Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Salt and Light to the community - Week of Prayer for Christian Unity Homily

Homily Preached at The Church of The Immaculate Conception - Blarney on Tuesday 19th January

Texts 1 Peter 2:9-10 (NRSV)
Matthew 5:1-16 (NRSV)

May the words of my Mouth and the Mediations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen. 

I would like to thank Fr. Bill for his welcome and his invitation to give this Homily. The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is an important part of the Church calendar as it reminds us that we’re not alone in the mission which Christ himself gave his 12 Apostles. It reminds us and challenges us that the body of the church is broken in all sorts of ways but this service is a service which reminds us that unity in the midst of our diversity is possible. 
That the things which we hold in common are great. 
As somebody who works extremely closely in this community with both Fr Bill & Anthony and value greatly their friendship and ministry I am extremely thankful to God for the strong bonds of friends that exist across our community.  The weekly Bible Study,Toddlers,  Community Alpha Courses, Messy Church, Community Carols, Holiday Clubs, Family Fun Mornings which are run - are team work between members of both churches - this is, as far as I'm aware a unique place for this type of work and I’m so thankful to God for all that he his doing in this place. 
Pope Francis wrote the following in a letter last summer:

We know that the visible unity of the Church is the work and gift of the Holy Spirit, who will bring it about in His time. Meanwhile, any effort we make in favour of the unity of Christians is necessary and urgent. The world need to know Jesus. We must proclaim Him without any pause, together. The division among Christians is the fruit of our sin and it is a scandal and our greatest impediment for the mission for which the Lord has called us: announcing the Good News of the Gospel. 

Today, the blood of the many Christians slaughtered in diverse parts of the world cries to heaven. The one that persecutes does not make a mistake, he does;t ask if they are Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox… they are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, and that is enough. The blood challenges us: Do we have the right to make our divisions a priority while the blood of our brothers is shed for the testimony of Jesus Christ?  …
… We know very well what divides us , let us be strengthened more in what unites us: the common faith in Jesus Christ as the only Lord and saviour,  the Word of God and Baptism 

Our Gospel text takes us to the feet of Jesus, on a mountain side 2,000 years ago but the words are as contemporary as they are historic - they are as applicable for Blarney as they were for Bethany 
They are reminders as to what God values:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, those who search for righteousness, are merciful, pure, peacemakers, persecuted 
For those who the world looks down upon - God lifts up as examples 

and then Jesus goes on to state to the crowd gathered before him 
You are the salt of the Earth, you are the light of the world … it cant be hidden 
I wonder in what ways  can you and I be salt and be light in the places where we find ourselves? 

In our workplaces, in our homes, in the supermarket, in the pub - wherever we are … how do we bring light into the situations we find ourselves in. 
The challenge in our culture in our culture is plain to see - it is how do we adequately talk about faith, live out our faith day by day in a world that is increasingly questioning and doubting, in a world and a culture which is changing the old norms which generations past have taken for granted - surely we are told this in our readings today ... our identity is in Christ our Lord 
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.

Fundamental to who we are as Christians is the Love that Christ showed upon the cross and the love that we are to share with one another. 

Unfortunately, in our land and across the world when church is mentioned - the words love and mercy, grace and peace are far from so many peoples lips - no matter what the denomination, no matter what the conversation is about. 

But that is our challenge - our challenge is to spread the gospel to those who are outside, to those who are struggling with faith to those who are lacking hope, to those who are questioning. You and I are called to be light and salt to a hurting and confused world. 

Our challenge is to dig into his word - to find the hope in that word and to effectively speak and act that word in our lives. Humbling serving, ready to articulate our hope whenever and wherever we can. 

Last Tuesday … in Growth Group we’re looking at Fruitfulness on the front line and explore some big theme of How we can be salt and light on our frontlines… where we are day and daily …these themes are helpful to think about where we are… 

Modelling Godly Character
Making Good Work 
Minstering Grace and Love
Moulding Culture
Being a Mouthpiece for Truth and Justice
Messenger of the Gospel

All of these ideas are ways in which we can individually but we’re called to do these things whoever we are. 

