Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sermon - What if ...??

Sermon Preached at Holy Communion Evening Sunday 20th December St. Columba's Parish Church

Matthew 1 Joseph's Dream

Let us Pray – Heavenly Father, take my words, our thoughts and our hearts this evening and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit help us to understand more fully your Word. We ask this through the name of Jesus Christ – Amen.

Well I wonder how you are doing in your preparations for Christmas – are you sorted? Are the decorations and cards up? When are you collecting your turkey? … In the curatage The Christmas Tree went up on Saturday! And the gifts … well they are getting sorted as we speak.

This evenings Gospel reading is familiar if not even second nature to many if not all of us here. If I were to pick someone and ask them to tell me the story of Jesus Birth I am sure they would able to without too much difficulty. Mary and Joseph, angels, shepherds, wise men, Herod, inn keepers. Little donkey?, shinning stars

We are still in Advent, still looking at the preparations which were made for the first Christmas. As we look at this reading this evening let us come to it with fresh eyes and see the scandal in God's plan. And look at the what if's in the story

We firstly need to understand Mary and Joseph's Relationship – they were engaged (betrothed) which unlike today did have legal and moral status – you couldn't simply throw off an engagement ring in the way that happens in so many soap operas today. It was an agreement between families and no doubt everyone in the vacinity knew Mary and Joseph and were happy for them. Two upstanding teenagers … sure they'd be very happy for them both … a perfect little family

Then Joseph's life is completely turned upside down Mary is expecting a Child … a CHILD, How could she do that to him? Why would she do that to him? Who is the father?

Public disgrace … not only for Joseph but for Mary and their families … Mary's life would be ruined perhaps even in danger.

First what if … Joseph is within his rights to publicly disgrace her, drag her through the courts which could eventually have ended in Mary's stoning … she was an adulteress wasn't she??

But we do see that Joseph took another line … he decided to do the divorce quietly to minimize the disgrace. But before that God intervened as he did on numerous occasions before … in a dream letting Joseph in on the plan that was unfolding and allowed Joseph to be a part of the plan.

In the dream the are certain points to note –
Firstly it is Jospeh who is of the David's Line (from where the Messiah is to come!)
Then the Holy Spirit who has conceived the Child,
Then it is up to Joseph to name him Jesus meaning “God Saves”- which was a common name Yeshua which is the name Joshua
but the reasoning is not like the others – a hope for what God will do but it is an expression of what this child will do. As John would say the Word became Flesh

Our Second what if … What if Joseph woke from his sleep and either just forgot about the dream or wrote it off as simply his own brain activity going wild in the face of the trauma he was going through? -

But what we do see is that Joseph remained faithful to the vision he had, to the instruction he received from God and did all that was asked with him.

The two what-if's identify two possible areas of vulnerability in God's Plan, but also the part human beings had in the bringing about of God's purposes, later in the plan we see God using Joseph to protect the new baby from Herod's soldiers.

As we look towards Christmas – there are no doubt skeptics about these events – a few weeks ago I was over on a Sunday afternoon in Speakers Corner in Hyde Park where people step up and speak about whatever takes their fancy. There is usually a good few street preachers trying to defend themselves from hecklers who love to argue about anything and everything. Thankfully in St. Columba's we do not have too many hecklers in our congregation, but I have no doubt that questions do indeed rise about stories.

When we look at the scandal of the Christmas story, from within Mary and Joseph's relationship we also should ask the question about God and the scandal this brings for Him.

He has stepped down to have a relationship with us –
the creator becomes the created
In Jesus – we get in one Fully God and Fully Human which is the mystery of the incarnation itself
the sinless one in the sinful world – how does that work … I don't know
It can only be described as grace – freely lovingly, given.

A couple of other what-ifs
What if Jesus was just born as any other human being … no conception by Holy Spirit....
Then we get into very dodgy ground - where do we get his divinity from? … he is just the same as the rest of us he has no power over sin, nature, death ...

What if Jesus had just floated down … no birth … Jesus is God no problem but he is not human, no understanding of human nature, and ultimately has ramifications with the atoning sacrifice on the cross.

But only a fully human and fully God- virgin Birth Jesus– makes sense - everything else rests on these facts.

We have just proclaimed our faith in the words of the Nicene creed which was very much borne out of the need to produce a clear statement of beliefs about the person of Christ counteracting heretics who were leading people astray with ideas such as the denial of either the humanity or the divinity of Jesus

Lee Strobel, A Masters Graduate of Law from Yale and award-winning legal editor of the Chicago Tribune was a hardline atheist, set about writing a book when his wife became a Christian, his books A case for have become very good reads for anyone asking difficult questions about the Christian faith. Whilst I was reading one of the interviews he had with a theologian I was struck by the simplicity of the answer that was given. Book Case For Faith - p60

Strobel – OK, Dr Craig, you are an intelligent and educated individual, tell me how can a modern, rational person still believe in babies being born from virgins, people walking on water and bodies rising from tombs

Craig smiled – It's funny you should ask specifically about the virgin birth because it was a major stumbling block to me becoming a Christian. I thought it was totally absurd”

When the Christian message was first shared with me as a teenager I already had studied biology. I knew for the virgin birth to be true, a Y chromosome had to be created out of nothing in Mary's ovum, because Mary didn't possess the genetic material to produce a male child. To me this was utterly fantastic. It just didnt make sense.

Strobel then probed a bit – other skeptics have problems with it too... how did you proceed ?

Craig thought for a moment “Well I sort of put that issue aside and became a Christian anyway, even though I didn't really believe in the virgin birth. But then, after becoming a Christian, it occured to me that if I really do believe in a God who created the universe then for him to create a Y chromosome would be child's play. … the interview continued

In conclusion, there are many what ifs, many discussions that can be had, but at some stage we must move to faith, of trusting the word of God, of saying God you are in control, of saying thank you for sending your son, thank you for the promise you give us – that you are immanuel – God with us and that you are Jesus – the embodient of God Saves.

Yes God made himself vulnerable, he sent his son as a baby to human parents who would bring him up as their own then eventually that boy would become a man and then die on a cross and then rise again.

This Christmas time let us Remember what it is all about – not about the perfect Christmas Dinner, of all the business parties, the best presents in the tidiest house but rather the simple message of God coming amongst his people that first Christmas day.

Let us pray

Friday, December 18, 2009

wishing away the year ?

Today was a busy day off in the curatage, getting things set up for Christmas ... shopping, stamps etc just as I picked up the tree and decorations ... just packed them in the car, popped round to the garage to get come milk and what was sitting at the tills... not selection boxes nor chocolate Christmas puddings.

But rather Cadbury's cream eggs, mini eggs and kitkat bars displaying easter.

Are we really wishing away the year or perhaps its just the desire to get brands noticed ... more profits for the chocolate manufacturers.

Surely we need to simply take a day at a time ... do what we can.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Philipians 4

4 Rejoice* in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.* 5Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

Heavenly father,

I pray that you would take our minds and think through them, take my words and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord Amen

The Epistle reading this morning is Christianity in a nutshell – take a look at it. It is full of Joy, it is full of great advice for dealing with any circumstance we find our selves in and it has the assurance of God's presence. What more could you ask for?

As we delve into it for a short time this morning let us ask ourselves what we can learn from it for our walk with God.

Let us begin with Joy – It is the underlying theme of Paul's letter many times in this letter he uses either the word joy or rejoice – It is also the theme of today's Candle – and coming up to Christmas it is the theme of many of the songs we sing – Joy to the world etc.

When we talk about Joy or rejoicing in the Lord it is not simply a nice happy smiley face that we put on for show, it is much, much deeper than that. If we think about the situation which Paul found himself in when writing this – in Chapter 1 he has already stated his situation – He's in prison and facing death head on but is determined to keep going

For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.

