love each other. As theologian David Ford puts it, “Here is the deepest secret of a fruitful life: friendship that loves as Jesus has loved. The essence of us abiding in Jesus and him in us is daily, long-term friendship with him that overflows into loving others with the love we find in Jesus. It is extraordinarily simple, endlessly fresh and deep. …  This friendship is utterly committed and radically free. The sign of commitment in love is willingness to lay down one’s life for one’s friends, as Jesus did.”

Isn’t that amazing! The key to us having fruitful lives, is being rooted in our relationship with Jesus – abiding in him; which means taking time to cultivate our love for Jesus; like nurturing a plant, we need to nurture our relationship with him: spend time with him, talk to him, listen to his words and teaching, grapple with the tough things, and enjoy the wonders; deepening our roots and strengthening our connection with him, the vine.

And that loving relationship with Jesus then overflows, as we follow his command to love each other. That all sounds lovely, and it really can be, but Jesus’ doesn’t mince his words; in these urgent last exhortations to his friends – loving each other isn’t just a nice fluffy thing – loving each other may mean laying down our lives for each other – as he did for us. That’s what loving each other means – making sacrifices for each other; choosing to love when we really don’t feel like it.  It won’t always be easy to love each other, as I guess we all know.

And yet when we do truly love each other, following the example of Jesus, and flowing from our loving relationship with him, Jesus assures us that we will bear fruit – fruit which will last; and that whatever we ask in his name, the Father will give us.

This is a wonderful, beautiful image of love and self-sacrifice as we love God and love each other. I do, however, just want to add an additional comment, which I think is so so important, and particularly in the times we’re living through right now. Here in his final words to his followers, Jesus reiterates his command to love each other, which is a summary of his earlier teaching, where in response to the question, ‘which is the greatest commandment’, he replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. (Matt. 22)

We are to love God first and foremost; and we are to love each other; and – we’re to love ourselves! Who remembers the days of travel?! Who remembers going on a trip on an aeroplane?! Who remembers the safety briefings on every fight? If the oxygen masks are deployed, what’s the instruction? To put on your own mask before you seek to help anyone else.

Caring for ourselves isn’t selfish or somehow unchristian! In fact, it’s crucial! Jesus did indeed say, that after loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbours – but that wasn’t the end of the sentence! Jesus said that we’re to love our neighbours as ourselves. We are to love ourselves – and if we don’t, we’re not much use to our neighbours! We really must look after ourselves – as well as care for each other – and when we’re living in an ongoing, stressful situation, as we are now with the continuing, unfolding pandemic, this care for ourselves is even more important.

Caring for ourselves involves those things which we know about, but often neglect: like, making sure we get enough sleep; that we eat well; that we get out and enjoy exercise and fresh air; drink enough water; and, one thing which is so important for our wellbeing, and which has been so very hard for us all over the past 12 months, is that we need social contact – we’re made for relationships.

We will bear fruit, fruit which will last; but of course, fruit doesn’t happen all year round – fruit happens at a particular point in the cycle of the seasons. Right now, Rogation, is the time of planting and of asking God to bless the seeds and the growing crops – now is not the time for fruit, that comes later. Similarly, it may not be the season for fruit in our lives right now – rather it may be the important season of replenishing, nurturing, drawing sap from the vine, gaining strength because we’ve been under stress. As we love Jesus, love each other, and love ourselves – that fruit will come, in due time, at the appropriate point in the cycle of the seasons.

To close our thoughts, I’d like to read a brief reflection written by a local priest, Chris Thorpe, who helpfully and challengingly connects Rogation with our commitment to look after the land. Rogation is an opportunity to consider what we can do, personally and as church communities, better to honour creation and enable it to be fruitful for all creatures.

“From ancient times we have recognised how important the soil of the earth is for the growing of crops to feed and clothe us. We are bound to the earth and we depend on it. In Latin homo means human, and humus means soil; both are derived from the same root word. In Genesis we are reminded, ‘you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ (3:19). In caring for the earth we are caring for ourselves and our children and grandchildren. We have become disconnected from the soil. We find our food in supermarkets, but often know little of what it takes to bring food from field to fork. In asking for a good harvest, we may be required to change our ways if we want the soil to go on giving. God wants us to be good stewards of the earth. So we dare to ask God to bless our soil, seed and growing crops, knowing that God may ask us to be part of the change that will bring that blessing.”

So, this Rogation Sunday, this Asking Sunday, may we ask God to bless the land so it may bear fruit; and ask God what we need to change to be part of that blessing; and may we also ask God to bless us, that we would commit ourselves to deepening our relationship with him – abiding in him; and that we would love ourselves, so that we can love others well, sacrificially, and, in due season, that we may all bear fruit, fruit which will last.

Let me pray, using a prayer adapted from those written by the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland for this time of pandemic, and which we use in our online daily prayer:    

            May it be a mark of inner expansion, a built–in record of personal growth,

            God with us in a year of much loss, God with us in a year of much growth:            

each of us will carry this time like a ring in the trunk of a tree.

            so that in years to come we can still note this time of developing our

            strength and our breadth. 

            God of early morning birdsong, God of creatures creating their future:

            there is a seasonal rhythm and a yearly pattern that points to a continual cycle.

            We give thanks that this is more than simple repetition, or perpetual sameness.                         

There is this forward drive, a pull into coming days fuelled by hope and possibility,

            a desire to be a part of something more;

            the instinct to build a nest for a life thats yet to come. Amen.

The Rector’s Sermon for Perton

Sermon for 5th Sunday of Easter 2nd May 2021

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit…..

Sometimes when we say familiar words, we forget about exactly what the words mean.

Jesus knew the value of speaking of familiar things but at the same time shocking people into thinking afresh about them.

Jesus always picked stories about something that the people would know…..He wasn’t too complicated.

He looked around him and used something that everyone knew and then said something different that made people look at the familiar with new eyes.

Remember last week he was speaking about the Good Shepherd and used the image of the relationship between sheep and their minder to tell us something about the relationship between God and us.

and now in today’s reading he is talking about vines.

Again, he used something normal… well normal for the people listening to him at the time…. perhaps we are not as familiar with grapevines as they were… although in the Pewsheet this week I have used a photo of the wonderful grapevine from the Rectory garden

Hopefully we’ll have a great harvest of grapes again in the late summer….

But in Palestine, where Jesus was speaking , there are loads & loads of grape-vines growing all over the place.

Vines with lots of branches , and on each branch there would be big bunches of grapes…..

Anyway, one of the important things that Jesus was telling us in the story was that we are all connected to one another

That’s why I was writing about the situation in India & Brazil on the front of the Pewsheet – we are all in this together and we need to remember that.

There are six fairly famous, I AM, sayings in the Gospel of John e.g.

I am the bread of life,”  “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” “I am the door,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the true vine.”

Jesus tells us that HE is the vine

..because without the vine, the branches would just wither and die,

They can only grow while they are still stuck onto the vine.

The people he was talking to that day knew this, they were farmers.

They knew that if one of the branches got broken and fell off the vine,

it just died.

It definitely never grew any fruit!

Just think about those tomatoes in the supermarket that are still attached to a bit of a twig

They are packaged as ‘Vine tomatoes’, because they still have a bit of the vine attached.

The producers pick them like that because it keeps the tomatoes fresh for longer and then they taste so much better to us when we buy them.

Now we all know that branches grow leaves in the spring

and in the summer, fruit starts to grow on the  branches

and then in the autumn, we can pick it and eat it.

But the vine and the branches need each other to produce fruit.

The vine can’t produce fruit without the branches,

after all where would the fruit grow?

And if the branches hadn’t got the vine part,  how would the branch get all of the nutrients it needs to grow the fruit?

This vineyard language describes our relationship to God through Jesus, and makes clear the expectations of discipleship.

In the old testament Israel had often been likened to a vine,

In Isaiah 5, for example, when the prophet speaks of the unfruitful vineyard ……

In a vine, branches are almost completely indistinguishable from one another; it is impossible to determine where one branch stops and another branch starts.

All run together as they grow out of the central vine.

What this vine imagery suggests about community, then, is that there are no free-standing individuals in the community

There is no such thing as a Christian on their own.

We are all linked to  each other…through Jesus.

Jesus didn’t leave behind big buildings or things like that.

He left behind a tiny community.

During this time of the year, in the 50 days after the resurrection and before Pentecost, we really think a lot about that tiny community, huddled together , drawing comfort from one another and their experiences of the resurrected Jesus.

A community which grew and grew…..because it was attached to the true vine….Jesus.

So Jesus was telling us all that we are the branches and Jesus is the vine.

We have to be connected to him if we want to produce any fruit.

And although we are not huddling together at the minute, we still can be connected through him to each other.

So what about this fruit that we are meant to grow?

….No grapes growing out of me!

No, obviously its not actual fruit Jesus was talking about.

Paul outlined 9 visible attributes of a true spirit-filled Life in chapter 5 of  his letter to the Galatians.

We used them as the theme for our Flower Festival in this very church a few years ago.

The fruits of the Spirit….

The fruit of the Spirit were listed :

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control

Interestingly the word Paul used for fruit is singular not plural,

One fruit , many manifestations …

Jesus is telling us that each time that we do a kind thing,

or help someone, or show our love for someone else in any way..

That is our fruit.

We are to be the fruit bearing branch

growing the fruit of love,

The kind of love that we get by being connected to Jesus,  

And this fruit of love couldn’t be grown unless we were attached to the true vine – Jesus.

So that is why we miss being here together, in church each week.

Where we feel the togetherness,

The poet W.B. Yeats drew on this imagery when he said

If what I say resonates with you, it’s because we are both branches on the same tree. 

We are all branches

Jesus’ branches

And we feel the connection most strongly when we gather together to worship

Even if it is across the WiFI …

Without Jesus as our strength and balance,

our very ability to bear fruit, is nil. 

The gift

and the demand

of our Gospel image today is that we are told to ‘abide’ in Jesus —

that we are to stay connected to the vine.

Actual branches of vines have no choice in the matter, but you and I do.

The Easter season celebrates the abiding presence of the risen Christ which is beautifully symbolized by the lit Pascal Candle in the Sanctuary of this churches.

The visible reminder of the presence of Jesus symbolised in the candle.

And today’s gospel reminds us that we are all, each one of us 

– his branches.

Branches attached together to Jesus.

If we abide in him, he will give us all we need to grow the most beautiful fruit of all…..Love

Love for God and love for each other.  Amen.

Sermon for 4th Sunday of Easter 25th April 2021

In the name of God –  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday.  

That is why on this Sunday we always have Psalm 23.  

Each year , we have a different part of John’s Gospel for this ‘Good Shepherd’ theme which always speaks about a different aspect of viewing Jesus as the Good shepherd.

We are in year B of the three year cycle and the piece of John’s Gospel this year  focuses on Jesus calling himself ‘the good shepherd’ who lays down his life for his sheep, unlike the hired hand, who runs away at the first sign of trouble.

Last year , in year A, Jesus spoke about being the Gate for the sheep, reminding us that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

And the year before that, in year C, Jesus spoke about his sheep following him because they recognise his voice.

All three , from the same chapter of John’s Gospel, but all highlighting different aspects of what it means to be a ‘Good Shepherd’

Whichever bit we use we do end up doing a lot of talking about sheep though…..

And of course, the people listening to Jesus in the 1st Century totally understood this…. They inhabited a world of sheep and sheep related themes.

It’s a little different now….unless you’re a sheep farmer obviously!

1st century based literary references can be difficult for 21st minds to understand ..  We’ve lost the nuances

but those listening to Jesus then would have completely understood…..

Another difficulty with this week’s reading is that chronologically speaking, we are jumping back in time.

John’s gospel reading this week is like a flashback

The last two weeks, we were talking about the Risen Jesus appearing in the upper room

And the week before, just three weeks ago, we were talking about the actual resurrection.

But today, we have to go back to

BEFORE the crucifixion, BEFORE the resurrection

In the text from a little earlier in John’s Gospel,

just before todays reading , John lets us know that he is speaking about the time of the festival of the Dedication.

The festival of Hanukkah , sometimes called the Festival of Lights.

It was a festival to celebrate the 2nd Century BCE heroic victory of Judas Maccabaeus over the king of Assyria.

170 years before the birth of Jesus, over 80,000 Jews had died in the attack on Jerusalem, the temple had been defiled by the Assyrian king and 10s of thousands of Jews were taken into captivity by the cruel Assyrian regime.

Then  a mere  6 years later,

Judas Maccabaeus had rescued Jerusalem,

and the temple was cleansed and purified again.

(actually you know the tune for ‘Thine be the Glory’? Well that tune is called Maccabaeus and Handel wrote it for his Oratorio Judas Maccabaeus in 1746)

Anyway to celebrate this day, lamps and candles were lit in every Jewish home as well as in the Temple, a tradition that continues to this day in devout Jewish homes..

John tells us that it was winter,

and Jesus was walking in the portico of Solomon,

which was a roofed over colonnade in the first court of the Temple precinct.

The people around Jesus were debating as usual.

They were asking Jesus to cut to the chase.

‘How long will you keep us in suspense’ they said

‘If you ARE the Messiah, tell us plainly!’

There would probably have been two main groups within the questioners surrounding him

There would have been some that genuinely wanted to know but in the majority were the ones who just wanted to trap Jesus and accuse him of blasphemy or worse.

Jesus replies, in what sounds like a gentle but firm manner

‘I am the Good Shepherd.’

And goes on to detail exactly what makes a shepherd good….

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, unlike the hired hand, who when the wolves come, runs away.

All the talk about sheep , the flock –

the community,

Jesus understood, that on our human level we have a deep need of community.

He wants his flock, his followers to live in communion with one another, within his fold.

And he wants his flock to grow.

‘I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice’

I think that the image of Jesus as shepherd of the Father’s flock is one of the most beautiful images we have of him.

And what is especially lovely is that this is no fanciful

flight of John (who could be fairly flowery!) or any other theologian’s imagination

This is how Jesus described HIMSELF,

Do you remember how  Jesus told Peter to ‘feed my sheep’

We are his sheep.

He is the Good Shepherd, the sheep belong to him.

He told us ‘there will be one flock, one shepherd’

This is why Jesus chose the image of a shepherd

to demonstrate that like a shepherd will guard his flock with his life, he would someday lay down his life for us

In Jesus’ day and time, the shepherd was the ultimate in role models of protection

The shepherd was out on the mountain, looking after the individual animals, putting himself in between the sheep and harm

Guarding against the attacks of wild animals,

Making sure the sheep didn’t fall into deep ravines.

Protecting them from all the dangers they faced.

I know that I always tell you the story about  the pastor in New York who  was trying to get across to some socially disadvantaged young people about just how much Jesus loved them?  Anyway here it is again.

The Pastor was telling these kids the story about the Good Shepherd but they just didn’t get it.

They had no idea of what a shepherd did, the nearest they probably got to a sheep was on the spit of a Kebab shop.

The pastor had the brainwave of substituting the role of shepherd with something that they could understand, so the story of the Good Shepherd became the story of the Good Probation Officer!

Now they got it!   A Probation Officer, some one in their lives who was FOR them!

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, he loves us

and he wants us to be safe in his fold.

If we follow him,  stay close to him ,

then nothing can come between us.

You all know the words in Paul’s letter to the Romans? 

It is a verse that we say regularly at funerals so it is very familiar to us….

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

Nothing will be able to separate us sheep from our loving Shepherd…..

 As the Psalmist puts it.

The Lord is my shepherd,  I shall not want…..

Amen.

Sermon for 3rd Sunday of Easter 18th April 2021

In the name of God ; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In the post resurrection accounts in the Gospel of Luke,

Luke’s primary purpose seems to be 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 in their world

…..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 find a quiet joy among us and feel a deep sense of peace because we just somehow 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, right to the bitter end,  was still that Jesus would be the promised messiah who would be a glorious figure, conquering all around him.

And then when Jesus was crucified all their dreams and hopes lay shattered at the foot of the cross.

Their reaction was to huddle together in that upper room that had seen their last meal together.

There they felt somewhat secure,

Feeling perhaps a kind of protection in their combined misery…. What’s that saying ? ‘Misery loves company’!

But then Jesus comes among them again and they finally get it that he really is with them 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 of following Jesus up and down Galilee and Judea.

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 know that he was not immediately recognized by people who knew him really well, like Mary Magdalen and Peter so that must mean that he was obviously not  AS he was ….. But they eventually recognise him because,  in a most mysterious way, he remained 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 on the road to Emmaus eventually recognised him in the breaking of bread,

And we too encounter him in the breaking of bread…..

We say these familiar 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

Helping to give meaning and beauty to our lives

Especially to the painful and dark places of our lives.

At Eastertide we rejoice and sing our Alleluias at the good news of what Christ has done for us

And like the Apostles in that heady time after the resurrection , we too are charged to bring the good news to others.

Again, words from one of the post communion prayers 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…..Amen

Sermon for 2nd Sunday of Easter 11th April 2021

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Here, in today’s Gospel, we have a snapshot in time of the disciples who had gathered together after the resurrection, or should I say, after the Crucifixion, as they really hadn’t believed the women when they told them how they had found the tomb empty!

A bird’s eye view , in other words, of the church in its earliest days, and, all in all, it’s not a very pretty picture.

As we heard in the Gospels, as he came near to the end of his life, Jesus had carefully prepared his disciples in how to be a devoted and confident fellowship of faith after he was no longer with them.

They were to be a community of profound love with the gates wide open and the welcome mat always out,

but here we find the opposite, barricaded in a house with the doors bolted shut.

They 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 (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 certainly wasn’t “The friendly church where all are welcome”?

Nor  “The church with a warm heart and a bold mission”?

Actually it was more like the church with sweaty palms and a timid spirit.

In fact, although they didn’t know it yet….this terrified little band huddled in the corner of a room with a chair braced against the door had one truly amazing thing going for it:

the Risen Christ.

And that, of course,  is the main point of this story.

It’s why we read from Acts of the Apostles in Eastertide.

In the final analysis, this is a story about how the risen Christ pushed open the bolted door of a gathered community,

How the risen Christ still enters our fearful chancels and naves and aisles in all of our churches and fills the place with his own life… even in Pandemic, Christ is still here….even in our locked churches with just the rector and the webmaster live-streaming the Service!

  • Christ is still here!
  •  

Poor old Thomas,  I think he should have been nicknamed

 “Honest Thomas” instead of “Doubting Thomas” !

Because in a way Thomas speaks for all of us.

His response was rational and logical.

He was a proof-seeker who had put conditions on his belief. …  

I totally get him.

Thomas takes the words right out of our mouths

and gives voice to every doubt and every question that we have about Faith.

Thomas gives us the chance to think about how we come to faith, about the demands we place on believing or not believing.

There is a reason why a few years ago so many Christians around the world latched on to the supposed discovery of what may be the burial box for James, the brother of Jesus.

There’s a reason why every time archaeologists discover some inscription referring to King David, Pontius Pilate, or some other biblical figure that this news immediately makes a splash in the pages of the Religious Press.

Here, we are told, is further “proof” that the stuff in the Bible really did happen!

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 understanding,

more faith for us,

more proof for others….

The real evidence of the resurrection of Jesus lies amongst other things in the behavior of the disciples.
Remember, immediately after his death, his companions ran away.

Even the stalwart Peter was to prove untrustworthy and deny that he even knew Jesus.

Only the women remained.

Yet here we are, less than a few days later,  these same disciples gathered around are about to be transformed.

Our gospel last week ended with the women being afraid and speaking to no-one but we know they must have …. for the news of Jesus’ resurrection and the evidence from the tomb were just the first amazing things to happen.

And now Jesus is with them in the upper room

He meets them on the beach in Galilee as he had promised he would.

He walks and talks with them on the way to Emmaus.

He cooks and even eats meals with them,

They get to touch him,

He appears and disappears in amazing ways.

Intriguingly they sometimes didn’t immediately recognize him

And the disciples must not have recognized him initially this 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, and they do not recognize him.

Remember that at the Tomb on that first Easter morning,  Mary Magdalene mistook him for the gardener until he called her by her name.

The two disciples on the road to Emmaus do not recognize the risen Christ until the 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.

Finally let’s think about the writer of our Gospel today…..

What is John’s intention?  

John’s 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,

People who 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 and time.

So John has to tell 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 living of our faith,

not in relying on first hand evidence from others with faith. 

As a wise person once said, nobody ever got drunk on the description of wine!

We need to live our faith.

Thomas in a way becomes the vital and dramatic link between the disciples who knew Jesus

and all the disciples who will come to faith in the centuries to come.

People like you and me!

The early church leapt into existence when those first disciples realized they had an unbroken and unbreakable connection to Jesus Christ…. That’s what we read about in Acts and in Paul’s letters.

And the essence and raison d’etre of the church is to be a witness to the resurrection

to be the evidence to the world that the Risen Lord Jesus Christ is alive still … in the here and now.

The church is to be God’s sign to the world that Jesus has been raised from the dead.

The early church was enlivened and emboldened by the tangible 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 others who saw them felt that the only plausible explanation for their way of living was the presence and the power of the risen Christ.

That’s what our first reading from Acts is all about… how their living was a witness to the Gospel.

Like Thomas all those years ago , we too are called to exercise great faith   …. All of us ,  gathered now in our own rooms, joined together by modern technology in THIS moment……

The proof of his resurrection lies within each one of us.

And of course, it doesn’t end with us…..

like Thomas and the first disciples,

like John and the other evangelists who wrote our Gospels

like Paul writing his letters

we too are commissioned to bring that good news to others.

Amen.

Sermon for Easter Day 4th April 2021

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I can’t believe I am here again on Easter Day, preaching to an empty church and you all online…..

I don’t know whether you remember or not but I rarely preached for long at Easter… a few words to the children and a quick recap of Holy Week for us Adults …

This was enough because in non-pandemic times, our physical gathering together spoke volumes, the shaking of the Alleluia Eggs in joyful children’s hands,  the small chirping of the new chicks in the background – all of it reminding us of the Easter theme of new beginnings,

One of my favourite memories of recent Easters was the little visiting child who came to the front of the church armed with a bow and arrow because he was frightened and had somehow gotten the Resurrection Story mixed up with a Zombie Rising…. There was a child who was watching TV above his pay grade!!

All we have of the normal Easter times is the joyful Butterflies on the walls still visually shouting ALLELUIA every time we look at them…..

I used to say that this was as good as a sermon in itself…..

I used to say that I always wanted to say the very same thing each Easter… that I envy the apostles and the first disciples.

And I do…. because I always feel that they had such an advantage over all of us later Christians because they were there.

They were actually there….

They were 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, it didn’t seem to actually make faith any 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 might have been even harder for them!

For they knew Jesus as a man…. They knew his mother Mary !   They knew 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 an act of faith as we do two thousand years on.

Just think of the thousands of people in Palestine then  

who saw him and heard him speak and yet still did not believe in him.

The crowds who shouted for him to be crucified on that Good Friday 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 even his own followers were slow to believe in the news of the resurrection.

In our Gospel today ‘go , tell his disciples and Peter that hs is going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him, just as he told you’

This is the first we hear of Peter since the denials in Herod’s courtyard… he was conspicuously absent at Golgotha…. But Jesus is sending him a forgiving message…. ‘I will see you in Galilee , just as I told you’

And even at that, 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 have to 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 2021 as he was with Mary when she discovered that someone had rolled away that stone.

All disciples, then and now,  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 even this…..

We know this – because Jesus is risen!

 Alleluia!

(shake those eggs!)

Introduction

Welcome to you all, where ever you are and whether you are a parishioner here or not… you’re all very welcome

as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord .

Can you see the basket of eggs which the children will remember?  … Alleluia Eggs… in normal times,

everytime we say or sing Alleluia during this Easter Day Service, the children would shake the eggs…. like this….

I really miss you all!

Last night the Pascal Candle was lit and the Light of Christ brought into the church…and you can see it lighting here at the Altar where it will stay for the next 50 days until Pentecost……

Sermon for Sunday 28th March, Palm Sunday, 6th Sunday in Lent

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As I said at the beginning of the service , here we are, one year on, another Palm Sunday, another Service where I am speaking to you but 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 over the last year. They have meant an awful lot to me.

In our Palm Gospel today, 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 Mark 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 continuingly quiet cities and towns at the minute, Jerusalem would have been packed with people and noisy and bustling.   I’ve almost forgotten what it feels like to be bustled along with crowds of people, like Patrick Street at Christmas!

But there are times when a public demonstration is required.

And in Jerusalem on this first Palm Sunday….it 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 (and our Passion Gospel to which we have just listened lays that out starkly for us).

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 our faith 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, at least,  are not being burned at the stake for our faith

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.

I was at yet another online meeting the other night, organised by Christian Aid and Trocaire, about human rights violation in Palestine and Israel and one of the speakers reminded us of the famous Bishop Tutu saying

‘If you are silent in the face of oppression , you are on the side of the oppressor’

Actually, I think the whole quote is

‘“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”   

That sounds exactly the earthy kind of quote we have come to expect from the Anglican Bishop in South Africa ,

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. , 

and we have listened to the Passion Gospel, ….

We know what is to happen

We know how the disciples will deny Jesus,

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

Last year on this day, I read words from a woman preacher in the US called ‘Activate that Love’ and I’d like to read a little from it again today… even more relevant one year into this painful pandemic

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 continuing time of the Corona Virus pandemic, I strongly echo those sentiments yet again ……

We have to activate that love….

Now more than ever, our words and deeds must reflect our faith.

We shouldn’t remain silent when a word needs to be said.

A word of support

in defence of someone when that someone is being treated unjustly or unfairly….

We need to be the person who faces down racism or bigotry or homophobia! 

The person who will be an ally to those in need not an aggressor or even a pacifist in the face of others aggression.

A word of praise when someone is not being thanked for their contribution and is being forgotten….

and we can just look at how ordinary people came between us and disaster over the last year….. yet these are most often forgotten in normal times….

not just the nurses and doctors and the Gardai…..

who ever thinks about the retail workers or the sanitary disposal people as being essential workers…. except when they are needed    

AND

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……

When we see flagrant abuses of power… think private hospital creche workers and private school teachers getting the ‘jab’ before other more needy people….

