Sunday, February 28, 2010

Lent 2 - Imitation & Citizenship

Philippians 3: 17 - 4: 1

17 Brothers and sisters,* join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ;
I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.

19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things.

20But our citizenship* is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation* so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory,* by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

41Therefore, my brothers and sisters,* whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved

Let us Pray

Heavenly Father, take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you, through Jesus Christ our Lord, amen

In the New Testament, many images are used to show how Christians are to live out their lives – Disciples, that is Learners, friends of God, household of faith, servants of God.

In our Epistle reading this morning we see two others

Imitators and Citizens of Heaven. By using these two images Paul is speaking into the culture of the hearers.

In Chapter 2 of this epistle Paul has gone to great lengths telling his readers about the humility of Christ, Verse 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit rather in humility value others above your selves not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had. In other words we have to imitate Jesus

It is with this background, this living out of faith with the example of Jesus, Paul is portraying the best example of how to live – modelling Jesus – He is the source of our lives.
What does that look like? … he says look at us.

Paul is content that he is living up to the mark, that his life, though not perfect is enough of an example to show the believers in Philippi how to live, and not only his life but the others who are living as he does.

What does Paul's life look like? What makes him so special? Well from this letter we know

  • He is a person full of joy
  • He is a person who has learnt to be content whatever comes his way
  • to live in need and in plenty
  • He is ready to rest in God's Strength
  • He considers everything loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ
  • He is living in the power of the resurrection.
  • He is pressing onwards knowing that the future is sorted and living each day for Christ.

Paul was asking the church to live as he is living, knowing what he knows … through the good days and the bad days knowing God and living in God's power is the way to live. He know's the the power of imitation.

In our day imitation is not popular we don't like people to copy us but when we think of the apprentice in a trade, a skill is past on when someone who knows what they are doing shares the secrets of their trade with someone who is starting off, the life of a disciple is about picking up tips and tricks, of making mistakes and correcting them.

Personally I know that there are certain things which I have picked up from people who are living out their Christian journey and who have taken time to share with me some of the things they have put into place to ensure that they continue staying close to God. It might be Bible reading, it might be priorities of finance, it might be praying for each other … whatever it may be are there things that you would like to imitate from others in your life.

How many times have we said .. I would love to do that but I would never be able to do it or she is such an example, I would never be able to do that. We do so often put limitations on ourselves and our faith which are of ourselves.
Perhaps we might say I would love to know the Bible better … well what is stopping you?

I would love to have the faith of such and such, he's gone and done something for God somewhere … well could that not be God speaking to you?

I would love to be able to chat to my friends about God … why not do it? Imitate Paul, Imitate people who are living out the teachings of God in this place … in this generation.

We are called to be imitators of Christ and imitators of those who are living out faith in him.

We are called to be imitators, we are also called to be citizens of Heaven

Chapter 1 verse 27 says

Whatever happens, as citizens of heaven live in a manner worthy of the gospel Christ.

Citizens, whatever the country ancient or modern have rules to live by, they have rights and they also have responsibilities, they can be identified with their citizenship.

Our identity is linked to our citizenship. Living in 21st Centry Belfast we all take our citizenship for granted. I know my passport is filed in the cabinet in the office, it only comes out if I need to travel , it proves for others who I am and allows me to travel and gives me rights should I need them.

As Christians, we are citizens of heaven … how does that affect our every day life? … I suspect that for most it is something which like my passport is tucked away in the cupboard for someday that we might just need it. But actually that is not the way Paul speaks about Citizenship of Heaven, Citizenship of Heaven for Paul is a way of living every single day, it is about living out our lives everyday, living with the joy that we are citizens of heaven today, we are called to live every single day whether we have good news or bad, whatever decisions that need to be made, we are called to let our citizenship of heaven affect our decisions.

When we think of it citizenship is much more than a passport to get somewhere, or to get help. Good citizenship in our world is about interacting with government, on the street it is about looking out for the poor, it is about informing the police of suspicions, about looking out for the common good.

Bringing these things together, this is the second Sunday in Lent, a time when we think about our lives and our walk with God. Paul throughout the epistle is at pains to show practically how to live out faith in Christ, to not only talk the talk but also to walk the walk. The two images, of imitation and as citizenship of heaven do not allow us to simply talk the talk. It wasn't just about the people of Philippi listening to paul he wanted them to put into practice what he was saying and showing them.