But throughout all of this he is able to speak of Joy in the Lord. Rejoicing in the Lord comes from knowing him, realising what the Christian life is about, knowing that the future is secured, knowing how precious you are in his sight.

Once you know that you can really rejoice, knowing that relationship with him. Christmas is special not because of the commercialism and the Coca Cola Lorry arriving in the town but because God came down to us and made it possible for us to have a relationship with him.

The Joy which we rejoice with is only possible because we can have an intimate relationship with him – If our joy is founded on anything else it is inferior.

For some they rejoice in the latest technology or the latest fashion styles – nothing wrong with that but if that is where their identity is then they will always be striving for something more. But the thing is that with Joy founded in Christ brings meaning and fullness of life. Paul knew that – even in the midst of life locked up in a Roman jail.

As we move on in the passage How amazing it is to hear Paul re-iterate the words of Jesus – Do not worry about anything. Says he who is facing imprisonment and even death – Don't worry about anything … instead pray

I wonder what is concerning us this day. On the run up to Christmas what is worrying us, on the cusp of a new year what is scaring us? In our work life what is bearing down on us? In our familes are there worries we have? In these days of financial hardship are there things which are concerning us?

What are we to do … we are to pray about our worries. It is not a magical formula – pray and all your worries will disappear there and then but it is about gaining perspective, its about allowing God to minister to you, its about sharing your burdens with Him. Over the course of my time in St. Columba's it is such a privelige to go round on pastoral visits and share peoples burdens and pray with them – and leave the answers up to God. We do believe God does answer our prayers. As clergy we are only to delighted to pray with people in their joys, in their sorrows, in their concerns.
Please, if there is anything we can pray for please do not hesitate to ask us anytime.

In this passage it is interesting at the end – Paul concludes with a cresendo – if you do rejoice in the Lord, if you bring your requests before him – the result will be peace.

The word peace in the Bible as many will know – doesn't just simply mean a cessasion of violence or quietness but it means the deep fullness of life –

Paul was saul a jew before he became a follower of Christ so he would have known the fullness of the term shalom although he was now writing in Greek. If Chaos is disorder in the world – shalom is a restored order – The wholeness and health life in its proper place. The kind of life we sometimes dream of.

And he is saying that this peace will guard our hearts. Think about where Paul is … he is being guarded by soliders – he is illustrating here that the peace which God can provide is able to protect us from the harassment and fear which the world so often throws at us.

As we make our preparations for Christmas this year – let us remember what Paul is writing from his prison cell.

Let us rejoice in the incarnation, the fact that God is with us. On our Parish Christmas Card we have that reminder – Behold Emmanuel – God is with us. Our Joy needs to be grounded in that fact – if it is elsewhere then we are on shaky ground

Then let us bring our worries to God in Prayer … He is in control. Pray continuously … There is no problem too trivial or too Big for God. Share your prayers with others who can join you in prayer.

And finally rest assured in the Peace of Christ – know that he is God

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Advent Reflections

I know I said that I would put up a thought a day for advent ... however things are quite busy here in St. Columba's but I have come across a new type of advent calendar ... a video a day.

This free automatic Advent Video Calendar will display a different thought provoking video each day from 1st - 24th December, featuring speakers such as Philip Yancey, Krish Kandiah, Anna Robbins and Nick Pollard

Monday, November 30, 2009

Advent thoughts #2 - Ministry of Healing ... Celebration

Healing and wholeness is a whole area of ministry which is central to the Gospel and one in which Jesus spends a lot of time on. Over the course of my time in Dublin I did quite a bit of thinking about, through projects and other essays etc.

Tonight I was down in my home parish of Banbridge at the Diocesan Ministry of Healing Celebration where there was testimony of people being healed, where people were prayed for, worship, lighting of candles, prayers of intercession and where Bishop Harold spoke about the wholeness of healing.

As a text he used Psalm 126 a psalm about the Israelites experience of desolation, of captivity, of brokenness.

Psalm 126 (New International Version)

Psalm 126

A song of ascents.
1 When the LORD brought back the captives to a]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[a] Zion,
we were like men who dreamed. b]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[b]

2 Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
"The LORD has done great things for them."

3 The LORD has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

4 Restore our fortunes, c]" style="font-size: 0.75em; line-height: 0.5em; ">[c] O LORD,
like streams in the Negev.

5 Those who sow in tears
will reap with songs of joy.

6 He who goes out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with him.

  1. Psalm 126:1 Or LORD restored the fortunes of
  2. Psalm 126:1 Or men restored to health
  3. Psalm 126:4 Or Bring back our captives
We see from this a few things
- God's desire for restoration, his over-arching plan to restore all things
- The reminder that there will be tears
- Incidentally +Harold spoke about the tears (there will be in ministry) over those whom we love who go their own way, those whom we minister to who do pass away, those for whom we pray and their illness continues.
- The reminder that those tears will be turned someday to joy

Concentrating on verse 5 - something which I hadn't really thought about before. There is a choice when we are sowing - we can look at the short term and those who are hungry can eat the seed now or in faith we can bury it in faith that it will produce a harvest sometime down the line. This is the message of the harvest.

Advent thought #2 ... as we prepare for Christmas - for whom do we have tears this day? are we prepared to sow so that sometime in the future we may reap with songs of Joy.

Who do we know that needs God's healing this day? are we prepared to surrender our prayers to God?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Reflections 1

This is the first of a series of brief reflections as we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of Jesus and look forward to God's return at some time.

Tonight the churches in the Belmont Council of churches came together for a service in Knock Methodist. Revd Robin Waugh gave two short reflections. He reminded the congregation that Christmas is all about communication - God communicating with us and Us communicating that message with the world.

One story which he told, and I had heard way back in the distance past but which was really good to be reminded of:

Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish theologian, tells the story of a prince who was running
an errand for his father one day in the local village. As he did so, he passed through a very
poor section of the town. Looking through the window of his carriage, he saw a beautiful
young peasant girl walking along the street. He could not get her off his heart.

He continued to come to the town, day after day, just to see her and to feel as though he was near her. His heart yearned for her, but there was a problem. How could he develop a relationship with her? He could order her to marry him. It was in his power to do so. But he wanted this girl to love him from the heart, willingly. He could put on his royal garments and impress her with his regal entourage, and drive up to her front door with soldiers and a carriage drawn by six horses. But if he did this he would never be certain that the girl loved him or was simply overwhelmed with his power, position and wealth. The prince came up with another solution.

As you may have guessed, he gave up his kingly robe and symbols of power and privilege.
He moved into the village dressed only as a peasant. He lived among the people, shared their
interests and concerns, and talked their language. In time, the young peasant girl grew to
know him, and then to love him.

As we look towards the incarnation this year this seems to be a good place to start.

Happy new year!

Now that we are in the season of advent, its a new liturgical year ... so happy new year.

This morning at St. Columba's we were looking at the importance of preparation. We do go to great lengths to prepare things

... Cleaning
... on holidays we prepare passports, guidebooks suncream
... in our cooking we prepare food by recipe books
... when cycling we make sure we have helmets and hi vis jackets

The question which I posed to myself and the congregation this morning is how are we going to use this season of advent to prepare ourselves for christmas.

beyond the tinsel and food how are we going to prepare for this season?

The Gospel reading reminded us that Jesus has said that he is returning ... are we preparing our hearts and minds for him?

We do all the prep for everything else ... how are we preparing for him?

Over the course of Advent I hope to be able to think about the readings of the day (beginning tomorrow) and put a few thoughts up here on my Blog as I get to grips with God's word in this season of preparation and waiting for Christmas.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oh Mary, this London's a wonderful sight ...

Over the course of the past few day, this blogger has been off rambling around London seeing lots of sights.

After doing a bit of research I resided at a Christian conference centre in Highbury ... it is a great place, simple and straightforward. It is a 5/10 min walk from the Tube station, one stop from King cross which makes it a very simple process to get into the city centre.