And as I said last year, we haven’t the worst of politicians, but they are human and we need to keep an eye on them!

We have to remember that while we profess our faith in Christ in our church services, 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..

Just this morning I read a tweet that chilled me to my bones

A woman tweeted

‘If you want to know what you’d have done in 1930s Germany – it’s what you’re doing now’  !!

On this day we remember both the people who publicly praised Jesus as their Messiah and the people who shouted Crucify him,

– 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 publicly what we say with our lips privately .

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 21st March, 5th Sunday in Lent

In the name of God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today’s Gospel is about transforming, evolving, the elevation of the whole human

The move from an older version, testament of ourselves to something new, something more authentic!

I think I’ve mentioned that this Lent, each Saturday afternoon, I have been listening to a lecture/sermon/talk from Glenstal Abbey?

Myself and my friend Noeleen , who has just become a Grandmother!,

we normally go to Glenstal each year after Easter for a quiet retreat. 

We soak up the holiness and peace that is so prevalent in that place

Unfortunately , like everything else, that is no longer available so we decided to tune in together each Saturday and listen to the Talk, Noeleen in Wicklow where she lives and me in Cork….  Like many friends around the world, we have had to find new ways of being together and connecting somehow….

Anyway, yesterday, Mark Hederman was doing the talk and it was so wonderful I wish I could just stay quiet and play it for you … but I think the Bishop might not like that!  But I do recommend to listen back to it if you can… You’ll find it on the Glenstal Abbey website.

One of the points he made yesterday is that we need to look around us for signs of Resurrection….

Our Gospel says that the grain needs to die before it bears much fruit…. Nature , in Spring, underlines this…. Everywhere we look, dead wood is springing into life…. I know that I always think Liam has killed off stuff in the garden as it just looks like so much firewood and then….. little green shoots appear at the end of the dried out sticks!….  Mark Hederman said yesterday that Nature is saying ‘Get the Message!’…. ‘Winter is sheet music for the Symphony of Spring!’

We have to trust, to let go, to fall back into the arms of God and let new life revivify the husk that is our old selves.

This is what Jeremiah was trying to say ….. 

The days are surely coming

I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was in the theological college, one of my fellow students was nicknamed Jeremiah,

because unfortunately he was always moaning about something.

As I read more about Jeremiah…. I now think that this is totally unfair.

Not to my fellow student – he really was always moaning …

but it is unfair to always equate the name Jeremiah with someone who constantly moans….

And of course Jeremiah is a very popular name here in Cork!… Miah!

Jeremiah, who  as well as the book called Jeremiah also wrote the book Lamentations.

That Jeremiah is absolutely a prophet who shares many painful messages is true,

and this was completely understandable given the conditions of his day, occupation, exile … we need only think of Syria or Yemen to imagine even a little of what he must have had to endure.

but in the Book Jeremiah, the prophet has also written passages of pure hope…

like our one today….. ‘the days are surely coming’….

Some people say that it’s impossible for us to read the Old testament and not hear it through a Christian lens? And they also say we shouldn’t even try…..

I believe we should…..

Those who wrote about the life of Jesus, Paul, the Evangelists,

They all knew these scriptures like the back of their hand, when they wrote about his passion and the last supper, and they clearly had this kind of text from Jeremiah ringing in their ears…. ‘the days are surely coming’

While we divide the Bible into two halves labelled “old” and “new.”

there is no way that Jeremiah was predicting that the “old covenant” was somehow scrapped, or that that God was starting over…

….and there was no way that Jesus, a Jew,  would have thought the same either…. Remember he said he hadn’t come to do away with the Law?

The reference in Jeremiah  to “old” and “new” covenants does not refer either to the Old and New Testaments, or to the Eucharistic words of Jesus.

Although it is certainly clear that our post resurrection Bible compilers had Jeremiah in mind when they separated the two testaments (or testamentum, “covenants”), just as did Jesus at the last supper.

But to say, as commentators across the centuries often have,

that Jeremiah was prophesying the division of the Bible into old and new testaments,   or that the words of Jesus did that,

is to diminish the very important (and Jewish) message that Jeremiah was in fact trying to convey.

We cannot and should not use this as super-sessionist theology,

in other words , we should not read Jesus back into Jeremiah’s words,

Jeremiah the prophet  was speaking to his community of his day,

and speaking specifically about God’s covenant with that community, in that time and place.

To understand what this offer of a new covenant might have meant theologically to the Israel of Jeremiah’s time  (and indeed still means to us today),

we have to think back on and understand the meaning of the original covenant God made with Moses at Mt. Sinai

the Mosaic Covenant as it is called.

It was the central event for all Israelite life and thought in the Hebrew Scriptures or what we know of as the Old Testament,

and it had a profound impact on Christian thinking in the New Testament.

In this Mosaic Covenant, the one Jeremiah is speaking about,  

God promised to liberate the Hebrews from slavery and in return they promised to act like liberated people.

That meant two things:

worshiping only God,

and treating others in the same manner that they had been treated by God.

They were to live lives that were different from those of the other nations around them.

They were a chosen, liberated people, and their only requirement was that they were to act like it:

they should be different from their idolatrous, brutal neighbors.

They were to be a people apart, this is the basic theological assumption of much of the Hebrew scriptures including Jeremiah.

Deuteronomy contains a number of statements of this theology.

For example, it reminds the Israelites about why should you love a stranger? “You shall…love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 10:19).

However, as numerous prophetic voices have pointed out before Jeremiah, the Hebrew people (and particularly their ruling classes) repeatedly broke their end of the covenant, following after other gods and oppressing their neighbors and now they are suffering expulsion and perhaps extinction.

To the Israelites, the clear result of breaking the covenant was punishment and a return to bondage in Babylonia, which for them became a new “Egypt.”

In our passage today, Jeremiah is holding out hope for his people.

This is a new relationship, but these already known standards of God’s will remain, the Mosaic covenant remains essentially the same…. The newness Jeremiah is speaking about is about refreshing and renewal, not disposal.

The new, or re-newed covenant is new in the way it will be known and  kept by humanity, not in what is expected or willed by God.

What makes up the new, and what remains of the old is a compelling question that we must continue to ask, and one that every church must engage with in its own age.

In our Christian scripture, our New Testament,  we hear Jesus speaking of coming to fulfil the law,

not to abolish it, not to supercede it, not to change one iota of it.

The essence of this passage from Jeremiah continues through to our time, because it  is about an ongoing relationship with God.

The relationship itself is not what’s new, that has been from of old,

but the way we relate to God that is forever changing and forever being renewed.

God had previously gifted Israel with the grace of the law.

The Hebrew people understood their law as a gift.

But Jeremiah felt that this gift was not taken to heart, not internalised.

The law had been mediated through Moses and inscribed on stone tablets by God (Exodus 34:2).   We have read these aloud at all of our Services during Lent…..

So as precious as this Law was, it was always something external to God’s people… external and unchanging… literally written in stone.

Now in Jeremiah we read of renewal and restoration as the law will no longer remain something external, but it is something that will be inscribed on the hearts of God’s people.

It will be completely internalized.

It’s hard for us to realise now how radical this idea was then ….

for God to be equally present to all Israelites from greatest to least.

Jeremiah was telling his about-to-be-exiled and suffering people that as important as Priest/Prophet/King/Temple are to Israel,

God’s people can survive without the institutions of Jerusalem in Babylon, because his covenant is written in their hearts,

And because of this, they will carry God with them  wherever they go.

And what a comfort this was to those who heard it….

Actually Mark Hederman made a similar point in yesterday’s talk – You don’t have to be a Monk and live in lovely Glenstal Abbey to be close to God!

So please don’t remember Jeremiah as just a prophet of doom , 

For like the prophet Isaiah, Jeremiah’s words must have comforted his people

who felt that while they had not kept to their covenant,

they had least had their renewed covenants written on their hearts

as they headed to exile from their promised land.

In spite of the Jesus’ struggles and controversies with the legalistically minded Pharisees in the New Testament,

Jesus knew what a gift this law was to the people of Israel.

All through Lent , we read the 10 commandments.

We read both the actual commandment from the old testament and we read the new testament ‘take’ on it. 

Each week , I find that I learn or even think something different about it… I suppose it depends on what kind of a week I’ve had…. what I have done, or mostly not done… what I’ve read on Facebook or Twitter to get me thinking…. what issues have come up at the Lenten Study Zoom meetings …. I just know that our understanding of God and of God’s law isn’t static.  It isn’t something to just read about but as something that effects each and every minute of our day.

But  the really important lesson for me from Jeremiah today is that the central ethical principle of the ‘old’ Hebrew Scriptures is echoed in the ‘new’ Christian scriptures

God has liberated ,saved, redeemed us

and now we should liberate and redeem others

This is the covenant that should be written in all our hearts.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once told a story of teaching a confirmation class years ago in which he outlined the meaning of the Mosaic Covenant.

He went step by step through it, explaining the promise of God, that God would rescue the Hebrew people from slavery and that they would worship only God and then act in ways that show themselves to be liberated people.

And he showed them how that principle showed up in the teaching of Jesus later on.

When finished he asked them as a review to tell him what he had just said.

He got a variety of attempts, some close some not.

Then one little boy raised his hand and perhaps put it better than any theologian could have.

He said (quoting God), “I saved your butts, so now you go behave.”

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 14th March, 4th Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I know that I have spoken many times on the theme of Mothering Sunday,   how the tradition came from the 16th century , when Servants getting one day off to return home and visit ,

and how it was expected that people should ignore their own local village church and make an effort to go to the Mother Church, the Cathedral.

I’ve spoken about Simnel Cake , being baked in the big house and brought home to the servants parent’s cottages.

How the young maids would pick the wildflowers on their way home as posies to present to their mothers……

Mothering Sunday has now become synonymous with honouring the mothers of children and is now generally referred to as Mother’s Day, although the two were originally different celebrations.  

And there still is a difference in some countries, for instance, Mother’s Day will be on 9th May this year in many countries , the US in particular,

Holland also celebrates Mothers on that day in May rather than on our Mothering Sunday in Lent and I know that I used to have to buy Mothers’ Day cards early in Ireland and hold onto to them until May to give to my older sister , who lived in Holland, she had been like a mother to me since my own mother died when I was 12. It was a nuisance but if I didn’t buy one for her in March, I couldn’t get my hands on one in May when she would be celebrating Mothers’ Day in Holland!

It was a lot easier the 10 years I lived in Holland obviously!

For us in Ireland though, as the custom is linked to our Christian calendar, and so the date of Mothering Sunday, like Easter, changes every year

but it is always celebrated today on the fourth Sunday in Lent, which is of course, always three weeks before Easter Sunday.

The customs of Mothering Sunday had lapsed a little in Ireland and parts of Europe by the early twentieth century but was revived by Anna Jarvis in the United States and Constance Penswick-Smith in the UK, who created the Mothering Sunday Movement.

Its practices were also revived by American and Canadian soldiers during World War II and began to be merged with other traditions, before finally we got the commercialization , the famous ‘hall-mark-ification’ in the mid-twentieth century.

On Mothering Sunday, we generally tend to look back a generation, we think of our own mothers and if we are lucky enough to have a mother still alive, they would think back on their own mothers, our grandmothers and so on.

And of course, if like me , you have children, we can only hope that  they think of us!  In fact this morning, I got a card from my two dogs, my ‘fur babies’ as they’re called nowadays!

So I did well, the two children AND the two dogs sent cards!

and indeed the readings for today emphasises that connection between the generations.

Moses biological Mother hid him away so as not to let him be slaughtered at the hands of a frightened Egyptian population who feared these industrious Israelites and were trying to keep their population down by culling any boy children born to the Hebrew tribe.

Moses’ Mother risked her life to protect the life of the next generation, her son.

We also hear of Moses’ Sister bravely suggesting to the Pharoah’s daughter that she could go off and find a nurse for her, intending of course to get Moses’ own mother to nurse him.

Pharoah’s sister, Moses’ adopted mother,  deserved credit too…. she must have worked out that this was one of the reviled Hebrew children, but we are told ‘he was crying, and she took pity on him’  and she took him on as her adopted son thus saving him from the fate that befell most of his generation.

All three – brave women, – all working out God’s plan in their lives,  they never knew their part,

except perhaps for Miriam , Moses’ sister, whom we read about accompanying  the Hebrews in their exodus….

but for the most part, they did what they did for love,

for compassion, and it is this instinct for love that drives us all in the main….

Mary and Joseph, one generation

are met by Simeon, the previous generation,

and told in the temple that

‘this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel….. and a sword will pierce your own soul too’

How frightening would that have been to hear.

Your babe in arms, the next generation,  

to be heading into so much trouble and significance..

Thats not what any new mother wants to hear…

not even a mother such as Mary who already must have known there was nothing normal about her son….

No parent wants to be told that their innocent child will be the reason that their soul will be pierced because of what is to befall.

No parent would want their child to be the ‘light to lighten the gentile’s’ if it would mean that they must suffer horribly and die a cruel death.

But that was the destiny for this child.

Paul says in one of his letters to the Corinthians that our hope in God is unshaken because we know that God shares in our sufferings and because of that , God shares in our consolation too.

This is what Mary , as a mother, must have clung to.

Her consolation must have been that her son was changing everything for the better,

that her own pain would be worthwhile in the long run.

That ‘all generations shall call him blessed’ as Mary’s own Song, the Magnificat has put it.

So what should Mothering Sunday mean to us today,

whether we are lucky enough to be mothers or not ,

we all have had mothers. 

Our Mothers may not be still here to console us but we’re here

and we are all Christ’s hands and feet here on earth.

We are all the church, not this empty building …. however beautiful it may be. 

Strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we may not be able to save everyone in our material, money and celebrity loving society,

but we can all do our bit to mother those around us. 

Is there someone we have lost touch with, who would welcome a phone call or a letter, even an email ?

As we have so much, could we buy a little extra in the Supermarket for the Food Bank collection , for others in need?

Is there a broken relationship to heal?

someone we haven’t spoken to for ages,

perhaps someone we fell out with ages ago,

could we make the first move in reconciliation as mothers often have to? 

Whether we have children or not, we were all once children ourselves and we can make this Mothering Sunday a time of renewing our mothering skills, when we can try to emulate the mothering love of God and go out to reflect it in our community.

Even in this time of social distancing and enforced separation.

Pastoral care is not the sole province of clergy thank goodness. 

Our mothering may be but a pale reflection of God’s love for his world, but we can all do our best. 

Make this Mothering Sunday be the start of mothering all those people we know need a little bit of tender, loving care .

And if even just one life is better because of what we do today,

then for that, give thanks to God,

our God , who is both Mother and Father to us all.

AMEN.

Sermon for Sunday 7th March, 3rd Sunday in Lent

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today we have two wonderful readings …..

there’s ateing and drinking in them as the saying goes!

Our first reading from Exodus tells us all about how the Commandments, the Law, was given to Moses

and our second reading reminds us that we shouldn’t let a rigid understanding of these laws become an obstacle in our relationship with God.

During Lent, we try and read the commandments during our services, and obviously today the Commandments were also our first reading! And we really have had to hear them and inwardly digest them today!

But , as I said, in Lent,  we read them to try and refresh our minds on something that we have all learned as children.  

When I am teaching the confirmation class about the commandments, I always emphasise that these are not just ‘Thou shalts’ to be thought about as prohibitions only but are in fact quite sensible and timeless rules for living with yourself and with others, in the grace of God.

They really are impeccable rules for how to live in community.

Remember that the Israelites were living in the desert, in the wilderness, having escaped from Egypt and it was to be 40 long years before they came to the ‘land of milk and honey’ and they needed rules for how to live as a community. The commandments were a community forming exercise in a way.

We read about them in this passage from Exodus, which was probably written in the 6th century before Christ but the actual time the words are referring to are a whole millennium before that again!

I heard someone say the other day about the commandments that we shouldn’t view them the way we would view the controlling teacher in the class who is only dying to take marks off you but more in the light of the God of love, the commandments embody what it would be to have abundant life , not controlling the negative but releasing the positive in us, allowing us the freedom to live in love and charity with our neighbour.

And of course, Jesus quite succinctly condenses the commandments into just two…

love God   and   love your Neighbour.

For , as he says

‘on this depends ALL the law AND the Prophets’

There doesn’t seem to be very much love in our Gospel reading at first glance….

Well, not for the MoneyChangers and Animal Sellers but I suppose love is there in abundance for the poor and downtrodden oppressed by the Temple strict procedures

Jesus’ startling action of physically overthrowing the trappings of Temple procedures,

Which dared to question the slavish following the Law,

challenged the dangerous idea that you have to follow rigid rules before you are able to come before God.

The money changers and the animal sellers were there because the original rule of the Temple  was that money couldn’t be used inside it’s hallowed walls. 

Money of course, in this occupied land,  had the head of the Roman Emperor on it and this was total anathema to the Jewish Religious authorities!

But as always where money is involved, a way around is found! And over time, they had gotten around the problem of the blasphemous money by having ‘temple money’

which was exchanged for real money before entering the temple proper.

and then this temple currency is used to buy the blemish free animals which were the only ones which could be used for sacrifice, hence the animal sellers. 

Remember, if you brought your own animal for sacrificing, more than likely the Priests would find some kind of a blemish on it and you wouldn’t be able to sacrifice it so it was easier, if more expensive, to just buy the required animal IN the temple…. And I have no doubt that the temple priests were on commission from both the money changers and the animal sellers….

this lucrative trade was literally a money maker.  

and of course as usual in any society it is always the poor who suffer most.

This profound action, striking right at the heart of the temple system that Jesus will replace in Christian belief, is not just ‘mere’ anger but an iconic action, an action with the power to change things.

Iconic because we can all visualise this action.

Well timed gestures and actions really do have the power to change things….

Just think about the kind of gestures in recent years that  are stuck in your head…

Princess Diana hugging Aids sufferers,

The lone student in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square

The American Footballer ‘taking the knee’

There is profound power in the right gesture and Jesus knew this instinctively,

Think of the entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday,

The washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday……

by scattering the animals and overturning the money changers tables in the Temple,

as well as striking a blow against those who would exploit the poor ,

Jesus was also railing against all those who , then or now,  make stumbling blocks between his Father and us,

Between the Creator and his Creation.

Jesus was telling us that

‘I am the temple’ ,

‘I am the encounter between God and Humanity’

‘I am the one who reconciles’….

God is here, we don’t need to sacrifice to connect.

Jesus’ actions reminded us that we don’t need to jump through hoops or fulfil ritual obligations to relate to God, our CREATOR.

It is our lives that are to be  ‘a living sacrifice’ ,

it is our lives that we must make without blemish,

our lives that must be spotless ,

not a dove or a calf or a goat,

it’s our lives that we offer to God.

And because we know how impossible this is for us as fallible human beings, we can draw on our understanding of Jesus , God’s Son, who although he too was human and was tempted ,  he did not sin.

Jesus, because he was one of us, is able to understand us in all our brokenness.

Amen.

Introduction :

Welcome to everyone who joins us today.  I’m so glad when I speak with you to know that you are managing to tune in each week.

It’s not ideal … but it’s all we have for now so it is truly lovely that so many of you are here…. Even people who never thought that they’d be on the other end of a PC listening to me!

As I mentioned on the front of the Pew Sheet, today is the last day of the annual Fair Trade Fortnight… As a Fair Trade Parish, we try and make sure to mark this time of the year and to recommend to everyone that we buy as much fairtrade produce as we possibly can.

And there are so many products out there now… from wine to chocolate… oh wait it’s Lent!

But seriously , do think about how you spend your shopping money…. Sometimes it’s the only action you can do to help ensure more fairness in the world economy.

We will hear a little bit about Fairtrade later in the Service and thank you to Simon for helping insert these videos into our livestream. It makes it all the more enjoyable for us all.

Now we will begin with the liturgical greeting……

Sermon for Sunday 28th February 2021, the Second Sunday of Lent

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The disciples have been with Jesus a fair while now and are getting to know him better – his healing power, his teaching skills and his authority.

Peter and the other disciples weren’t superheros, they were ordinary men of their generation.

Their idea of the messiah was of a conquering King,

one anointed by God to free them from foreign oppression,

Indeed the word Messiah – and also the word Christ – literally means the anointed one.

But we know, of course, looking back across 2000 years of Christianity that wasn’t what Jesus was about at all.

In fact, Mark begins his gospel with the words ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God’  So although there is a current of secrecy throughout Mark’s Gospel, and the characters in the story don’t know who Jesus really is, WE are told right from the start ‘….. it couldn’t be more clear to us.

Jesus tries to explain what his messianic mission was about,

His mission is outlined…. he will suffer greatly, will be rejected by the leaders of his own people , will be executed as a criminal and on the third day he will rise to life.

This, obviously, comes as a great shock to Peter and the disciples.

It just doesn’t make sense.

This is definitely not the Messiah they had been taught to expect.

We think of what we know is to come –

Jesus’ humiliation and execution at the hands of the Roman and Jewish authorities

We know this but the disciples would never have dreamt this would happen to their Messiah!

Peter steps forward, surely speaking for all of them, and insists that this couldn’t happen to Jesus.

But Jesus, knowing that Peter has become a real stumbling block in the way of his mission  

Get behind me Satan, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things’

Now we have to remember that Satan means adversary, opponent and indeed, at that time, Peter’s attitude must have seemed like a real temptation to Jesus…opposing everything Jesus was trying to achieve, undermining his resolve.

Jesus goes on to tell the disciples and indeed to tell anyone who reads this gospel and has ears to listen

That not only must he – Jesus – go the way of suffering and death to life but that anyone who wants to be a follower of Jesus must also go the same way.

How many of us are like Peter & the disciples in the gospel, setting our minds totally on human things and ignoring divine things.

We want to be morally good people but our values in life are often indistinguishable from the rest of society,

We are mostly concerned with material wealth, with professional success , with great careers for our children.

We are in the business of saving our lives not losing them as Jesus instructed us.

He tells us that we have to let go

To stop clinging – To be really free

To give and not to grab       To share and not to hoard

To see others as sisters and brothers not as rivals and competitors.

We live in a world that we are meant to reach out to

rather than to guard against.

Yet we suffer with a ghetto mentality

An I’m all right Jack attitude,

To be a Christian disciple is not primarily to ‘save my soul’ or to ‘go to heaven’ but to enter fully into the mainstream of human living and human concerns

To become part of it through loving and sharing and building up with others.

It is not a matter of everyone for themselves

But each for the other , one for all and all for one!

In our current approach to life, there are only a few winners and many, many losers… I mean, look at this lockdown… a few billionaires became zillionaires on the back of all of the economic misery of the pandemic….. we know that this is not right.

Jesus is proposing a subversion of that worldview,

His good news proposes that we all just let go and live our lives for others

If we all lived like that , wouldn’t our society be wonderful!

And although I mentioned the billionaires feathering their nests during this time,

we can focus on what was right….

We could also think about how we showed we care for others in this pandemic…

how we stayed in and stayed away from each other to show we care….

Much more in keeping with the values of the Kingdom.

Look at what happened in Dublin yesterday at that riot…. These people don’t care for others!

Jesus is telling us in our gospel reading today that,

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’

The story of Abraham and Sarah in our first reading is about an unlikely, elderly couple who hear the call to service and respond with a shaky but faith-filled  “Yes.” 

In a later verse,  Sarah laughs at the proposition of becoming the mother of a nation.  It seems quite  impossible given that they are already beyond child-bearing age.  But this is God’s promise – They are blessed to be a blessing to all nations. 

Jesus proclaims the future to the disciples,

but Peter can’t step out in faith

and face it

he won’t hear of it…..

The previous verse heard Peter say in answer to Jesus’ question ‘Who do you say that I am’ – that Jesus was the Messiah .  But Peter is still seeking the victorious Messiah, not a weak, slain leader.  

When Jesus rebukes Peter by giving the highest insult and calls him  “Satan”  he then tries to teach the disciples what it is all really about….

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’

He is telling them that the way of discipleship is

life-giving,

but it is not without sacrifice, and it is not without loss. 

This call to the first disciples is still our Lenten call today..

We deny ourselves, take up the cross and we follow him…. In whatever way we can.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 21st February 2021, the First Sunday of Lent

In the name of God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today, in our reading from the gospel of Mark, we hear the words of Jesus calling us to share in his victory over evil.

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near,

Repent and believe in the Good News’

and to believe in the good news is to turn towards the way,

the truth and the life offered to us in Jesus Christ…

to work towards a better world by means of reconciliation and peace.

What do we have to do?

The prophet Micah made it sound so simple…

Turn from power to love

Be kind

Act justly and walk humbly with God.

With Jesus’ entry into his public ministry,

new hope had entered our world and a direction was given to us. Jesus modelled his way for us.

After his baptism and anointed with the Spirit for his upcoming task, Jesus now faces a trial of strength.

He is driven into the desert where he is tempted for 40 days.

And then after he has resisted the temptation, he can begin to preach the good news.

But why did the spirit ‘drive’ Jesus into the desert?

Mark is very specific in the verb he uses…..Jesus didn’t just wander into the desert for 40 days.

He was brought there, in an almost pre-arranged way….to be tried and tested, like any ordinary human.

In various places in the bible, we are constantly told that Jesus was made ‘completely like us’

In Hebrews, the writer says

in him we have a high priest who can feel our weaknesses with us, for he is tempted in every way that we are, though he is without sin’

He was without sin… Jesus was ‘wholly’ human, but that doesn’t mean that he was ‘merely’ human,

or that his humanness was like a mask he put on while he was on earth.

The fact that he was ‘without sin’ didn’t mean that he wasn’t 100% human.

To sin isn’t an intrinsic ingredient of humanness…..

Sin is a fall from true humanity.

Jesus came to lead us back to humanity in all its original glory.

The season of Lent touches something in us all.

The very thought of Jesus in the desert, fasting and praying moves us.

It also forces us to look at our own life.

To see what it is about us that needs renewing.

That is why most parishes have Lenten Bible Study Groups… and in normal times, additional church services in this 6 week period, all to help us to really think about ourselves and our faith.

I normally pick something very worthy like Climate Change, or Gender Studies or the Five Marks of Mission and so on…. But this year, I felt that we should just look at the Gospel reading for the Sunday following.

