Sunday, September 26, 2010
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.
It is a great privilege to be asked by your rector Cannon Howard to join you in your harvest celebrations this year. To see a church decked out with all the fruit, flowers and vegetables is great - I love this time of year. It brings me back to my youth when on a Saturday morning I would go down to the Big Church in Banbridge with mum in a car stuffed with greenery which dad had cut down from our garden, lift it out into the church building and start the decorating.
Harvest is a wonderful time of year, when we see the fruit of our labours, we thank God for the farmers, for the fishermen, for the whole supply chain that gets what we have on our tables from here in Northern Ireland and from exotic places across the globe. We thank God for creation, for sun, rain, nutrients in the soil. Harvest time is a time to pause and thank God for his blessings which he sends to us.
This evening I would like us to pause and think for a few moments on the idea of partnership. The idea of working together to achieve a common goal/ purpose.
When we think of of the term partnership we might think of a working relationship.
At lunchtime I am usually back at home between 1 & 2 for lunch and after the 1o’clock news on the BBC comes the soap-opera Doctors and if you are familiar with this there are two or three of them are partners in the surgery - they are the ones responsible for making sure the place runs smoothly, that all the patients are cared for. Other doctors may come and go but the partners stay throughout. They help each other out, they are responsible for the running of the surgery
Or perhaps partnership throws up thoughts of a deeper relationship - that of marriage. The ideal of which is Looking out for and caring for one another - on all sorts of levels, physically providing for one another, helping each other through difficulties, when things go wrong, rejoicing when things are going well, partners stand up for one another and share in the problems of life.
When one party of a partnership fails in their work, in their duties, in their responsibilities then there is indeed problems for the others.
Harvest is a time of year when the whole idea of partnership is highlighted again and again.
In our Old Testament reading we seek through the prophet Joel how God is promising to his people how he will fulfil his side of the partnership:
O children of Zion, be glad and rejoice in the Lord your God; for he has given the early rain for your vindication, he has poured down for you abundant rain, the early and the later rain, as before. The threshing-floors shall be full of grain, the vats shall overflow with wine and oil.
Partnership between God and humanity in terms of creation - way back in spring - seeds were planted, sun and rain together with the nutrients in the soil helped them grow and now we take a moment to pause and thank God for the season, for the exact balance of nature which allows the earth to produce all that is needed.
This idea of partnership is found right throughout the Bible, whether we think of Genesis God as creator, Whether we move though God as liberator of his people in the exodus and Exile or God as redeemer when he Humbled himself as a servant.
This provision is essential for us, whether or not society today recognizes it.
As was highlighted in the Popes visit, a wake up call to all Christians. We are living in a time when God’s name is being less and less confessed by what is termed as ‘militant atheism’. Harvest has to be a wake up call when we who call ourselves Christian stand up and thank God for his blessings to us.
The gospel from Matthew this evening speaks about God as provider, God comforting us when it looks bleak, God being the source of all things.
Do not worry, look at the birds - God provides.
It would be very easy to take this passage and sit back and do nothing - don’t worry but actually we need to take this passage and look at it in the context of the whole of scripture.
When God provided - he provides when his people turn to him, when they work in partnership with him and when they are prepared to play their part.
Partnership doesn’t work when one of the partner sits idly by while one or other does 100% of the work.
We are all called to be stewards of our world - In terms of physical resources and the resources of all kinds that is the mission to which God is involved and to which we are called.
Harvest is indeed a time when we are called to be thankful, but that thankfulness we need to turn into a partnership which will last and which will produce more of a harvest of all types.
A couple of weeks ago, I was invited along to the Ladies Guild in my Parish to look at various trips I had been on to Uganda and Zambia. During my talk I recalled how mission partners from Ireland were interacting with the locals. They didn’t come in and tell communities what they were going to do but rather they sat down with a group of people and asked what were their needs and discussed with them what the priorities were ... maybe healthcare, maybe employment, maybe clean water. Then the partners were able to help the community help themselves.
As we were chatting I wondered what in the community I am in at the moment, what are the issues. For St. Columba’s our issues which were highlighted by the community include:
Around the church Getting Teenagers involved, keeping them after confirmation, having youth organisations, families coming to church, the welcoming of visitors and new parishioners, those not able to get to church, communication within the parish and between churches.
