Sunday, June 23, 2013

Celebrate Freedom

A Sermon preached in The Church of the Resurrection - Blarney on Sunday 23rd June 2013

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

Passages 1 Kings 19: 1-15a, Luke 8: 26-39

Freedom is a call on each one of our lives … we all want to be free … we see this through the world history … nobody wants to be controlled … we see freedom fighters, we see the human rights of freedom being enshrined in laws. We Have, desire and enjoy freedom.

As Children are growing up we see them wanting freedom to choose, freedom to go where they want to go, to do what they want to do. Parents have to tread a very difficult path … allowing freedom, whilst also protecting their kids from harm.
As humans, as Christians we have been given freedom to choose … this is the fundamental God Given right … all of us can do what we want to do. What we do is up to us how we use this freedom.

When our freedom is removed … we become enslaved, imprisoned … the decisions we make, the circumstances we find ourselves can remove that freedom from us.
In our gospel reading today we see that there is a man who has had his freedom severely restricted by evil … his life is less than what it could and should be. We see he is outcast, on the edge of society but we also see Jesus’ concern for him is to be made whole, healed and sent back to community.

This man, in Luke's account is not only confined to a life on the outside of community but also his physical confines in terms of chains and shackles are limiting his movement. With a few authoritative words from Jesus his situation turns around and his life changes forever.

I recently came across this piece of street art which is in Philadelphia … it is fascinating take on society … but for me as I look on it … it speaks so much about our society today … shaping us into its mould and the freedom that is possible ... The artist to my knowledge doesn’t say anything about Christ but as I look at this the struggle inside each human being, having being moulded by our circumstances desiring to be free and in the end finding that freedom, where it truly is to be found- In Christ… It was for freedom that Christ has set us free.

Huge Challenge for us this morning as we gaze upon our readings today …

<< God spoke to Elijah … and asked him “what are you doing here?” twice in this passage … he had ran away from his responsibilities … he had chosen his own way … he was 100’s of miles away from where he should have been … God met him there and brought him back … told him what he should be doing. >>

Then in the New Testament passage we see someone shackled in his circumstances … we aren’t told how he had ended up in this position, what decisions he had made, what was done to him by others but we do know that evil had gripped him … and then we we see that he is restored to wholeness.

One of the illustrations which Scripture Union uses for this reading is that of a jigsaw puzzle … he catch a glimpse of what it could be … but the parts come together and make up the complete picture.
Today’s Gospel reading is picture of the possibility of freedom … which is linked to wholeness, which is linked to all the bits of the jigsaw coming together and the possibility of a new start.

On Friday Night I had the opportunity to meet a friend of Doug and Olwyn’s ... Greg a pastor of a Southern Baptist Church in the USA … He was telling of an encounter with someone in Dublin… Greg was speaking a service and told the congregation of the amazing news that those who are in Christ have past sins forgiven, Present sins forgiven and future sins forgiven. After the service … the guy came up to Greg and said … wow that’s a fantastic deal …count me in! and then started telling his wife about it as well!

Folks … We have freedom … freedom to choose … with this freedom of course comes responsibility what will we choose to do, what is God calling us to do?, what is God’s best for us?
It may look like our lives are messed up … that there are different parts of us all over the place … but we are called to wholeness. We are called to enjoy life, to be complete in Christ, broken lives made new.

The jigsaw will come together, sometimes It’s easy, other times it takes a long time … may we find our freedom in Christ. Our potential in Christ, may we not be moulded into expectations of what others think of us, or what the world expects us to do. but allow ourselves to be free to do what God wants us to do. To be bold and strong for Christ.

The church is an organisation which should be declaring freedom, which should be allowing people to be who they were created to be. We should be equipping each other to use our God given gifts and to dream big dreams.

I get passionate about this because I see so many people who are moulded into the ways others see them, That may be pressure from work, family or peer pressure from friends … people who are struggling with their identity, or they have just given up in their struggle and are addicted to things of this world and simply feel that they are in a mould that they cannot break out of.

I’m sure all of us know individuals who have huge potential but due to situations find themselves hemmed into moulds, situations where things could be much better for them. Freedom is what we are called to speak.
The Christian Gospel, the good news we proclaim is freedom to the captives, forgiveness to the sinner, healing to the hurting, purpose of life to searching.

How have we been molded … for the good, but also negatively … how do we break out of the mould of the world and be bold, be strong for the Lord. That’s something each person will have to look at for themselves but I get excited when talking about freedom, because freedom invariably means change, it means action, it means prayer, it may mean pain, but we are free. We are people of freedom.

Again in the New testament passage … The guy was told to go back home and tell …
As Christians we are called to use our freedom to bring freedom to those we encounter … Just as Jesus did.
Our world so often views Christians as people who are so bound up with rules and regulations but we are also people of immense freedom … we have been set free from our sins, we know where we stand within eternity… let us share this freedom with the world around us. And let us know this freedom for ourselves.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Grace in the Public Square

This sermon was preached in The Church of the Resurrection Blarney on Sunday 16th June

Speak Lord that I may speak your word to day

Today as a staff team we want to preach about the Protection of Life during pregnancy Bill – in other words “The Abortion Issue”….. we feel compelled to do so because it is an issue which the church has a deep interest because of our understanding   of the Sanctity of Life”.

We are also doing so because in the survey conducted recently within the parish someone asked for more sermons on live issues. And we want to respond to that by saying, that if we have neglected this area it is because:
  • ·         10/15 minutes is hardly long enough to really present these issues
  • ·         We as clergy  wrestle with these difficult issues ourselves and we find it no easier than church members to speak clearly, without being simplistic. we are also aware that by speaking on these issues there is the whole area of pastoral care for those who these issues affect. So sensitive that that it has divided a nation for 30 years.
  • ·          I prayed at the beginning that: Speak Lord that I may speak your Word today….. the preacher has an responsibility which we take utterly seriously … and I am hugely conscious that words have a huge power to build up but also to tear down …. This has been the most difficult issue I have had to preach on ... I’m happy to discuss this with anyone over the coming days.