We will take time to really look at the text…. A slow savouring of the words of the Gospel.

This is called by a fancy title of Lectio Divina…. Which just means holy reading…

To really enjoy the richness of the words

In medieval times, the Monks showed it visually in their illuminated manuscripts and this prayerful way of reading aloud is the aural equivalent of that.

The Benedictine historian Jean Leclerq describes it

‘to meditate is to attach oneself closely to the sentence being recited and weigh all its words in order to sound the depths of their full meaning. It means assimilating the content of a text by means of a kind of mastication which releases its full flavour’

And that is what we will be doing at 8pm each Wednesday …. Chewing the words of the following Sunday’s Gospel text…

I sent out the Zoom invite with this week’s pewsheet but just get in contact with me if you’d like to join in.

Just like the collect goes for Bible Sunday

‘Help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them’

Each year Lent provides us with a great window of opportunity.

As I mentioned in my sermon on Ash Wednesday, traditionally during lent, people were prepared for their baptism,

For their rebirth in Christ, their renewal.

Lent is a time set aside to reorient ourselves, to slow down, to recover from distractions and to focus on the values of the Kingdom of God and the value and love God has for us all.

Yes, Lent is a time of penance and effort but it is also a time of great joy

Just like springtime.

Actually, in Dutch, the word for spring is Lente !

Lent is like the Church’s ‘Holy Spring’

Each spring the trees give us a lesson in what we must do for renewal.

As we watch the trees, we see first the bud, then the blossom comes out and finally the shoots spread.

But all this new life is only possible because in the previous autumn, the tree let go of all of its old leaves.

The tree became denuded for the entire winter….

Trusting in nature to bring forth new life.

We need to ask God for help in facing down our old selves in order that we too can be renewed.

Each one of us is involved in a constant struggle against temptation, the temptation to be cynical, bitter, despondent …

Because Jesus himself has been through temptation,

Jesus understands us and is able to help us.

So knowing this , we can approach him with confidence, knowing that we will have mercy from him and find grace in our need.

Our hope today is that in this holy season of Lent, these 6 weeks,  

in this strangest of years, the year of our Lord 2021,

that even though our churches are closed, we may still come to deepen our commitment to Christ and his Good News and be renewed.

Amen.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 14th February 2021, Sunday before Lent.

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We don’t know and can never know what happened up on that Mountain top.

But something marvelous did happen.

Jesus was praying

He was just about to begin his journey into Jerusalem and the cross and he was taking time out to seek his Father’s approval and to ask for strength to face what lay ahead.

Up there on the Mountain top,

Moses and Elijah appeared to be talking with him.

Moses – the great Lawgiver

Elijah – the greatest of all the Prophets, Elijah who we heard about in our first reading this morning.

All that represented Israel’s life and thought and religion were there – approving of Jesus and his path.

But while the moment of the Mount was absolutely necessary, it could not be prolonged beyond its own time.

Jesus had to come down from the Mountain top and face his destiny.

But I can understand why the Apostles wanted to stay in that perfect moment.

Why they wanted to put up tents and stay put.

It was one of those perfect moments.

All was well with the world.

We are granted those kind of moments sometimes.

I have often spoken about my understanding of Epiphany.

The moment when you see a bird for the first time, its heartbeat underneath the feathers,

and you know , you just know

exactly what its all about.

Moments of understanding, or stepping into unexpected light…But those moments are by their very nature fleeting

And indeed afterwards its hard to believe it happened, these visions of glory.

As Fr Richard Coles said in a recent tweet about transfiguration ‘called to glory at those moments, we end up worrying about the Gas Bill!’

Now Peter was always the man of action.

He was the man who needed to be doing something ….anything!

Peter wants to build dwellings, sometimes the word used here is translated as ‘Booths’ or ‘Tents’, so a temporary dwelling place in other words.

Peter wants to put up some kind of structure for Jesus and Moses and Elijah to live in.

something to keep them there on the mountain top….

to keep this magic moment happening.

to put off the inevitable return to normality and all that that involves…. Gas Bills!

But that isn’t living a life.

We all have to accept that most of our lives are spent down in the valleys rather than at the top of mountains.

DISCIPleship is DISCIPline, tough day by day existing…

And to be sure we gain strength and purpose from the mountaintop experience….

but this experience is for sharing – not for hoarding,

There is a time for stillness, a time for contemplation

a time to ‘Be still and know that I am God’

and these are important times, needed times

But then we have to go back to the valley

refreshed and renewed by our time with God.

Ready to make a difference in our world.

and to quote yet again a piece of my favourite prayer from Teresa of Avila

Yours are the feet with which

He is to go about doing good,
and yours are the hands

with which He is to bless us now.

For the opposite to going back in the valley is to try and artificially stay in the moment, like the way Peter tries to.

Poor old Peter often gets it wrong doesn’t he!

That’s probably why we identify with him…

Peter understands that this is an important moment,

a time of intimacy and nearness to God

but what he doesn’t get is that these moments are meant to strengthen us

and then with that strength we go back out into the world refreshed, just as Jesus did, he drew strength and went on to face the cross.

And so we thank God for all of our epiphanies, all of our Mountain Top transfiguration experiences  ….

and long may we seek & find them

But we also thank God that, through these experiences,  we have been given the wherewithal to use our inner strength and conviction

to be his hands and his feet in a world which so badly need him.

As I said, Peter quite understandably wanted to stay in the sheen of Glory and not have to return to the everyday common things…and who can blame him….

But we need to understand that the Mount of Transfiguration moments are given to us  for a reason

to provide strength for the daily work of ministry

And to help us walk in the way of the cross

not in order to hide from the world.

Susanna Wesley, the mother of John and Charles Wesley wrote a prayer addressing our instinct to try and form holy huddles of like minded people….

Help me Lord, to remember that religion is not be to confined to the church or closet, nor exercised only in prayer and meditation, but that everywhere I go, I am in thy presence’

..

I have mentioned before about the famous Anglican priest called George Potter who worked in the east end slums of London in the early 20th century when these were areas of high unemployment and the consequent huge social problems.

He was what you might have called very ‘high church’, bells & smells and all that.

But while he had the highest possible ideas of worship

he understood the relative value of those moments of high worship, that our transcendent moments are there to strengthen us in this world.

He used to say to the many young idealistic priests that wanted to work with him as curates.

You mustn’t sulk if you can’t get to the vespers on the feast of St. Thermogene, for you may be sitting in a police station waiting to help a ‘Client’

Or

You mustn’t be the type of priest who runs into the kitchen sobbing because we run short of incense’

What Fr. Potter understood is that his curates must rightly value their prayer and worship time as without them they were not equipped to do the grueling work in the slums.

But he told them 

the fact is   that we spend more time at the bottom of the Mount of Transfiguration than at the top’

He knew that these exalted times of prayer and meditation were essential in order to strengthen and equip these young priests out in the cold and ugly world of 1930s London,

these heady experiences were not so that they could wallow in them so as to escape reality but to equip them to tackle reality.

William Barclay , that down to earth Scottish theologian that  Richard Dring often quotes in his sermons, puts it beautifully,  has this to say about transfiguration….

The moment of glory does not exist for its own sake

It exists to clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before’

To clothe the common things with a radiance they never had before…..  so beautifully put..

Our job is recognise the Glory of God

and then to bring Gods glory from our mountaintop back to the valley for all to see and understand for themselves.

We say in our service, in the post communion prayer, ‘May we whom the Spirit lights, give light to others’

Our job is to clothe the everyday with a radiance it never had before……. Amen!

Sermon for Sunday 7th February 2021, 2nd Sunday before Lent.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The words of the old testament

(or the Hebrew Scripture as they are more often called nowadays,)  

today comes from the book of Proverbs.

It speaks of Wisdom , the word ‘Sofia’ in Greek, which is always used in the feminine.  Latin is the same ‘Sapienta’ is a feminine word.

This particular proverb tells us that the Lord created her, (Wisdom that is ) at the beginning of his work….when there were no depths she was brought forth.

‘I was daily his delight,

rejoicing before him always

rejoicing in his inhabited world

and delighting in the human race’

Beautiful words and beautiful sentiments

God’s helper from the beginning of time.

And then in our gospel reading, from John, we heard the well known words… very well known indeed as this was the Christmas Day Gospel too….

‘In the beginning was the Word

and the Word was with God

and the Word was God’

tying in with Wisdom being with God always, before time , before space, before light….

John continues ‘The true light, which enlightens everybody was coming into the world’

And it really is startling….

and a little hard to believe really.

That the Word became flesh and lived among us.

Lived among us….. Humanity

I’ve told this story before but some of you may not have heard it…. And those of you who did hear it are just going to have to listen to it again!….

It’s a story about a man, a farmer, a good man, but not a Christian man as we’d define it….

He just couldn’t get his head around God entering our world as an infant

Actually becoming one of us

This man just couldn’t actually believe it

And unlike many , he was too honest to pretend that he did… which was a hard thing to do back then…

So each Christmas Eve, when his wife and children would go to the midnight church service

He would always stay at home, on the farm.

The story goes that one such Christmas, when his family were already gone to Church, the snow came down very heavily .

As he sat in the warm kitchen, beside the fire,  he kept hearing these thuds against the kitchen window and when he went outside, he saw lots of small birds trying to shelter under the lit window.

They had thought that they could shelter in the warm kitchen but they didn’t understand about glass windows.

The pathetic little wet bundles of bird touched this man’s heart and he decided that he would open his shed and let them shelter there.

But how to get them into the safety of the shed?

He opened the shed door and tried to shoo them in,

He put out bread in a trail to try and entice them in

But nothing worked,

Every time he went too near to them  they just scattered in fright.

He realised that it was hopeless, he just couldn’t get them to move into the shed.

He hated to see them freezing to death out in the cold when there was a warm shed just waiting on them.

He was so frustrated and came to realise that only birds can communicate with birds…. If only he was a bird, then he could explain to them where to go ……

Suddenly he sank to his knees as it dawned on him just why God had become man.

He understood for the first time why ‘The word became flesh’.

He finally ‘got it’

Wisdom: there when the world began,

The Word: there in the beginning ,

Jesus: there in the flesh and who lived among us.

God draws near to us in person

He became one of us,

He lived among us

He meets us where we are

He took our humanity on himself

This means that we don’t have to deny our humanity to meet him.

He came to show us how to live out the fullness of our humanity.

Our humanity wasn’t something base or worthless…..

In Jesus, holiness is now connected to humanity,

Connected to earth as well as heaven.

By becoming one of us, God took away the distance between the divine and the human.

He bridged the gap….forever

The Word became flesh

Not as a judge but as a Saviour

Became flesh in order to reveal our divine dignity as God’s own children

This is the good news,

Like the farmer in our story, all we have to do is open our hearts to receive it.

Amen

Sermon for Sunday 31st January 2021, 4th Sunday after the Epiphany, Candlemas Readings.

Sermon delivered in Carrigaline by the Revd Julia Cody (video available in the Pew Sheet Post in Parish Notices for 31st January)

Candlemas & All That!

It’s really lovely, through the wonders of technology, to join you again this morning! Thank you Rev’d Elaine for being more than willing to have another virtual pulpit-swap today – it’ll be a real treat for the folks in Perton to hear from you! You may remember that last time I preached for you it was on your harvest festival and the reading was the parable of the vineyard and so we ventured out to our local vineyard to film.

Today’s reading is set in the temple in Jerusalem… alas the temple no longer exists, and we’re not permitted to fly to Israel / Palestine at the moment, so instead we’re filming where we normally do, in the dining room of the Vicarage!

Let me pray as I begin… 

Loving God, we thank you for your word and for your Holy Spirit, which speak to us whether we are in a vineyard, Jerusalem, Carrigaline or the vicarage dining room in Perton. May our hearts and minds be open to you today, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

This might sound strange, but I want to begin by saying, “well done” for logging on to church today! In no way am saying that flippantly, I sincerely mean it, “well done” for choosing to join the service: it’s the end of January; it’s winter and if you’re anything like my husband, you just want to hibernate(!); and, we’re online, so no-one actually knows that you’re here, so it’d be really easy to stay snuggled, warm and cosy and get some more sleep! 

At the risk of sounding patronising, I want to say a genuine well done for choosing to connect with the service  – well done for faithfully continuing in the ordinary routines of faith as we seek to follow Jesus.

So why am I saying well done?! Well, one of the things which struck me as I pondered this fantastic passage, is just how important the ordinary routines and practices of our faith are. I think one of the many things this passage reveals is the importance of both the ordinary as well as the extraordinary in our spiritual journeys.

I wonder if anyone knows what’s special about today? Today, being the nearest Sunday to 2nd February, is a feast day in the church, and, just add confusion, has more than one title!…

These days it’s usually called “The Presentation of Christ in the Temple” – a neat summary of the reading we’ve just heard from St Luke’s gospel. But it’s also known as “Candlemas”; and it used to be called, “The Purification of Mary” – as it still is in the Eastern Church. Three titles for one day!

Firstly, what about “Candlemas”? Well, if you break it down, that name reveals it’s something about candles and mass! Today’s gospel reading includes Simeon’s words that Jesus is a light to reveal God’s will to the Gentiles. Therefore, one of the traditional themes for today is light. In fact, in pre-Christian times, it was a midwinter festival of light. The Church then adapted this old ritual, changing the focus to Jesus, the Light of the World. With this connection to light, it became traditional that on this day the church’s candles for the year would be blessed – hence, “candlemas”.

Candlemas was one of the great festivals and there are lots of references to it. For example, it’s recorded that the first ever performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’ was held on Candlemas Day 1602!  Candlemas was the day when cattle were moved from fields which were to be ploughed and sown. I’ve even discovered there’s a Swedish metal band called Candlemas!! 

We had our Church Quiz a couple of weeks’ ago, and it was great to have two teams from Carrigaline join us – thank you! Maybe even more will have a go next time… it’s great fun, and actually the toughest round was set by your lovely Rector, who even included a question about today’s festival! I wonder if any of you quiz-lovers have ever heard of the Candlemas Islands; or know where they are?… Apparently they’re in the sub-antarctic!

Traditionally people believed that the weather on Candlemas Day determined whether winter was over, there’s an old rhyme:

          “If Candlemas day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight;

          If Candlemas day be cloud and rain, winter is gone and won’t be back again!”

The forecast for next Tuesday, 2nd February, actual Candlemas, is wet… so time will tell if that indeed means winter is gone and won’t be back again!

This tradition connects with the North American name for 2nd Feb – and of a great movie – ‘Groundhog Day’. If a groundhog emerges from its burrow on 2nd Feb and can see its shadow, because the weather is clear, it’ll return to the burrow and winter will continue for another 6 weeks; if however there’s no shadow because it’s cloudy, spring will arrive early! So now you know all about one of the titles for today – Candlemas!

Let’s turn to the others, ‘The Purification of Mary’ and, ‘The Feast of the Presentation’. There are documented sermons on this theme going right back to the year 312! This feast day is 40 days since Christmas and 40 days is significant. 40 days after the birth of a boy, according to the law, a Jewish woman was able to complete her purification (if she’d had a girl, it took 60 days…) and one of the elements in this account is Mary’s purification. So let’s turn back to the passage.

Mary and Joseph had had a baby, and – even though there was something inexplicable and miraculous about his conception; and there’d been those bewildering and incredible visits by shepherds – here we read of this Jewish couple simply fulfilling the normal rituals of their faith. Ordinary things, done by all Jewish families: ordinary, yet important, revealing this family’s faithfulness to God.

The passage hints at four ordinary rituals: circumcision; naming; purification; and presentation. Every baby boy was circumcised at 8 days old; every Jewish child was officially named; every Jewish mother, following giving birth, went through a period of purification when she wasn’t allowed to enter the temple or touch sacred items; and once this time was completed, all Jewish parents went to the temple, presented their baby, and offered the appropriate sacrifices. These ordinary routines of the Jewish faith had been followed for centuries, and are preserved in the law, found in the Bible, particularly in Leviticus.

In the reading, it’s easy to focus on the extraordinary things that took place – Simeon’s words, and Anna’s reaction – and to overlook other details: but these ordinary rituals are recorded as an integral part of the story; giving us glimpses into the lives of these faithful people.

We see faithfulness-to-God in the actions of Mary and Joseph, and in the lives of Simeon and Anna. We’re told Simeon was righteous and devout; similarly, that Anna worshipped night and day, fasting and praying – which might seem quite extreme and not very “ordinary”; but, for Anna, she was simply following her normal pattern of worship, as she’d done for many years.

This passage implicitly commends Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, for their faithfulness to God, day by day, in the routines of life. It also reminds us that Jesus was brought up in a family who were faithful to God and who observed the rituals of their faith. 

I’m so glad we have these details in the Bible which, if we notice them, affirm the importance of our ordinary, even mundane, daily faithfulness to God. It’s all too easy, for all of us, to look for the spiritual “highs” – the extraordinary times, the mountain-tops – and to crave them.

As important, significant and transforming as those times are, they’re the exception, not the norm – they are “extra-ordinary”. Most of the time, life is mundane, as we try, faithfully, to follow Jesus – helped by gathering as church, praying, reading the Bible, bible study groups – whatever those regular things are for you. These are the ordinary things which are important, sustaining us on our spiritual journeys.

There are extraordinary times too. In this passage there are two extraordinary encounters as this faithful family meet Simeon and Anna. But, even these extraordinary things took place in the context of the normal routines of faith. The ordinary rituals provide the opportunity – the possibility – for the rare, extraordinary moments, in our spiritual journeys. As we faithfully continue with our usual, ordinary patterns of worship, who knows when extraordinary encounters might take place for us, and, even through us?!

St Luke takes the trouble to spell-out Simeon and Anna’s credentials. It’s clear they’re both elderly, and have been faithfully serving God throughout their long lives. They’re known for their faithfulness, but neither are particularly significant: Simeon’s not a priest or anyone official; and Anna’s an elderly widow. They’re respected for their integrity, and they’re known for their faithful devotion to God. 

Then, one day, something extraordinary happened. I wonder if we can imagine the scene? The temple in Jerusalem was a truly vast and magnificent place; throngs of people; busy; huge – and on this day a young couple, like so many others, entered with their 6 week old baby in order to fulfil the law’s requirements. To most, there was nothing special about this couple – they wouldn’t even have noticed them – and yet, in the vast busyness of the temple, 2 people did notice this particular family.

Something extraordinary happened: “led by the Spirit,  [Simeon] went into the temple”… “That very same hour [Anna] arrived”.  As he faithfully went about his routine, Simeon was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go into the temple for this divine appointment with an unknown family, who were faithfully presenting their baby.  Similarly with Anna, as she went about her daily devotions, at that very same hour, she came into the temple: another divine appointment. The extraordinary in the context of the ordinary.

Since 6th January we’ve been in the season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is the season of revelation: of unveiling; of Jesus’ glory being revealed; of discovering – or being reminded – that this baby of Christmas, this child, this man – is not just any other person: rather, the season of Epiphany gives us glimpses of who Jesus truly is – God’s Messiah. This Sunday’s readings bring Epiphany to a close, but again today, in the words of Simeon and in the reaction of Anna, more of who Jesus is – more of his glory – is revealed.

It’s a moving scene: an old man, to whom God had made a promise that he wouldn’t die before he’d seen the Messiah, takes this 6 week old baby in his arms, gives thanks to God, saying that now – in this moment – God has kept his promise: that he had seen the Messiah, and so he may now go – may die – in peace. This old man continues, proclaiming, in those famous, beautiful words which we know as the Nunc Dimittis, “my eyes have seen your salvation… a light to reveal your will to the Gentiles, and bring glory to your people Israel”. 

Mary and Joseph are amazed at Simeon’s words. He goes on to bless them, but also speaks candidly of the pain; of the cost. Here is God’s Messiah, not just for Israel, but for all people. Simeon praises God, but amidst the beauty and poetry are dark notes – the Messiah won’t be welcomed by all; there’ll be conflict; and piercing pain for Mary. Simeon hints at what lies ahead. Jesus will shine his light – but where there’s light, there’s shadows: when people come into contact with Jesus, they will have to decide – follow him, or reject him.

Anna’s response adds to Simeon’s testimony as she sees in this baby the answer to her prayers and hopes. Luke tells us she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were waiting for God to set Jerusalem free.

There’s a kind of bitter-sweetness to this amazing passage of Scripture, and to our remembering of it on this day in the church year. Today is meant to be a festival, at the end of Epiphany, celebrating as Jesus’ identity is revealed and God is praised. But… the prophetic words of Simeon, which speak of both salvation – and destruction – remind us of where we’re heading: focusing our thoughts on, towards the passion and Easter. 

As someone wrote, “The scriptures of the Christmas and Epiphany season have several pointers to the suffering of the Lord, but none more potent than the words of Simeon. Coming at the end of the Christmas/Epiphany celebration and with Lent close, they make Candlemas a kind of pivot in the Christian year. It’s as if we say, on 2 February, ‘one last look back to Christmas, and now, turn towards the cross!’.

What about us? I think one thing we can take from this passage, is how the extraordinary happens on ordinary days. We don’t know when extraordinary things might occur – I don’t imagine Simeon or Anna woke up that day knowing it would be special! It was as they went about their ordinary, faithful lives, that suddenly, unexpectedly, the Holy Spirit worked through them in these extraordinary encounters.

So I simply want to encourage all of us today to keep going with the faithful, ordinary routines of our spiritual journeys. These patterns of praying, gathering as Church, reading the Bible – might seem very ordinary, but they’re so important. And who knows – in the context of these ordinary routines – when God might break in and, in extraordinary ways, speak to you, or through you?!

Let me finish by telling you of one such experience in my life – 17 years’ ago now, but imprinted in my memory. I’d been the parish administrator of a church in Central London for about 5 years. Each week the Vicar would meet with one of the team for a chat, to see how we were doing, and to pray. It was one of the routines he developed to support the church team. It was the first week of January, 9am, Wednesday morning, and it was my week to meet with the Vicar. I went to the Vicarage and we chatted over coffee, as usual. Then, more specifically, he asked how my thinking was going about whether to put myself forward for the Church of England selection process. This was something we’d talked about a number of times before and prior to Christmas he’d challenged me that it was time to make a decision, whether to move forward and push at this door, or not.

That morning, in our normal Wednesday meeting, he asked me whether I’d come to a decision – I hadn’t! Once again I talked about my concerns and uncertainties, and, once again, Richard listened. As usual, as the time drew to a close, we prayed. Richard and I had prayed together many times. But that morning, in his study, something extraordinary happened, a divine encounter for me, through him. There were no neon signs in the sky – no visions! But, as Richard prayed – and I can’t remember a word he said! – God met me; and I knew, instantly, without a shadow of a doubt, that I should put myself forward and give myself fully to the selection process. I had an incredible sense of peace and resolve that this was what I must do.  It was one of those rare, extraordinary moments, in the middle of an ordinary day.

So, as I said, I simply want to encourage us all to keep going with the faithful, ordinary, spiritual routines: to keep going on our spiritual journeys. And who knows – in the context of these ordinary routines – when God might break in and, in extraordinary ways, speak to you, or through you! Amen.

Sermon delivered by the Rector in Perton (via video)

Hello again!

And thanks again to your Vicar, Revd Julia, for inviting me to speak with you all.

This is our 2nd Pulpit swap… the last time you might remember was at Harvest time.

We duly recorded our Sermons and emailed them to one another.

THEN I discovered that your Revd Julia had recorded hers out of doors, in a local Vineyard, and she sipped a little wine as she spoke about the Gospel…..  

I jokingly told Julia that I was going to record this sermon in the mouth of an active volcano in West Cork…. But as you can see ,

I was only joking…. There is no active volcano in West Cork so I had to make do with my boring office again….

This time, we find ourselves at the end of Epiphany, with Candlemas just days away… next Tuesday to be exact.

And in our lectionary we are allowed to use those Candlemas readings today so here we are….

We have just heard the story of Christ’s presentation in the temple as told in chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke and that is what I’d like to talk about to you today…

Again apologies about the lack of an active volcano but you’ll have to make do!

In the rhythm of our Christian liturgical year, next Tuesday, 2nd February, falls exactly 40 days after the 25th December and is, as I’ve said, the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus,  

On this day we remember Mary and Joseph’s visit to the Temple to present their baby Jesus on the fortieth day following his birth, as Jewish law of the time required,

and also for Mary to undergo the postpartum rites of cleansing, which is why it is also sometimes called the Feast of the Purification of Mary….

Just like ‘Christmas’ is a popular name used to describe the feast of  the Nativity of Christ,

‘Candlemas’ is often used to describe the feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

This came about because of the ancient tradition of lighting candles on that day to symbolise the ‘Light that lightens the Gentiles’ which is what Simeon says in his prayer Nunc Dimittus.

So who was this Simeon….

Well Luke’s Gospel tells us that in the temple there was a resident prophet named Anna and a man named Simeon who immediately recognize and welcome Jesus.

Taking the child into his arms, Simeon turned his voice toward God and offered praise for the “light for revelation” that has come into the world.

Taking a cue from Simeon, some churches began, in time, to mark this day with a celebration of light:

the ‘Candle Mass’, during which priests would bless the candles to be used in the year to come.

I’ve read that in the middle ages, the feast became associated by farmers with predictions about the weather for instance, if the sun shone on Candlemas and cast a shadow, then winter would continue; if it was cloudy and there was no shadow cast by the sun, then spring would come soon.

Farmers and their superstitions never change!…

And these traditions still continue…. many of you have seen the Film ‘Groundhog Day’?  that’s also 2nd February…. America might be the ‘new world’ but that is one ancient tradition!

But this particular time, 40 days after 25th December, coinciding as it does with the turn toward spring and lengthening of light in the Northern  Hemisphere, really is the perfect time to celebrate the lengthening of the days and the coming of new life in spring..

Perhaps you know the other name for Snowdrops?

Candlemas Bells…. Isn’t that beautiful!

Candlemas offers a liturgical celebration of the renewing of light and life that comes to us in the natural world at this time of year, fitting beautifully in with the story of Jesus.

As we emerge from the deep of winter, the feast reminds us of the perpetual presence of Christ our Light in every season.

