Sunday, September 25, 2011

Back to church Sunday

A sermon preached at the 10:30 am St. Columba's Service on Back To Church Sunday

Please be seated.

I’m going to play a song which some of you may well know. Do listen to the words.

song ends

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, I pray that you would by the power of the Holy Spirit take my words and speak through them, take our minds and think through them, and take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The success of the hit TV Series Cheers in the past has been because people could relate to the characters, there was a feel good factor. The theme tune also relates to easy going nature, the universal realatity of the human need for acceptance.

Today is Back To Church Sunday, a day when friends and neighbours and family members are encouraged to come Back to Church. Churches across the country are doing the same thing as we are. Welcoming people back to church.

But what are we welcoming you back to?, why are we coming back to church?

By meeting here sunday by sunday we are saying we belong, by meeting here we are saying we need each other, by meeting here sunday by sunday we are saying we want to know a bit more about God.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.

Life is difficult sometimes ... sometimes it is great

Life sometimes throws up challenges ... sometimes we are shaken

Sometimes we are joyous and sometimes we are confused, lonely, perplexed perhaps, grieving

Church is a place where we can come and be together

Church is a place where we should be able to find acceptance and love, we should be able to talk about things which bother us, things troubling us. We should be able to be real and we should be able to meet with people who can support us through the difficult times.

No church is not perfect ... and you’ll never find the perfect church but in this church we do in this church try to do our best to preach, teach and and to put theory and practice together.

One church leader recently said that he believes that the Local Church is the hope for the world. I too believe that. That each church church is at its very best when people work together locally, when we use our gifts and talents to serve one another.

We believe that when young and old, tall and short, people of all sorts work together for a common purpose great things can and will happen.

In St. Columba’s we are trying, we are striving to provide help and support to as many people as we possibly can.

Take a look through our parish Magazine

We are studying the Bible,

We continue to visit all those we know of in hospitals, nursing homes and sheltered accomodation,

we visit all homes in the parish as and when we can, we are putting into place ways in which people can serve God according to their gifts and abilities, we continue to try and develop our youth work, we are reaching out to our housebound parishioners via recordings of services, we continue to have the full range of activities and groups for all sorts of ages and interests throughout the week.

All of this is to help people belong to the family of God in this place.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. There is a saying ... “It takes two to tango.”

I have heard it about churches where people can walk in and out and nobody speaks to them. If this is a criticism you have please do say hi to someone. And also if someone says Hi to you do say hi back and introduce yourself.

This is a place to which anyone can come and belong. One of the reason I am here is because of the friendliness of the church when I came incognito in a shirt and tie and sat down at the back of the church one sunday morning. Someone said hi to me!

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,

Critics of the church universally would tell us that we are boring, untrue and irrelevant to the culture of today. Perhaps we have been - or perhaps our critics do have some challenges to help us improve.

However, the church at its best is here to serve the outsider, to walk beside and support the tempted whatever their temptation may be, we are called to bring the lonely into fellowship and friendship, the struggling student, the single mum, the housebound, the man struggling with answering the question about what life is all about.

When we look at the Gospel reading today we see Jesus asking the Lame man “Sir Do you want to be made well”?

The man had to respond

The church cannot do things without people responding.

We can sit and do nothing for a long time or we can respond.

Many of the problems we face can be responded to positively. The are resources which the church has access to which can help people.

Issues such as debt ... a phonecall to Christians Against Poverty can see the burden of debt lifted from households

Issues such as depression and other issues can be talked through with Christian Counsellors

Issues such as loneliness can be addressed by getting involved in many of the organisations in the parish.

Each one of us ... whoever we are, whatever we are going through can find hope, love reassurance, help, meaning within church if only we ask.

If you are here for the first time in a while, or if you are here each week do know that we are a church ready to help, ready to chat, ready to support, ready to talk through worries & fears.

You will see the new welcome cards in the pews - these create an easy communication link with the clergy and vestry - if there are things you would like, if you want us to visit please do fill them in, if there are other comments. Do fill your name in as well on them.

We are called to respond

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Should Churches have facebook pages??

Over the course of the last few months I have been asked this question from a number of people.

The quick answer is ... aye why not? Millions of people are communicating in Facebook so why not have a local church presence.

The longer answer is ... yes but be careful.

A few questions about this

What info are you putting on? Who are you going to allow to access it ... Fully Public ... friends only? ... who is going to administrate it? Are you going to update it regularly?

The other thing is youth (i.e. Under 18's) on facebook ... This is a whole area of problems as there needs to be safeguards and parish policies as to electronic communication. It needs well researched and have completely transparent procedures in regard to emails and facebook messages.