Within society today - The suicide rate, Apathy to Christianity, crime, unemployment, isolation, loneliness, the effects of budget cuts.
I suspect this would be similar to other churches.
It is here I would like to draw the various threads of partnership together.
We are here this evening to thank God for his blessings to us this year, for the food we have on our table
for the people involved in getting it from field, sea, through the shops to the table
We are here this evening to hear God’s word to us in our own generation - a word which speaks of God’s concern and work for us and amongst us
We are here to be encouraged to Go from this place ready to live thankful lives for his countless blessings but also to work in partnership with him where we find ourselves every single day. That is the living out of the good news. In a world that is increasingly hostile to the gospel, to anything christian we as followers of Christ can do nothing else but witness to the provision which he gives us each and every single day.
Let us pray
Living God, help us in our every day life to live as Followers of Christ in a way that challenges those who are living their lives without him. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Saturday, September 25, 2010
Friday, September 24, 2010
It is absolutely spectacular views across the city, the lough south to the mournes and beyond. Unfortunately my mobile died so didn't get any of my own picts but below is a panoramic picture which does justice to the view ...courtesy of virtual-visitnorthernireland.com
Monday, September 20, 2010
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Heavenly father, take us, mould us and help us by the power of you Holy Spirit to be the people you would have us be. In Jesus name we pray - Amen
One of the many privileges of ministry is that myself and the Rector get to visit people in their homes, and also from time to time get to speak at various groups in the parish and beyond.
This past week I was asked to speak at our Ladies Guild about my experiences of the African Church - The theme I proposed was Mission: Home and Away - It was a topic I really could get into and one in which I enjoyed preparing for.
During that evening I was recounting how in Uganda, I witnessed the mission partners at the time working in partnership with local people. Instead of the partners telling the Africans what they could do for them. They brought groups together and asked them what their needs were, wrote them down and then give each individual a few stones and ask them to put them down as to what they perceived as the most crucial needs were.
Then when they had identified those needs - then the partners were able to ask those gathered as to how they could help to meet those prioritized needs.
It was a great way of working out of the gospel in practical ways. For the African church the needs were basic health, sanitation, mosquito nets, employment, water.
I then wondered, if we were to take a group of people in a different culture and ask them to list some of the needs, some of the worries what would they say...
So I did list those which the ladies gave me on Wednesday Night:
The List breaks down into Church and society
Within this parish - Getting Teenagers involved, keeping them after confirmation, having youth organisations, families coming to church, the welcoming of visitors and new parishioners, those not able to get to church, communication within the parish and between churches.
Within society today - The suicide rate, Apathy to Christianity, crime, unemployment, isolation, loneliness, the effects of budget cuts.
I wonder would you have anything to add to that list?
In a programme which was aired this week on UTV Archbishop Alan Harper was speaking about the future of the church - he illustrated what the church needs to do asking a group of people to form a circle - 2 ways to do this - the first being the obvious way all looking into the centre, the other being facing outwards. His point was that we are to be a people who look outwards, who look at the problems of society, speak into situations, show practical help.
We as Christians have an amazing message to share with the world - a message of a relationship with God which can impact with the world around us.
Our Christian faith fills the deepest longings of the heart, provides purpose and direction for those who are struggling with questions of meaning, self-worth. When the church steps up and presents the good news in loving and practical ways the world will take notice.
Our Christian faith compels us to visit the lonely, the sick, the vulnerable. Our Christian faith compels us to out of our love for God, out of our worship of him to go the extra mile, to walk in another’s shoes, to draw along side them and to support them.
This all draws upon what we do sunday by sunday here in church - and centres on our Holy Communion service,
As we gather together once again tonight we realise that although we use words which we say are the same, ancient words - we are not - we have grown, we have concerns which we didn’t have last week, last month, last year.
Our priorities are different, our thoughts for the things which we need to do when we get home from church are different. In the Holy communion we as the church gathered together are one body, different people yes but one unit. A body which is intended to work together for the good of all its members.
We read in this evenings scripture how God was able to use circumstances to restore the fortunes Israel from exile in Babylon from the book of Ezra, we also read from the Gospel of John how in the midst of Jesus’ conflict with his opponents he was able to keep focused on who he was and what he was about, speaking to them about his identity and his father’s priority of looking after the individual - healing on the sabbath?