Candlemas has been called a hinge moment in our liturgical year.

It is the moment when we turn our back on the crib and turn our face towards the cross.

That lovely hymn, written by Elizabeth Cosnett, begins

‘When candles are lighted on Candlemas Day, the dark is behind us and spring’s on the way’

The lyrics in this hymn very much underlines the ‘hinge’ effect…. Perhaps especially in the last lines

‘The candles invite us to praise and to pray

When Christmas greets Easter on Candlemas Day’

As I said, very much a hinge moment in our liturgical year.

A time when we turn our back on the crib and the infant Jesus

and turn our face towards the cross and the adult Christ.

Normally in my church, we dismantle the Crib on the feast of the Epiphany, and we take down the Large Stars from the Church towers… but this year we decided to keep the Stars shining out into our community and to leave the crib in place until Candlemas….

We really felt we needed the extra light in these dark days of pandemic.

…. And now, it’s only now two weeks until we are already into Lent.

So we really have left the incarnation and infancy behind and begin to think about the adult Jesus, the healer, teacher, prophet and priest.

Jesus, the son of God, God made man.

The God we worship takes our physical material selves seriously because God has declared that everything God has created – …matter or spirit,   everything,  

that it was good,

in fact God said it was “very good”.

That is why we say in the Nicene Creed: ‘maker of all there is, visible and invisible’.

Matter is not hostile and opposite to the spirit

and God could and did become a real human being, a real baby, belonging to a particular couple who have names, Mary & Joseph

who lived in a real, actual village, Nazareth,

in an actual, real part of the world that God created,

belonging to an actual, real community with particular and specific laws, rules and customs.

So this baby’s parents, like everyone else at the time,

obeyed the law and brought the baby to be redeemed as the first-born male who belonged therefore to God.

God took human history seriously and so fulfilled the promises God had made earlier to Simeon and Anna, that they would see the Messiah with their own eyes.

Interestingly only Luke tells us about Anna,  

Luke always tends to include the witness of women to Jesus at a time when such witness was not allowed or acceptable in law courts.

The legend is that Luke had his Gospel told to him by Mary, the Mother of Jesus and that is why women have such a say in it compared to the other evangelists….. who knows!

But it is Simeon’s prayer that is so familiar to us all, that led to this day being called Candlemas…..

Simeon’s words are well known to us….we say it at every Evensong,

I say it at the end of every funeral that I do,

as I walk out ahead of the coffin, I say the words of Simeon.

Now Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace …..

Simeon welcomes a more peaceful transition for himself,

a retirement from Temple service and eventual death,

since what he had been awaiting is now fulfilled.

As I said, 40 days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ

And now we recall the day on which he was presented in the temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people.

Today, in my church, I will be on my own, livestreaming the Service to my Parishioners, where I know they will be delighted to hear what the Revd Julia has to say to them

But in normal times in my parish,

at the end of our Candlemas service, we would have had a short liturgy where each of us lights our votive candles,

When we would have walked to the Baptismal Font,

and gathered together, as a community,

we would have extinguished our candles.

The whole point of the liturgy is that by doing this act physically,

we are taking the time to remember

the baby Jesus who grows into the man Jesus :

Man but also Son of God.

Fully man but without sin.

So , even though we are physically apart,

today, as we all get ready to begin our journey into Lent,

Let us give one last glance back at the baby Jesus

and then silently turn our faces towards the cross.

Let us celebrate the joy of his coming,

By looking back to the day of his birth

AND

By looking forward in time to the coming days of his passion, death and Resurrection.

Thank you.

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 24th January 2021, 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany

In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus consciously stepped into the shoes of John the Baptist

(and remember how John had warned us that he wasn’t worthy to tie the thong of Jesus’ sandals!) 

now here is Jesus , taking the risk of being aligned to the person who has just been handed over to the authorities

(and who we know will be slaughtered at the whim of a dancing girl’s mother)

So at great personal cost, Jesus is preaching the same message as John, but perhaps in gentler tones…   

Yes, turn around your life

but do it because of your own intrinsic worth as children of a loving God, not just because of fear.

Today’s image is of Jesus walking along the shore and just picking out potential disciples….. just calling out to others to be with him in spreading the word of God.   It all seems so random!

He called ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

They were fishermen, carpenters, tax collectors, a few hotheads, a few wise ones, and he asked them to step up to the mark, to leave everything they knew and to follow him.

But we don’t have to feel guilty when we look at this pattern of total service to God,

The pattern of just downing everything and following.

 ….  For not everyone is called to leave our boats and our nets,

to leave our family and friends and homes,

The vast majority of us are only called to stay where we are and serve God here where we are

But what we all have in common

and what we all have to take seriously

is the call to follow him, not by leaving everything we know

but by transforming everything we know.

By becoming ourselves the light that lightens the darkness.

This is still the season of epiphany,

where we celebrate the coming of THE light of the world

and each year during our season of Epiphany,

on the nearest Sunday to Holocaust Memorial Day , 27th January,

the day assigned to remember the scars left by genocide,

we take time to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the millions of people killed under Nazi persecution, and in genocides ever since.

This particular day, January 27th, was picked because it was the date that the largest Nazi death camp (Auschwitz-Birkenau) was liberated back in 1945.

And the scale of what was done in that one camp alone is chilling..

I follow the official ‘Auschwitz Memorial’ account on Twitter… this account posts each and every day a photo of someone who passed through the gates of that concentration and extermination camp, usually the photo is of someone whose birthday is that particular day.  The horror of it hits me daily. The normalness of the people’s faces, the Memorial group use family photo if possible, or the prison ‘mug shot’ if not.

So there might be a photo of a baby boy born in Holland in 1942, transported and murdered in that camp in 1943. 

Or a smiling Italian woman, with her best clothes on in the photo, murdered there in 1944…

A Polish man, a Fireman by trade, this time the photo is of him in the official Prison clothes, the facial feature miles too big on the skeletal frame……and on and on it goes.

This morning, 24th January, the tweet was a photo of a baby girl

I sometimes have to force myself to read the captions as it is relentless….. but it is effective as it gets across just a little of the horror that was the holocaust.   We must never forget this horror.

We also use this time of the year to think about other genocides…..  the earliest example of genocide by what was done to the Armenian people in the Ottoman Empire, the atrocity which gave the world the word ‘Genocide’ …..  about the genocides in our own lifetimes in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur, the Yazidi people, the Rohingya people…..

Each year, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust develop a theme to provide those planning their own HMD events with fresh ideas for interesting and inspiring commemorations.

This year the theme, which fits in so perfectly with Epiphany and with our Gospel today is    ‘Be the light in the darkness’

This theme ‘Be the light in the darkness’  is an affirmation and a call to action.

We are asked to consider different kinds of ‘darkness’, for example, identity-based persecution,

misinformation,

denial of justice;

and also to consider different ways of ‘being the light’, for example, resistance,

acts of solidarity,

rescue

and illuminating mistruths.

These utterly unprecedented times through which we are living currently is showing the very best of which humanity is capable

but also – in some of the abuse and conspiracy theories being spread on social media – the much darker side of our world.

And so the theme chosen is simply 

Be the light in the darkness.

We are encouraged to reflect on the depths humanity can sink to,

but also to reflect on the ways individuals and communities resisted that darkness to ‘be the light’  before, during and after genocide.

I’d like you to listen now to a very short clip about one survivor of the horrors of that time.

Helen Aronson clip (2 minutes)  

…..if you are reading this , the link is

https://www.hmd.org.uk/resource/helen-aronson-bem/

We have all seen over the last few years how the increasing levels of denial, division and misinformation around in society means that we must remain ever vigilant against hatred and identity-based hostility.

Rapid technological developments, a turbulent political climate, and world events beyond our control  can leave us feeling helpless and insignificant.  

But we can all stand in solidarity.

We can choose to be the light in the darkness in a variety of ways and places – at home,  in public,  and online.

There are many ways that we can do this…..

We can be aware of what is going on around us, we can ask awkward questions, speak truth to power, in any way we can.

I thought that the Irish Examiner using the front page to display all the 923 names of the babies that died in the Bessborough Mother and Baby Home in Cork was a really good recent example of ‘Being the light’ in troubling times.

This powerful image (which I printed in this week’s pewsheet) brought home, like the Auschwitz Memorial Twitter Page, that these are not just names, but real living people.

And once we remember that  – we can never dismiss their suffering.

This is an epiphany of sorts…… 

We can train ourselves to be open to the suffering of ‘the other’ in a positive way, in a way that helps us to help others…. To be the light in the life of someone else who needs help.

Simon, Andrew, James and John had their Epiphany that day on the shores of the Sea of Galillee , and as we know, they responded wholeheartedly and followed Jesus.

They must have been terrified at the change and yet responded of their own free will and by their response were freed from the mundane lives they had led, yes terror but exhilaration too.

When you put your life in God’s hands, it is terrifying, when you step out in faith, it is thrilling and frightening, but also so right.

We don’t choose our Epiphanies, any more than the disciples did on the lake shore that day 

Epiphany is all about our lives having changed forever ,

because when the word became flesh,

when the light came into the world,

nothing was ever the same again.

We are all called to be that light in the darkness.

Amen.

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 Sermon for Sunday 17th January 2021, 2nd Sunday after Epiphany

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I love the story of Samuel, his confusion about who was being called and so on.

It always reminds me of Donald Keegan, a wonderful man who had been the Archdeacon of Birr, and I met him when he had retired to Greystones and used to help out now and again, actually his daughter Ruth Elmes is now the Archdeacon in my old diocese of Cashel.

Donald was a really lovely man who died all too soon into his retirement and is still sadly missed….

But why I mention him today is that I remember him preaching about these words from Samuel and telling us all that he had a dog which he called Samuel because he always had to call him three times before he came to him!

The theme of two of the readings today is that of being called

Samuel is called to be a prophet.

Andrew and the others are called to be disciples.

We don’t decide if we are called….

The initiative is always Gods.

The call is always Gods.

We can just respond…..

And every call demands a response.  You often hear of people who ignore a calling for years but it never goes away….

In today’s readings, we hear of specific and unique calls.

And usually we call a specific and unique call a vocation.

We used to think of vocations as something only people like priests had ….. or at a stretch, nurses and teachers,

 I’m not just speaking about vocations to ordained ministry…Thankfully nowadays it is beginning to be recognised that at times we are all called, in some manner or another, in whatever we are or do,

We aren’t all priests, teachers, nuns or doctors but we all share the same call to service,

Just look at the extra ordinary work that has been done by all of the ‘essential’ staff over the last year!

Frontline medical , supply chains and so on..

And of course service to God doesn’t begin and end on a Sunday morning.

As I wrote these words I was reminded that God is just as present with us at three on a Thursday afternoon as he is at this minute…in this church.

And God has indeed called us all

In many ways and at many levels.

He called us into life,  and throughout our lives God continues to call us….

calls us to live a life worthy of our dignity as his children.

And then at the end, God will call us again

From this life to life eternal.

There is no doubt that God’s call can take many forms, and be fulfilled in different ways.

And it is rarely experienced in the dramatic way as the call of Samuel.

Or in as real a way as the first disciples of Jesus

But….

God does call us – he calls out to the depths of our hearts

Calls us to be close to him.

There is a Jesuit Priest in the US , Richard Rohr, whom I admire greatly and whom I have spoken about many times….

He puts out a daily thought by email and once when he was speaking about the practice of contemplation.. he said this..

You cannot know God the way you know anything else;

you only know God or the soul of anything subject to subject, center to center,

by a process of “mirroring” where like knows like and love knows love—

“deep calling unto deep” (Psalm 42:7).

The Divine Spirit planted deep inside each of us yearns for and responds to God—and vice versa (see James 4:5)

Perhaps we feel it like some kind of a tug on our hearts, rather than words or an actual call.

As St. Augustine put it in that well known phrase ….

Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

Some people experience this call as a yearning inside of themselves,

which perhaps can be felt most strongly in our quieter and more reflective moments.

I have often mentioned that Mother Theresa quote about how she was once asked by a journalist what words did she use while she was praying.

She said that she didn’t use words….she just listened.

The Journalist immediately asked her what God said to her….she answered, nothing! God just listens too.

The story of the call of Samuel and of the disciples are still relevant to us now, here, in 2021.

For just like Samuel , we too are being called to work for God,   here  – in our own time and place, in this crazy, locked-in time and place.

And just like the first disciples, we are also called to be his disciples…..

Last week, we spoke about our baptismal promises….

At our baptisms, we are actually called to discipleship ,

we are incorporated into the community of disciples.

All of us

In all of our different roles, jobs and situations,

We all have been called.

Samuel found out….eventually ….. that every call needs a response.

And we just have to work out,  with God’s help,

what our response is to be!

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 10th January 2021, 1st Sunday after Epiphany, the Baptism of Our Lord.

In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit

Today we have the third great ‘epiphany’ or showing of God in the human person of Jesus.

The first ‘epiphany’ was at the birth of the child Jesus in the stable at Bethlehem when he was visited by the shepherds representing the poor, the marginalised and the sinful for whom Jesus had specially come. This, obviously, we celebrated on 25th December, Christmas Day.

The second ‘epiphany’ was when the ‘wise men’ came from ‘the East’ to worship the newly born Jesus. They represented all those peoples and nations who were being invited to be numbered among God’s own people through the mediation of Jesus as Lord.

This was celebrated last Wednesday 6th, the feast of the Epiphany…. And it was lovely to tune into St Fin Barre’s Cathedral on Wednesday night, to celebrate both the Epiphany with the Bishop , Dean & Archdeacon but also to welcome the Revd Meurig Williams as new Rector of Mallow.

But today we celebrate the third great ‘epiphany’ of the Lord in Jesus Christ.

The time is much later than the events celebrated over the last two weeks, the birth of Jesus and the visitation of the Magi.

In our Gospel today, Jesus is now an adult, probably about 30 years of age.

We are brought to the banks of the River Jordan somewhere north of Jerusalem where John the Baptist, a cousin of Jesus, is living out in the desert.

All through the Hebrew Scriptures, we find that the desert in some ways is a place where God can be found, although for Jesus it was also a place of trial and temptation.

John leads a very austere life, dressed in the simplest of clothes and sustaining himself on whatever nourishment he can find in the vicinity.

He has already made a name for himself as a man of God and large numbers come out to hear and be influenced by him….  which is why he is always at pains to explain that it is Jesus and not he who is the chosen one of God.

The opening words of today’s Gospel tell us that he was proclaiming “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.

It is important not to misunderstand the meaning of these words.

It would be quite wrong to think that people simply had to come for baptism in the river for all their sins to be wiped out.

That would be little more than superstition.

The baptism itself was a symbolic act which had to be accompanied by an inner change.

The word for ‘repentance’ here is metanoia in Greek, a word I’ve often mentioned before.

This word implies a radical change in the way we look at the meaning and purpose of life

and how we actually and practically live that life ourselves.

It calls for much more than is normally meant by ‘repentance’ which we normally understand as ‘being sorry’ for something we have done.

Metanoia is much more than just feeling sorry.

It calls for a total re-organisation of our attitudes so that such our current way of behaving would simply be cut out of our life.

It’s all very new yearish isn’t it!

This then is what is required of us,

to turn away from sin and turn to God,

cleansed and renewed by baptism.

When we are baptised , most of us as babies, I was only 5 days old when I was baptized… not that unusual 60 years ago…….

So at our baptism ,  our Godparents would have spoken for us,

Then when we were confirmed, we took on these promises as our own, although to be fair, I wonder how many of us actually thought THAT much at the time of our confirmations back then? 

I do think nowadays the young people think about their confirmations more but back then there was a certain way of just getting it ‘done’ …. Or perhaps you were all far holier than I was then!

But now, like Jesus in our Gospel today, we are all grown up.

And as adults we must continue to live up to the promises that were made, by our Godparents on our behalf or by our younger selves.


I’ll remind you of what the bishop says to the candidates for confirmation…..

He says that ‘In baptism, God calls us from darkness to his marvellous light. To follow Christ means dying to sin and rising to new life with him’

Then he asks if they reject the devil and all proud rebellion against God?

If they renounce the deceit and corruption of evil?

If they repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?

After these renouncements, the bishop continues with the positive affirmations….

He asks them if they turn to Christ as Saviour?

If they submit to Christ as Lord?

If they will come to Christ, the Way, the Truth and the Life?

That is what is asked of us all… and not just in January but each and every day to turn to Christ

and to live each and every day in his Grace…

Amen.

Sermon for Sunday 3rd January 2021, 2nd Sunday of Christmas

In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit

Our Gospel reading today is the same as the gospel I read at all of our Christmas Services this year. So this is the 7th time that I have read this Gospel during the Christmas season .

The words are so very familiar to us.

It is the Prologue which opens the Gospel of John.

A superb manifesto of the Incarnation when God entered our world in a very special way.

Of course, God has always been present in our world but the Incarnation is an altogether new, more intimate and striking presence.

“In the beginning…”, ….that is, before any created thing existed… the Word was with God and was God.

Through the Word, the (logos) in the original Greek,

God expresses, reveals himself, just as we express and reveal ourselves by the words we use to communicate.

God’s Word, however, is not just a spoken word; it is productive, creative… “Through the Word all things came to be…”

from the 50 billion or so galaxies, which we can’t even get our minds around down to the tiniest sub-atomic particle.

And that creating Word brings life.

“All that came to be had life in the Word…”

And this life is also light.

Jesus is the Light of the world.

Through that light we can see in the darkness which surrounds us,    we have a vision of life,

we can see the direction our lives need to follow…

New year has traditionally been a time for making a new start.

For following a new direction.

New year resolutions are made, and frequently broken in the first few days!

Or as someone very cynical once said

Don’t worry about keeping those New Year’s resolutions,  you only have to deal with them for a couple of months and then you can give them up for Lent!

Resolutions are good for the future, but they don’t deal with the wounds of the past and we carry those wounds into every  new year.

Like it or not, we brought the disaster that was 2020 into this new year of 2021.

And not only external wounds  like Covid-19 but also we carry around our internal wounds, our emotional baggage,

It’s part of being human

And no 31st December/1st January count down can magically make that emotional baggage disappear.

2020 was a mixed year for many….

But this new year could begin to provide healing  and I’m not just talking about the vaccine, welcome as it is…..

If we can identify those areas of relationship breakdown, failure and disappointment that appear to be OUTSIDE our control at present.

And having identified them,

not that we can actually forget about them ,

..but we can put them on the back burner until we can give some imaginative thought to solving them.

and then we might concentrate on the

actions that we CAN take,

words we can say NOW

attitudes we can cultivate NOW 

we can begin to do things that could possibly begin the healing process for us and any one we know who is suffering.

Jesus is very much a ‘new year’ person.

So many of the things he said are about turning what is damaged or incomplete into something new and hopeful.

He talked of helping blind people to see,

setting free captives,

turning enemies into friends,

bandaging wounds to heal them.

Remember in our pre-Christmas Gospel, in Luke, when the Angel tells Mary that nothing was impossible for God….

And perhaps it’s best summed up in one statement of Jesus  :

  ‘I make all things new.’

To those who believe, these words are both  an encouragement and a source of hope.

Let me remind you again of the words from the Collect of today

Almighty God, in the birth of your Son
you have poured on us the new light of your incarnate Word,
and shown us the fullness of your love:
Help us to walk in this light and dwell in his love
that we may know the fullness of his joy;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Jesus can help us to bring healing to the wounds in our lives

and in the lives of those around us.

We simply need to take the first steps.

Through that light of Christ we can see in the darkness which surrounds us,

we have a vision of life,  we can see the direction our lives need to follow…

and New Year seems to me like as good a time as any to begin.

Amen. 

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Sermon for Sunday 27th December 2020 , 1st Sunday of Christmas was, as is traditional in our parish , a photo presentation of all that we have done during the last year.

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Sermon for Sunday 20th December 2020, 4th Sunday of Advent

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The 4th Sunday of Advent,

The season that  gives us the opportunity and space to stop and think about all of the events leading up to the birth of Jesus.

Remember the first purple candle we lit and we honoured the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob….. then the next purple candle we remembered the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos

 then last week the pink Rejoice Candle , we thought particularly about John the Baptist…

All of these are people who prepared the way for the coming Christ

and now today we lit the final purple candle for the most important one of all, the woman who actually bore the Saviour. Mary.

In the gospel reading appointed for today,

we heard the words ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you…’

very important words from Luke, reminding us all of the wording of the Creation story in Genesis, when the Holy Spirit moves across the deep….

Underlining the cosmic importance of the birth of this child.

In Genesis it is the initial act of Creation

and now here in Luke’s gospel it speaks of the act of God in sending his own son into our human history.

Because Jesus didn’t just evolve into our human history…..

The words today express the transcendental origin of the history of Jesus and remind us of just who he is.

The Angel Gabriel sent by God to a small town in Galilee, to a virgin already betrothed to a man.

He calls her ‘favoured one’ and assures her that the Lord is with her.

Today is all about Mary….about her acceptance of what must have been a terrifying offer.

And yet as I always think she could have just said no!

For us now, it is kind of crazy to think about that and yet…

But luckily Mary, after a question or two, replies

‘let it me with me according to your word’

And she places her life in her God’s hands.

As we well know,  Mary didn’t say yes just once in her life…she continued to say yes to all that God asked of her.

Like Mary , who didn’t envisage the full implications of what she was assenting to ,

We also don’t know what lies ahead for us, I mean, this time last year, although we knew that there was some kind of sickness happening in Wuhan, who in their wildest thoughts would have predicted this Panemic and how our society would change…..

What we have to remember

and I’m sure you are sick of me reminding of this,

is that God is with us during whatever we go through, even this year, God was to be found, in kindness of strangers, in the quiet of the trafficless streets during lockdown, in the solidarity we felt with others .

We know God is with us because he sent his only son to us….because he loved us so much.

His son Jesus, our Emmanuel,  ‘God with us’  at all times.

The hymn O Come O Come Emmanuel, for me, really underlines the mystery and the majesty of this season of Advent.

The hymn positions us firmly in Advent… before Christ has come. We are the people in the darkness, knowing that a Saviour will come, and looking for clues in our scriptures about the one who is to be…

If you get a chance to listen properly to the words of this wonderful Advent hymn you’ll find the scriptures laid out for you , verse by verse

From the beginning, where Wisdom is wondering where to make her dwelling,

the Hebrew Covenant made in desert places of Sinai,

the well known words of the prophecies of Isaiah about  the line of David and the Saviour to come,

The hopeful cry of the beleaguered prophet Jeremiah, waiting for the yoke around the neck of the tribes of Israel to be finally loosened,

to the birth of our ‘long-expected’ Jesus.

It really is a wonderful hymn, reminding us of God’s promise of old and of the delivery of that promise….

Rejoice, Rejoice, Emmanuel shall come to thee ,  O Israel!

The whole theme during this time of Advent is that of Coming,     the Coming of Jesus,

from the Latin word ‘Adventus’ which means ‘coming’.

All of our thoughts through Patriarchs and Prophets, through the Baptist’s cry to Mary’s Yes,

Have been directed to the actual birth of our saviour.

We have prepared ourselves for the coming of Jesus as the Incarnation of God,  the manifestation of God among us as a human being.

‘God-with-us’  is exactly what Emmanuel means.

Our Advent Hope, indeed, the Advent miracle was that this unknowable, un-namable, utterly holy Lord, chose out of his own free will and out of love for us, to be known, to bear a name, and to meet us where we are.

Advent serves to remind us of the reason why Jesus was born among us in the first place

….to be our salvation, our wholeness.

He comes now

in his incarnation

to equip and ready us in order to meet him when he comes again

and when he comes again at the end of time

it will be ‘to judge the living and the dead’  

So Advent has elements of waiting, of preparation and of Judgement.

God, in Jesus, enters our daily life and calls us to follow him and be with him.

Past, Future and Present rolls together at this time.

God not only came in Jesus at Bethlehem,

God not only will come at the end of time to gather us all

But God also comes into our lives at every moment,

through every person

and in every experience.

In all of the experiences of our daily life, God is there.

Moulding us into the likeness of God,

Helping us become people of integrity and truth, of love and compassion, of freedom and peace.

When we think of God in Jesus being our Emmanuel, 

our God-with-us.

We make ourselves ready for him who is with us always.

He said himself  ‘I am with you always’ (Mt 28:20).

On this 4th Sunday of Advent, we look forward to his imminent arriving, his coming, his advent.

Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee O Israel.

Amen.

.

Sermon for Sunday 13th December 2020, 3rd Sunday of Advent

In the name of God, Father, Son , and Holy Spirit.

On the third Sunday of Advent in 2011, I was instituted into this Union of Parishes – 9 years ago!

Gaudete Sunday, Rejoice Sunday! Pink Candle day!

What a fantastic day to be instituted!

And I have to say that, 9 years on, even with this covid-19 riddled year – I am STILL rejoicing !

As you all already know, each week of Advent, we focus on a group of people or person who prepared for the coming of Christ.

You’ll remember that last week it was the Prophets? Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Amos etc.

And the week before we remembered the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David…

Well this week, the third Sunday of Advent,  it is now the turn of John the Baptist.

And he is very much with us in our gospel reading.

John always had tough words….. always spoke uncomfortable truths, He used to remind his listeners that while they pride themselves as being ‘children of Abraham’ it won’t save them from damnation.

John speaks the sort of truths that hit us right between the eye.

The ones we have been avoiding.

We could substitute the words ‘Children of Abraham’ with ‘Good, clean living Christians’ and perhaps understand what he was trying to say to them.

He was telling them that they couldn’t just sit on their laurels , they had to actually do something!

Very much like in the Book of James, when he says Faith without Action is just a load of straw (or something like straw!)

It is a terrible fact of life that there is always someone else who is in even greater need than you, so there is never any excuse for not finding someone to help.

John always pointed out these facts to his listeners….

No wonder that the people John the Baptist spoke to thought he was the Messiah.

But John immediately puts them right on that issue.

He tells them that the real Messiah will be much greater,

In fact John says the words that we all know so well…….he will not even be worthy to untie the thong of his sandals.