Over the course of the last few days I have been chillin' out, catching up with wee sis, been in Oxford, Slough and Windsor as well as checking out the sights of London Town. Yesterday (sunday morning I went along to Mattins at Westminister abbey - a fantastic choir and a great sermon.

Later in the day made my way around to Holy Trinity Brompton (home of the Alpha Course) for one of their services, the place was packed and Nick Gumbel was preaching on the the gift of faith from Hebrews By faith Moses was able to do what he did.

Unfortately the camera was not packed so no photos this trip but now it is back to porridge ... or cornflakes to be more exact as I head back to Dublin, heading down to Braemor park for an overnight before heading to LAC in the morning.

PS. Just wondering if Ryanair will let this blogger onto the plane with an overweight bag and an umbrella... it would be nice but we'll see ;-)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

W5 Kingdom of God/Heaven

Sermon preached at St. Columba's - 7pm Holy Communion Service - Sunday 15th November 2009. Service included the dedication of the Beatitudes Choir new Carol Books.

The First Reading - Daniel 3 or Daniel 3: 13-30

The Psalm - Psalm 95

The Gospel Reading - Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Click here to view the readings

Heavenly father I pray that you would take my lips and speak through
them, take our mind and think through them, take our hearts and set
them on fire with love for you. Through Jesus name we pray Amen


“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which
someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he
has and buys that field.”

The kingdom of heaven is like … this is one of the features of
Matthews account of Jesus’ ministry is that he mentions the kingdom
many many times. Jesus is concerned with bringing in the kingdom reign
of God. Of course this was not the popular perception of how a kingdom
would be brought about.

Those living in the 1st Century knew about kings coming and going –
the Jewish people knew about being conquered. In our Old Testament
reading we see one of those conqueroring kings … Nebuchadnezzer who
threw people into a firey furnace. Was this the type of King Jesus
was? NO!

We know that the kingdom which Jesus came to inaugurate wasn’t a
political conqueroring kingdom to overthrow the roman overlords but
something else. Is it possible to define?

In the Lords prayer we pray … Thy kingdom come

Is that something which we want?, is it something we desire … do we
really know what we mean when we talk about God’s Kingdom.

Down at the Odyssey in Belfast there is an area … W5 which looks at
science and asks 5 Questions

Who, What, Where, When, Why

In a few moments I would like to cover the answers to those questions
about the Kingdom of God/heaven

Who is in the kingdom?
This is one which is easy and difficult at the same time! We are all
called and it is God’s will that each would inheritors of the kingdom.
We are not judge anyone but it up to individual to either accept the
citizenship offer or reject it.

What are the responsibilities of citizens of the Kingdom?

As a citizen of the UK we have certain responsibilities and privileges

Our responsibilities include
• Sticking to the laws of the land
• Paying our taxes

If we do those then we have the privileges of
• Security
• Social care

Within the Kingdom of God we too have Responsibilities
We are to live our lives in accordance with the ethics of the Bible
We are to look out for the poor and the widow
We are to be attentive to what God is doing and do what he tells us to do

We then also have privileges
We are called sons and daughters, friends of God
We have the promise of eternal life

Where is the Kingdom?
With no earthly king, no boarder, no government – where is the kingdom
is an enourmously troubling question … it’s a problem! The Kingdom of
God at the moment is in the hearts and minds of those who are
citizens. Those who are living their lives for God.

The Christian knows that some day the full realization of the kingdom
will be found … that great and awesome day when Jesus will come back
in his full glory.

Which links to the fourth of our five questions

When will the kingdom be established?
At the moment we are living between the establishment and the full
realization of the kingdom… we are longing for the day when death,
illness and all the other consequences of sin are defeated, when Jesus
returns. At the moment the treasure is hidden but it will be found. It
will come.

We both as citizens work for the kingdom to be established but also
wait in expectation that Jesus will come.

There are many warnings in the Gospels that people will come along
claiming that the kingdom is come and that they are the messiah …
devastating consequences result. Wako and other such tragedies. What
we need to do is remember that none of us will know when the full
realization of the kingdom of God will come until it does.

That does not stop us from working as hard as we can for the kingdom,
God’s rule to be established in our families, in our friendship
groups, in our city, in our country.

Why should we be concerned about the kingdom of God?

To be honest, it boils down to priorities. The kingdom is the one
thing that will last. It is the one thing that we know spans from
birth through life and then beyond the grave. There is nothing more

The Kingdom of God as we see from the parables this evening, is a
precious thing that one may simply happen upon accidently, or perhaps
one may undertake a search round lots of different things but it is
the most precious thing.

What we do need to realize is that this is an upside down kingdom, it
is one which provides hope in the midst of despair, it is one which
the first will become last and those who are at the bottom of the heap
will become first, those who recognize themselves as sinners will be
counted as righteous.

Some Questions ...
This is great news but the question raised by this passage is are we
prepared to surrender all that has gone before for the treasure?

Do we understand our role & responsibilities as citizens of the
Kingdom and how we can and should live for him?

Monday, November 09, 2009

A simple Bible Study Method

This is a method of Bible Study I came across a few years ago and re-discovered this morning as I was looking over the texts for next sundays sermons, it is quite a simple structure to use when it comes to looking at any passage.

A light bulb: This should be something that ‘shines’ from the passage—whatever impacts most, or draws attention.

A question mark: Anything that is difficult to understand in the text, or a question the reader would like to ask the writer of the passage or the Lord.

An arrow: A personal application for the reader's life

Sunday, November 08, 2009


Sermon preached at St. Columba's Parish Church, 7pm Compline Service

Gospel Text: John 14


On this remembrance sunday, our minds are drawn to the many memorials in our churches, in towns and cities across our land which list the names of soldiers who left this land to go and fight on foreign shores during the two world wars.
We remembering those who left their loved ones at home to fight for the freedom which we enjoy today.

At this remembrance time we also recall those who have died since the end of the second world war, those servicemen & women as well as Police officers who have been killed whilst serving the community.

The events of the past week show that we are not far removed today – servicemen and women dying in the line of duty.

It is extremely important to remember what has gone on before today,
to learn the lessons of history,
to tell the stories of generations past to the current generation.

I will never forget in second year a group of us went out from the High School in Banbridge to the French Belgium border to the battlefields in Northern France to see where members of some of our families fought and where many perished.

What really struck me was the names of all those who had died on huge monuments ... Mennin Gate and Thiepval Memorial.

Thepival in particular – 70,000 names of men who have no known grave
As I walk round the grave yards there … to see white headstones standing tall many of whom were inscribed with the words … A soldier of the great war or known only unto God

On those monuments there were the Names of people who died … But we cannot, and should never forget that they are not simply names inscribed on stone ... but these were living breathing people who had a whole network of relationships somebody's son, father, husband ...but who died fighting for something, some ideal bigger than themselves.

Each name reminds us of the brutality of war. In this church we have a moument which lists the names of many men who went out and made the ultimate sacrifice.

When it comes to remembrance day, we cannot and should never glorify warfare - it is evil. The whole of the gospel calls us to love our enemy and to do good to those who hate us but we also do need to stand up and fight for what we know is true and right.

How do we make sense of war? can we make sense of war?

Scholars and theologians do try ... with theories such as Just war theory and we can argue round and round about the justification for war & violence.

But this is not what remembrance is about – Remembrance is however about individual's who go and risk their own lives in the service of their country.

I have always been struck by the story of the Christmas Football match in the trenches...

Dec 1914
The truce began when German soldiers started to sing Christmas carols.
British troops responded and gradually both sets of soldiers moved out of their trenches and met in no-man's land.
After exchanging stories and gifts, several games of football broke out.
The only result recorded was a 3-2 victory by the Germans, quoted in soldiers' letters from both sides.
On some parts of the front hostilities were officially resumed on Boxing Day at 0830 - ceremonial pistol shots marking the occasion.
In other areas non-aggressive behaviour lasted for days and, in some cases, weeks.