This is not simply theory … this is what we’re to be about - salt is effective, light is effective … lets get on and do! The world is depending upon us. 
Our community is depending upon the church to speak out and show what life in all its fulness looks like - too many people are lacking hope and direction - its the job of each one of us to be that salt and light. 

Jesus didn’t say this secretly to the 12 disciples this was public, this was to every single person - EVERYONE 

YOU ARE SALT AND LIGHT in your everyday … 

as salt is effective, as light scatters the darkness 

Let’s through the power of the Holy Spirit - allow God to Change us and then go and change the world … beginning with where we are … right here … right now! 

And he might change the ends of the earth! :-) 

In a moment we’re going to give you a reminder to be salt … we have a sachet of salt and a tea light candle which we’ll light reminding us all that salt and light are effect … yes their small but effective! 

I notice that the salt is the brand GEM 

I wonder as we take these away ... could we remember that 

God Empowers Me to get on with mission 

Let's Pray ... 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Climate Change and the church

I could be wrong, but for the vast majority of Christians living in ireland -  Climate Change is not top priority and I know that this blog my annoy some of my readers but surely we need to do something.

within the Next couple of weeks in Paris ... our world leaders will be meeting to try and hopefully make some decisions about our worlds use of our carbon resources.

We at the very least need to stop using resources at the rate we're using them, we need to stop exploiting the poor and need to find ways to help our brothers and sisters. 

This year in particular I'm extremely conscious of this as I prepare to bring another team out from Ireland to Zambia which is suffering drought ... This plea goes beyond individuals ... it needs to but it needs to start at grass roots ... doesn't it? 

Take a look at this video ... it shows the real effects of Climate Change on the people of Zambia and what potentially could happen with changes to our weather patterns. As with poverty there's a huge complex matrix of problems. But in terms of helping we need to be strategic in what we do to help our fellow world citizens. 

When we head out next summer one of the major things we'll discover is that development and life generally is being hampered by the lack of water in the hydro station at kafue dam which at the moment at its lowest levels for years

Heres what the Archbishop of Canterbury said recently in a speech... 
"I want to pick out four particular areas very quickly
"The first has already been mentioned by [Second Church Estates Commissioner] Caroline Spelman in her maiden speech, that of education and networking. We have unrivalled access to networks around the world. How are we going to use them and look beyond our own boundaries as the Church of England to draw in the resources of the whole Communion? This is a moment not for just looking inwards.
"It is still too big an issue for most people to get their minds round, including most of us here. And it is above all a classic issue for the whole people of God, not just for the clergy and the bishops and the ordinands. Part 5 of the Anglican Communion’s marks of mission says that we are “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”. That has been in our objectives as a Communion for many years; we have to come back to that and say what are we doing as part of our educational work and networking that will demonstrate that we take it seriously.
"Secondly, we have to come back to the basic social teaching principle of the dignity of the whole human person and the breaking down of the barriers between us achieved in Christ. In other words, as Duncan Dormor said, this has to be holistic. There are many questions that stop us facing climate change. We need to be deeply engaged in the development, as we are through the Anglican Alliance, of the new SDGs, the Sustainable Development Goals. If climate change is to have the place that it needs in international policy, conflict is one of those areas that destroys any attempt to manage issues around climate change. Climate change is both a driver of conflict and a victim of conflict, and we must face that reality and use our networks to address that issue.
"Thirdly, co-creativity. We need an imaginative commitment to new ways of approaching the subject of climate change that does not accept a deterministic or selfish nationalistic policy. We cannot simply look at ourselves and say, ‘we must do better’, and kick the ladder away from the vast majority of humankind that is struggling to find the prosperity that we enjoy so richly. That requires a huge investment in new ideas. If you look up Leo Johnson’s work in this area, it is quite fascinating.
"And lastly, it must be incarnational. Alexandra Podd and Caroline Spelman spoke of this. We are to be exemplary in what we do ourselves. That comes down to some very basic things about faculty legislation; about use of our buildings and imaginative work there; about how use our heritage; about how we use and invest our finances, of which more later today; and around how we heat and light things. Symbolic action such as use of paper at General Synod, the amount we travel, and disinvestment or the tackling and engagement with companies in certain areas, such as arctic drilling, are equally important.
"This is not a standalone issue. It cuts across all we do. Thank you."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Sermon - James 2:1-13