This was to say that John the Baptist is not only NOT the Messiah but will not even be good enough to be his SLAVE.

No ambiguity there!

As it says in our gospel ‘He (john) himself was not the light, but he came to testify TO the light’

Each week , we listen to what the gospel tells us to do.

It seems simple, its certainly not ambiguous

Love God, Love your neighbour as yourself

But somehow it gets difficult when we try to bring the gospel values into our own lives.

When it comes down to really affecting our own lives, we somehow fail to deliver.

We mean well but somehow we fail to take action….

I have said it before but I know when I am saying the general confession, it’s the bit about what I have left UNDONE that really bothers me.

Its fairly easy not to be a murderer, even an adulterer ,

But it’s the things that I should have done and didn’t that really trip me up.

But just like John the Baptist challenged his audience, we must also challenge ourselves.‘What should we be doing? How and more importantly WHO can we help?’

After all, Advent is a season of Penitence , and repentance calls for a change in behaviour and not just regret for the past.              

So, what must we do now?

We ask the question and in a funny way, we already know the answer.

If we listen carefully to ourselves,

What it is in our lives that must be addressed in order to actually effect the sort of change that Jesus requires in our world,

and that sort of sea change that John the Baptist is advocating.

I have always thought that we were luckier than the people listening to John the Baptist 2000 years ago.

After all WE have the Holy Spirit to help and guide us haven’t we?

John the Baptist was a very practical man.

And Christianity is a very practical and social religion.

Its not just a matter of God and me,

but of God , me and others.

In our epistle today,

what Paul says in his letter to the Thessalonians, can help us in our quest to know what we must do.

He writes,

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing , give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

So on this Gaudete Sunday,

this Rejoice Sunday,

this Sunday when we lit the Pink candle to remind us of the joyous nature of our faith,

Even in 2020 – Let us rejoice in the Lord always…..

Amen.

.

Sermon for Sunday 6th December 2020, 2nd Sunday of Advent

The Revd Tony Murphy preached on video.

Could I thank Canon Elaine for the opportunity of this special talk this morning to mark the anniversary of a sixth century Irish Saint

1:  In our COI prayer book on page 20 under  “Festival days” there is a list of 32 Holy Persons or events in the life of Our Saviour which are  a source of inspiration to us on our spiritual journey .

3 of these are Irish — two of whom— St Patrick,  and St Bridget  are  National Saints.

The third Holy Person , known as Columba,  or Colmcille, was born  on 7th December 521 -1500 years ago next December and to mark this ,beginning tomorrow and for the next 12 months there will be  commemorations organised by Foras Na Gaeilge in Ireland and  Bórd na Gáidhlig in Scotland.  to mark the 1500th anniversary of his birth.The name given at his Baptism was taken from the Latin Word for Dove which is Columba.  As Columba founded many Churches in his life time the Irish Word for Church “cill” is often used to complete the name   given us    Colm Cille

For the purpose of this talk I will confine myself to the name  Columba 

2: In trying to gain  insights into the life of a man who lived 1500 years ago we have problems getting accurate information .

The first account  on his life was written about 100 years after his death.  by Adomnán –who was  the eight Abbot of the first monastery which Columba had founded in Scotland — the monastery of Iona.  

In writing about the founder of his monastery Adomnan ‘s  simple purpose  –following  the tradition of his time –was to retell  stories of the Founders  life

-his  miracles, his prophecies, his battle against evil spirits—all  to prove that this man had supernatural powers and therefore to affirm that he was a Saint.

It is not ,nor was it intended to be , a critical examination of the life of the Saint .

We have two other sources which help ,

— other annals or stories of Irish History

and

Venerable Bede’s Ecclesiastical history of the English people written in the eight century.

However , throughout history, stories about Columb’s life were told again and again some have become so deeply embedded that it is hard to separate fact from fiction.

3: Columba’s Early Life

While Adomnán had no interest in Columba’s life before he brought his mission to Scotland in 563 ,we can construct a picture of his earlier life.

While he  was born about 80 years after St Patricks arrival in Ireland, paganism and pagan practices still remained and there is evidence that the most powerful  rulers continued the pagan practice of royal inauguration “the feast of Tara” . Columba  was a member of one of these  Ruling Families in the North of Ireland , the Northern Uí Néill’s

Indeed it is believed that Columba was not the name given to him at his birth.

As was the custom of the time Columba was fostered but significantly it was to a Priest called Cruithnechán . We can presume therefore at that time that the family were open to the Christian influence.

Adomnán believes that it was providential that he received the name Columba or Dove , as it is the same as the name of the  Prophet  Jonah (Dove in Hebrew) and, of course,  the Dove in scripture represents the Holy Spirit-as seen in the Baptism of Jesus and the Day of Pentecost.

The early years of Columba’s life were  marked by the growth of a monastic movement in Ireland. That is a religious way of life in which one renounces wordly pursuits to devote oneself fully to prayer and manual work. This movement can be traced to third century Egypt but took off significantly in Ireland in the early  years of the sixth century.

It was in this era that Columba trained as  a Deacon and a Priest .He received training mainly in Leinster under a number of prominent teachers at that time.

There is a gap of 15-20 years between Columba’s ordination and the year  563 when he left Ireland for Scotland.During that time  Columba must have been a very  inspirational figure as in that period he  founded in excess  of 26 Monastic Foundations in Ireland.

 The most famous of these was in Durrow which was founded in 553 and which, in a  later era , bestowed to us the illuminated manuscript -the Book of Durrow -which is still preserved in Trinity College Dublin.

4: The critical events, and the reason why we are marking him today, occurred  in Columba’s life occurred between 561 and 563.

In 561  a serious battle, with a  loss of thousands of lives, took place   between the Northern Ui Neill’s (Columba’s kinsmen) and  the opposing Southern Ui Neill’s overlord Diarmait mac Cerbaill. This battle resulted in the loss of Thousands of Lives. Columba is clearly associated with supporting his kinsmen.

According to legend the dispute arose over the ownership of the  copy  of a pslater copied by Columba. The Kings ruling was that the owner of the original book should also own the copy. The quote used is

 “to every cow belongs her calf, to every book a  copy”. Columba opposed this leading to the battle between his kinsmen and the Southern Ui Neill’s.

This is a figurative story but probably a myth.  

What is not a myth is that Columba believed that he has made a major mistake in associating his religious vocation and life with a warring faction caught up in battle.

An associated story  states that Columba was ordered by religious leaders in Ireland  to leave the country  and win a many souls to Christ as had been lost in battle.

What is clear is that Columba clearly regretted his actions and decided to cut the link between his association with a  major ruling group and his religious vocation.

The result of this crisis was that –131 years after Patrick brought the Christian message to Ireland— Columba was heading to Scotland on a  similar mission.

5: In  a very symbolic fashion Columba left Ireland on a boat with 12 followers. At that time the North East of Ireland (Co. Antrim) and the South West of Scotland was part of a united kingdom called Dal Riada, so Columba was not travelling into a totally unknown country.  However Columba based himself on the extreme Western Limit of Scotland in the island of Iona ,near the land occupied by the Picts who were mainly pagan .

From this base Columba founded a monastery in Iona  and continued his missionary work amongst the pagan people. We have accounts of Columba’s dealing with King Bridei of the Picts which compare to Patrick’s dealing with chiefs when he came to Ireland.

Columba is credited with being one the most significant  influence in introducing Christianity to Scotland .

Hymn 460 in our church Hymnal summarises this with the following verse

Your chosen priest ,Columba , sailed from his native land,

And reached the shores of Scotland with his companion band;

He preached the saving gospel to those who never knew

Your love and your compassion , your power to make lives new

Bord na Gaidhligh in Scotland are this year celebrating  a “Columba trail” marking places associated with his missionary work and  which shows his influence right across the country from  including  sites from  the East Coast of Scotland to the Outer Hebrides in the West.

While Columba’s influence in Iona and throughout Scotland is well known the Venerable Bede also reminds us of his influence in Northumbria in Northern England . One of his most famous followers was Aidan of Lindisfarne who is credited with introducing Christianity in Northumbria

A  final myth that has to be challenged is that Columba had no dealings with Ireland after his travel to Scotland. He retained interest in his Irish Foundations and attended a meeting in 590 outside Derry with the local rulers (p 27)

6: What is missing from the above accounts of the Saints life is a description of his spiritual life.Unlike Patrick, Columba left no written work. Adomnán on the other hand focuses on his powers.

 However –while we are left in the dark on some details–  we can acknowledge a young boy

  • who devoted his entire  life to Christ,
  • who committed himself to establishing numerous foundations to allow others follow the monastic life,
  • who humbly recognized at one point that he had compromised his religious vocation
  • who made amends by taking on new missionary challenges  far from his native land
  • finally who un stintingly devoted the final 34 years of his life to  living out the words of Matthew 28 :19 in spreading the word amongst the Picts and the Britons .

Surely this Saint Columba is an inspirational figure that deserves to be ranked equally with Patrick and Bridgit as amongst our great Irish saints .

I will conclude with the Collect for St Columba’s Day

O God, you called your servant Columba                                   

from among the princes of this land                                                      

to be a herald and evangelist of your kingdom:                                      Grant that your Church,                                                                    remembering his faith and courage,                                                    

may so proclaim the splendour of your grace                                          

 that people everywhere will come to know your Son,  

as their Saviour, and serve him as their King;                                             

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,  

one God, now and for ever.

Amen.

,

Sermon for Sunday 29th November 2020, First Sunday of Advent.

 Advent Sunday!

Today is the first Sunday of the Church’s new Liturgical Year – Year B, 

the 2nd Year in our 3 year cycle.

At the beginning of each liturgical year,

we are all invited to embark on a great journey. 

We set out to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

We will re-visit all the mysteries of his time on earth

From his expectation – which is really what Advent is all about after all.

To his birth,

Through the events of his life,

his violent death on the cross,

his glorious Resurrection and Ascension into heaven

and finally to his sending of the Holy Spirit.

In the course of this coming year

we will relive the whole story

We of course have heard the story many times

but our challenge every year is to see it as new and present and alive – not old and stale.

We must allow the celebration of each feast to bring back the event in its original clarity and vitality

We must never allow it to grow cold and lifeless.

And this year, this was particularly poignant as we tried to bring Holy Week alive by putting Palm crosses on the gates of our churches, by leaving on the lights overnight from Holy Saturday into Easter Sunday….

Red balloons blowing in the breeze at Pentecost….

And now, here we are… live streaming on Advent Sunday instead of being together at a United Service on this 5th Sunday of the month!

But the liturgical year goes on, even with lockdown and so today we celebrate the first day of Advent, as if we are all together here in the building….

During the next four weeks, whether we make it into an actual service in person or connect online,

we will all wait   and we will all watch

and we will all prepare yet again to celebrate our belief in the birth of Jesus Christ,   the One we believe to be God.

In this season, I always remind us that there is uncertainty as to what the dominant theme of Advent should be,

Should it be focussed on the traditional ‘last things’

the end of the world, the general Resurrection, the last judgement? Very much the focus of our Gospel today

Or should it be a period of preparation for the feast of the Incarnation? I have to admit this would be my bias.

But in fact, it gets even more complicated as we think about not two but three comings!….

The 1st coming of the baby Jesus into our world,

The 2nd coming of Christ in glory at the end of times

And that 3rd most important ‘coming’ ,

the coming of Jesus into our minds and hearts every single day,

I read once that by focusing too much on the 2nd coming, waiting on the return of Christ,  we miss that all important 3rd coming, and that can certainly be the case in life … we are so worried about the future or guilty about the past that we don’t notice how good the present is!

In our gospel today, Jesus warns us about trying to second guess when the 2nd coming will be!

‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the son, but only the Father.

While we are , of course, meant to be alert,

It’s not the Skies we are supposed to be watching during Advent,

We are meant to be watching our lives!

And in watching, or we might say, examining our lives,

we remember that, notwithstanding all the Advent calendars that abound,

actually Advent is not just about counting down to Christmas,

but is in fact about taking account of our lives.

Advent is after all a penitential season…..just like Lent.

The fasting before the feasting…

That’s why the liturgical colour is purple,

the colour of penitence.

And Penance is about conversion,

About changing direction, about turning.

We have to turn from the old to more fully embrace the new.

The old in this case is our current, sometimes deeply unsatisfying lives

and the new being a more fulfilling life in Jesus.

We turn from sin so that we may belong more fully to God.

We do tend to overlook the penitence side of Advent,

It’s really hard to think Lenten thoughts in Advent ,even this year, what with all the Ads on Telly , especially the food shop ads, with cakes dripping out yummy warm chocolate and so on!

But while we are not required to slip into our Sackcloth and ashes …We do need to constantly remind ourselves  that Advent is not just about a slide into Christmas

Not that we would fall into that trap THIS year!

These days of Advent are not just reminders to us to think about what presents we will be giving this year.

Advent is a time for turning,

For facing in the right direction

A time for a seasonal push,

for a new and determined effort to improve our spiritual lives.

I often say this but it can perhaps mean just taking on one new habit or discipline, just one thing….

Think about it….. during this coming four weeks, we could set aside a couple of minutes every day to pray

Or we could make up with someone we have fallen out with

Or if we are allowed, we could visit someone that we know feels lonely…. Or at least give them a ring?

Or we could put aside some of the money we have earmarked for presents and instead give it to charity

or we could go to the Zoom Series of Advent Talks maybe?

The link is in the Pewsheet email sent out to everyone or just give me a shout.

Or even just change the background on our screens to an Advent theme to remind us each day ….

Advent, when we truly enter into it, can really help  to remind us of the reason why Jesus was born among us in the first place….to be our salvation, our wholeness.


He comes NOW in his incarnation to equip and ready us to meet him when he comes AGAIN at the end of time

to judge the living and the dead’  

God, in Jesus, enters our daily life and calls us to follow him and be with him, or as the Gospel today puts it ‘Keep Awake’.

God not only came in Jesus at Bethlehem,

God not only will come at the end of time to gather us all to himself,

But God comes into our lives at every moment, through every person and experience.

In all of the experiences of our daily life, God is there.

We need to allow him to mould us into his likeness, into the likeness of God,

Let us allow him to help us become people of integrity and truth, of love and compassion, of freedom and peace.

For God in Jesus is our Emmanuel, 

our God-with-us.

As today we look forward to his coming, his advent.

We acknowledge that he is already here…..

Welcome to Advent , where it is said that everything is charged with the beauty and grandeur of God. 

Yes, even this year!

Allow yourselves to be open to his glory!   Amen.



Sermon for Sunday 22nd November 2020, last Sunday before Advent, the Kingship of Christ

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

At last we come to the end of the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel and the end of this cycle of Church Year A! (In year B we read mainly Mark, then year C it’s mainly Luke and of course John is found throughout all the years, especially on High Holy Days!)

The readings today are those appointed for Christ the King, which we traditionally celebrate on this Sunday, the last Sunday before Advent.

In year A of the lectionary, Matthew’s gospel can be tough, full of outer darknesses and weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Proclaiming God’s word in Matthew is a weighty task as we have had to wrestle with images of wasted talents & lost opportunities….  and now today sheep and goats.

In our first reading, from the book of the prophet Ezekiel,

we hear God saying ‘I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out’  ‘I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak’.

In  Matthews gospel, carrying on the ovine theme,

Jesus divides humanity into two ovine categories – sheep and goats.

Speaking to the sheep , Jesus commends them for the way they have lived their lives,

They have fed the hungry, clothed the naked, took care of the sick.

But the Goats were a different matter, Jesus turns and condemns them.

He tells them that they have breezed through their lives without thinking about their less fortunate sisters and brothers.

The shocking point of it is that Jesus tells them that the person they were helping

or in the case of the Goats – not helping,

was in fact Jesus himself!

He was truly present in every person they met,

He is telling us that if we wanted to be counted among the sheep rather than the goats,   we have to be actively loving, regardless of the response.

For this is the way God loves us…. That is what Ezekiel was trying to tell us with the Shepherd analogy.

Jesus says its not enough for us to say

As sure, I’m a good enough Christian’

He expects us to go out of our way and reach out in love  – especially to those in need.

This is the King we are called to serve,

and the way he wants to be served is for us to be filled with care and compassion for sisters and brothers everywhere.

Isn’t it amazing after all the great theological sermons preached all through the year that now

at the very end of our liturgical year

it all comes down to feeding the hungry,

clothing the naked and giving drink to the thirsty!

So what are we ?

Goats or Sheep?

I suppose you could say it depends on what day of the week it is!

Perhaps we are very sheep-like on Sundays, listening with interest to the Word of God and praying with feeling

Perhaps a little less so early on Monday Morning, as normal life crowds back in on us, up early, making lunches for children to bring to school, out in sometimes chaotic traffic, especially when it rains!

Not to mention sweating in our facemasks in the shops….

All these things perhaps brings out the goat in us!

There is a story I’ve told you before but its a good one I think…..

Its about a Sunday School teacher telling the children about our gospel passage of sheep and goats,

and the teacher asked the children  “If all the bad people in the world were painted green and all the good people painted red, what color would you be?”

One clever little child put up their hand and said “Striped,”

And I think if we were honest, Striped  would be the colour for all of us.

We all have a Goat side that can perhaps walk past people who have their hand out……

Perhaps we make the excuses

 ‘I have no money in my pocket and I don’t want to have to take my purse out on this street in the middle of the city’

But we could always think ahead and put money in our pockets to make it easier?

Even better, we could start up a regular giving to one of the agencies who look after homeless people?

And it is our Goat side that regularly allows US to divide other people up into Sheep and Goats

when we KNOW that this is only for God to do!

The book of James reminds us that

‘Love and Mercy always trumps over Judgement’

Poverty, violence, and injustice so pervade our world that even the saints among us sometimes avert their eyes,

pass by on the other side, and fail to respond to the suffering around us.

And then we ask  “When did we see you?”

In Matthew’s scene of the Last Judgement,

Christ is portrayed as a stern King and Judge.

But this image shouldn’t be over-emphasised….

Matthew tended on the harsh side, no doubt because of the trials he and his community were living through…..

But the prophet Ezekiel in our first reading has a gentler image of God – that of a good shepherd who, while caring for all the sheep in his flock, shows particular care for the weak and wounded ones. … our first hymn ‘The king of love my shepherd is, his goodness faileth never’ says it all.

And it was this image of a shepherd that Christ himself used to describe his person and his mission.

And we , his followers, show that we truly belong to his Kingdom by our service of the ‘little ones’

Somebody once said that a relationship with God is not a matter of having faith but of doing faith.

And that

‘We are not saved by deeds… but we are saved FOR deeds’

The picture of the Judgment in the Gospel reading today shouldn’t fill us with fear and trembling.

It should instead present a challenge to us about what we are going to do …. today… tomorrow… next week

We can begin our week by being open to God’s promptings and insights into how each one of us can become more  loving, caring and tolerant people.

If we would be disciples and stewards of God’s gracious gifts, then we must listen and look for the Spirit’s leading and be willing to go beyond our comfort zones.

There will be calls to action,

nudges to go to places we normally wouldn’t think about going, and hints about how to best use our time, talents, and resources.

Be open to the promptings from the Holy Spirit….

It is worth remembering that each one of us is vital to the building up of God’s Kingdom!

As the well known Quaker saying goes….

A great amount of light is produced by a thousand small candles!

Amen!

SERMONS FOR 15TH NOVEMBER 2020, 2ND SUNDAY BEFORE ADVENT

See player below for Canon Andrew’s Sermon

Sermon by Canon Andrew

The Sermon preached by Canon Elaine

In the name of God Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Thank you to Canon Andrew Orr for inviting me to speak to you all today… you swapped one canon for another!

My name is Elaine Murray and I am the rector of the Carrigaline Union. I’ve lived in Cork for 9 years now so am just about getting to understand the city accent!

In our Gospel reading today,

Jesus tells us the story called the Parable of the Talents.

In Jesus’ story, a man was going away on a trip so he called his servants together and gave each some of his money to use while he was gone.

Its brilliant that the name for the money was ‘talents’ as we nowadays use the word ‘talents’ to mean our gifts and the things that we do well..

But I started thinking about the Talent as an actual monetary thing and so looked up Wikipedia…. As you do!

Some authorities say that the talent typically weighed about 33 kg (75 lb) varying from 20 to 40 kg. In February, 2016, the international price of gold was about US$1190 per troy ounce. One gram costs about $38. At this price, a talent (33 kg) would be worth about $1.25 million.

Somehow I had always assumed each talent was about a tenner or something….

so the parable is not such a simple one after all….

but perhaps gives us a good idea of what God has actually done in us…. 

A Parable is a short story that teaches a moral or spiritual lesson. … and an Allegory is work of art that can reveal a hidden meaning, usually of moral importance.

In a story, this usually involves characters, settings, and/or events that represent other issues

So this particular parable is also an allegory, as we are obviously meant to identify the servants as being like us, that God has given each of us talents to use in building His kingdom.

We clearly don’t all have the same talents,

but God does expect us to use whatever talents He has given to us.

As the parable tells us

If we do use our talents , He will give us even more,

and if we don’t use them , He may take them away and give them to someone who WILL use them.

Sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it but that’s how it goes…..

as the saying goes  ‘Use it or lose it!

We have to make our life count…. not be like sleepwalkers drifting through our lives

In the epistle reading assigned for today, from the letter of Paul to the Thessalonians, Paul is telling the small Christian Community there not to live like there is no tomorrow.

And in the gospel of Matthew, as I have already said, 

we are warned against not using our abilities or the talents that we have been given.

Paul tells us in his letter to the Thessalonians that we don’t know when the end will come, so we should just prepare for the second coming by simply living our life fully ….by focusing on the present time, …….on today

The small Christian group in Thessalonia had lost sight of this,  remember, they would have thought that Jesus was going to return in the very near future…

In their own lifetime

(Actually we tend to think the opposite , interestingly enough….but that’s another day’s sermon! )

Paul tells the fledging Christian community to live in the now..     He says  ‘Do not let us fall asleep as others do,

but let US keep awake and sober…..’.

We are required to focus not on the future…

But on the present, the now

Christ is always present

always at the centre of our lives

We have to seek him and find him in all things

In every person, in every place, every experience.

in the Now

We are also told that we are expected to go out of our way and reach out in love  – especially to those in need, indeed this is exactly what Paul says today

‘encourage one another and build up each other’

We are meant to USE our talents, for others, not hide them away out of sight.

Use them to enrich our lives and the lives of those around us.

Next Sunday is ‘Christ the King’, the last day in our liturgical year, when we remember that our saviour was a King

but not like other Kings,

the King we are called to serve,

is himself a servant of all,

And he has told us that the way he wants to be served is for us to be filled with care and compassion for sisters and brothers everywhere.

Years ago when I lived in Greystones, one of the parishioners organised this fundraiser based on the parable of the talents we have heard today.

It worked very simply and perhaps worth trying ……

People , if they wished, were given seed money ,

I think it was just 10 pounds (this was pre Euro!),

Anyway, with this 10 pounds from the Parish, people then  used their own talents to invest it in something.

For instance, one woman was known in the parish for her fantastic Pavlovas, so with her tenner she bought eggs & sugar & fruit for the first one or two pavlovas, sold them, bought more ingredients , sold them, and so on.

Actually, Carol had to call a halt after a couple of weeks because she was exhausted.

Everyone who had ever tasted one of her pavlovas were booking one (me included!)

She made quite a bit of money on that for the parish.

Someone else used the money to buy little gifts to give as prizes and advertised a Dog Show in the School for children. This was very popular and I think was the 2nd highest grossing project. As far as I can remember this was the Rector’s daughter.

The one that made the most money was one of the parishioners was a musician with RTE Orchestra and she bought music paper and quality pens with her seed money and she copied musical scores by hand and sold them to her fellow musicians, apparently the handwritten ones are more valued than any photocopies!

And I know you will ask….

Well I bought some nice quality paper for the printer and some coloured raffia to hold it together and typed up Irish Ballads into  Booklets which I then sent over to my Sister in Holland who owns an Irish Pub.

She sold them to ex patriate Irish people and we made a pretty profit from their homesickness…. very mercenary I know but I had lived in Holland for years and so I knew my market well!

My point is that we all have talents, which were given to us by God to be USED….

So think hard about what it is that you can do well, and think about how to use your talent in this community so that we are all the richer for it.

For what better honour can we give to God than to make sure that we use our God given talents to advance God’s kingdom in this world.

Amen.

SERMON FOR 8TH NOVEMBER 2020, REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY

In the name of God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Traditionally on this particular day,

the second Sunday in November, called Remembrance Sunday in Anglican churches throughout the world,

we remember with gratitude and respect all of the men and women who have died in all of the wars and conflicts of the last 100 years.

And this is exactly what we did at the beginning of the Service today. We had a short Act of Remembrance, a minute silence and the Last Post was played as we remembered those who died.

For years they called that 1914-1918 war, ‘the Great War’ or the ‘War to end all Wars’…. That was until World War II of course… then they had to start calling it World War I….

Nowadays I have read historians who have made the observation that really the years between the two wars were just a long truce…. 

The unfinished business of the great war eventually festered and bubbled up

the economic collapse of Germany and the rise of Hitler

& the volatility and instability of all of the carved up Ottoman lands

& unbridled Japanese military expansionism

All contributing to bring to civilization the horrors of the second World War..

But on Remembrance Sunday, we tend to mainly focus on WWI,

For it was the first time that war was on such a global scale

Where you had the obscenity of young men from the far flung parts of the then British Empire : New Zealand , Australia , India , Africa and Canada,

Travelling so far from their homes to die in the fields of Belgium and Northern France along with their English , Scottish, Welsh and Irish comrades…..

and with their German empire and Austrian empire ‘enemies’

We also found soldiers from these Islands dying in faraway Turkey,

in exotic sounding places like Suvla Bay or Gallipolli

Dying together with their ‘enemies’ from the Ottoman Empire, Turks yes … but also Arabs, Kurds, Greeks, Armenians and other ethnic minorities.

All of them so far from their own homes and families, caught up in the horror of war.

Back in the late 80s / early 90s , when we lived in Holland, we visited an Irish friend who was then living and working in Lille in northern France

and we all went to Ypres in West Flanders / Belgium for a day trip.