As Christians our imperative has to be concerned about the things which God is concerned about, that is the building up of his kingdom. We are his ambassadors, representing him to those we meet on a daily basis - wherever we are.
So when we are faced with lonely people we’ve no option but to do what he would do
When faced with those who are struggling, we’ve no other option than to do what he would do
When faced with injustice we have to stand up for justice
When faced with apathy we have to challenge it
When faced with declining numbers of young people we have no option than to tackle the problem
When faced with whatever other problems or issues we need to take action
We do this because our God is a God of action, a God not just of theory but of practical solutions to practical problems. He is not a God who stands Idly but got involved in the messiness of the world.
Whatever we may be facing this week, whatever problems, worries, concerns - there is a way through, a way which will work out for Good.
Let us pray.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
The result is the possibility to embed the pdf on a sharable format. In order to try this out here is our September edition:
to check out our parish website ... www.stcolumbas.down.anglican.org
Sunday, September 12, 2010
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be now and always acceptable in thy sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
I wonder if you have ever misplaced something, lost something valuable? I remember some years ago when I was at uni up in Coleraine. Final Year, Computer Science project
Living Down in Banbridge I commuted down on train to belfast and then bus to banbridge
Traveling weighed down with bags galore ... up and down weekly on the train with laptop, clothes, books and all the rest. One week I get back home one bag is missing with the paper copy of the project and the memory sticks which had the whole project on it! Knowing that it hadn’t been properly backed up for a few weeks- Not Good. Even talking about it now sends shivers up my spine.
Why did paper sheets and a wee electronic chip matter so much? ...
... It was my work
... It belonged to me
... I placed enormous value in this as it was what it would lead to
Phone calls were made To Translink ... did I leave it on train or bus?
To the university to see if I had actually made a back up?
To the coffee shop I sat in while waiting for the train
To the police to see if anyone had handed it in?
All of those proved to be fruitless
Hopeless - the work would probably need to be replaced ... but it had taken weeks and weeks and it was only a week to go before the deadline.
Our gospel reading today speaks of two people who knew what I was going through
Firstly Jesus tells of the shepherd - He counted the flock and discovered one was missing
Then he spoke of the woman who had lost a coin
Both then went searching
Let us take the shepherd as an example:
Like my example
...The shepherds work depended upon him having a full flock
...The sheep was property of the shepherd
...The sheep was valuable to him
None of us like to be separated from the things which we value and mean so much to us.
So often today if we loose things and think ahh well sure I’ll just get another one - but if you have put work and effort into something then we will take the time to search it out and find it.
The two parables which Jesus told are probably two of the clearest he did communicate. The importance of searching, the value of time taken to find and the rejoicing after what is not really valued by others is found.
Who are the Lost in Luke’s Gospel?
Time and again, Jesus speaks about the Lost as those who are on the fringes of society, those who are looked down upon, those who struggle with life, those whom the religious leaders had rejected, those who are described in this passage as sinners
We see in these two parables that the owner, the one who is responsible for them going out of their way to search out and to eventally find and restore the sheep and coin to their rightful place.
We see Jesus going to great lengths to point out the meaning of this parable - that saying that heaven rejoices when an individual is found, when someone who was lost is brought back.
In our gospel we see two ways of lostness -
Firstly the sheep goes wandering - perhaps looking for greener pastures, perhaps simply to explore, perhaps they think that they can find a better shepherd, perhaps they just want to be on their own for a little while
Or in the case of the inanimate object - the coin, the owner simply left it somewhere and can’t remember anything about it. But when it is needed needs to go and discover it. Anyone who has lost car or house keys knows exactly what this is like!
As we apply this passage to our time, to our day
Could we ask ourselves who in our family, our friendship group needs to be found by the good shepherd? who needs to be carried home on his shoulders?, who needs to be welcomed again into the flock?, who needs know the unconditional love and acceptance of the good shepherd?
Who do we know needs to be sought out and given value again?
It is interesting that Jesus puts the hearers of the parable right into the middle of the story - Suppose one of you has 100 sheep
Do you and I as hearers of this parable 2,000 or so years on care for that individual enough to go and search them out when they go wandering?
That is a huge challenge - are we prepared to spend time developing, cultivating relationships in order that we may love those who are wandering, those who have been left aside and can’t be found are indeed found and brought again into a caring, loving community where they can find meaning & purpose, love and friendship in community?