As far as I am concerned I will never add an under 18 as a friend to my personal facebook friend group. All emails that I send out to our youth group are all sent out on the parish email account which the Child Protection Panel(CPP) in the parish have access to. Our parish facebook account similarly has been set up so that the CPP have access to the username and password allowing them access to all communication methods.

Having said all of this ... if people are using facebook why not use it to communicate with the church. Just ensure that everything that you do has safeguards in place

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forgiveness ...

A sermon preached in St. Columba's Parish Church at 10:30 Holy Communion

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

A story is told about a man who loved dogs. 
He went in front of his house and began creating a path from his front door to the street. 

As he was nearly finished a dog trounced right though the middle of the wet cement. 

Since he was a dog lover he overlooked the dog's inability to recognize wet cement so he calmly re-smoothed the path. 

Knowing it could happen again he placed rope along each side of the walkway. 

But a few minutes later the dog pounced over the rope and again splashed through the cement.  His patience dwindled but he didn't retaliate; he just chased off the dog with some harsh words. 

Again, he smoothed out the concrete and incredibly enough, the dog sneaked behind him and leaped flat-belly into the middle of the walkway.  The man picked up a stone and hit the dog - it limped away! 

His neighbour witnessed everything that happened and rushed over to his friend and said: "I thought you loved dogs."  The man responded, "I do love dogs. 

But that's in the abstract.  I hate dogs in the concrete."

Sorry ... I read this and thought it is quite applicable today

The abstract and the reality ... the theory and the practice sometimes can be quite different poles apart maybe on lots of issues.

As we continue through this season in the church calendar which speaks about us growing as disciples. The readings raise lots of different issues for us as Christians. Today our Gospel reading speaks strongly about Forgiveness.

Forgiveness in our readings today is one of the areas of our life where we all struggle, where many struggle to bring theory and practice into line with each other.

In our service this morning
We have sought God’s forgiveness in the words of the confession
We have been assured of God’s forgiveness in the absolution

Before we come to the prayer of consecration we will share the peace... This is a crucial part of the service when we say to each other “Peace be with you”. The challenge of this is about relationship - can you say peace be with you to those who you have not forgiven?

In our service this morning we will pray in the Lord’s prayer forgive us today our sins as we forgive others who sin against us.

But do we? is our theory the same as our practice?

This is difficult. By speaking about this we are dealing with heart problems - problems deep inside the seat of our emotions, It deals with our relationship towards others.
It can be situations which have happened recently or way back.

When we speak of forgiveness we are talking about a relationship which has broken down by words or by actions between us and someone else. Wether the action is caused by us or them.

Forgiveness according to the OED is defined as 'to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offense or debt'.

Now - that is extremely challenging for any size of offense or debt

Perhaps some may say it is easy enough if at school someone steals our favorite pen.

But bigger offences, that certainly take more and more strength of our will power

Let us look at this from another perspective ... the alternative is unforgiveness
If we are to remain in a place where there is unforgiveness - then there will be undoubtably be
Deep - seated resentment
Questions like what-if I had done something differently
A serious temptation not to display the fruits which God can develop in our lives.

It is a process but we need to choose for ourselves that whatever the crime is - what ever words and what ever hurts were done that we are not going to let them have control over us.

We forgive because he first forgave us.

When we think of the hurt we have caused God by thought, word and deed and then realise that this has been forgiven then from this place we can find the strength to forgive others.

One of the people who you find if you search of “Forgiveness Northern Ireland” is Gordon Wilson ... His daughter was killed in the Enniskillen Bombing

Gordon Wilson held his daughter's hand as they lay trapped beneath a mountain of rubble. It was 1987, and he and Marie had been standing watching a peaceful Remembrance Day service in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland, when a terrorist bomb went off. The rescuers dug them out of the rubble and rushed them to hospital. But, by the end of the day, Marie and nine other people were dead.
A few hours after the bombing, when interviewed by the BBC, Gordon Wilson forgave the terrorists who had killed his daughter. He said that he would pray for them. He also begged that no-one took revenge for Marie's death. "That", he said, "will not bring her back."
The loss of Marie shattered Gordon Wilson and his wife Joan, but, they were anxious that bitterness and hatred should not rip apart the small town of Enniskillen. Before the bomb, Protestants and Catholics in Enniskillen had lived side by side, and the Wilsons wanted it to stay that way.
As Christians, the Wilsons wanted to help repair this damage between people.
After his television interview, Gordon Wilson received many letters from people across Britain and the rest of the world. Many supported him, but many others criticised him.
Forgiveness is at all sorts of levels - It is not about forgetting what has happened - not at all. But it is about allow us to move on from the consequences of an event. It is not simply a fllipant I forgive you and holding on to the consequences and mulling them over.