Whatever armies may have marched … they are always made up of individuals.

But whatever we think of war we always boil things down to the lowest common denominator ... the individual.

Last night I watched the Festival of Remembrance and was struck by the personal testimony of men and women doing their jobs under enemy fire, as well as the widows who were sharing their memories of those who died.

As we turn to our Gospel reading this evening, we remember that throughout the gospels Jesus was concerned with the individual and relating to them.

He spoke to individual disciples in difficult circumstances

Wether it be disciples who were struggling to understand what he was getting at … as we see in tonights gospel reading as Thomas & Philip try to get to the bottom of what Jesus is saying to them, about his death and about what will happen afterwards.

Jesus also was not afraid to speak to, and challenge those those who were intent on killing him,
He met individuals in their time of grief - think of Mary & Martha.

The reading from the Gospel tonight is a very familiar passage - it is one which we use at many funeral services here in St. Columba's ,
it is one which speaks of hope, of reassurance, of peace and of relationship.

Our world today is a very confusing place ... the amount of violence evident on all our news bullitens - Just this week
- The threat from Dissident Republicans was highlighted
- The shootings in Afganistan of those who were trying to train the police force by a member of the police force
- The shootings in America

Then daily, people here in Northern Ireland as well as across the globe are dying from unnessary things - people we know who have died from curable and incurable diseases.

Whilst we do remember this day those who have died in the wars, those we know and those of whom we only have heard about ... let us remind ourselves that we are here

worshiping God the creator,
worshiping God the redeemer
worshiping the one who sustains us and who promises us his peace.

But above all let us remind ourselves of the eternal perspective he has. That we are indeed people who have an eternal hope.

Yes we are called to live for him,
to do what we are called to do
and ultimately to trust his love.

We have been given a tremendous promise in this passage of Johns Gospel, that we have access to the father, that we have an advocate, that we are not to be afraid That God is in control.

On this remembrance day, in the stillness of this place let us take a few moments to pray for those situations on our minds which are confusing, which are disturbing us.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Well there you go then, I have managed to survive commencement, It actually was a good day catching up with a good crowd of us deacons as well as family and friends there to support us.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Trinity Commencements ... the latin!

One of the things that has been pointed out to us as clergy, is that we need to ensure what we do can be understood by all those participating in what we are leading.

On thursday our year group are graduating from Trinity College Dublin. Whilst I am looking forward to meeting up with fellow curates, the ceremony itself seems a bit bizarre.

After doing a bit of research on the Trinity website this evening I have managed to find the core of the commencement ceremony... and as you can see it is all in latin... interesting ... considering very few of us or our families know the language... but there ya go!

The other thing is that it doesn't actually appear on-line except in a pdf buried in the back of beyond, it would really help if an english translation would be given online, but we shall see what happens on Thursday... picts to follow.

Regulations prescribing the procedure to be followed at the Public Commencements, the order

to be observed, and the formulae to be used in the conferring of Degrees and Diplomas.

(1) The Chancellor shall announce the opening of the Comitia in the following words:
"Salvete senatores omnes, Domini Doctores, Domini Magistri; salvete candidati seniores
iunioresque; salvete hospites undique hic benignissime congregati. Comitia fiant in nomine Dei.

(2) At the First Public Commencements of the Academic Year the Senior Master Non-Regent
shall be elected on the proposition of the Chancellor and the Provost. The Senior and Junior
Proctors and the Registrar shall make the Declaration which is appropriate to their respective

(3) The Registrar shall read the minutes of the last meeting, which when confirmed by the
Senate shall be signed by the Chancellor.

(4) After each supplication made as provided in (5) and (6), if found necessary, the
Chancellor shall call for a special scrutiny, and shall announce the same, using the following
"Accedant Doctores et Magistri, et quisque votum suum simpliciter et absolute inscribat."
The Proctors shall then call the Doctors and Masters, and each shall give his vote according to
ancient usage; the Caput and the Proctors shall then examine the votes, and the result shall then be declared by the Senior Proctor in the usual form.

(5) The Junior Proctor shall supplicate for the Degree of Bachelor in Arts using the following
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, supplicant reverentiis vestris ei, qui in his
chartis quae in manibus nostris sunt nominantur, ut his Comitiis ad gradum super nomina
designatum admittantur. Ego fide mea testor ac spondeo toti academiae unumquemque
candidatorum his chartis nominatum omnia exercitia ad gradum ad quem unumquisque adspirat pertinentia pro legibus academicis rite complevisse.'

The Junior Proctor shall read the title and names of all candidates for the Degree of Bachelor
in Arts, in persona and in absentia.
The Chief Steward shall call for the vote of the Senate with the words:
"Ad scrutinium".
The Chancellor shall put the supplication to the Senate, saying:
'Placetne vobis, Domini Doctores?'
'Placetne vobis, Domini Magistri?'
He shall announce the consent of the Senate with the words:
'Placet omnibus.'

(6) The Senior Proctor shall supplicate for the other Ordinary Degrees, using the following
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, supplicant reverentiis vestris ei, qui in his
chartis quae in manibus nostris sunt nominantur, ut his Comitiis ad gradum super nomina
designatum admittantur. Ego fide mea testor ac spondeo toti academiae unumquemque
candidatorum his chartis nominatum omnia exercitia ad gradum ad quem unumquisque adspirat
pertinentia pro legibus academicis rite complevisse.'

The Chief Steward shall call for the vote of the Senate with the words: ‘Ad scrutinium’.

The Chancellor shall put the supplication to the Senate, saying:
'Placetne vobis, Domini Doctores?', 'Placetne vobis, Domini Magistri?'
He shall announce the consent of the Senate with the words: 'Placet omnibus.'

(7) The Senior lecturer shall introduce the Moderators (who are Gold Medallists) to the
Chancellor, using the following formula:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, praesento tibi hosce iuvenes egregios aureis numismatis et
chartis honorariis eo donandos quod in studiis academicis praeclara tam ingenii quam industriae
indicia dederunt. Ideoque ut haec laudis insignia quam plurimum impertiant honoris te,
Domine, qua par est observantia obsecro ut ea ipsorum in manus tradere digneris.'
The Junior Proctor shall present them for their Degrees, using the following formula:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, praesento vobis hosce meos filios, tam
doctrina quam moribus habiles et idoneos ut admittantur ad gradum Baccalaureatus in Artibus.'

(8) The Chancellor shall present the Moderators with their medals and certificates, using the
following formula:
'Gratum munus mihi demandatum est ut vobis in manus tradam haec numismata et has chartas
honorarias accipite illa ergo, egregii iuvenes, honorifica quidem in praesenti, ominis vero fausti
felicisque in futurum.'
The Chancellor shall admit the Moderators, saying: 'Ego auctoritate mihi concessa admitto
vos ad respondendum quaestioni in Artibus.'

(9) The Senior Lecturer shall introduce the other Moderators, using the following formula:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, praesento tibi hosce iuvenes egregios chartis honorariis eo
donandos quod in studiis academicis praeclara tam ingenii quam industriae indicia dederunt.
Ideoque ut haec laudis insignia quam plurimum impertiant honoris te, Domine, qua par est
observantia obsecro ut ea ipsorum in manus tradere digneris'.
The Junior Proctor shall present them for their Degrees with the words:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, praesento vobis hosce meos filios, tam
doctrina quam moribus habiles et idoneos ut admittantur ad gradum Baccalaureatus in Artibus.'
The Chancellor shall present the certificates, saying:
'Gratum munus mihi demandatum est ut vobis in manus tradam has chartas honorarias;
accipite illas ergo, egregii iuvenes, honorificas quidem in praesenti, ominis vero fausti
felicisque in futurum.'

The Chancellor shall admit the Moderators, saying: 'Ego auctoritate mihi concessa admitto
vos ad respondendum quaestioni in Artibus.'

