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.