Let us live as citizens of heaven, let us imitate christ's attitude, let us not be afraid to chat to each other about what resources we have found helpful in our walk with Christ. And let us remember that here in St Columba's we are all disciples, living, working, learning and making mistakes together but what we are striving together to do is to reach out with the same love which Christ had, to make a difference to others. And let us also remember that it is by grace through faith alone that we can be called citzens of heaven let us rejoice in that fact.


Sunday, February 21, 2010

In the wilderness

Sermon preached in St. Columba's Sunday 21st Feb 2010
... First Sunday in Lent ... Luke 4:1-11

Let us Pray

Heavenly Father, as disciples We pray help us discover more about your word this day and help us to apply eternal truths to our lives by the power of your holy spirit In Jesus name – amen

The two reading this morning focus on the wilderness – The first the Old Testament – the Israelites remember their journey from egypt to the promise land which we know included time spent in the wilderness and then in the New testament we see Jesus directly after his baptism being brought into the wilderness before his ministry

The wilderness is seen as somewhere where one does not want to be, somewhere where there is danger, uncertainty and where the individual is on their own. For the Israelites centuries before, they trekked through the wilderness not for forty days but for forty years – guided by God, even though they grumbled, they moaned, they obeyed God, they disobeyed him. When they eventually get to the promised land they in their sinful nature were faithful but they also fell away.

In Jesus' wilderness experience we see him being tempted but he was able to withstand the temptation unlike the israelite people who folded under the pressure … creating Golden Calf, moaning about food, leadershship …

In the temptation of Jesus we see three times the devil tries to out smart Jesus – The first is quite a physical
temptation – you're hungry … go on change the stone into a loaf.
Which doesn't seem an unreasonable request … he has already spent 40 days fasting but actually Jesus knew that there is more to life than the physical things of life.

Then there is the question of worship – Jesus worshiping satan … could you imagine the consequences of that? Worship … what we give our everything to is so important.

Then there is question of showmanship and fame … Jesus wasn't going to create a spectacle

A few things from Jesus' temptations to look at …

firstly he knew his Bible … this might seem a bit obvious … he is God's Son afterall …of course he knew his Bible ... Well yes he is but it was in his Childhood that Jesus learnt the things of God – In Chapter 2 of Luke's Gospel there is a wee verse which I Love … Jesus grew in wisdom and stature and in favour with God and men. He was in the synagogue each week.

Last tuesday the Rector and myself were away at the Diocesan Clergy Quiet day, (an oxymoron??)where the Bishop of our link diocese Albany was leading us through the devotions … one thing he said which jumped out at me... Jesus the Son of God placed immense importance of coming along week by week to the place of worship … which got me thinking about … did he enjoy going?, what about sermons … did the preachers always get it right when he was sitting in the congregation?,
what did he think about the people leading … surely he could have done better himself! ... However it went what we do know is that he had a sure grasp of what is right and what was wrong in God's law from what was said in worship and what he studied at home.

What we see of Jesus' life and ministry from the gospels is only the tip of the iceberg of all that went on in his life, like us what we present to each other each sunday, or to our friends and our work collegues during the week is only a very small percentage of what is going on in our lives, or has been in our past.

Jesus' foundation was sure, Luke spends a few chapters outlining his background, the things that are below the waterline in Jesus' life so that when the wilderness experience comes he has the resources to draw upon. When he is alone, when he is at his most vulnerable he knows who he is and what resources are important.

This is crucial.

In life we prepare for lots of things:
In case of thieves we put in alarms
In case of something happening to our cars and homes we put in insurance
In case of fire we put in smoke alarms
In case of unexpected visitors we pack our cupboards full of food

How are we going to cope for wilderness times?
– By wilderness I mean times when
somewhere where one does not want to be,
somewhere where there is danger,
uncertainty and where the individual seems completely on their own.

In our world today, when we look around at the context in which we are living, so many people are searching for meaning, searching for “the promised land” of happiness. This promised land for some is thought to be the next high, the next club, the next job promotion but actually we as Christians know that peace, that promised land can only be found in a relationship.

As we walk through, as the psalmst puts it … through the valley of the shadow of death, or through the tough times wether it be illness or other types of trial whatever that may be… what resources do you or I have to call upon to sustain us, to protect us.