First of all let’s just put into one sentence what we mean by the Sanctity of Life …

"With God as creator - The concept of the sanctity of life is the belief that all human beings, at any and every stage of life ..., are to be perceived as persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity and therefore must be treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status."

It is this Church holds onto. While these are views that are enshrined in the Bible, the church believes they provide the very air that we need to breathe as a human race.

So the church says to this world ...  this message is not only for the faith community but for the world. We believe that God cares for the whole of the world and our lives and therefore the church has a role of being a voice to speak into the issues about the sanctity of life.

It is this sanctity of life which spans from beginning of life to end of life issues.

Now in Ireland the RC church is the voice that is being heard the loudest but  What does the C of I have to say?…. Within the church of ireland, we were asked 3 days before the meeting to prepare a submission to the debate in Dail ... basically the conclusion was this ...The full text can be found here 

“The Church of Ireland opposes abortion in principle but acknowledges that there are exceptional  cases of ‘strict and undeniable medical necessity’ where it is and should be an option.

There is a variety of opinion within the Church of Ireland on what constitutes ‘exceptional cases’ but agreement that it includes circumstances where the continuation of the pregnancy poses a real and substantial risk to the life of the mother”

The major difference between the RC and C of I is that ….the Anglican Church doesn’t tell you ... it invites you to participate and journey in the decision making . historically The church has 4 tools for any of decision which we make

  • Scripture
  • Tradition
  • Reason
  • Experience

Over time these 4 sources interact with each other, and cause decisions to be made which previous generations of the church may have disagreed with. However, as technology, society and thought have developed the church has to re-engage with the debate and find out what we need to say in our day, in our place.

God has given us all freedom of choice ... and the choices we make as christians will be informed by these things.

Let’s take the Bible and the Gospel of the day and those words of Jesus to Simon “Do you see this woman?”

This story has nothing to say about the protection of life during pregnancy but everything to say about how we can have all the correct moral standing, right doctrine in the world and still not see individuals for who they are.

What I want to do now, is ask the question: Do we see…this woman…this man…this situation…. do we feel the tensions within, the contexts from which they come from...
here are a few examples:

-  Do we see the uncertainty of women in hospitals at the moment?

- Do we see the 16 year old girl’ who is has been trafficked into a prostitution ring getting pregnant and seeks a termination?

- Do we see doctors who are torn Ethically with decisions they have to make on a daily basis?

- Do we see the woman who travels to London for an abortion because it affects her career plans and lifestyles and she has three children already?

- Do we see our politicians receiving threatening messages written in blood?

- Do we see the dilemma of being a catholic but not a catholic Taoiseach?

I was amazed and horrified to read in the papers this week  Enda Kenny saying in the dail this week
"I am now being branded by personnel around the country as being a murderer..." detailing how he had been sent items of Catholic regalia and threatening messages.
"Therefore I am proud to stand here as a public representative, as a Taoiseach who happens to be a Catholic but not a Catholic Taoiseach."

What do we see from these images? Do we look beyond? Do we see them as Christ does?

Have you seen this woman Jesus said to Simon …? …..He had condemned before understanding.

And not only that ... he failed to understand that Jesus as a prophet didn’t condemn her.

So often we only hear the voice of condemnation and not the grace of Christ that made this woman lavish her love on Jesus.

She who discovered that previous life was like living like a fish out of  water and found love through those words of not just a prophet, but the Son of God “Your sins are forgiven.”

And in this debate about the lives of mother and baby we need to look beyond and sadly so many Christians all too often seem to be taking Simon’s side.

The churches concern for what is right is not heard because it only seems to condemn. In its battle with the forces at work in our world it is using the blunt instrument of doctrinal certainty instead of pointing to the lavish grace of Christ.

In fairness they are in the battle …. There are powerful forces at work.

The secular view that wants to ridicule Christian beliefs as of a bygone age.

Forces at work in the media who take the unfortunate and regretted words of a midwife in the tragic case of Savita Halappanavar about Ireland is a catholic country that doesn’t allow abortion and sets ablaze the kind of forest fire the book of James speaks of in Chapter 3 “The tongue is also a fire  ... it sets the whole course of one’s life on fire….”

the media has set the nation on fire and of course douses the fire of the Holy Spirit that wants to speak of the of the politics of forgiveness and grace ….. Because it doesn’t sell newspapers and create advertising revenue.

We also see in Ireland the power of the church over the state …battles long lost in Europe … 

Now today Christians everywhere need to unite …

Jeremiah the prophet called to speak into the needs of his day.

Called even before he consciously knew it called from within the womb where God began to shape him and form him so wonderfully... to to fulfil that destiny...God’s purpose.

The church today in a post Christian era  must find its destiny to point to this God who cares for everyone.

  • - Firstly we must live by the manifesto of the Sermon on the Mount and not just the commandments of the Old Testament. They are even more demanding in their demands because they require seeing and acting for others as Christ does.
  • - Welcome into the church family with open arms everyone. If we take the sanctity of life seriously .  One sinner helping another through the challenges & difficult decisions of life.
  • - We need to be teaching the Gospel of grace… ??interestingly in the opinion poll released this week a majority of people thought that abortion on request is wrong. This surely says something about the positive Christian legacy that we have inherited??. it is now the churches task to teach the ways of the Kingdom that call for accountability and yet are lavished by grace.

And we need Act Immediately while the legislation is being debated and write to our TD’s/ Taoiseach to ensure that the legislation will be robust enough - See our parish Blog for the text example