(10) The Senior Lecturer shall introduce the Respondents to the Chancellor, using the
following formula:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, praesento tibi hosce iuvenes bene meritos, chartis honorariis eo
donandos quod studiis acdemicis rite completis inter Respondentes relati sunt.'
The Junior Proctor shall present them for their Degres with the words:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, praesento vobis hosce meos filios, tam
doctrina quam moribus habiles et idoneos ut admittantur ad gradum Baccalaureatus in Artibus.'

(11) The Chancellor shall present the Respondents with their Certificates, using the following
'Vobis, ingenui iuvenes, has chartas honorarias, quibus digni iudicati estis libens in manus
The Chancellor shall admit them, saying: 'Ego auctoritate mihi concessa admitto vos ad
respondendum quaestioni in Artibus.'
Moderators and Respondents shall be presented for and admitted to their Degrees at the same
time as they are presented with their special certificates.

(12) The candidates for the several Ordinary Degrees shall be presented to and admitted by
the Chancellor in an order the reverse of that in which the said Degrees are named in Chapter
XVIII, 1 (4), the following formulae of presentation and admission, mutatis mutandis, being
Candidates with honors in professional subjects shall be introduced and presented by the
appropriate Professor, using the following formula:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, praesento tibi hosce juvenes bene meritos, chartis honorariis eo
donandos quod studiis acdemicis rite completis inter Insigniores relati sunt et praesento vobis
hosce meos filios, tam doctrina quam moribus habiles et idoneos ut admittantur ad gradum*
The Chancellor shall hand them their certificates, saying:
'Vobis, ingenui juvenes, has chartas honorarias, quibus digni iudicati estis, libens in manus
The Chancellor shall admit them, saying: 'Ego auctoritate mihi concessa admitto vos ad
respondendum quaestioni vel incipiendum in* ...................'

(13) Other candidates shall be presented by the appropriate Professor (or Proctor), using the
following formula:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, praesento vobis hosce meos filios, tam
doctrina quam moribus habiles et idoneos ut admittantur ad gradum* .....................'
The Chancellor shall admit them, saying: 'Ego auctoritate mihi concessa, libens in manus
trado has chartas, et admitto vos ad respondendum quaestioni [vel incipiendum], in*

(14) The candidates for Degree honoris causa shall be individually presented to the
Chancellor by the Public Orator, following the same order as that prescribed in paragraph (13)
of these Regulations for the corresponding Ordinary Degrees.
The formula of presentation for Degrees jure dignitatis is as follows:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, praesento vobis virum egregium,
Praehonorabilem (Honorabilem, Recte Reverendum,), ' apud nos antea graduatum, quem jure
dignitatis quam praeclaris suis meritis adsecutus est, gradu Doctoratus in Utroque Jure (vel
Sancta Theologia) ornari par esse censuit Senatus.'

(15) The Chancellor shall admit the candidates for Degrees honoris causa and jure dignitatis
individually as they are presented, and when admitting such candidates shall use the formula:
'Gratulamur tibi, illustrissime, quem summam amplitudinem summam claritatem meritas
consecutum nostra laurea academica ornare laetamur. Ego auctoritate mihi concessa admitto te
ad gradum Doctoratus in ...........'

(16) The Senior Proctor shall commend the candidates for Degrees in absentia in the
following words:
'Praehonorabilis Cancellarie, totaque Universitas, commendo vobis filios meos degentes
peregre quorum nomina recitata sunt supplicationesque placuerunt quos scio tam moribus quam
doctrina habiles et idoneos esse ut ad gradus quos petunt admittantur.'
The Chancellor shall admit the absent candidates with the words: 'Ego auctoritate mihi
concessa admitto candidatos degentes peregre quorum nomina recitata supplicationesque
placuerunt prout quisque meruit ad respondendum quaestioni in* ...................... et ad
incipiendum in* .....................*'

(17) In case of suspension, or the removal of suspension, the following formulae shall be
Formula suspensionis
'Ego, Cancellarius huius Academiae, auctoritate mihi comissa, suspendo N.N. ab omni gradu
suscepto vel suscipiendo'.
Formula absolutionis
'Ego, Cancellarius huius Academiae, auctoritate mihi commissa, absolvo te ab omni leviore
negligentia, et a suspensione nuper illata.'

(18) .At the conclusion of the business, the Chancellor shall announce the closing of the
meeting with the words:
'Valete senatores, non diutius vos morabimur; valete candidati novis honoribus decorati; valete
et vos, hospites acceptissimi. Comitia solvantur in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti.'

* Here insert the name of Degree

The Church and Information Communication Technologies

The church has been at the cutting edge of technologies as they have developed. The printing press etc etc. Whilst at University I was involved in discussions & training with Bible Translators in the use of new technology to standardise bible production in new & established languages.

As the world wide web becomes more and more mobile - through the use of mobile devices, as individuals get together on-line, as more and more of education becomes e-learning the possibilities for ministry & building community beyond the bounds of parish become possible.

The community inside & outside the church is internet savvy, people can speak the lingo of facebook, rss, twitter ... the list is infinite.

How we do communicate is so important. None of this of course overthrows face to face pastoral contact but we do need to speak into culture & that culture is one of connectedness & networks.

Yes we do have parish websites which are improving all the time ... but one wonders if there are people who are looking into where communication could go in the future of the church and if there are examples of good/best practice when it comes to communicating online with parishioners/ young people?

So for anyone reading this ... are there examples?, anyone want to share? any problems?

From somebody who is computer literate but would like to develop things further.

Monday, November 02, 2009


One of the activities I am growing to enjoy at St. Columba's is the Bowling Club on a Monday evening. Apparently, somehow I am now vice-president of it ... not sure how that happened but it is good to be out and about with the Men. We have just returned from St. Donard's where we managed a convincing win 51-25 I think was the final score.

Thankfully, stragetically they placed me as first on the mat each time which is a good tactic! not knowing really what I am doing at the moment. The craic around bowls matches is good and fellowship & conversations are good. Getting to know people and build up relationships socially within the parish is an important part of what ministry is about. Next week the team is over in Stormont Presbyterian - Looking forward to that :-)

Sunday, November 01, 2009

All Saints Day ... Perseverance & Joy

A Sermon Preach in St. Columba's Knock on Sunday 1st November 2009 at 7pm Choral Evensong. Readings from Isaiah 40 & Hebrews 11/12


With all the advertising, fireworks,trick-or-treaters away, pumpkins all eaten we are here to celebrate All Saints, a day in the churches calendar when we remember all those who have gone before, those whose lives are examples to us on how to live out Christian life, those who have denied themselves and followed the Word of God.

If we were to name Saints we might get be able to rhyme of some names, however we must realise that they were / are normal everyday people who live lives that are devoted to God and his purposes. They are people who had a Normal up-bringing but were called to do some extraordinary things. They probably did not see themselves as anything but normal during their lifetime. They had our weaknesses, they had the same Bible as we have, they knew what we know about church, about Jesus.

We do have in Scripture many examples of people who were able to live out their faith in difficult situations. Hebrews 11, the last part of which we heard this evening lists lots of people who did and experienced extraordinary things for God- Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Moses and then the passing references to the others from the Old Testament.

Chapter 12 begins with the words … THEREFORE, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.

We have these heroes of the faith, these people who have their story told, these people who have lived their lives in the power of God. We need to learn about them, read their story, we need to figure out what they had, what truths we can learn from them. This is where Bible study, prayer and teaching comes in.

The image used here by the writer of the Hebrews is a stadium with all the Heroes of the faith in the audience, they have ran their race but they are spurring us on, they are saying come on helen, keep 'er lit peter – I've got through that … you can do it too. It is an active picture we are called not to be an observer but a runner in the race and as a runner we got to know various things.