There is a Brilliant Book on the Subject Written by RT Kendall - Total forgiveness. He Explains that after a very painful episode in his life He made a decision for inner peace, found he had to carry out that decision by a daily commitment to forgive those who had hurt him and to forgive them totally.

He says “I therefore let them utterly of the hook and resigned myself to the knoweldge that:
They wouldn’t get caught or found out
Nobody would ever know hat they did
They would prosper and be blessed as thoughthey had done no wrong

he continues What is more I actually willed this! I prayed for this, I asked God to forgive them. But I have had to do it every day in order to keep the peace within my heart. Having been on both sides I can tell you: the peace is better. The bitterness isn’t worth it.

Who do we need to forgive today - is there someone who comes to mind who has wronged us and we need to utter those words father forgive them and father God I forgive them.

Why not begin the process of forgiveness today.

may our abstract and concrete beliefs be the same

Who do you need to ask for forgiveness? and who do you need to offer forgiveness to.?

It is challenging ... but it is the Gospel.

Let us pray.

In the prayer I will use the Post communion Prayer which we will pray later.

God of compassion, 
in this eucharist we know again your forgiveness 
and the healing power of your love. 
Grant that we who are made whole in Christ 
may bring that forgiveness and healing to this broken world, 
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, September 04, 2011


A Sermon preached at St. Columba's on Sunday 4th September 2011 based on Mark 7: 24-37 at Choral Evensong

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


Surprises are events which we don’t expect, that go beyond what we normally experience. They can be good and they can be not so good.

The random act of kindness from someone ... perhaps a box of chocolates, or a boquet of flowers or a party.

Years ago some of you may remember the TV Programme surprise surprise when our Cilla - Cilla Black opted to reunite loved ones, fulfilled peoples life long dreams and ambitions.

Surprise Surprise

The first bit of Our Gospel reading this evening is one of surprise. For us reading it today it is surprising -

we may be surprised at how Jesus deals with the Syrophonician woman in the opening of this reading

we may be surprised at her response

And then we may be surprised at how Jesus at the end commends her

A Little background

Jesus is in Tyre, a gentile area and he is there with his disciples. He knew he was sent to “the lost sheep of Israel” God’s chosen people. It was them who Jesus communicated with, they were the ones he was concerned about.

It is surprising how Jesus speaks to this woman ... he mentions dogs - in the greek it is little dogs. but even so it still is surprising perhaps even shocking.

But then we see the woman coming back to him and saying well even the dogs get scraps from the table.

We then see Jesus opening up his ministry to those who are outside of the “in-crowd” those beyond the pale of the Jewish heritage.

It is surprising ... even shocking about the radical inclusiveness which Jesus highlighted that day.. a woman, a gentile woman asking for healing from a Jew ... the cultural norms of the day prohibited joint meals, and encouraged exclusive worship ... just think about the temple ... the court of the gentiles beyond which those who weren’t jewish couldn’t go.

There seem to be a couple of themes in this passage to pick up upon this evening

The first is the radical inclusiveness which Jesus set up for us. Who are the outsiders? who are those who we see as unclean, as beyond love, beyond help? Time and again in the gospel Jesus went to them, invited them in. In Belfast today who are the people who stand waiting to be invited in, to be shown the love and the fellowship.

We do pray in our parish prayer - That God would make the door of this church wide enough to welcome all who need human love, fellowship and care.

Each one of us have to answer ourselves as to who we see as outsiders, who we see as those whom we struggle to love. And then we are reminded that we are to reach out in love to them.

The second theme I see as important is that of peristance ... I wonder if we were to encounter Jesus as that woman did that day - would we have been brave enough to ask, would we have left it when he responded as he did that day, would we have pressed in and kept going not letting up... being persistant in our prayers.

This evening we have prayed, we have asked, we have sung our praises. I wonder what is on your heart and my heart. What are we longing for, what would we love to see God doing in our lives, for our family members, for our friends. Are there things we want changed in our world.

Pressing in and praying earnestly is something we as a parish need to do - on the service sheet you will see the priorities of prayer for this season - the things we need as a family to ask our father for this new academic year

Our organisations and leaders
Those who for what ever reason are not at church
Those who have young families
The planning of next summer’s mission trip
Those on our prayer list

Are we prepared to bring these things to the throne of God, are we prepared to be persistent? There is so much that we could say about prayer and how prayer works but it does begin by doing what that woman did that day and simply bringing the need before Jesus.

May we continually be surprised as to how God answers prayer, may we be surprised as to who comes along to our church, may we live up to the prayer that we pray for our parish. May we never turn anyone away from God because of our attitudes and pedjudices, and most of all may we be persistant in our prayers

In Jesus Name we pray