Sermon preached today at Sunday AM in Carrigrohane as part of our James Sermon Series 

Let’s Pray 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen 

Over the course of these weeks we’re looking at the Book of James across all our services in the parish … we’re going slowly through the book and so picking up on the gems of wisdom, teaching and excellent advice contained with in. Its a Letter to a church who were trying to live out their new found faith but who were tempted to be returning to some cultural norms which were all about them and that they were so used to - They were as we’ve already seen in the first chapter That James was writing to a church with problems … the problem of persecution but also the problem and also of temptation… 

Chapter 1 ended with the reminder that … “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

Quite a simple thing in theory but we do know … even after 2,000 years we still find it so difficult to do just that. So let’s see how James tries to unpack what the word (as far as he has received it) and how he tries to translate it for the people in the church(es) he’s writing to, what he’s urging them to do and in turn translating that for us today. 

The health & safety warning of this passage ... 

We could very easily fall down 2 potholes which are difficult to get out of … we could fall down the hole of condemnation and heap up a whole mountain of guilt upon ourselves which isn’t useful nor healthy  - woe is me! 

or we could fall down the hole of defence and say actually this doesn't apply to me at all or trying to justify our actions for a certain event which has happened and the walls of defence go up 

with that warning given ….Let’s look at the passage for today … James 2

Simple Structure … when it comes to reading the letters 

Who is he addressing here? 

These comments are directed to those in the Church assembly … those who have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of Glory … in other words - ordinary everyday Christians who know the Lord and who are trying to live out their faith in their community … sound familiar? 

People who know what it is to be in want and know what fantastic gifts he has given to his people. 

Sometimes its easy to live out our faith … but … and its a big but … at other times its really, really difficult … We might understand it but the difficulty comes in putting it into practice … of taking it from the page into our minds but then also putting it into practice 

So, What’s the problem here that james is trying to tackle? 

v2 - In The assembly (their meetings) We’re assuming here their worship gathering which are made up of people of different people … Rich and Poor, Male and female, slave and free. People of different backgrounds but whats important for us to realise The culture of the day would be a hierarchy of all sorts upper and lower classes with various legal rights associated with being in a particular place - The thing with the church is that it was at its best it was to be a place of equality, a place where all were the same. 

The key word here is Favoritism or in other translations partiality - The greek word used here literally means, “to receive the face.” The idea is taking people at face value. They may have said “they’re a good person to be around”, “they’re no fun”, “not going to get on with him” … perhaps this is as close as the Bible gets to the familiar saying - “Never judge the book by its cover”. 

Favourites … we all have them - your favourite singer or band, football team, chocolate bar, meal, restaurant. But lets remember James wasn't writing about those … it was to a church community - a community where people are meant to be different … where all were valued for who they were not what they did or their position in life. 

I was recently listening to a sermon from a pastor in a church in America who has written various books - francis Chan .. he was preaching on this passage and he decided to do a bit of an experiment with his congregation —-> I’ll let him explain what he did … VIDEO 


This is challenging … we might not have the option that the First Century Christians had … in terms of seats verses the floor but there are things we can do to exclude, to put people down … probably not intentionally but we do do it 

As with many things in the Bible … its not the necessarily action itself its the heart behind the action … 

James zooms further in on the problem he gets to the heart of the matter … its not just favourites that are the problem but its deeper than that 

In v4 we see a Rhetorical question - Have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

If thats the problem why is it a problem? -  The basic problem is its inconsistentancy 

Why should the rich get the best seats
Why should the poor be told to sit on the floor 

3 reasons 
  • It’s Inconsistent with God’s Way of viewing things  (5-6a) 
  • It’s Inconsistent with the way the rich are treating believers (6b-7) 
  • It’s inconsistent with the claims of the ‘Greatest Commandment’ (8-13) 

Let’s take a look at these apparent inconsistancies

God’s way of viewing things 
God has chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith  … there are loads of passages. If you’re interested theres a fantastic study in looking at how much of Matthew’s Gospel James uses. But a quick flick through it shows us the beatitudes … blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven. Also Jesus’ teaching in luke’s gospel … its the poor, the outcast who respond to Jesus’ message 

So if God says he has blessed the poor with the kingdom of heaven, and as paul has he has chosen the foolish and the weak and the despise then we need to rethink our pecking order and what we value

The poor here seem to be those who were both economically oppressed and spiritually inclined.