Firstly we need to strip off excess stuff – if I was running in a race, chances are I probably wouldn't wear layers and layers of clothing like I a wearing now – I would be down to shorts and a teeshirt

An alternative reading of the first verse of chapter 12 … Let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily distracts. We are called to strip of the weight that holds us back, sin distracts us from keeping on going. We do need to identify those things that are slowing us down, those things that we keep doing or saying that distract us from running to our full potential.

Then we need to set our focus on where we are heading. We need to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. How do we do that if we can't see Him physically? Well what we do need to do is to focus our minds on him – his word, his deeds what he is doing in the world today. He still guides, he is still ahead of us.

There is one word in this passage which seems to be misplaced … take a look at it … who for the Joy set before him endured the cross. He endured the cross for the Joy that was set before him … why would anyone endure the cross for Joy … death for Joy? It doesn't seem right does it. Over the last few weeks I have been thinking quite a bit it my own reading about the Joy … Joy in my own life and ministry, the joy that we are all called as Christians to have.

So often Christians are portrayed by the media and critics as extremely dull,
serious people who cannot have any fun or joy in their life ... Kill-joys maybe. They have to read dull dusty books. We are not stereo-typical people we are called to be the most joyous people. We are called to be people who are following Jesus, yes, we are called to be joyful, we are called to enjoy life. Someone once said

"We are called to be joyfully serious and also seriously joyful."

Our Old Testament reading testifies that things will not always go right, actually things can go terribly wrong sometimes, if you look at the context into which the prophet Isaiah was writing things were going terribly wrong for the israelite nation. Things were terribly wrong. But we can have hope, we can find our joy even in the most difficult of circumstances … why?, how?

Simply by remembering that God is in control. If we look at the the gospel of Luke, we read after the 72 who were sent out to do all kinds of things they come back full of Joy that they were able to see people healed, people set free but Jesus reminds them that their Joy comes not from what they have done but because their names are written in Heaven.

As disciples, as followers of Jesus we are called to be joyful, we are called to root that joy, not in earthly pleasures, not in the latest BMW whose latest adverts tell us Joy is what you make it and then goes on to tell us that Joy is the new BMW X1 …

Well actually NO! BMW's may well be nice cars but actually Christians have JOY … why because our names are written in heaven … that is the root of our Joy. We do not have to settle for man made things which may well bring pleasure for a little while … If we anchor ourselves on the word of God then it is It is possible to find the Joy, the strength which God supplies will be sufficent for us wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

We are In a race, those who have gone before are spurring us on, we need to keep going, we are called to turn to God, to strip off the sin and the other stuff weighing us down and run the race.

It is not a sprint, it is a marathon. But above all, we need to remember the source of Joy, that with Jesus as our Guide, and him directing us, eternity is sorted and we can get on living, daily coming before him in prayer and Bible study as our trainning regime. We can keep going together, yes we will stumble and fall but if we wait upon God he will renew our strength.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A bible mix-up

The narrative of the Bible is an amazing story beginning to end. From Genesis right through to Revelation.

One church in Scotland has put together a clever animation looking at some of the characters in roles that they are not usually seen in ... but does get you thinking, where should they go?

Good ad for their Bible Study course :-)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Job description of a disciple

Sermon Preached at St. Columba's Parish Church 18th October 2009 - Morning Prayer 10:30

Text: Mark 10: 35-45

About this time last year in college, we sat down and started to plan our CV's, descriptions of ourselves which would be sent out to rectors who were looking curates, it reminded me of many times before when I was replying to adverts for casual work in various organisations.

Before coming to St Columba's I have worked in various places … my first job was as a shop assistant in Shop Electric where the Job was about ensuring customers were satisfied, making sure the store was clean and safe but the biggest part of that Job was meeting the sales targets, making sure I sold enough TV's, fridges and the like with guarantees and service cover. Unfortunately that business closed down

I also applied for a job in TK Maxx where I worked for a year or so whilst at Uni, It was OK, although having to match shoes especially at the end of the day ladies section was a nightmare.

I also applied to other places and got various other posts, each had a job decription, roles and responsibilities. I am sure many people here in church are familiar with such a document.

I wonder if we were to ponder the question … is there a Job description for a disciple, for a christian?

This mornings Gospel reading comes close to something like a job description. It certainly does have the Job Title and what the Job is not about.

Jesus explains this at a moment of conflict – James and John come to him and ask …
We want to sit at your right and left which of course got the others extremely annoyed … who do they think they are … you could hear it couldn't you?

Jesus then uses this to set out what sort of Job they have been called to

The Job title is .. “Slave of all” or servant of all

Anyone fancy applying for that Job?

Let us unpack it a bit further

We are called to do exactly what Jesus did … we are called to be little Christ's (thats what the word Christian literally means!). We are all called to serve Christ where we are and in whatever we do.

In our OT reading which Helen read for us, we see some of the role which Jesus came to fulfill
This text is often quoted at Easter time – It is the text of the suffering servant.
Jesus the righteous one came to suffer and to be servant for all, he bore our sins.

In June I was ordained Deacon, in Hillsborough, and many of you were there at the service - at the beginning of the service I was reminded what my Job Description was

In the service …
“Deacons in the Church of God serve in the name of Christ and so remind the whole church that serving others is at the heart of all ministry.”

We are all called to be servants, … we are all called to serve.

We are not called to the serve in the same way but we are all called to serve, there are some core qualities we all are called to have.

What is great about being a disciple is that we don't have to have any of these things to pass the interview, they will be developed as we get on with the Job, we are allowed to make mistakes as well but when we accept the called to follow Jesus, to serve him he will place us in situations where we will flourish, where we will be challenged

In Galatians 5 those are outlined, as the fruit of the spirit – these are the qualities he wants to see in his servants – Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Goodness, faithfulness, Gentleness , Self-control – but they are fruit … they are produced over time

In 1 Corinthians, Romans and Ephesians, we are assured that each one of us has a part to play in the overall household of faith that is the church, each is a part of the body. You will not serve in the way I am serving, but you serve in your way and I serve in my way, what is important is that we serve, that we find out what we can do and do it to the best of our abilities.

There are many, many people who serve God in this parish in many ways, who give up their time, their talents, their money to serve the people of this parish.

From the Glebe wardens who put in hours of work each month to ensure that the buildings are safe, that they are comfortable and ready to be used at any time, The counters who count and log all the money collected, Flower arrangers, choir, organisation leaders, church wardens, secretary, treasurer … I am going to leave people out so I will stop there … but there are countless people who make sure this parish runs smoothly and who take an active part in the workings of this parish. And that is exactly how it should be.

In the gospel reading, the type of authority we are called to exercise is different in the church, we are called to servant leadership, we are called to serve, we are called to make ourselves slaves of all. Wether we are an archbishop, or a child in a sunday school class, wether we are 8 or 80 whoever we are we are called to act with humility, with grace and with love. Simply because we are called to be imitators of Christ

within workplaces & education today there is great attention paid to self evaluation, to asking youself how are you doing and what you should be working on. I wonder if we were to ask ourselves are we living up to our Job title as a disciple of Christ, as a servant of His – not as a stick to beat ourselves up with but as an exercise in growing, and developing.

As I have said before, service, disipleship, the christian life is a learning experience, its about growing, becoming closer to Jesus - we need to take responsibility for our own learning. James and John got it wrong in what they asked but Jesus was able to turn the situation around for them, he was able to take their mistake and teach them something about the true nature of what it means to be a servant, disciple.

If we are wanting to grow as a disciple

Some questions which might be useful include:
  • What have I learnt over the last 12 months in my walk with God
  • What have I done that has challenged my faith and helped me grow
  • What would I like to do over the next 12 months to serve God

We are all called to serve God – when we do, I can guarantee, when we do live for him there is nothing more fulfilling, life-giving and rewarding.

The good news is that we can do this where he has placed us – if we are working, we can do what we do to our full potential – acknowledging God in that

if we are retired, we can share our faith with those around us, not by preaching in the streets but by kind words, by serving others, acknowledging God in our conversations.