I have mentioned before in sermons the image of the iceberg where only the tip of it shows ... 50%-99% is below the waterline. In our lives it is the things that we put into place below the waterline as Christians are important and will dictate how we respond and cope with the wilderness times when they arrive in our lives.
The first thing in our relationship with God – do we have one, do we trust in that relationship, do we prioritise it? Prayer for others, for ourselves are we prepared to ask for prayer?,

Then our reading of the Bible – do we know what is in its covers? Are we prepared to study it? Are we prepared to ask questions about what we read? Why not get together with a few friends and study it together? Why not come to our parish Bible study on a wednesday evening?

Then there is coming to church – do we enjoy coming to church? Getting involved in the church community is so important, for fellowship, for connecting with others, when you come to church what are you taking away with you? One of the things I a certainly very keen and open for is people to chat about the readings, I'm very happy to chat to anyone during the week about things I have spoken about on Sunday's from the pulpit.

We also need to rest in the promises in the words of scripture:
New Living Translation (©2007)
The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure
1 corinthians 10:13

2 Peter 2:9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation,

Each one of us, I am sure can identify areas in our lives where we fail, where we again and again would love to get sorted out. Also we may know others perhaps in our own families or friends who we have a desire to see get sorted out. I wonder this lent when we ask the question how are you are we prepared to make the change required- are we strong enough to make the changes ourselves, to remove whatever we may be going through and run with perseverance the race laid out before us.

What priorities do we need changed? , What preparations are we making for the wilderness times?

In Hebrews Chapter 4 we read
14Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens,[e] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

In time of help and need let us cling to Jesus, But also let us remember the God is not just there for the wilderness but also whilst we are dwelling in the promised land.

Let us pray

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday --- How are you?... Really

A short sermon preached at Ash Wednesday Service in St. Columba's Parish Church on 17th Feb 2010

If you happened to be in church in Zambia, or on the street in the capital lusaka and someone came over to you, you would be more than likely be greeted with the word … Mulishani to which your automatic reply without fail would be bueno Mulishani?

This equates to the english How are you … to which the reply is normally without thinking I'm fine thank you … how are you.

Today we come together as we begin lent, a time in the churches year when we are focused inward, a time when we stop and take stock, a time when we ask what do we need to do to make changes. A time when we focus on God and our relationship with him. A time when we ask ourselves how are you?

The Ash Wednesday service has grown to become one of the most profound and penitential of the Church's calendar. It is a time when we can stop and think about our lives to date and how we can serve God better.

In church we use words and symbols which mean more than they would first appear and you can dig down deeper and deeper to get to the core of the meaning. Within the celebration of Ash wednesday itself there are layers of meaning.

For some the start of lent is about giving up chocolate, of watching less tv, of denying yourself some of the luxuries of

For others it is no smoking day – when they make a commitment to life without cigarettes – and that is great

However if we dig deeper – Ash Wednesday has been a day which has echoes of passages throughout the Bible, passages which we might hear in other circumstances.

For example in Genesis we read you are dust, and to dust you shall return. A sure echo of the funeral services.

Elsewhere in scripture when things were not going well – the king of a nation would call a fast and the people would wear sackcloth and put ashes on their face to show repentance and their lowly humble state before God.

It is a day of penitence, of being lowly before God but it is also a day when we can be confident in the assurance of forgiveness of sin proclaimed in the Good News of Christ.

In a world of Busyness, in the midst of everyday life, of full diaries, of family concerns Ash wednesday stands as a signpost in the middle of a week – It is a different service from the normal communion service ...asking us a very normal question – to which we are all expert at giving an answer to … it is a very simple question … how are you?

I'm fine thank you … or if we are feeling good on a
particular day we may give a bit of enthusiasm and say … I'm great!

As the driving comes along one thing I have learnt as you are coming up to a junction which has a STOP sign. One cannot simply slow down a little, look both ways and go on. You have to actually stop, change into first gear look both ways and go if its safe to do so.

Today – Let us Stop for a moment, let us ponder the question … “How are you?”

How are you really … beneath the shell (which we all have) … how are you? … in your relationship with God … how are you getting on with Bible study? …. how is your prayer life? … how are you? … are there things which you would love to get rid of, habits, things you know that really need cut out, things you would like to add to your life. As you stop here today at this junction at this service, are you willing to change direction, or keep going.