Suppose you had a friend who didn’t go to any church, but you did and you enjoyed going would you not say to that friend why don’t you come along with me next sunday?
We are in the business of being God’s hands, feet and voice in this world - The kingdom of God will only be advanced here if we are prepared to do it, if we are prepared to issue invitations to get involved, if we are prepared to invite, if we are prepared to work for God.
In this parish we are taking the opportunity to reach out to those who are on the fringes of church. In order to do this we are taking part in Back to Church Sunday in a couple of weeks time - are there those we know used to belong to St. Columba’s but for whatever reason have waundered, or perhaps are just sitting back, or perhaps have just forgotten about us. Why not use the invitation to get them here on sunday 26th?
If anyone needs a lift to church on that sunday that can be arranged, if other reasons come up that we can help overcome with give the clergy a ring.
We are all called to search out for those who are on their own, perhaps scared, perhaps anxious, worried about something. But we have a God who is faithful and just who knows our need, who will cleanse us from all sin and re-create in us new life.
Let us do it! Let’s search out those who are wandering, lets come as we are before God.
And just in case you are worrying - on monday morning on the way back up after I lost university work I re-traced my steps, I called in with anyone who looked official in Belfast, on the train and eventually I discovered the parcel office in coleraine bus station and there lo and behold the bag was sitting there.
God does indeed answer prayer!
Saturday, September 11, 2010
On facebook today I was chatting to a couple of friends and telling them about one of the books - a quick google search for one of them - all I was looking for was the cover but came across the Zondervan scribd site which is great ... It has loads of resources.
The book I was speaking about has a link to tomorrow's sermon...
If you would like to read it Cecil the Lost Sheep, Full Book
But check out the other resources on http://www.scribd.com/Zondervan
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Tonight based upon our Isaiah passage I was asked the question ... why don't we sacrifice any longer animals? if God was looking for sacrificial offerings from his poeople who had been taken into exile ... Isaiah 42:22
"Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel! 23 You have not brought me your sheep for burnt-offerings, or honoured me with your sacrifices."
My initial thoughts & indeed discussion centred around - simply that Jesus was the once for all sufficient sacrifice for the sin of the world . Which yes sin was atoned for. Then we have the fact that our whole lives are to be living sacrifices and that what we do in church - our worship and our offering is our thanksgiving sacrifice
Update: as Gary has points out - Hebrews - indeed!
- Remembering who God is
- Catching a glimpse of what is happening at the present
- Looking forward to a hopeful future
Saturday, September 04, 2010
DEDICATION OF SUNDAY SCHOOL TEACHERS AND YOUTH LEADERS
We have come together today to commission all those involved in the youth ministry of this parish - our leaders, helpers and Sunday School teachers and to dedicate the Children entrusted to their care for this coming year. As leaders in this parish, you have a great responsibility in the example you set both in your everyday life and in your spiritual life to live for God and in his service. The role of a Sunday School Teacher and of a Youth Leader is one, which is highly respected and appreciated within the service of the church and should be seen and undertaken in this way.
I invite our Sunday School Teachers and Youth Leaders to please stand.
Do you as Sunday School Teachers and as Youth Leaders here before God and this congregation dedicate both your time and talents to teach the children in your charge the truths of the Bible, to encourage them in their Christian Faith and to help them in whatever way you can.
I do God being my helper
I invite all young people in the congregation to please stand.
Do you as young members of this parish whether as members of the Crèche, Mums and Toddlers, Sunday School, Doves, Brownies, and the H2O Youth Group here before God and this congregation undertake to seek to learn and understand the ways of God under their guidance and instruction of your leaders
I do God being my helper.
As a congregation, we have a responsibility to God, those whom we commission this day and our Children, to see that they will be encouraged in their service to God and in teaching and learning of his word. Will you as a congregation therefore promise before God to pray for the teachers and children and help in any way to encourage them in the work
We do God being our helper.
Let us pray
Almighty God and Father
the only wise God, source of all truth and Grace enlighten the minds of those who have been charged with responsibility for the youth ministry in this parish. Give them understanding of their task, a true love for you and those they serve. Help them in both their lives and by their teaching to bring the message of the Bible alive for the young people in their care. Help the Children to listen and to take in the messages they are taught so that they may grow in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. AMEN