It was the first time I had ever been to a WWI Battle field, with its vast cemeteries and the shocking little white crosses.

I had learned all about the battles in history classes but growing up in an Irish Republican family, I never heard of any great uncles who had died at the Somme or Suvla Bay. 

World War I had never been personal for me… until that day….

30 years later, I can still vividly remember the shock seeing all of the graves of young Maori men, aged 17 & 18, buried thousands of miles away from their New Zealand homes.

I remember thinking that no-one related to them would probably ever pray over their graves … and so I said prayers for them

I even took  photos of their graves and posted them over to a New Zealand friend so that just a little bit of them would finally be home.

I don’t know why I was so sad about them dying so far from home but thinking back it was probably something to do with the fact that I was homesick for my home – Ireland – at that same time.

All I know is that I felt the full horror of the displacement of those young men, wrenched from their countries to die in the appalling mud and horror of the killing fields of Flanders….

And then in 1918, after 4 terrible years of war where millions were killed, a peace was finally signed.

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month……

at 11am on 11th November 1918, the Armistice was signed, calling a halt to the atrocities of this terrible war.  

But unfortunately this wasn’t the war to end all wars …….they never are.  We still have wars……and people are still dying,

but today is Remembrance Sunday

and so today we remember the people that died

because they truly believed that by doing this, they were ensuring that no more people after them should die in wars.

Today is all about remembering….

And the symbol of the poppy helps us to remember..

But like everything else in life, it’s complicated……

Poppy wearing has become more and more politicised…..

The poppy has a long association with Remembrance Day.

The distinctive red flower became over the years a potent symbol of  remembrance of the sacrifices made in past wars

Scarlet corn poppies (popaver rhoeas) grow naturally in conditions of disturbed earth throughout Western Europe.

The destruction brought by the war transformed bare land into fields of blood red poppies, growing around the bodies of the fallen soldiers.

Once the conflict was over the poppy was one of the only plants to grow on the otherwise barren battlefields.

The significance of the poppy as a lasting memorial symbol to the fallen was realised by the Canadian surgeon John McCrae in his poem In Flanders Fields. The poppy came to represent the immeasurable sacrifice made by his comrades and quickly became a lasting memorial to those who died in World War One and later conflicts.

It was adopted by The Royal British Legion as the symbol for their Poppy Appeal, in aid of those serving in the British Armed Forces, after its formation in 1921.

But over the years, poppy wearing has become more and more politicised…..

When you look at the TV,   Sky, or the BBC and any of the British channels , it seems that they don’t allow ANYONE to appear on TV without a poppy! And it begins earlier and earlier each year… I spotted my first TV poppy in early October this year!… and how ridiculous are the poppy-bedecked dancers on Strictly!

It seems like they are more used now as a Recruiting tool for the British Army rather than to help us remember those who have died.

This was the also the worry that led to the development of the White Poppy , which was first introduced by the Women’s Co-operative Guild way back in 1933… and just think of what was also happening in 1933 – Adolf Hitler elected as Chancellor of Germany!

The white poppy being intended as a lasting symbol for peace and an end to all wars.

The White Poppy had to be produced by the Co-operative Wholesale Society because the Royal British Legion had refused to be associated with its manufacture.

While the White Poppy was certainly never intended to offend the memory of those who died in the ‘Great War’, many veterans felt that its significance undermined their contribution and the lasting meaning of the red poppy. The White Poppy was intended to be a symbol of “all victims of war”, including enemy soldiers, civilians, and the women left behind when their fathers, husbands or brothers were killed. Such was the seriousness of this issue that some women actually lost their jobs in the 1930s for wearing white poppies. The White Poppy Appeal is now run by the Peace Pledge Union.

So in all of our church service today, whether we wear red or white Poppies or no Poppies at all, we are remembering all of the men and women and children who died in the wars over the last 100 years and we are most definitely not glorifying wars…..far from it.

No-one, maybe apart from Warmongering Politicians and Armament manufacturers, actually ever wants wars to begin  

but we have to recognise that wars have happened and unfortunately

will happen and that, for the most part,  the ordinary soldiers who fight in these wars do so because they feel that they must defend their countries against a greater evil.

The horror of what these men and women must have gone through, back then, in the trenches of the fields of Flanders, on the beaches of Turkey. Watching your comrades suffer and die or be maimed for life. Watching Politicians taking your sacrifice and using it for political gains.

And of course in our Irish context, coming back after that war,  to a very different Ireland than the one they left.

An Ireland where they were reviled by many for taking the King’s Shilling.

I thank God that in 2020, for the most part, we have moved beyond that tribalism in so many ways.

We know that war is always a failure, a failure to find a way, a failure to communicate, to compromise,

But I believe that we should remember….remember the sacrifices,

the hardship, the heartbroken, the horror , the suffering and the painful memories…. of all sides.

Remembering is important …. Because it informs the present

And that is SO important. 

Today, injustices still occur, war still rages in various parts of the world, people are still dying horribly, needlessly, where the natural order has broken down…. 

Just one example perhaps, which came up at our Bible Study the other night…. The situation in Nagorno-Karabakh.  

The Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is an ethnic and territorial conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh, inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians,

This latest escalation has been going on for a month now and has been marked by the deployment of drones, sensors, long-range heavy artillery and missile strikes – modern weapons but an age old dispute…. Russia and Turkey involved in the background, the seeds of this particular war were sown back in the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after WWI!

Stepping back from the world view to the personal, can we do anything else apart from remembering?

our own small steps towards a more peaceful society and world?

Can we advance a way of living in peace with our neighbours?

We can certainly step in where we see injustice, in whatever sphere we find ourselves.

Why should we accept a world where people are exploited?,

where big businesses decide foreign policy to suit themselves?

We can advance the process of peace in our own patch of the world in many small ways,

… by having a civil word to say to that person whom nobody else has the time of day for, the person in our community who has no voice, by even being aware of who in OUR society is being marginalized and why!

… by being part of international justice groups like Amnesty or Human Rights Watch, showing our solidarity with those who are ignored by the great powers of the world.

Even in our limited Covid-19 world, you can be a keyboard warrior!

We can vote with our money by choosing not to buy goods produced by Multinationals who interfere in the internal politics of small dependent countries… again, be aware!

And we can pray

and in praying,  we can be with them in their pain.

For what is our alternative ?

to just remember the sacrifices of the past each second Sunday of November and then for the rest of the year ignore what is currently happening?

Our small actions and our intercessions bring us into a great worldwide fellowship of the spirit.

Human life becomes living when people are there for each other,

Life in the spirit becomes a living life when people pray for each other.

When I lived in Holland, I ended up making several trips to the old battlegrounds,

When I visited Arnhem I was amazed at how ordinary that famous bridge looked. The bridge where so many people had died. The famous ‘Bridge too far’

I would like to finish this rather long sermon by reading something that Jurgen Moltmann, a respected German theologian , wrote.

Moltmann had served in the German army in World War II and was a prisoner of war in England for many years,

He writes about an experience he had when he was still a  prisoner being held in a German Prisoner of War Camp in Scotland in 1947.

He said  

Then a group of Dutch students came and asked to speak to us officially. Again I was frightened, for I had fought in Holland, in the battle for the Arnhem bridge. 

The Dutch students told us that Christ was the bridge on which they could cross to us, and that without Christ they would not be talking to us at all. They told of the Gestapo terror, the loss of their Jewish friends, and the destruction of their homes.

We too could step onto this bridge which Christ had built from them to us, and could confess the guilt of our people and ask for reconciliation.

At the end we all embraced. For me that was an hour of liberation. I was able to breathe again, felt like a human being once more, and returned cheerfully to the camp behind the barbed wire. The question of how long the captivity was going to last no longer bothered me.

Christ’s bridge is always here.

As we remember those from our past in respect and gratitude

Let us , at the same time , in our present , have the wisdom and courage to step onto Christ’s bridge of peace between people.

AMEN.

SERMON FOR 1ST NOVEMBER 2020, ALL SAINTS’ DAY

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The month of November is traditionally the time we remember our dead.

But of course you could say that we remember them all the time don’t we?

But in November , we think of them in a more spiritual way somehow.

Last night was All Hallows Eve – Halloween

Today is All Hallows… All Saints’

Tomorrow is All Souls…

This is where the tradition of remembering the dead in November originally came from

and of course when the Armistice was signed on 11th November 2018, ending those years of carnage in the first World War, it was most natural that the dead of all those horrific wars should be remembered in November as well.

Remembering…..   Middle English: from Old French remembrer, from late Latin rememorari ‘call to mind’, from re- (expressing intensive force) + Latin memor ‘mindful’

My Parents are both dead 50 years but they are still fresh in my mind and that is I’m sure the case for all of you with your own loved ones and those we remember today.

They remain with us,

In our expressions ,

in our turn of phrases ,

In our thoughts,

In our dreams,

We see our dead relatives in our children too,

I often see my Father living on in my Son,

he can sound so like him at times and he never even knew him!

But we shouldn’t be surprised that our dead,

recent and in the distant past,

are still with us so tangibly.

If we think about the words we say just before the Sanctus during our Eucharist Service, the words indeed we will be saying a little later in this Service,

and so with all your people,
with angels and archangels,
and with all the company of heaven,
we proclaim your great and glorious name,
for ever praising you and saying:

Holy , Holy, Holy ……

This then is what we are charged to do each time we celebrate the Eucharist together, and not just on All Saints’ Day!

We are charged with joining with the angels , the saints and all the company of heaven, and together saying Holy Holy Holy….

Joining with all of them in adoration of our God.

Our God of the living and the dead.

The Orthodox churches have a beautiful tradition of painting all of the saints around their domed ceilings

so that if you look up the first row around are the ordinary departed,

then the saints, and above them the Apostles

and finally Christ himself is represented.

I think this is a wonderful image,

and I like you to try and pretend that , wherever you are, your room has the same sort of imagery

and that if you looked up you would see them all smiling down at us,

Happy that they are being remembered

and even more happy that they will soon be saying

Holy Holy Holy along with us.

I am going to now light these candles … people have gotten in touch with me with names they would like remembered during this All Saints’ Day Service so I will light all the Candles and then I will say the names.

Later on today, I will place these candles out in our Graveyard … to remember.

Amen.

Names read out at the Service on 1st November 2020

Graeme Moore

Helen Morgan

Joan Gollock  

Brian Mott

Carmel Kelly

John O’Callaghan

Andrew Willis

Ann Meagher,

Linda & Edwin Lee 

Jean Withrington

John Sweeney

Hodder & Noelle Roberts

John & Grace Bryan

Lily Salter

Denis McLoughlin

Gerard Murphy     

Gary Keefe

Gladys Miller

Michael, David & DeeDee Dorman

Ruth Kingston

Hilda Earnshaw     

Christine Kirk

McAdoo Family      

Cecil Smith

James Eady

Anne Draper  

Bill, Greta & Baby Ann

Clem Carrol    

Deirdre & Basil McCrea

Barry Collins 

Sean Murray

Kathleen & Billy Murray

Barbara Doyle

Tom O’Leary

Art & Maura O’Leary

Nan & Phil O’Kelly

Roseleen & Charlie Murphy

David Coles

And those who have died in the previous year from Monkstown Golf Club (Where in normal times I would have been with Fr Sean for a Mass in the Golf Club)

Dermot Barron, Breda Johnson, Catherine Reynolds, George O’Sullivan, Adrian Murnane, Noelle Cronin, Ebbie McCarthy, Tom Egan, Des Wixted, Thomas Jackson, Frank O’Shea, Phyl O’Callaghan, Peig O’Brien Busteed

May they rest in peace.

SERMON FOR 25TH OCTOBER 2020, BIBLE SUNDAY

On the final Sunday before we have the countdown to Advent, there is provision in the lectionary to use the readings for Bible Sunday …. I don’t do this every year but I thought it might be good this year.

The Bible…. Not just one book of course, but a whole library, written over millennium , in vastly different cultural settings , for vastly different sets of readers.

Our holy book, our Scriptures….

Paul said ‘For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope’

When Paul spoke of scriptures, he was of course speaking about the Old Testament

or as the scholars nowadays tend to call them

– the Hebrew Scriptures.

These were the Scriptures that Paul knew so well, the Scriptures that Jesus knew and quoted from …..

The old testament…..

Our Theology Professor in the College used to say to any of his students who overlooked the Old Testament’s importance

‘Ah! so the Bible that Jesus knew and loved is not good enough for you?’

That used to do the trick!

When Paul wrote the words I quoted , in his letter to the Christian community in Rome,
He was making the vital point that Christian fellowship should be marked by the study of scripture,

and from that study of scripture the Christian then draws encouragement. … a circular relationship, the more you study the bible, the more you will be encouraged , the more you study and enjoy and learn and apply and so on….

Paul was highlighting that our Scriptures provides us with a record of Gods dealing with the nation of Israel,  

reminding us of the great and precious promises of God.

The promises of a God who never breaks his word.

In the same way scripture gives us comfort in our sorrow and hope or encouragement in our struggle.

It shouldn’t be viewed as a chore……Scripture is meant to be savoured….

Psalm 119, which we had a portion of already today, has a verse 162 which says

‘I rejoice at your word

   like one who finds great spoil’

Isn’t that lovely?

It’s meant to be a treasure to be found and enjoyed

not a task or toil to be just gotten through.…..

Of course, we now have an even larger collection of scripture than Paul did….

In fact I often wonder what Paul would think of the fact that we now read his letters with the same reverence as he once read his beloved ‘scripture’?

I’d say he’d be horrified!… I know he wrote the letters as instructional documents but to raise them to the same level as the Prophets or the Psalms would have left Paul baffled!

Our collect today was the one for ‘Bible Sunday’ on Page 336 of our prayer books.  

The words are familiar to us….

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, help us to hear them

To read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them,

That, through patience, and the comfort of your holy word

We may embrace and for ever hold fast

The hope of everlasting life

Which you have given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ.

To hear them,

to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them,

…..there is so much in this one sentence.

All my life, I have loved reading and I made sure to teach my own children the gift of reading so that they too would enjoy books,

This is also the way I feel about the bible. 

I get so much out of it that I can’t help but try and encourage others to take up the habit.

Mind you, it is now a requirement of my job so it’s probably just as well!

A good few years ago now when the daughter of our friend was 3,  I bought her a little Bible.

It had gorgeous colour drawings and simple words in it.

It was so cute, it even had a little handle to carry it around.

But what impressed me most about it at the time and the reason I chose it, was that at the end of each little story, the actual bible reference was printed so that any interested adult reading the book for a child could then look up the chapter and verse for themselves.

We hear the words of scripture every Sunday, but in order to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words,

we actually need to pick up a bible and read it for ourselves.

As the saying goes… no one ever got drunk on the description of wine!

We need to pick up our bibles and read them….

We all know this and we all probably would like to do this

and yet I’d hazard a guess that most of us don’t actually pick up the Bible and read it.  

Why is this?

Is it because we have tried to do just that several times already in our lives?

We probably began at the beginning with the book of  Genesis and then got bogged down in the different language and society portrayed?

Eventually giving up in despair somewhere among the awful dense and practically unintelligible Laws in the book of Leviticus.

And yet we really DO want to know what God is trying to say to us through his living word.

I have some ideas of what we can do …

It’s a question of approaching this LIBRARY of books in a sensible way.

I’ve brought along some books with me today that can help us to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Bible,

These are books around that point out the different customs and attitudes that we are coming across,

helping us to understand the word of God in the context of the time it was written.

The cultural norms of the time, which when the words were written would have been obvious to the people it was written for but after a gap of two millennium the distinctions are literally lost in time.

Some of these books are aimed at young people but hey! They work for me! I’m sure they’ll work for you!

‘People of the Bible’ – Tells us all about life and customs of the time. This kind of book really enrichs our understanding, it makes the people real somehow.

(and in a way this is what I am trying to do with the Fuzzy Felt board each week!)

When I used to teach the Church of Ireland children in the Educate Together in Kilkenny , they used to  call this book the ‘Magic Book’

It has these lovely maps that are in black and white until you pull them out and then they become coloured, really useful for showing where the events of the bible took place…  

Theres maps of the journey of Abraham, the Israelites journey through the desert, Jesus’ travels through Palestine… or this one  – Paul’s travels …. Giving us a great understanding of who Paul was writing to in his letters.

Along with understanding more about the culture and times, there are also fabulous commentaries available on every one of the 66 books in the Bible.

Most good commentaries will walk with you sentence by sentence and explain perhaps archaic language,

or highlight the animosities that might have existed that are not mentioned but that the original readers would have been aware of , for instance, the hostility that existed between the Samaritans and the Jews,

If you don’t know about that,  then the Woman at the Well story just doesn’t have the punch it should have…

We need to be aware of just how much Jesus was pushing the boundaries,  breaking down the taboos,  by talking to a Samaritan woman in broad daylight.. or which Empire was in occupation when which Prophet was writing… vital knowledge to put the text into context.

It’s really just a question of seeking out the right book to suit you and to help you understand what you are reading…. Talk to me if you’d like a recommendation.

… and believe me, there are endless books written about the Bible, not even to mention all that is available on the internet!

I mean , I even have a book which has paintings of each flower of the Holy Land that Jesus may have stepped on during his life!

Another good idea for exploring the gems that are in the Bible is of course to join the bible study groups in the parish. We have one going at the moment that is exploring the Book of Job, a difficult enough book to read on your own but endlessly rewarding if you put the effort into it (or at least I  think so, perhaps you should check with any of the others that have joined in!)

I actually believe that it’s easier at the moment to connect with these type of study groups… you can just zoom in from the comfort of your own home. No getting up and leaving the lovely fire to travel to a drafty parish hall..  

There is only two more weeks of the book of Job bible study but I will be doing another one for Advent so keep your eye out for details.

By being part of such groups, we can enjoy ‘good’ company while we explore the ‘Good Book’.

The interaction and discussion within such a group can be very helpful to growing in our Christian faith.

But the main thing to remember from this sermon today is that we don’t have to pick up the Bible, open it at Genesis and plow on grimly through it.  

Any effort at all will repay so much more that the amount of energy expended.

The scriptures have been written and preserved not just to give us the information that shapes our thinking but also to enable the faith that directs our living.

The scriptures tell us what we need to know about God and ourselves so that our lives can find their meaning and become satisfying and productive.

And I will finish by reminding you of the wonderful blessing we use all the time in Morning Prayer,

these are words that come at the end of Paul’s letter to the little Christian Community living in Rome….

Reminding that group of fledgling Christians that above all things, as Christians we are called to be people of hope!

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

AMEN

SERMON FOR ST LUKE’S FEAST DAY , 18th October 2020

The Parish Prayer and Healing Group

Now that you have heard from the wonderful group of people who help me with ministry of healing in our parish, I thought that you might be interested in just a little history about the Healing Ministry in the Church of Ireland.

It’s almost 90 years ago that the Reverend Noel Waring first established the Ministry of Healing in the Church of Ireland.. back in 1932. 

At that time he received a lot of support and encouragement from the then Archbishop of Dublin, Archbishop Gregg.

Since then, CMH (Churches Ministry of Healing) has developed and encouraged this important dimension of the Church’s wider ministry throughout Ireland.

CMH’s practices and promotes Christ’s example of well–being, compassion, forgiveness, and reconciliation in order to nurture inward peace within ourselves and others.

Their aims are to educate, to encourage, to co–ordinate, to provide and to resource.

Although their primary responsibility is to the dioceses and parishes of the Church of Ireland, they are happy to address the needs of all those who seek healing of body, mind or spirit.

This ministry of  Wholeness and Healing helps remind us of God our Father, who never abandons us, who is with us in good times and in bad, in illness and in health, in living and dying.

When we have open churches, we try to have a Service of Wholeness and Healing every three months, on the fifth Sunday to be exact.

And whatever Church hasn’t had the United Service that morning gets to host the evening Service of Wholeness & Healing.

The actual service we use is a marvellous but seldom used liturgy in our Prayerbook.

In my experience I  find that we tend to avoid asking for explicit healing ….. I can only speak from my own experience, and I know that in the past, I was wary of expecting too much, wary of building up people’s expectations when the medical opinions were telling them the direct opposite of what they were praying for. Afraid of seeming like quack faith healers …..

But healing comes in many forms.

Healing can be just as simple as being at peace with ourselves as we are.

The Healing ministry within the church speaks of nurturing inward

peace within ourselves and others.

I believe that this is what this ministry of healing and wholeness

is all about.

It is not about kicking away the crutches and running out of the church – although that would be very nice too.

It is about being at one with our Father in Heaven,

at one with our body,

at one with our lives,

as they are in this present moment.

This then is the intention of our parish Healer Prayer group

and indeed our quarterly service’s,

to just allow each one of us to seek healing in our lives.

All of the people involved in the Healer Prayer group also help with the Intercessory prayers.  In this they are joined by other people in the parish who have attended a little workshop on how to write Intercessions.

Helen Arnopp, Rowland Newenham and Rowland Njoku, Valerie Andrew, Clodagh King, Kevin Ryan all are on a rota together with the people from the Healer Prayer Group and I am very grateful to all of them for the different perspectives they provide to our prayers each week.

We sometimes take for granted our Intercessory prayers or as they are called in our sister church ‘prayers of the people’

But this form of intercession is integral to our faith.

The Hebrew words used to describe this sort of prayer means ‘to annoy someone with importune requests’

Intercessors are those who persistently ask God’s help for others.

An image that is often used is that of ‘standing in the breach’  the word breach is the old terminology which came from the years of warfare in Old Testament times,

The breach in the walls of a city under siege is at the point of greatest weakness and so the intercessor is the one who stands in that place of weakness,  where they can help to mediate pain that is hard for that person to bear.

They choose to stand there in order to be a voice for the voiceless,

for it is unfortunately true that when we are in the most need of prayer, it is the very time when words of prayer just don’t come readily to us.

Jesus’ own prayers were often motivated by compassion,

he was so moved by the plight of those that he came across that he automatically called out to his Father in their name.

He taught us how to pray

and he taught us that when we gather, he is with us in prayer.

He gave us the Holy Spirit to continue what he had begun

and when we meet, we meet in his name

and we meet with the power of the Holy Spirit.

A little later on in the Service, the names of all the people currently being prayed for by our parish Healer Prayer group , the group whom you’ve just heard individually speak, will be read.

John will read these names aloud… just the first names and no details.

And then I will add names which have been given to me in recent days…..

It’s so important to remember that when you ask for prayer within this parish,  it  will be kept in the upmost confidence.

I hope that whatever is heavy on your heart will be alleviated by the prayer which we will together offer up and leave in the hands of  our Lord.

I’d like to end today’s sermon with a prayer.

Dear God of Wholeness & Healing,

May we find you to be the Light of the world,

who shines in the darkness of our sickness, depression or fears,

and may we rest in your unchanging love.

Help us to recognise our need of your healing touch,

and to open our lives to receive your blessing,

that we may be restored to full health again in body, mind and spirit.  Amen.

SERMON FOR 18TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 11th October 2020

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It seems like for ages now we have been listening to parables in Matthew’s Gospel and I have to admit that I find today’s parable in our gospel reading a bit confusing….

Although to be fair, when Jesus uses parables, it does get a little confusing ….  or maybe I’m just thick!

Anyway , the story goes as following

Everyone is invited to a fantastic banquet, a real feast, a brilliant party… How nostalgic THAT makes me feel!

But in our story, for some reason, people don’t want to go!

In fact, some people in the parable actually murder the servants who were sent out with the invitation.

This sounds very hard to believe….

We think to ourselves,

If we were ever invited to such a feast, we’d make sure that we would go!

But would we?

What Jesus is really talking about obviously in this parable is God’s invitation to us all to join his community, to be part of his banquet.

And what exactly is God offering us?  What’s on the menu?

God is offering us a deeper and more meaningful relationship with himself.

And at the same time, he is calling us to be in community with others.

And then at the time of our death, he will call us into eternal life with him.

This sounds easy enough…

This sounds like an offer we can’t refuse to turn down…

But we do turn it down,

We turn it down all the time.

We mightn’t actually murder the servants carrying the invitations but we are certainly guilty of ignoring them.

If we think about our own lives, we can see just how easily this happens

think about all of the things that we know we should be doing but for some strange reason …. We don’t do!

Paul often speaks about this in his letters to the young Christian Communities scattered about in the Roman world.

And we identify totally with this….for instance, we can think of lots of things that we don’t do each day…..

We know that we need to pray – but isn’t it lovely to stay in bed that hour longer and not bother about the praying bit.

We know that there is a letter we really should write, an email we should send, to someone who really needs to hear from us – but we’re just not in the mood, it’ll do another time and so on and on.

In non-covid times, we knew that we should visit that sick person today – but right now our favourite program is on TV… another day’s wait won’t hurt… and now of course, we have a great excuse… we can’t be visiting in Level 3!

We know we should be more charitable towards ‘you know who’ – but its less hassle just to stay silent and listen to the gossip about him or her.

The list could go on and on.

Each of us, when we examine ourselves, can write up a fairly long list of excuses which we use to avoid doing exactly those things which we KNOW we should be doing.

When we read this gospel parable, apart from the outright murderers, the excuses that kept some of the invited guests from attending the banquet weren’t bad things as such.

In fact, they were quite understandable.

One man wanted to work his land,

Another wanted to attend to his business…. Totally understandable….

But it is the fact that they were just ordinary and understandable excuses that makes them so dangerous in a way.

The greatest danger is not that we might abandon God and turn to evil, but rather that we should just ignore his invitation….. ignore the evil, do nothing….

You all know that saying about the ‘road to Hell being paved with good intentions!’

To ignore God’s invitation implies indifference and that is the worst reaction….indifferent people are the hardest to convince.

Lets imagine it’s not Level 3 nationwide and that you are throwing a party….

You have sent out the invitations…

You wait excitedly to see who will come….

After a few days, a couple of people have told you that they would love to be there….

A couple of people have written and rung to say that they are sorry but they can’t be there ….. for a variety of reasons, good and bad.

But the majority of the people who have been invited have just not bothered to reply…

You are left hanging on….are they coming or not?

They are so indifferent to both you and your party, that they just don’t even bother to let you know whether they are coming or not!.