This season of Lent gives us the space, the time and even the excuse to do things differently, to look inside, to get priorities re-organised. It is not about looking around for people more holy, people on the street who are putting on a show of their piety- the gospel reading this morning will not permit that.

But rather what it does say is that what happens in the secret, in the quiet place, behind your front door is what God is interested in. It is about the relationship you have with God after church is just as important than what happens in the public arena.

I am continually struck by the image of the iceberg – the tip of the iceberg shows only a small percentage of what is going on - 50% to 99% is underneath the waterline. Lent allows us the space to sort out what is happening in our spiritual lives, in our relationship with God – that which is hidden from view. What needs sorted?

As we come to think about the things we have done and the things left undone, shortly we will come to the prayer of penitence … before we get there I would love to read that for you


The fantastic news, the promise of God is that last line of this prayer … he will lead us from darkness to walk as children of Light.

Prayer, Bible Study, journalling, taking a quiet time, spending time with God are all part of the Christian Discipleship, of living for him, of living life to the full – there is absolutely nothing better. This Ash Wednesday the question I would like to leave you as we Stop today is very

simple … How are you? Really?
And as with other things in life do not be afraid to ask for help or advice from those you know are living as Christian disciples – Nobody is an expert on these things we are all learning together but we can share what has worked for us.

How are you really?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Late Evening Office - St. Columba's Parish Church Sunday 14th Feb 2010 @ 7pm

Bible Text

John 12: 27-36a

27 ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say—“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28Father, glorify your name.’ Then a voice came from heaven, ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.’ 29The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, ‘An angel has spoken to him.’ 30Jesus answered, ‘This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31Now is the judgement of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people* to myself.’ 33He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die. 34The crowd answered him, ‘We have heard from the law that the Messiah* remains for ever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?’ 35Jesus said to them, ‘The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going. 36While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light.’ (NRSV)


Let us pray,
Help us O Lord to apply your word to our lives, your teaching to our circumstances – Help us O Lord to be disciples living each day learning from you. In Jesus NameAmen.

Spec-savers have a new ad on TV running at the moment – an older couple have taken their cheese sandwiches to the beach for a nice day out they find an empty seat with a view of the sea. And suddenly their whole world changes as the bars come down and suddenly they are propelled round a very big roller coaster. Twists and its turns, it propelling the higher and higher round and round at all sorts of angles. Eventually the ride stops and they get off. The husband says to his wife …that was strange cheese.

Sometimes life can feel like a rollercoaster, sometimes its stationary, not moving, then suddenly something unexpected happens, we feel we are not in control – sometimes it can get very scary indeed, sometimes life is moving so fast we want it to slow down, other times we are really enjoying life, othertimes we just want to get off, sometimes we enjoy the views.

The life of Jesus' disciples could be described as a rollercoaster – sometimes they were really enjoying being with Jesus, some great teaching everybody happy, then times of adventure as they are sent out, scary times when they encountered evil or felt like they were going to die when jesus was sleeping in the boat admist the storm, moutain top times, such as the transfiguration when Jesus appeared with Moses and Elijah or when they saw Lazarus raised from the dead. But there were disapointments and discouargements along the way – Jesus kept talking to them about when he would die, he was ready to die …. this is not what they wanted to hear … this was definitely a time when the disciples and the wider crowd wanted keep him quiet this wasn't the way the messiah was ment to behave.

The roller coaster, the dramatic ups and downs of life, the tight corners, the changes in direction leave us all unsettled, perhaps daunted ...asking what is life about?, what should I do?.

In our reading this evening we see ups and down as Jesus speaks to the crowd

At the beginning we see Jesus – uncharacteristically down – Now my soul is troubled he said .. but a corner is turned … should I say save me … no – he yields to the father's will which is a high point … the reading progresses through Jesus explaining what will happen. He knows that things are uncertain at this time but appeals to the crowd to stay … in the light.

In Johns Gospel Jesus teaches much about darkness and light and the contrast between them.

Darkness in Johns Gospel is seen as … uncertainty, death, sin, not of God

In the great chapter one the distinction is drawn between darkness and light
In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not

In tonight's reading we see that we are all called to become Children of light. We are called to overcome darkness, we are called to overcome all that darkness means – sin, death

I wonder how we are all doing … I started off by thinking about a roller coaster … ups and downs, tight corners, scared, afraid of what is ahead. Jesus, as he looked at the road he must travel down was troubled but he did not loose focus, he did not say I don't want to do this, he did not say … “im your son get me out of here” ... what he did say was … father glorify your name.