The way Paul says this … 

1 Corinthians 1: …26For consider your calling, brothers and sisters, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,… 

The way the rich are treating believers 

Its clear to James that those who are sitting in the good places in the assembly are those who are the ones who are exploiting the poor … The word here is the same word used in Amos 4:1 exploiting the poor 
in Ezekiel 22:7 for exploiting the widows and the orphans. Basically there are those among the gathering who are acting against the demands of ‘pure religion’ which james has already talked about in chapter 1 

So not only has God Blessed those who are being looked down upon, actually those who are being exalted are those who are actively dragging believers down 

If those things are not bad enough James goes on to give them his strongest blow which brings it all together 

The 3rd Inconsistency Claims of the ‘Greatest Commandment’
It’s inconsistent with the most basic, fundamental principle of the law … You shall love your neighbour as yourself

How can they show favouritism without sining … they can’t and neither can we! … James is very clear here … whatever transgression of the law we make. 

Its this sort of idea that the rich man who asked jesus who is my neighbour … and basically the answer was the told in the parable of the good Samaritan … where the unlikely one was the one who showed mercy. 

so is there any hope? 

Well the great news is yes! … change is possible 

this is where when we bring this together and ask the “so what do we do? question” … or to ask it another way … what’s the proposed solution ?

But its also the most challenging thing of all … and takes us on a change process which has the potential of  a change of a complete mindset and world view if we take it to heart 

we show mercy because we need mercy, we love because he first loved us, we can give only what we already have been given. 

This is not a works salvation,  … not at all … but it is a response which we do out of gratitude for what we’ve been blessed with. 

Remember the opening line of psalm 23 … The Lord is my Shepherd … I shall not be in want 

Its because the Lord is our shepherd … we’ll not be in want 

We have been given his love, his grace, his forgiveness, the bounty of creation and 
we’re called to show love, to share grace, to give forgiveness, to share the gifts of all of creation 

So what does that look like? 

What does it look like on a Monday Morning for you … in School, in Work, in your family situation, what does it look like in church? … what does showing mercy and not favoritism look like, what does not judging someone. 

I said at the start 

we could fall down the hole of condemnation and heap up a whole mountain of guilt upon ourselves which isn’t useful nor healthy  - woe is me! of looking at all the times before we’ve failed … we need to remember we’ve got second chance … we have been shown mercy 

or we could fall down the hole of defence and say actually this doesn't apply to me at all or trying to justify our actions and the walls of defence go up - then we’ve got to admit that actually we might be able to do better next time 

Mercy > Judgement 

Where do you and I need to show mercy … where before we’ve shown judgement ?

Thursday, October 08, 2015

Men's Alpha Blarney - Week 2 - Why did Jesus Die?

Over the next 9 weeks members of the churches in Blarney are running  a Men's Alpha Course ... A course which looks at the fundamentals of our faith and allows men to ask all the difficult questions about God, Church and life

last week we looked at who is Jesus,

This week we asked the question ... why did Jesus die?

So we looked at the cross - why it is a sign of our faith and asked loads of difficult questions about the Christian understanding of sin, forgiveness

We said that if the cross is the solution what is the problem it was trying to solve.

We looked at sin through various lenses
  • Pollution of sin 
  • Penalty of sin 
  • Power of sin 
  • Partition of sin 
A Similar talk to that given tonight can be found here - why not take a watch of it ... feel free to add comments below or message me if you have any comments

What's your initial reaction to the talk?

What is your understanding of sin?

What other questions do you have?

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Frontline ... where? and what does fruit look like?

At our young adults group this term we're looking at Mark Greene's book Fruitfulness on the front line ... or to be more specific we're watching the DVD and discussing it with the Biblical passages being discussed.

This evening we looked at the basic questions of what does frontline look like and what character traits does God want to create in us ... where we are and whatever we're doing.