This is the situation God is in …if we think of it in the terms of the parable today…… God has invited us to be part of his banquet, as his honoured guests.

God is waiting for us to reply….

But for us to just ignore his invitation is the worst kind of refusal.

God doesn’t force us to accept, he just invites us.

God created us as thinking reasoning beings and has too much respect for our freedom to compel us to do anything.

God’ banquet invitation is to experience the fullness of life with him,

to a deeper and more personal life,  to intimacy with God.

It is also , at the same time, a call to community with others.

The invitation challenges us to abandon our exclusivity,

our self-sufficiency and be willing to share ourselves with others.

Of course finally, it is an invitation to eternal life.

And We need to get our acceptance cards sorted out.

Often we don’t know what we really want,

sometimes we don’t even know what is good for us.

What we are seeking for,

and what deep down we really value and desire , are not always the same thing.

Because our lives are so busy, our lives are so full, even God has a problem breaking through to us…. And for those of us who thought that lockdowns would mean a less busy life… well we know how that worked out!

This parable was Jesus’ dramatic way of showing us how absurd it is to refuse what is being freely offered.

Throughout our lives we experience God’s call in many ways

And at many levels…… Maybe not so much a voice as a tug at our hearts…..

A sense of something missing in our lives

Our spiritual hunger is God’s invitation to the Banquet.

We just have to have the sense to accept.

Amen.

SERMON FOR 17TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 4th October 2020

Harvest Thanksgiving, Feast Day of St Francis of Assisi and end of ‘Creation Time’

The Vicar of our link Parish, Perton, in the Diocese of Lichfield, Revd Julia Cody, preached via video at 11am Service. Canon Elaine preached in person at 9am and 10am Services and via video in Perton at their 10am and 3pm Services.

Canon Elaine’s Sermon :

In the name of God, Father , Son and Holy Spirit.

(Thank you to Revd Julia for inviting me to speak to you via modern technology! And thank you to her for speaking to my community at the 11am Service in Carrigaline Co. Cork.

I hope this recording is of good quality and you can hear me ok!  I’m so glad that we are connecting up as parishes. I feel that it will bring benefits to both our communities… Perhaps today is the start of a regular Pulpit Swap… although you may want to decide later AFTER you hear me preach!….. )

This week, which is the last week of what has been termed ‘Creation Time’ by the churches in Britain and Ireland

The week in which we think about the implications of being an Eco Congregation, I thought of the parable of the wicked tenants in terms of the environmental crises.

For unfortunately we are the wicked tenants, stopping at nothing to assuage our greed.

I find real shame in the words

“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.”

The owner already did all the work.

All the tenants need to do is tend it.

God gives the gift of earth to all, “amply and in rich measure” . And what do we do with the beautiful harvest?

A vineyard implies a long-term commitment to the land, to people and to generations to come.

A vineyard can flourish only in times of peace, giving vines time to grow and fruit to ripen without disturbance.

Here is the promise of aged wine, reflective thought, sustained projects, safety, seeing your grandchildren grow up.

The wicked tenants do not value the land, or time, or peace.

Blinded by short term greed over reverence, they can not see the beauty of holiness at their own feet.

I’m forever quoting by Elizabeth Barret Browning ‘All ground is holy if we just take off our shoes’

Here in this part of the world, we have tried to take off our shoes and honour the holy ground by becoming an Eco Congregation. This we did back in 2014.

Eco Congregation, have wonderful programs that church communities can use – they help each church, like us,  to realise what they are doing already and what they can do better!

The last 4 weeks have been, what the Churches together in Britain and Ireland have called,  ‘Creation Time’ ,

It runs each year from 1st September till today 4th October and is always promoted by Eco Congregation.

‘Creation Time’ is a time each year when church communities are asked to particularly think about Creation issues.

It usually straddles the season of ‘Harvest’ in our churches,

and as luck would have it . today it is our actual Harvest Thankgiving Service.

The reason 4th October is the end date of this Creation time is of course to honour St Francis of Assisi… that Eco Saint extraordinaire !

Creation and covenant are both themes not too far below the surface of our Gospel reading today.

The parable in Matthew 21 describes a vineyard and the behaviour of unfaithful tenants.

The vineyard was the landowner’s property; the lease to the tenants was in his gift. The tenants were given responsibility of care for the vineyard.

The landowner expected fruitfulness, but all he got was betrayal and destruction.

The tenants behaved as if they owned the place, and so tried to usurp the position of the landlord himself.

The chief priests and Pharisees realized Jesus was talking about them (v.45).

And at one level he was. 

In the Prophet Isaiah (chapter 5, 1–7) he speaks of ‘the house of Israel’ as God’s vineyard.

He expected it to yield grapes but it only produced wild grapes.

The Jewish leaders of the time would have course realised that Jesus was speaking in allegorical terms.

The landowner (God) expected the tenants (religious leaders) to be responsible, but they rejected his servants (God’s prophets), and killed the son (did they realize who they were dealing with?).

But appropriately for Creation time, let us widen our lens and see the vineyard as not just Israel but the whole of God’s creation, for which God cares and wishes to be fruitful.

God entrusts the work of care for creation to human beings, as tenants.

He expects them to act responsibly on his behalf. 

Behind all the covenants God makes with people (Abraham , Moses, David)  there is a ‘cosmic covenant’ in which God expresses his faithful commitment to the whole of creation.

‘I am establishing my covenant with you, and your descendants after you, and with every living creature.’  (Gen 9. 9,12).

This includes the divine promise: “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest…shall not cease.” (Gen 8.22).

And God expects humanity to exercise a response of faithful tenancy. 

This is part of the meaning of the mandate given to all humanity ‘made in God’s image’ in Genesis 1, which includes “subduing” the earth (Gen. 1.28).   That word ‘subduing’ is best understood as referring to agriculture – the use of the land to provide food for humanity. The subduing of the wild land to provide food.

It is coupled with the ‘dominion’ over the animal world, another dangerous term which should be understood as the language not of domination and exploitation but of benevolent kingship: kings were responsible for the welfare and wellbeing of their subjects (cf. Ps.72. 1-4).

So the faithful tenancy of God’s creation which humanity shares includes agriculture for providing food, and concern for the welfare of the animals….. and on this day we of course think of St Francis of Assisi who  famously treated all in the animal kingdom as brothers and sisters. 

I read recently a disturbing report about the kind of intensive farming that is prevalent now ,

where chickens beaks are removed so that they don’t peck each other in their tightly packed sheds.

Where pigs give birth to large litters in wire cages where they can’t even turn over?

Do we really want our meat so cheap that we are willing to put up with this kind of intensive farming?

Today’s parable of the vineyard faces us with the question of responsibility.

In our production of food, and concern for animal welfare,

are we acting as faithful tenants of God’s creation?

Just a very few examples of many: 

  • Industrial food production has devastated tropical forests. 
  • Modern industrialized agriculture uses significant quantities of fossil fuels in pesticide and herbicide production, as well as in mechanization. 
  • Over-fishing leads to the waste of huge quantities of edible fish returned back to the ocean to fulfil certain allowed “quotas”.
  • Agricultural policies, and the prevalence of heavy debts to world banks from the poorest countries, get in the way of equity in the distribution of food.    

We Christians should be at the forefront of ecological concerns.

Our Eucharistic worship,

celebrating God’s new creation in Christ,

is both a response of gratitude for God’s generosity and grace

and a commitment to live equitably and responsibly with our neighbours.

St Francis of Assisi, in his beautiful Canticle of the Creatures, says

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs….. Praise and bless my Lord and give Him thanks and serve Him with great humility.

Our earth is fragile and precious and it is on us to ensure it’s continuing existence….

I’ll end with the words of the astronaut -James Irwin who was speaking from aboard Apollo 15 in July 1971

The Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man, has to make a man appreciate the creation of God and the love of God. Amen.

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REVD JULIA CODY’S SERMON :

Sláinte!

It’s lovely to be with you this morning, albeit virtually! It may seem a little early in the day to be imbibing, but to let you into a secret, I’m actually recording my words on Saturday afternoon! Also, this is a very particular wine which I wanted to ‘share’ with you. Let me show you the label: “Happy Harvest Monkstown & Carrigaline! God bless, love, The Church At Perton” – labelled for you, over in the Emerald Isle, on a wine made from these very vines, here at this vineyard – Halfpenny Green Vineyard – which is just 8 miles from Perton!

Obviously there’s a vineyard connection with our Gospel reading; and it’s special to drink this wine among the vines from which it’s produced and which are almost ready to harvest; but it’s also lovely to be able to advertise our beautiful local area! When, at some point in the future, we’re able to travel, we’d love to welcome visitors from Carrigaline and Monkstown to meet us in person and sample local produce, including award-winning wines!

I had planned to have a sabbatical this year and spend some time with you. Alas that, of course, hasn’t been possible, and yet through the wonders of technology, it’s lovely to be able to do this pulpit-swap with Rev’d Elaine – thank you Elaine! So, as I begin, I do bring greetings, love and prayers from the church family in Perton – sláinte!

Just before the lockdown, at the end of February, my husband Paul – who hails from Dublin by the way! – and I had the privilege of leading a group on a trip to The Holy Land, spending 9 days exploring some of the sights and experiencing the hospitality, as well as some of the enormous challenges, in Israel and Palestine. I could talk about it all day – but I won’t! However, one of the places we visited was a 1st century vineyard, and when I re-read the passage for today, with its description of a walled vineyard, with a watchtower and digging a winepress, it resonated not with this local vineyard, but rather with that 1st century vineyard, which has remains of its wall, its watchtower, and its winepress, which we visited in Nazareth, really bringing this passage alive.

Jesus used parables – stories – to teach and challenge, and in his stories he created scenes of everyday places and situations with which his audience were familiar. In this parable, the picture Jesus paints with his words to describe the vineyard may not be very familiar to us – there’s no defensive wall and watchtower here at Halfpenny Green, and the grapes aren’t trod in a rock-hewn winepress! – but to Jesus’ first audience, what he described was exactly what vineyards were like; he cast a familiar scene and context for his then, shocking, story.

Before we dip into this account, it’s worth remembering when Jesus told this parable. We find today’s reading in chapter 21 of St Matthew’s Gospel, and that chapter opens with what we know as Palm Sunday – Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, down the Mount of Olives, on a donkey, with the crowd waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David”. So this parable occurs in the week between Palm Sunday and Jesus’ crucifixion – in Holy Week.

Jesus knew his death was imminent. He didn’t have long left to share his message, so there’s an urgency, and amongst the parables and teaching of his final days, is this one, of the terrible behaviour of the tenants of the vineyard.

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel are referred to as God’s vineyard, for example in Isaiah 5. So, as Jesus’ Jewish audience listened to him, they would’ve known that when he spoke about a vineyard and its tenant farmers, he was talking about them, tenants in God’s vineyard. Jesus’ parable outlines the various servants, over time, which the landowner had sent to collect his share of the harvest, and how badly they’d fared at the hands of the tenant farmers. Jesus said, “the tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third. Then he sent other servants to them… and the tenants treated them in the same way.”

It’s not hard to see the comparison Jesus is making: God, the owner of the vineyard, had sent his prophets to warn and teach the people of Israel, and they’d been treated badly, their messages unheard. Jesus continued, “Last of all, the owner of the vineyard sent his son to them. ‘They will respect my son,’ he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.’ So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him.”

As we read this parable, knowing what happened to Jesus just a few days’ later, we understand the reference to the vineyard owner’s son being killed. God sent his son, Jesus, hoping that his tenants – his people – might finally listen; but we know that didn’t happen; that like the parable, God’s son was killed.

Jesus asked his audience what the vineyard owner would do; and they replied that the owner would judge the tenants, punish them and bring in good tenants. And then, Jesus seems to change tack in a rather strange way: he asks, “have you never read in the Scriptures, ‘the stone the builder rejected has become the cornerstone’…?” quoting from Psalm 118. Why did Jesus jump from the vineyard story about the son dying, to quoting a psalm about a rejected stone becoming a cornerstone?

It’s worth noting that what’s translated ‘cornerstone’ is actually the head stone on a corner: the top stone on a corner which is vital to its stability, holding the two walls together. So the rejected stone becomes the indispensable stone. But why did Jesus move from vineyards to stones?

Well, it seems he was using word-play: in biblical Hebrew, the words for son and for stone are very very similar. The word for son is ‘ben’; and the word for stone is ‘eben’.

Psalm 118 says that the rejected stone (eben) will be raised high as the cornerstone; which parallels that the murdered son (ben) will be raised high as the capstone of God’s new family.

The quote from the psalm moves us from the story in the parable to Jesus’ actual life.

New Testament scholar Tom Wright puts it like this,

“the whole story is therefore Jesus’ way of explaining what was going on then and there. It is Jesus’ perspective on the very events he was involved in – rejected by those he had come to, but destined to be vindicated by God…. It tells how he has now come to Jerusalem to confront the tenant farmers with God’s demand for repentance, for Israel to be at last what it was called to be, the light of God’s world. And it is the story of how Israel, through its official representatives, is going to refuse the demand, and will end up killing him.”

Jesus concludes with words which make the message crystal clear, “therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and give to a people who will produce its fruit…” and, as St Matthew records, “when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them”

So the message was clear – the warning was stark – the question is, would they heed the warning? It seems not, as the passage finishes, “they looked for a way to arrest him”. And of course, that’s what happened a few days’ later, as the parable was fulfilled, as Jesus, the vineyard owner’s son, was killed.

It’s a tough, hard-hitting parable; and its challenge continues to speaks to us, on different levels. Firstly, there’s the personal level of our own response to Jesus, the vineyard owner’s son: will we hear and respond to his message of God’s love and forgiveness? I wonder where you, and I, are, today, in our relationships with God?

Secondly, the challenge of this parable is also on a rather larger scale: God’s vineyard also speaks of the whole created order. I believe today is your Harvest Festival – and it’s ours in Perton next Sunday – when we give thanks for the fruit of the earth; the food (and drink!) we enjoy; and consider our responsibility to look after the earth and share its bounty.

Harvest falls within the season in the church year known as Creation Time; and today is the particular day in the church year when we commemorate St Francis of Assisi. Part of his spiritual legacy down the centuries is a love and respect for all of creation and all creatures. Normally we have our annual Pet Service this weekend in Perton, coinciding with St Francis’ Day, and I remember seeing photos of your Pet Blessing Service on your Facebook page! Sadly, this isn’t possible this year, however the challenge to look after God’s vineyard of course remains.

Like you, the Church At Perton is an Eco Church, and is committed to chipping away at being more aware of ecological issues; and at making changes in our lives and the life of the church, so that we better take care of the earth, which in the words of astronomer Carl Sagan, is “the only home we’ve ever known”.

There are, of course, many ways we can do this, and heed the challenge to look after God’s vineyard:

  • perhaps this autumn, as the season changes and temperatures drop, the challenge is to think about how we heat our homes; whether we can change to a renewable energy supplier; 
  • perhaps as we give thanks this Harvest we can rethink our commitment to buy food which is, as far as possible, local and organic; and if from further-afield, fairly-traded;
  • perhaps, as we reflect on the likely cause of Covid and humanity’s demand for cheap meat, we can commit to eating less meat; and to ensure that any we do buy comes from sources where we know animals have been well-treated;
  • perhaps, having been so limited in travel this year, we can rethink our patterns of travelling – for work and pleasure;
  • perhaps we can use some of this time when our actives are limited, to petition our governments; and create greater awareness of environmental issues amongst our neighbours.

Without getting party political, I will admit that it’s rare I quote Boris Johnson favourably(!), however it was really encouraging to read a BBC headline on Wednesday saying that at the UN Climate Action Roundtable meeting on Thursday he would urge world leaders that “climate change cannot be another victim of coronavirus” (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-54274644).

This St Francis’ Day, this harvest, this creation time, may we reconnect with our commitment to take care of God’s vineyard, and to live gently on the earth.

One of the writings St Francis left us, written almost exactly 800 years’ ago, is called “The Canticle of the Creatures”. I won’t read it all, but do encourage you to google it as it’s a great poem, originally a song I think, which speaks about us being brother and sister to the sun, moon, stars, wind, water, fire, and so on.

As I close, let me read a few lines from this canticle, and then offer a prayer written by St Francis:

          Most High, all powerful, good Lord,

          Yours are the praises, the glory, the honour,

                    and all blessing…

          Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures…

          Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,

          who sustains us and governs us and who produces

          varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs…

          Praise and bless my Lord,

          and give Him thanks

          and serve Him with great humility.

Let’s pray:

            Most High, Glorious God,

            enlighten the darkness of our minds.

            Give us a right faith,

            a firm hope,

            and a perfect charity,

            so that we may always

            and in all things

            act according to Your Holy Will.

            Amen.

Sláinte!

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SERMON FOR 16TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 27th September 2020

In the name of God, Father , Son & Holy Spirit

In this ‘ordinary’ time, the parables are used for plain teaching, much like what Jesus is doing in the temple. The high holy days like Easter, Christmas and Pentecost are about loftier things perhaps, this ordinary green time is all about remembering the basics.

Today we have another parable from Matthew and this parable is about opportunity,

Opportunity offered, rejected, renewed, embraced.


Jesus doesn’t divide people up into believers and atheists.

Jesus divides people into those who act and those who don’t act.

I feel that the key to understanding the parable is to realise that Jesus is not actually  praising either of them.

We have a picture of two very imperfect sets of people.

Neither son in the story was the kind of son to bring total joy to his father, but in the end of the day, the one who obeyed the father was a lot better than the other who didn’t!

I also believe that there definitely is a dash of that humour in this parable.

It was a case of the classic ‘action speaks louder than words’ scenario…

The first son was so rude but truthful : “I will not,”

but changed his mind and did what he was asked in the end.

The second son knew exactly how to speak nicely and properly with his father but he was lying through his teeth : “I will, sir,” and then just didn’t bother.

Surely Jesus was poking fun at the elders for their pride in having all the externals perfectly in order, while being blind to God’s call on their actual lives.

In fact, this parable is, in its own way, a further expansion of Jesus’ earlier statement in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven”

The disparity between saying and doing, especially in the professional religious, is in fact a favourite theme in Matthew….

This disparity still has relevance for ‘religious’ people of all ages.

Including us!

Wasn’t it Mahatma Gandhi who said something along the lines of “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

That division between saying and doing is something that all Christians feel guilty about at various stages in our lives….

When we are speaking about doing something or other, but somehow we’re not actually doing it!

but can’t you just imagine how the Pharisees and Elders (who considered themselve practically perfect!) how they felt when Jesus told them that the sinners would get to Heaven before them!

The purpose of the parable was to defend Jesus’ invitation of sinners and outcasts to the Kingdom, in the face of the sneers of the religious establishment….. that particular parable would have outraged these religious types and at the same time, the parable would have spoken to Matthew’s ‘Constituency’ , the people who were excluded from the temple and synagogue because they were followers of Jesus.

Anyway, we can break the parable down a little….

The first son represents sinners.

Like him, they originally chose to go their own way but then repented and took God’s way,

…. and so gained entry into the Kingdom.

The second son represents the chief priests and the elders, the people who believed that they were definitely not sinners…..

Like the example of the second son, this group promised to work for God but failed to do so,

…. and so have excluded themselves from the Kingdom.

We are told in many places in the Bible that we need to turn around our lives – Repentance is a necessary attitude for entry into the Kingdom….

All of us are called to conversion….

But the conversions Jesus sought to bring about in people wasn’t a public pious declaration but more a change in heart.  This is what Paul is saying in the reading today to the Philippians ‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus’

And he succeeded in bringing it about in the most unlikely of people…. And still does!

Many sinners heeded his call to conversion of heart…changed their lives, and made their way into the kingdom

But many of the Religious People stubbornly resisted his call to conversion of heart, refused to change their lives, and so excluded themselves from the Kingdom.  They believed that they were fine as they were thank you!

We need the Lord to touch our hearts with his love and compassion.

We are basically good….I’m not the hellfire and brimstone type of preacher who shout that we are all damned……. We are all of us basically good…but our goodness has to be awakened and called forth if we are to enter the Lord’s kingdom, which is a kingdom of love, available now, for all!

We need to be do-ers of the love of God , not just talkers about it…. And that’s where it gets a little tougher

But as I’m constantly saying …. We don’t do it alone…. We do it with the endless grace of God!… which is how Paul ended today in our second reading ‘It is God who is a work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure’

Amen.

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SERMON FOR 15TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 20th September 2020

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

We have all heard stories of how it used to be in Ireland years ago, when there were ‘Hiring Fairs’ , where men and women went and stood, waiting to be picked for work.

They were men and women desperately looking for paid work to feed their families.

Jesus tells us of a similar story in today’s gospel, where we  have another one of those parables that are so familiar to us.

The story of the hired hands ,  it seems so unfair, doesn’t it?

The people hired at the last hour…..

They are paid the SAME as the people who have worked all Day!

Yet when we think about it.

The desperate men…waiting around all day to be hired.

Desperate to provide for their families.

They weren’t just lazy layabouts.

They were just workmen who had hadn’t had the luck to be picked by the bosses earlier on in the day.

That didn’t mean that they didn’t have wives and children waiting to be fed, it just meant that they hadn’t been picked.

This parable doesn’t favour the idler above the hard worker….it just demonstrates that God’s justice is available to all,  regardless of what stage in our lives we come to him.

Jesus’ audience that day knew exactly what he was getting at….

The Kingdom of God was the vineyard, those who had been working all day were the Pharisees and the law-abiding Jews in general.

The 11th hour people are us –  sinners and gentiles!

Jesus is saying that God is offering the Kingdom to us all on equal terms.

But the Pharisees and Jews assumed God worked on a Merit Scheme basis…

Where you must earn your grace by hard work…. Still the attitude of many it has to be said!

And yet here was Jesus saying that God doesn’t work like this at all!

But the story today is really not about justice but about generosity.

A generosity unlike anything we’ve ever known….

The generosity of God.

Its both a comfort and a challenge

This parable doesn’t make much sense if we view it from the point of view of actual Justice…..I mean the ones who only worked an hour really shouldn’t get the same wages should they!

yet if we think about it from the point of view of generosity….well then its a different kettle of fish entirely!

I mean…who would want to be treated by God based on what we are … or what we actually deserve!

We are all standing in need of God’s mercy and generosity.

Everything comes to us as a gift from God.

A gift that is given to us out of pure love.

Thank God for God!.

Actually that reminds me of years ago when I was teaching a religion class in the Kilkenny Educate Together. Each week I would put up on the blackboard people and things we should pray for and encouraged the children to do the same … and one week, a little lad had written ‘GOD’ on the blackboard ‘GOD’ – I thought he was messing as who prays FOR God! We pray TO God… but no, he was deadly serious. He said that God must be very tired looking after all of us, so we should pray for him!  Wasn’t that wonderful!

So, yes ‘Thank God for God’

Jesus took a situation as familiar in daily life then as now.

While we mightn’t see long lines of unemployed waiting for a ‘start’ as in the past, we do have many people working on zero hour contracts…. This has come to light in recent times with people going to work even though they should be isolating as they don’t get paid if they don’t show up!

The Boss has the power of who to hire or who to fire, or who gets the hours and who doesn’t…..it was ever thus!

Perhaps the idea for the parable came from the amount of people complaining to Jesus about the time he was spending with the outcasts and how he was not spending enough time with them—–the righteous ,   the saved, his true disciples.

But whatever prompted it, Jesus was determined to show that God’s generosity transcends human standards.

In the parable ,  the owner of the vineyard has taken pity on the left behind workers. – he knows that one denarius represented an entire day’s wage – which was just enough to support a family.

Anything less would be inadequate.

The thrust of this parable wasn’t aimed at poor labourers but at all the begrudgers in the group around Jesus.

To some, God’s love for all isn’t ‘Fair’

God’s equal love of sinners and saints is an affront.

But how wonderful it is for me to realise that God loves me as much as ‘A Mother Theresa’ or a ‘Nelson Mandela’

So why should I – of all people, begrudge his love for others,

people whom I, in my sinfulness, consider less than me.

It’s a little like last week’s gospel where the servant was forgiven a mighty debt and then turned around and wouldn’t forgive a tiny debt someone else owed him….

As I said, the men who are given only one hour’s work aren’t lazy – really they were just unlucky , unlucky not to be chosen as workers earlier in the day.

And yet they as much as those chosen earlier also needed to feed their families.

And this is what the generous vineyard owner does…

He gives them the minimum day’s wage.

Enough to feed themselves.

The owner of the vineyard takes them on at the 11th hour and pays them a full day’s wage..

It would have seemed like a miracle! A bit like our first reading – the manna from heaven!

We can learn so much from this parable..

From the generosity of the Vineyard owner.

And from the other workers, who toiled all day,

we can learn that we shouldn’t envy others their good luck,

We should be happy with the rewards of our own hard work and we shouldn’t begrudge others the good luck they seem to enjoy …… for which one of us can see into God’s plans?

And perhaps we can try & learn to model our own dealings on God’s style of generosity and not our own!

What a wonderful generous loving world we might have then!

Amen.

.

SERMON FOR 14TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 13th September 2020

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Look around you for a moment, look the people around you…Think about what differences there are between you and them.

We don’t have to look very far to find differences do we?

Male, Female,

Young, Old…

The length of our hair,

the colour of our hair…… do we have hair?

Do we like boiled eggs? Fried eggs? Scrambled?

Do we own a dog or a cat?

Are we farmers or not?

We could go on forever.

Some differences are easy to spot, like the colour of your skin or hair OR mask!

And some differences are more difficult to see….like whether we like watching only the news programs or Corrie or East Enders… or both!

Or even whether hurling or hockey, Football or Rugby

Whether we find it easy to get up in the morning or not….

The list is endless…

But there is one huge thing that we all have in common….

We are all one race—— the human race.

We are all sisters and brothers of the one human family.

We could go wider, in this season of Creation, and remember that we are all part of God’s Creation!

In Matthew’s gospel today, we heard Jesus telling Peter that he must forgive his brother not 7 times but 77 times.

Did Jesus say who that ‘brother’ was to be?