In our world today – there is so much darkness – turn on the news and you see sin so prevelent, so much darkness in the mindsets of people, so many lives who see nothing but despair, grief, uncertainty and sadness.

However our reading tonight calls us to be people, disciples living a different way … people whose hope and trust is in God, people who are living as children of the light, people with purpose, with love, who face the darkest of nights with the knoweldge that whoever they encounter, whatever they come across, whatever they face they know that Jesus will help them through.

This is not simply wishful thinking but it is core to the Christian faith – Jesus knew the darkest of places and he knew how to overcome the darkness with light. Last week, at our dedication Bishop Harold spoke on the worry we can have and Jesus saying that we are not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. So often our attention is drawn to worry about the darkness,
worry about all kinds of things which may or may not happen.

As disciples, we need not worry about the darkness but rather be living as children of light, of getting on with the business of the things which God has called us to do. Of getting out into our dark communities, of loving our neighbours, caring for those who are lonely, of strengthening our Christian faith, praying, reading our bibles, getting to know strangers in our church, of living out our faith wherever we are.

Let us trust God, that he has a plan for our lives, not wasting time worrying but rather living life to the full. When we do that, when we talk about our faith, when we live out our faith – life becomes an adventure, when we focus on darkness it is very difficult to see light. But if we are focused on the light, when we are living in the light – we can have a profound effect on the darkness around us.

Are we prepared to live life to the full?

Let us pray.


Jesus said "Now my soul is troubled"

We pray for all those within our community who today can relate to this … those who have troubles, worries, concerns and issues of whatever kind. We remember how the disciples journeyed with Jesus through the highs and lows of life. How they supported each other, how they allowed Jesus' teaching to inform their actions when faced with difficulties

We recall the fact that Jesus did not take the easy road, he did not promise a problem free life but what he did promise that he would be with us, that he is able to walk with us through the darkness and through the despair.

Jesus in our reading challenged us to live as "Children of Light"

We pray for the challenge to all those, including ourselves, who call ourselves Christian to live as Children of light, ridding ourselves of the sin which so easily entangles and to run the race with perseverence.

O Lord you know that it is not easy to stand up for what is right, to find time in the busy-ness of life to prioritise reading the Bible and praying. Help us Lord to do the things you would have us do, help us to cut out the the things of darkness in our lives and transform us to be beacons for you wherever we may find our selves this week.

In Jesus name we pray

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Bible Study - Deborah

Over the last few weeks, things have been busy on Wednesday's and I haven't managed to get to the parish Bible Study. That however was rectified this week. At the moment we are going through the LifeBuilder Bible study looking at "women of God".

Tonight being week 4 we were looking at the character of Deborah, the Judge.

Looking at the narrative in the story in chapter 4 of Judges, then her subsequent song in Chapter 5. It was great to come to this passage afresh - my first time coming to it since college.

Deborah was a woman of her convictions who certainly stood up against the tide of the culture, bringing law & order as a (charismatic!) leader. Who spoke God's word to Barak, who could be seen as a weak leader (maybe) but maybe he thought having Deborah with him would ensure his soldiers would be more content with the messenger coming with them ...

She certainly made it clear that God was speaking and would not take no for an answer.

There is also the story of Jael and Sisera - and the tent peg! ... Jael knows what is to show courage and initiative. Sisera is there and she knows he needs to die, for the future of Israel so she does what needs to be done!

A few things come from this study

- The need to be faithful with what God has given us to do. - What if Deborah hadn't shared what God had told her to share with Barak? ... would Israel be conquered?

- The need to step out in faith ... the need to rely on him ... how do we know that God really said these things?

One image I shared which I have found very useful comes from a team I was on in Africa, when we were sharing what it means to be a Christian.

In African Culture, the father is head of the household, he gets the seat in the house, when important decisions need to be made, he sits on the seat and directs the household. The children and wife are kneeling. The question is if we need to make important decisions where are we. Are we head, are we sitting on the seat, or are we kneeling taking our direction from the Father, asking his advice, allowing him to be head of our household.