This stuff is hugely important and being accountable to one another for the things we do has the potential to change the church and in turn the world.

We were asked a few questions:

When in the last week did we display Christian Character?
When in the last week did we not display the fruit of the Spirit?

We then were challenged about the importance of keeping close to God to allow his Spirit to produce in us the fruit of his Spirit. When we read Galatians 5

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh[a]; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”[b] 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh.They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[c] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery;20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited,provoking and envying each other.

We see that we're called to walk by the Spirit and in turn the Spirit produces the fruit ... we're called to not strive but to walk in step with Him.

Lots of challenges but great to be challenged! :-)

What does your front line look like ... where is it? ... who do you come in contact with on a daily, weekly basis? how can you display godly Character?

What's the book about?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A time to ponder ... A time for Practical action

So often in life we're running from a meeting to something something else without time to stop and ponder.

Pondering needs to be done - its in the pondering that processing gets done, that we get a time to think about what could be, and what needs to be done. What's important and what's not. What are the priorities and what's not?

What does this season hold, this term - what are we called to or what are we trying to achieve.

I'm extremely thankful to God for the space and time created to ponder, to process and to think about priorities as we go forward this season.

Of course we can't stay in the place of pondering - we need to be practical and get on and do.

What's on your pondering list?

What's your priorities for this season and how are we accomplishing those priorities?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Church and the world - The challenge of reality of our world today ... a couple of the millions of questions

Folks, what can we do?

Sitting in a comfortable house, thousands of miles away from events which are horrific, world changing, personal and politically charged and in need of a groundswell of need and of humanity.

In our world there is a need for things to change ... but how ... at what cost? ... and are we prepared to pay the costs

Budapest ... Austria ... Turkish coast ... Macedonia ... North Africa ... Iraq ... Afganistan

Peace and Stability in the Middle East and Africa

There are huge questions with all of this and what should the church response be?

People are on the move and we have to do something ... don't we?

There is a difference between migrants and Refugees

People who want to save their lives

As a church locally, national and internationally  ... what could or should our response to be?

How do we begin to grapple with the huge issues involved in this?

We process stuff as Christians through

Theology - Biblically, Tradition, Reason and Experience
Pastorally - what is the right thing to do with the people around about us
Prayerfully - How to pray for those on the move today, tonight

Post Summer Reflection ... new season

Having spent the summer months this year doing all sorts of things ... from Summer Madness to Sligo from Sligo to Holiday Club from Holiday Club to Holidays in West Cork to meeting friends in Portrush and from Portrush to Ballydehob and then to Blarney- Its been a great summer even though Holidaying in Ireland hasn't been the best weather-wise it's been great otherwise.

Sitting in front of the computer now looking forward ... I'm excited about all the stuff that's coming up in the next 6-12 months in and around Blarney and the parish as well as with various things around the church at large.

Some things that are happening ...


After holiday Club this year we're changing Messy Church in Blarney to have a meal each month a huge challenge in a small kitchen! but a big benefit to Ministry in the church

We're doing some improvements around the church - hedges getting a good haircut!,  a new shed and new signage hopefully arriving

We're hoping to have a history and news website for community and tourists to find out more about the church which people will be able to use by scanning our sign!

We're bringing together an all-age team to head to Zambia in Summer 2016 with CMS Ireland

We're really excited about what's happening and our links with our Catholic Church Neighbours

We're hosting this years Community Carol Service

We're going to get thinking about what mission looks like in Blarney in 2016

We're hosting a Mens Alpha Course in October

We've got growth group starting again and continuing to go from strength to strength

We're hosting a New Wine Women's conference in Blarney

We're continuing our prayers for the community group later in September

We're holding a training for Prayer Ministry

We're getting into a new monthly pattern of worship of United Celebration, Service, Messy Church, Service.

We're chatting to other churches and parishes  who are thinking about Messy Church in Dublin and the Midlands across the denominations which we're really excited about as a team from Blarney.

Then come the new year ... Messy Church conference in the spring and all sorts of other things including Zambia 2016! in the summer.

One thing is for certain ... it's not dull here in Blarney ... God is opening lots of doors.