We can always find ways to serve God. How will you do it this week? This month?


Sunday, October 11, 2009

The "rest" of your life

Sermon preached in St. Columba's 7pm Late Evening Office.
Matthew 11:20-30

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.

The gospel reading this evening comes from Matthew's Gospel, it is looking at how Jesus' miracles had been received …Up to this point Jesus taught people, he even displayed many miraculous signs but were they effective, did people respond in the way he would have liked them to? … did populations turn to God in repentance, clearly not.

It is quite amazing when we consider that when Jesus – the son of God was walking around - cities just did not change their ways, individuals did … we know that from the call of the disciples,- some followed, individual people were healed, lives were changed but there was no mass conversions. Jesus didn't go in and zap all peoples problems away, That is not how God works.

It was to individuals he related, it was to individuals he spoke, yes crowds clearly heard him, no doubt the bush telegraph was in operation, no doubt people were saying did you hear that Jesus guy healed Philip their next door neighbour from leprosy, but instead of falling in repentance they perhaps wrote it off as a co-incidence. Yes Jesus did teach publically, he fed thousands, he spoke in parables. It was up to individual's then to weigh up the pro's and cons of following him and to decide for themselves if they were going to follow.

His strong language in the first part of the passage, surely is justified, he has been preaching, teaching healing, he has put so much effort into these cities they did not repent, they did not turn from their wicked ways.

Their hardness of heart is remarkable, we might think that if Jesus was to come amongst us today, if he was to go up to stromount estate and set 5,000 people on the grass and feed them all with 5 loaves and a few fish, or heal 10 people, or preach a sermon such as the sermon on the mount people might actually fall in repentance. Or perhaps they might just ignore what he has to say, or say they are too busy right now and they will do something about it later on.

The passage then moves on, from Jesus' frustration to some more comfortable words – possibly explaining why the cities are so hard of heart. He has hidden this from the wise and the learned and revealed it to children.
This is of course not to say that we should throw out learning or wisdom, over the centuries some of the most learned and infulential people have been christians but that the basis of the acceptance of the message is simple – a child can understand it. We do complicate it so much with theories and discussion of nuaunced theological debate which is important but we do need to come back to the central message … Deitirch Bonnhoffer, who did much thinking as to the nature of christian discipleship boiled the christian Gospel down to 12 words …. “Jesus Loves me this I know for the Bible Tells me so”.

As we move on to The final three verses are extremely well known

28"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.".

The Burdens, the weariness we have … we will have rest from them. But look at what we are promised … Its not a sit back on the sofa and let the world drift by kind of rest.
The image we are dealing with here is a picture of farming day of old, where animals usually oxen is joined by a wooden beam and they would work together, ploughing or pulling a cart or doing some other work.
Jesus offers a yoke that is easy – meaning that it is good, comfortable and well-suited.
We all have some sort of yoke upon us – for the Jews, the yoke was the heavy obligation to the law and the various rules which were built up around the law which dictated what you could and couldn't do. They were called to exchange the heavy, burdensome yoke for the well fitted light yoke – allowing the same job to be done more efficiently and effectively.

The easy yoke may sound like an oxymoron. Plowing a field or pulling a load is hard work!
Nowhere does Jesus Promise softground for tilling or level roads for pulling our load

But when we look around at the alternatives, I know first hand, that the easy yoke is definitely a lot easier, a infinitely more effective than other yokes which the world can provide – Who in their right mind, if they have experienced the easy yoke of Christ would then turn to the gods of Self, Money, Lust or Power

When you do live in the light of Christ, when you know what it means to have the Joy, the reassurance that comes from knowing that eternity is secured, that God has plans for you, to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for a hope and a future and that he has come so that you may have life in all its fulness why would anyone opt for the alternatives?

As a society we are like those cities which we started off with, Northern Ireland has seen lots of preaching, we have seen teachers in our churches, we have Bible verses posted on lamp posts, on bill boards across the province, children are taught about Jesus, but what we need to do is allow ourselves to experience the rest which Jesus' easy yoke provides.

As Christian disciples we are called to take the lighter burden, to live lives surrendered to Christ, to live according to his law, to strip off the sin which entangles and to run. Where we end up we don't know but that is the adventure of faith. Living each day surrendered to the will of God, living each day for him.

During the week, Henry and Charles, the Rectors children were looking through some of my favorite songs on my laptop, they asked me what as my favorite … I have a full collection of Disney albums so I picked out Hukna Matata … from the lion King … It means no worries for the rest of your days, a problem free philosophy.
With Christianity, as disciples we are not promised a problem free philosophy but we are promised when we live lives surrendered to Christ, when we are prepared to say to God, Thy will be done, he will take us to places we never even thought we could go. The yoke is easy and the burden is light, he will give us rest, he will equip us with the gifts we need.

The path he will take us on will be difficult sometimes, it will be challenging, but I can testify that it is rewarding, it is filled with hope, it is filled with frustrations but at the end of the day, nothing makes more sense, is fitted more personally than living each day with the easy yoke. The knowledge that Christ is with you in what difficult circumstances you find yourself in, I can't imagine life lived without Him at the center of everything.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

MU Opening Service

A sermon prepared for the opening service of Mothers' Union St. Columba's Branch. 8pm Tuesday 6th October 2009

May the words I speak be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen

There are a couple of things I would like to say from the outset, before I turn our extremely challenging readings.

Firstly, a big thank you to MU members for their very kind donation to the start of my larder when I arrived in June. It was lovely to get a card & some basic provisions.

Secondly , having met Mother's Union member's around the globe – It is an amazing organisation, it is an organisation with so much potential.

As I have looked at photo album's from Uganda and Zambia.

I would love to tell you the stories about MU members in Zambia who walked 15/20 miles simply to meet a team of young people from Ireland,

or about a School Principal who was an enrolling member of MU, who because of her christian commitment has adopted many children who are orphans because of HIV,

or MU members who are providing hospitality in their homes for relatives of patients at a hospital in Uganda,

or Diocesan MU in a very rural part of Zambia are supplying Mosquito nets, basic health care and Bibles in the local language

I also would love to have time to tell you about the amazing witness 2/3 years ago, the impact of the mothers union made to a group of 2-3,000 young people at the kings hall as the mother's union served breakfast and got involved in a practical need.

I would love to share stories about the amazing worship I have encountered when MU members get together and sing at the top of their voices of the love they have for God, and as they dance up the aisle with chickens, flour and even bags of cement on their heads – laying their gifts before God.

I would love to share those with you … but there simply isn't time.

I mention these simply to remind us all, that we are part of an amazing global family and the amazing thing that I have been learning is that no matter where in the world you go you find people who are passionate about God, and eager to make a difference in their community. Within the Anglican church, Mothers' Union is there as a powerful witness to the Gospel in very practical ways.

The two readings which I have chosen for this evenings service should be quite familiar, they are very practical and very challenging:

  • Looking at the Epistle reading which speaks for itself
  • Present your bodies as living sacrifices
  • do Not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind
  • Think with sober judgement
  • One body, many functions
  • Let love be genuine
  • Love one another with mutual affection
  • Rejoice in hope
  • Persevere in prayer
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, be patient in suffering
  • Live in harmony with one another
  • live peaceably with all
  • Overcome evil with Good.

Our world today is a strange place
  • There are people going hungry when people are throwing food into landfil sites.
  • There are those are hurting, who are crying out for love but who are looking everywhere else but to the Church – the one place there should be love and acceptance
  • Water is falling from the sky but people are dying of thirst
  • people are dying of curable diseases
  • People in our prosperous communities are finding it difficult to make ends meet
  • Families in rich and poor neighborhoods in this city are experiencing difficulties in relationships, parenting and organising finances.

With this the case we are called to be a light in our communities, with our friends and those we encounter. At the moment I am doing quite a bit of thinking about Joy and about how amazing it is to be a Christian and how that Joy should be expressed in all that we say and all that we do first and foremost as a christian disciple.