Did he say ‘forgive your Jewish brother 77 times but don’t worry about forgiving that Samaritan lad down the road’

No, of course he didn’t….when Jesus said Brother, he meant every other person you know.

In fact,  Jesus’s stories confronted the main racism at the time by constantly raising the Samaritan’s status….

Do you remember the story Jesus told  of the Good Samaritan?

Now that would have been a really shocking story to the ears of Jesus’ Jewish audience…

The Jewish people considered the Samaritans as being no better than a dog,

And here was Jesus asking them to imagine a SAMARITAN behaving like a human being!  Behaving in fact better than the cream of Jewish Society – the Priest and the Levite!

Or in the story of Jesus healing the 10 Lepers, the ONLY one who came back to Jesus to thank him was the Samaritan…. manage how that story would have upset the Jewish listeners…..

With these stories, Jesus was trying to shock them into recognizing that yes, even ‘the Samaritan’ was in fact

their brother.

Jesus’ teachings always show concern for the poor, the social outcasts, the underprivileged , the ‘Different’

And as I said earlier, we are ALL DIFFERENT , in some way.

In Ireland, we don’t have Samaritans as such, but we all have our own prejudices still. During the recent Black Lives Matter conversations, we have listened to Irish people talking about how they meet discrimination each and every day…

Because they have a different colour skin

or a different religion than we do, or because they move in a different social set.

Todays gospel reminds us that God’s Mercy is for all….

As we are ALL sisters and brothers in the one human family, all beloved by one God.

And so the mercy he shows us , is to be shown to others, regardless of clan or creed.

Look at the examples in the life of Jesus, any who came to him received the same treatment.

Jesus tells a parable in our Gospel today about an “unmerciful servant” who received forgiveness for his huge debt.

Then, instead of forgiving a tiny debt that he was owed, he imprisoned his debtor.

Jesus tells us to forgive not merely seven times, but seventy-seven times, (other reports say seventy times seven….  It was so mind-blowing to the original audience that later scribes couldn’t agree on what numbers Jesus had actually said, 77 times or 70 times 7 which is of course 490 …  I used a calculator!)

The point is not that it is 490 or 940 times, the point is that Divine forgiveness, given and received, is beyond calculation or comprehension.

Forgiveness on that scale is way of out of proportion to the sincerity of the penitent or the seriousness of their offense.

And anyone who seeks “serial forgiveness” makes us question their motives, but Jesus says it doesn’t matter— we still forgive them.

But forgiving is never a simple thing….

How do these words of Jesus appear where people may have had ‘forgiveness’ held over their heads as a weapon?

How do these words of Jesus appear in a world where we too often feel the need to ‘get even’ with those who are utterly unrepentant in how they have wounded us and forgiving would seem like letting go of the last bit of power we were holding on to?

What does it really mean to forgive “seventy-seven” times?

We can only answer that for ourselves…

I once saw a wonderful picture and it showed a scene of utter tranquility on a lake, with a little wooden jetty and a couple of comfortable wooden chairs etc,  you know the type of place where you could imagine sitting out with a G&T watching the sun disappear into the lake.

Anyway, the caption was

‘ Don’t let people pull you into their storms,

   Pull them into your peace’

and that for me is what forgiveness is,

by forgiving you are pulling them into YOUR peace

whereas if we don’t forgive, we surely remain in the storm THEY have created in our lives.

The truth of this exchange between Peter and Jesus is that  we tend to place controls over when and where and why we forgive others, whereas Jesus , by saying 70 times 7 or 77 was basically saying that not forgiving is not an option.

And perhaps it’s a hard truth to hear.

As much as we want to exercise one of the essential marks of the Christian faith, we cannot bring ourselves to accept or imagine the endless and inestimable nature of forgiveness that Jesus speaks of. 

Think about the wonderful father in the parable of the Prodigal Son…. When he saw the broken son returning to him, the Father ran to HIM

Ran and hugged him and promised him the fatted calf even though the son had not yet trotted out his apologies…..

He was forgiven BEFORE he repented to the Father.

This is how we are expected to forgive and while I know that I fall short of this ideal, this is the direction that today’s gospel points us in.

It encourages us to forgive and leave the judgment to God.

As Paul says in our epistle reading..

‘Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another?’

Each one of us is accountable only to God.

The God whose property is always to have Mercy

Amen.

.

SERMON FOR 13TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 6th September 2020

6th September 2020

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Our Gospel today deals with a very practical issue – how to act when someone close to you is treating you badly.

Obviously these kind of problems happened even in the first Christian communities. (I don’t know why that surprises me… but I tend to think of the early Christian Communities as being perfect!)

Today’s gospel gives us a way of tackling this sort of problem.

Remember that the word CHURCH in our text today is not meant to be a great big church community as we would know it..

Ekklesia, the Greek word used by Matthew, would mean at that time a small group of people.

In fact Matthew is the only one of the four Evangelists to use this term. Mark, Luke and John never do.

The ‘church’ in Matthew’s day included at most 50 members. Their gatherings would have been much more like small family reunions – maybe 20-30 people. …. Which to our Covid-19 ears sounds amazing … but I digress.

More importantly to note is that these people would have felt very isolated, they were Jews and yet because of their recognition of Jesus in their midst as the Son of God, they were not Jews..

They had been shunned from their birth community and this is very much reflected in Matthew’s gospel and the  words and phrases he uses, he is known for his hardness of attitude… there is a lot of ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ in Matthews gospel.

But it can help us understand his stance if we visualise this ‘church’ as being a small gathering of people…. More like a family gathering.

We can then easily imagine how the actions or attitudes of one family member could spoil the festive gathering for the rest of the family and how the ‘disciplinary process’ outlined by Matthew would encourage  the wayward one to try to fit in

or if not, make sure that they were not invited to future gatherings!

But equally we have to bear in mind that pardon and mercy colour the reading for today……

God forgives freely and so should we.

We are told that we are to take the first step,

to risk an engagement that can lead to a restored relationship.

The final verse of our reading might read ‘If two of you can come to an agreement regarding any disputed matter, then that agreement will be blessed by my Father in heaven’.

First of all , lets think about the way we would normally deal with this sort of problem.

We have a problem with someone’s behaviour…

We would of course start by keeping it to ourselves.

It might be that we are nervous about tackling it or perhaps we have been cut by what has happened and are too hurt to talk about it… so we pretend that everything is just fine.

Meanwhile we brood over it, magnify it, we become sullen and sour and depressed and may cut out the offender off as a kind of revenge.

Usually, eventually, we are unable to keep it to ourselves….we begin to tell others about it

Friends, relatives, neighbours….

Usually the last person to hear about the hurt is the one who actually caused it!

Today’s gospel tells us that there is another way , a more merciful and just way…….

We should confront the person who is causing the hurt.

Confrontation takes courage and involves risk,

but sometimes a little honest talking may clear the air.

The person may not be aware of the extent of the hurt they are causing…..

But what then?

If it doesn’t work out?

Then we should seek advice.

We should get one or two wise people and enlist their help in facing the person who is causing the hurt.

The rabbis had a very wise saying

‘Judge not alone, for none may judge alone but God’

If even then we fail, we should go to the community, the family.

The whole aim of the process outlined in today’s gospel is not to score points against your fellow human being

but to help them to mend their ways and be reconciled.

To seek reconciliation is, according to Christ, even more important that offering sacrifice to God

Remember the words in chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel….

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift

(23,24)

Do any of you remember the words of the old form of our Communion Service that invites to the Altar those who ….

are in love and charity with your neighbours

Reconciliation is to be desired and is to be the first option but …….

If at the end of the day,

after all efforts, reconciliation proves to be impossible, then the verdict you and the community come to will be understood by God.

It goes without saying that we should pray about these issues……our prayer helps us to follow Christ’s approach.

So it is appropriate to remember that the words of our primary prayer begins with ‘Our Father’
not ‘My Father’ !

A shared prayer for a shared faith

We understand ourselves as part of a family in which we are all brothers and sisters….

The Lord is our Shepherd and we are the flock

and you can’t be a flock by yourself.

Jesus always underlined the importance of community.

Our faith is never a private matter, it is worked out in how we are to each other. 

Think about the 10 Commandments. What did Paul say in today’s reading from Romans.

‘The commandments ‘ You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not covet’ … are all summed up in this word ‘love your neighbour as yourself’…. ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’

We all know how much this community means to us,

this is our church family.

We are a community but the presence of community does not mean the absence of differences.

We are human…..But we are Christians and the final words of our reading goes right to the heart of it

‘For when two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Here among us, empowering us to speak the truth in love to each other so that small offences do not grow to be walls between us.

As I said earlier, Matthew wrote with an eye to holding his community together and that is why we have the reading today, giving us the mechanisms to overcome dissension and quarrelling among a close group of people.

He knew that for his fledgling community of believers to survive, they would need to not break apart at the first sign of trouble.

Over the last 6 months the existence and importance of family and community has been highlighted more than ever before.

Older vulnerable people who haven’t been able to see their children and grandchildren,  

Our loved ones having to be buried with the minimal of people there to see them off, particularly painful here in Ireland where funerals play such a big role in our grieving process.

Children back in school but unable to play together in the yards.

Here we are, together but socially distanced from each other…. Learning to stay apart from each other while being together….it’s tough.

Someone told me the other day that she and a flatmate had inadvertently high-fived each other and recoiled!  What a sad way it is for sociable animals like us to live like that.

But that is our present.

We need to continue to nourish our community in any way we can. 

We can’t do what we did in the past, but we can do what we can.

Even being here in church, and online, is something….

In the darkest days in April and May , I longed for us to be back in this church… and here we are.

It’s not perfect by any means, but we are getting to see each other again in the flesh… even if we are wearing masks, we are still here, gathered in his name and he IS here among us!   Amen

SERMON FOR 12TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 30th August 2020

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

This week our two readings have a common thread.. Had we had the epistle, Paul was also ‘on message’

(During the lockdown, for the Livestream, we had to shorten the service and we cut out the epistle reading, but from September (e.g. next week!) we will be back to three readings and the psalm.)

In our first reading God reveals himself to Moses and then commissions him to lead his people out of slavery and misery.

And Jesus in our Gospel is teaching us about the nature of his calling, about how following him in his path might involve pain and suffering , but would ultimately lead to glory. He warns Peter against falling for the soft option…. You’ll remember that last week he named him Peter/the Rock…

So both readings are to some extent or another telling us how to live, what we must do if we want to live as God’s people.

When I read this particular Exodus reading, I am always drawn to it.….

It is such an evocative part of our salvation story isn’t it?

We know it so well on one hand but it is so mysterious too!

The burning bush is something that we all know from Moses’ journey.

Moses is such an important figure in the Hebrew Testament

… last week we heard of how he was rescued from certain death when his mother placed him in a basket and made sure that the daughter of Pharoah spotted him and took him for her own. We still call our little babies basket beds ‘Moses’ Baskets 3,300 years later!

In today’s reading, we find the grown up Moses, who has been living in Midian for some years, Midian in modern terms is the North Western part of Saudi Arabia,

you’ll remember that Moses had fled there after he killed an Egytian overseer who had been cruelly mistreating one of the Hebrew workers, or perhaps slaves would be the better word.  Midian was about 500 km away from Egypt a really really long way in those times.

Anyway Moses had settled down , marrying and have a family there.

And so Moses was an unlikely candidate for this role that God was now calling him to.

He seemed to be happy enough where he was, working for his father in law Jethro, tending his flock and now here was God, breaking into his life, calling him back to the land he had fled from.

Here ‘beyond the wilderness’ at Mount Horeb, God called Moses to return to Egypt,

to the land of Israel’s genocide which Moses had escaped death as a baby by being adopted by the Pharoah’s daughter, and escaped death as an adult by running away to Midian.

Moses was now being called on to return, to become a mediator between God and his people, and between God and pharaoh. 

When God called him, Moses responded: “Here am I!”  (we hear this response from Prophets all the time in the Old Testament.. Isaiah etc)

But then Moses wondered,

“Who am I that I should go to Pharoah?” 

God had to reassure him that “the people will listen.” 

No one in their right mind ever thinks themselves worthy or capable of that call…to remove your sandals and stand on “holy ground.”

And so Moses instinctively “hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”

But God insisted: “I am sending you to pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

and God assured him, “I will be with you”

That’s the really key point… God will be with Moses.

Today in our dioceses, two new Deacons will be ordained. Sabrina Cooke , who trained with us from Christmas till the beginning of Lent; and Patrick Culleton from Bandon.

They were called by the same God who called Moses

and I’m sure that they feel as unworthy as Moses did in Midian.

But the God that calls you equips you!

I read during the week that Martin Buber, the famous Jewish theologian talking about prophets said that

“It is laid upon the stammering to bring the voice of Heaven to Earth.”

Isn’t that wonderful! Not the silky tongued, the clever debaters but the stammering will bring the voice of heaven to earth!

God assured Moses then and God assures us now ‘I will be with you’

Like the bush was right in front of Moses’ nose,

God is all around us too…

I know I’m always quoting the Poet Elizabeth Barret Browning whenever Moses and the Burning bush is mentioned

but she puts it so beautifully

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware.

I love this poem so much that I wrote it out on a yellow stickie and stuck it up on the wall of my room in the Theological College

(because sometimes, even in the Theological College… or maybe especially in the Theological College…. It’s hard to remember that God is afire in every common bush!)

The words of the poem speak to us of the immanence as well as the incandescence of God.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries………….

And of course, this is particularly appropriate for this time of the year when the blackberries will be ready for plucking isn’t it!

What the Poet is saying of course is that we sometimes walk through this world unaware of the existence of God beside us.

we totally miss the holiness of the ‘common bush’

that surrounds us all.

We can miss seeing God in every person we meet,

In every situation we find ourselves in,

In every joy and in every sorrow.

This is where God is, where God always is….

but it is up to us to remember to metaphorically take off our shoes though and recognise that we walk on Holy Ground!

I often am amazed how God manifests in all that is around me….

Whether that is in the different churches, in flowers and trees, in animals, listening to music, looking at art or in just in ordinary conversations with other ordinary people…..

It ALL is Holy Ground…..

We need to keep reminding ourselves of this… even as we listen to endless news stories of virus taking hold again in countries that seemed to have beaten it, of new countries topping the poll now…. I heard on the radio this morning about India with almost 80,000 new cases in 24 hours

and as we watch the madness of politics and civil unrest in the US,

with the rise of right wing politicians all over the world.

At this particular time, the world seems to be the farthest thing from Holy Ground – it seems more like a hard and ugly place.

Frightening and disturbing scenes play out on our tellies every night of the week

People being shot on streets of big cities in the US,

others fleeing from their homes, terrified for their lives, having witnessed the harsh relentless side of nature… and the experience we had during Storms Ellen and Laura give us some understanding of what the Gulf States in America went through in the last few days..

So it is sometimes hard to believe that God IS everywhere and that everywhere IS Holy Ground….

But we have to keep remembering that God IS

And that is all anyone of us can do…

Hold firm to the hope that is within you Paul told us and remember that God will triumph….

We keep trust in God’s gracious and real presence

and this knowledge not only brings confidence and peace to us personally but will open the door for blessing on everyone

we come across in our respective spheres of influence.

As we think of Sabrina and Pat, following God’s call today,

we should remember that God is calling us ALL to something today just as he called Moses to free the Israelites from Egypt.  

But…

We have to take off our shoes!

And be aware that we walk on the Holy Ground!

And learn to just be quiet for a moment and listen! 

Listen to the voice of God telling us

I am who I am”   and I will be with you.”     Amen.

SERMON FOR 11TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 23rd August 2020

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The gospel reading today is a tough one I think.

It begins with Jesus asking the gathered disciples

‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 

This was easy for them, they just shouted out things, ‘John the Baptist’ , Elijah, Jeremiah etc.

It’s a bit like those sessions where someone has a whiteboard or a Flipchart and asks everyone to call out lists….

It’s easy to shout up something in that scenario

but Jesus makes it personal….. ‘But who do YOU say that I am?’

This is much more difficult for the disciples and there was obviously a silence until Simon Peter shouts out ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’

Jesus is delighted and goes on to tell Peter that he will be the rock (a play on his name of Peter, meaning the Rock) on which Jesus will build his church,

Jesus tells him that he will give him the keys of the Kingdom of heaven and whatever Peter binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever Peter looses on earth will be loosed in heaven…..

all this is telling Peter that he was to be in charge.

This is the piece of scripture that was used by the Papacy (Peter being thought of as the original Pope of course) …. As many of you know the symbol of the Vatican is the crossed keys from this piece of scripture, symbolising the promise that Jesus made to Peter, and the binding and loosing has come to be understood as the promise of absolution that Peter was given that day.

This power of absolution is given to each of his successors when they are ordained Priest.

At my ordination the words were more or less the same, asking God to give me  grace and power to fulfil the ministry to which I was called and to

‘to proclaim the gospel of your salvation, to minister the sacraments of the new covenant, to watch over and care for your people; to pronounce absolution; and to bless them in your name’

But I feel that the more important aspect of today’s Gospel is that Jesus wasn’t happy with just the Flipchart answers from the Disciples, he didn’t want answer by committee….he wanted to know what each of them thought, Peter being the one who answered first.

It’s instructive that this question was raised, and that it survives in our historical records. It shows to us that the earliest memories of the earliest believers were agitated about the personal identity of Jesus. Even those who knew him were asking exactly who was this man?

Who do YOU say that I am?

is still the question he asks each one of us.

That’s the question we have to answer and not just by copying Peter’s answer

or not just by repeating the Creed…

Our answer determines how we live our lives,

our relationship with our loved ones, our time, our energy, our bank accounts…

I’m not trying to make this a guilt trip

But I would suggest that it is worthwhile to actually take some time to think about who Jesus is for us.

I remember years ago travelling on buses or on the DART in Dublin, there would often be a poster saying ‘Who do you say that I am’ in huge writing and underneath in much smaller writing there would be an invitation to join some Christian group in some church hall.

I never did go to the church hall but it did used to make me think at least!

A few years ago now, the Bishop had made up a poster for the Confirmation services throughout the dioceses, you might remember it ? In fact there might even be a copy around somewhere gathering dust on a noticeboard…

Anyway, it was a poster showing a word thought cloud, with all of the words for God that the confirmation children had come up with at his Confirmation morning in Douglas…. It was made up of words like Father, Mother, Spirit, Guide, Comforter, Strength, Wisdom ……

When I do the confirmation classes , which last 3 months, I always do a little session like that, I ask the children to write down what God is to them. 

It is a seemingly simple exercise but it always seems to take them ages…. because it is difficult.

In the Community school, I take groups of 5th years for a session on Prayer and I use the cards from USPG called ‘The Christ we share’ which has paintings and sculptures or whatever depicting Christ in different cultures throughout the world. Christ as a Rastafarian from Jamaica , Christ as a wanted poster of a Geurilla in South America, Christ as a Black man from Cameroon, Christ as a painted Egg from the Russian Orthodox Church, Christ as a Blond man with blue eyes… you get the picture…. In fact , the picture I put on the Pewsheet beside the gospel reflects the cards I use…  Images of Jesus in different cultural settings.

Anyway , I lay out the cards on the desk and I ask the young people to choose just one image and then I go around the class and ask them to tell us why they chose that particular one.

It is ALWAYS an amazing experience as almost without fail, the young person has picked an image that resonates with how they are feeling about themselves or the world…. Christ is almost like a mirror image of what is going on for them at that particular time.

Who do you say that I am?

We have in our heads all of the stuff we have learnt

, ….that Jesus is light from light , true God from True God, begotten not made …..

And sometimes we even understand what we are saying but how do we align our lives to this declaration?

We come up with titles and formulations to try and get at the mystery of what God has done in and through Jesus but if it isn’t part of our lives well then it’s only words……

Like the disciples today, each one of us has to step up to the mark and work out exactly who Jesus is for us.

If we were asked to explain to someone who had never heard of Jesus just who he is , how would we answer?

We could perhaps say that Jesus is God’s way of showing how much God loves us and all people… that God is so big that we have a hard time connecting with God so in order to reveal just how God feels about us, we have Jesus, revealing God’s heart in a sense.

We could perhaps say that Jesus shows us what is possible, how he healed, how he showed compassion, how he fed the hungry , comforted the afflicted,

how he didn’t let himself be limited by social conventions and silly rules,

how he proved that love is stronger than death and hate and fear…. how he showed us that God’s love wins in the end.

Jesus turns his initial theological question into a personal query.

“What about you?

Who do you say that I am?”

And so turns our very own identity to be bound up with the identity of Jesus

he asked them (and he asks us) to think about it on a personal level

because by thinking about it ,  it can make a difference to us

and to the way we live our lives in God’s love and mercy.

We give witness to who Jesus is in our life not only about what we say

but by how we let Jesus change and reconfigure our priorities

what Peter answers to Jesus’ question is really important,

because for Peter, Jesus was not just another great or admirable figure, but the one who could change his life.

The one who changes all our lives.

Amen.

SERMON FOR 10TH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY – 16th August 2020

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Today in the Matthew’s gospel , we heard harsh words from Jesus. They almost seem unbelievable, yet biblical scholars teach that it is in the very fact that they seem unbelievable that their truth shines – why else would devoted disciples have recorded them…..they weren’t in the business of making up unpalatable words to put into Jesus mouth. We must accept that these are indeed the words of Jesus.

So what was he saying?

This is the only recorded occasion that Jesus is outside of Jewish territory, interestingly he is in modern day Lebanon, where so many have suffered in the last week after the horrendous explosion in the port of Beirut.

Jesus had withdrawn from the crowds, again attempting to have some quiet reflective time with his disciples.

This is shattered by the shouting of a woman….

And not just any woman,

a Canaanite woman.

We have to remember that the Canaanite people were the age old enemies of the Jewish people… these were the people who were already in the Promised Land when the Israelites came back from exile in Egypt.

What an affront it must have seemed to the disciples

to have a woman, a Canaanite woman

shouting at their master.

She even addresses him as her Lord, the son of David, as if he belonged to her tribe.

We find that she is desperate, her daughter is tormented by a demon and the mother knows that her only hope lies in Jesus.

At first Jesus just ignores her, but the woman continues shouting until even the disciples can’t stand it….

They beg Jesus to do something, to get rid of her,

She is invading their space and they want just rid of her.

But Jesus hasn’t finished with her, he lets her know that she is outside of his jurisdiction at this present time,

he reminds her that he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and not to her tribe,

on hearing this, she throws herself on her knees and pleads with him to help her.

This is when Jesus then says something that seems to our ears to be very cruel, he tells her that it isn’t fair to take food from the children’s mouths and throw it to the dogs!

We feel that if this was said to us, we would just give up but this Mother was made of stronger stuff.

She throws his comparison right back at him

‘Yes Lord’ she says ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table’

And now Jesus answers in a way that we can more easily identify with…..he says ‘Great is your faith!, let it be done as you wish’  (which is in stark contrast to last week’s gospel when Jesus accused his own close disciples as being of ‘little faith’)

Matthew tells us know that the woman’s daughter was healed immediately.

So

What are we to make of it all?

Why was Jesus behaving so out of character?

We know from the gospels how he constantly reached out to the outsider, the stranger, the odd people that were forgotten or ignored by others

So why on this occasion did he appear to be so cruel to this particular woman who appeals to him in her desperate need?

I think that the key is in the earlier part of our gospel today, the bit before the woman comes on the scene.

The seemingly unconnected bit about the Jewish food laws.

In that part of today’s reading, Jesus is trying to explain to his listeners that it is not what you put into your mouth that defiles you, but it is only what it is in your heart that can make you unclean.

But Jesus , as usual , is talking about more than appears on the surface… he is demonstrating to his disciples and to us all ..   That no one is outside of the pale,

no one is beyond his concern

And the way that he demonstrates this is to shock us into understanding.

His disciples were typical 1st century Jews,

Yes, they were disciples of Jesus and obviously holy men in their way,

But they had all of the biases and hang-ups of their era (and who doesn’t!).

The Canaanites were untouchables, unclean, they didn’t keep the rigid food laws, they were not the chosen ones….and I’m sure there was an element of guilt about how they had been supplanted in the Land.

Yes, by this stage the disciples understood that Jesus was indeed the Saviour, but he was their Saviour, the Son of David, promised of old,

The Saviour of the Jews, not the Saviour of the Gentiles…

Now Jesus graphically demonstrates that he is the Saviour of all.

This story of the Canaanite woman anticipates the widening outreach of the Church, it foreshadows the going out of the Gospel to the whole world.

The woman’s, which in Jesus’ mind, far outweigh the accident of her birth, were persistence, humility and humour but most importantly of all, she was a woman of faith,

It is her Faith that he praises while he grants her prayer.

Even though during Jesus’ lifetime, his mission was limited to one geographical location, Matthew sees Jesus as having broken down the barrier between Jew and Gentile.

We can see this story as throwing a pebble into a still pool, making the first set of ripples, that extend ever outwards.

Jesus accepted his geographical and social limitations,

His policy was to work with his core group, enabling them to continue his work and to spread his good news ever outwards…. Like the ripples in that pool.

Although Jesus was restricted to the land of Israel, he reached out to individual gentiles and in doing so, set the scene, after the resurrection,  for the early church to extend out its mission to the Gentiles.

In his seemingly harsh treatment of the Canaanite woman, he showed his disciples that it was not where you were born, or what tribe you were born into that made you a disciple but it is your Faith that made the difference.

It was the Canaanite Woman’s faith that saved her and her daughter in that instance

and so too will our faith save us.

Amen.

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….

She wrote

‘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.,

PADDY WALLACE,

MU All-Ireland President,

Randalstown,

Co Antrim.

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.

Amen.

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

……    Amen.

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!

Remember  …..

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!

Amen.

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.

Amen.

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.

Amen.

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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…

Fear…..

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.

Echoing Christ…

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.  

Amen.

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

and said

‘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? 

He said

 ‘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.”

Banky’s Proposed Statue

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!   

Amen.

.

.

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

John 17:1-11

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.

……..   Amen.

.

.

Helen Morgan’s Ascension Stole

.

Drawn by a 7 year old girl in Kilkenny in 2009/10

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..

Amen.

Introduction

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.

Amen

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

Amen.

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.

Amen.

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 tha