Mary's Song – which we know as the Magnificat is an amazing manifesto of joy with what God has done, and what he continues to do in this our generation

  • God Looks with favor on the Lowliness of his servant
  • His mercy is for those who fear him
  • He has shown strength with his arm
  • He has brought down the mighty
  • He has exalted the lowly
  • He has filled the hungry with Good things
  • His loving mercy endures forever

There is a huge challenge in society today, for groups like MU who are involved in churches, to be interested in the things which God is interested in, looking out for the stranger and welcoming them in, to be there for each other when sad and difficult times come, to be asking as to what are the needs of the local community and how can we meet them, of supporting the global mission of the church.

Mother's Union members, I know are very involved in this parish and that is great, many churches would fall down without the support of MU members.

The challenge to MU, and the church in general - is how we can reach out, into our friendship groups, into our neighbourhoods and bring the message of good news that Jesus came to bring. In small ways, maybe providing hospitality for those new into the church, maybe simply visiting lonely neigbours or supporting the work of the church in other ways. Or in Bigger ways, of challenging the status quo of our society, of running parental classes of supporting events or whatever

It is crucial that we focus outward as well as inward, to look for those who are not yet included and make them feel welcome, to support each other in fellowship and to help each other grow in their discipleship.

This year as Mother's union begins let us remember the aims and objectives of the organisation

Vision: Our vision is of a world where God's love is shown through loving, respectful, and flourishing relationships.
Aim & Purpose: To demonstrate the Christian faith in action by the transformation of communities worldwide through the nurture of the family in its many forms.

To promote and support married life
To encourage parents in their role to develop the faith of their children
To maintain a worldwide fellowship of Christians united in prayer, worship and service
To promote conditions in society favourable to stable family life and the protection of children
To help those whose family life has met with adversity

The Mother's Union have so much to give in terms of knowledge and experience to this parish and beyond its bounds. My prayer is that over this year and the years ahead that you will continue to work together as part of the body in this place, share your experiences, welcome the stranger and grow in your walk with God.

Let us pray,

May what we do be now and always acceptable in thy sight O lord our strength and our redeemer.

Monday, October 05, 2009

24-40 Prayer is on its way to Lagan

At the moment, in addition to normal parish duties, I am working on a 24-40 prayer event in willowfield which begins this friday evening.

In the October edition of the Columban (our parish magazine) I wrote ...
"As we come to October one of the major events which is taking place within the diocese is 24-40 prayer, which you will read about elsewhere in the magazine. I would really like to encourage you to pop down to Willowfield and see what this is all about. Whilst in college in Dublin I was asked along with another colleague to arrange a similar event for the students. I wasn’t sure how it would go down but it was quite amazing. We set out various areas in a room for prayer, we had space for people to pray silently, places were people could write down their prayers, places were people could curl up on a sofa and pray, kneelers where they could kneel. This 24-40 event is not on its own, across the globe there are people praying continuously 24-7 in rooms, in churches, in shops. I was amazed at the different people of all ages who responded in college to come up to the prayer room and to pray.

It is so important that we pray, this event is all about setting a little bit of time aside to pray by yourself or with others if you wish in a slightly different way than we are used to. If you wouldn’t normally pray, I would encourage you to take the opportunity to drop into Willowfield and see what is going on!

Other people have been asking me what it is?, and what do I have to do if I sign up?

Basically Willowfield Parish Church is going to be open for 24hrs throughout the 5 days. Each parish in the Deanery has been given a set of 1 hr slots at all times day and night. Individuals then sign up for a slot and go down and pray.

Around the church will be 10 stations, some have likened it to stations of the cross, which I suppose it is but instead of focusing on events of the passion of Christ we are focusing our attention on ten aspects of prayer incorporating Bible passages related to the issues, some books & resources to find out more for those who wish to engage further with a particular topic.

Below is some of our ideas which will be implemented on Friday. All are very welcome to attend, whilst there are slots you are more than welcome to drop in at any time to pray. A handover service is taking place at 8pm on Friday evening to which all are welcome.

Prayer Station 1 : Journey

Using a full size Sailing dinghy, with sail. Encourage prayer on stepping out, journey, hoisting the sails to the Spirit using the Bible as the compass, direction etc

Prayer Station 2: Lagan Deanery Churches

A map displayed flat on a table, with location of each church in the Deanery depicted by a small photo and then a cord/string to a prayer card with each church contributing 3 prayer points . Praying for our local areas

Prayer Station 3: World Mission – Diocesan links

A very large world map displayed vertically on a pin board. Individual flags (made from large pins and sticky label) for people to ‘stick in’ countries/ places of interest/commitment to world mission

Prayer Station 4 : Healing from memories of the ‘Troubles’

Display photo’s and newspaper cuttings remembering the troubles

Prayer Station 5: School/education.

Praying for education, school, college – set up a mock classroom, with 2 small desks (cover in paper for doodle prayers), Graffiti wall using black paper and chalks. Prayer points and possible church involvement

Prayer Station 6: Embracing diversity.

Prayer Station 7 : Harvest thanksgiving

Focus on Fairtrade. Posters, facts and examples of Fairtrade goods.

Prayer Station 8: Health care.

Area at front of church with large cross to be used. To pray for those know to us as sick, stones/pebbles to write their name on and place at foot of cross. General facts about health ie hospitals, care homes, community nursing, mental health teams

Prayer Station 9: financial poverty.

Prayer Station 10 : Worship corner/room.

Bibles, Cd's etc will be available in the worship section incorporating a full range of tastes from choral to taize, piano to Worship

Basically it will be a silent space to pray for the vaious issues around the church.

More information on 24-40 is available on the website

as we go through the preparations & the event hopefully images will be added to the blog & facebook.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Neglect of the Blog - rectified

I have just realised that I have been neglecting the blog over the last while (apart from sermons), well for a couple of months. Perhaps it has been the pace of parish life, perhaps it has been just laziness but whatever it has been, it will hopefully be rectified now.

We have reached harvest in the churches year. Today I was preaching at the all-age service in Hillsborough parish church which was full, music once again was great. It was lovely to be back in the church where I was ordained just over 3 months ago.

This evening was spent back at St. Columba's with a wonderful evensong - the choir were sounding fantastic :-)

In all the services today the theme as rightly been thanksgiving for God's bounty. Below are
some photos just off the memory card from my digital camera, around the theme of thanksgiving and God's provision.

The first is of the creation window in St. Finnbarr's Cathedral in Cork taken during Summer Holidays.

The next is of a market in Barcelona at easter -an amazing place

The others are some of the flowers and veg from St. Columba's harvest provisions.

In our prayers this evening I was challenged, as I prepared them that we need to be thanking God but also looking out for those who are without, those who have needs across the world and at home also.

This evening's intercessions as I have reflected upon them at home are very challenging.

As we come together this day to celebrate a good harvest in this land we know that across the globe there are lands where they do not celebrate, we pray for our brothers and sisters struggling with drought and starvation we pray particularly for Kenya where people are dying for lack of food.

Forgive us O Lord, and challenge us when we are content to throw away food when others would be content with our scraps. Help us see more clearly, as individuals and collectively as a society what our response to world food shortages should and could be.

We also pray for those in this land who, because of the financial crisis find it difficult to put food on the table for themselves and their families. Be with them O Lord and help them find help, help those who are called to minister to them to find the resources required to provide for their need.

We know that we all are called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Help us to fulfil that calling here on the streets of Belfast as well as in the slums of cities in Africa.

Today I was reminded of something I spoke to a friend about as they were preparing an assembly a few weeks back .... Kindness and from that ... random acts of Kindness. I received one today which was great, and I do intend over the next few days to pass it on.

But surely this shouldn't be a big thing, surely Christians always should be kind and showing love to those who are in need day in day out.