Sunday, December 23, 2018

oh, hell?

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen
Today is the final Sunday of Advent. This means that it the last of our series of sermons looking at what are called the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. And although it may seem somewhat grim to speak of such things this close to Christmas, this means that today we turn our attention to the topic of hell.

Perhaps it is necessary that we do so. At a function recently I met a person who over the first course decided they would like to discuss theological matters – an occupational hazard for a priest! So over the soup they told me: 'I don't believe in hell. Why would a merciful God create such a place or send anyone there?'

It is a question I have been asked before; and in an age when people's thinking have been more formed by the secular media and Hollywood's output on on television and cinema screens, perhaps not a surprising one. So let us consider it.

But before we consider why God would do such a thing, let us first consider whether or not he has. Does hell exist? And the answer to that is a very firm 'yes.' And we know this because Jesus taught us that it does. And that is why the Church has always taught that hell is real, a place for those who rebel against God.

There is another issue that is related to this. And it goes something like this: 'yes, hell exists; we cannot deny that it does, or else Christ would not have warned us against it. But it is empty! There is no one in it! For God loves his children so much that he sends no one there.' This is a suggestion that has been made by more than one theologian in modern times. And again it is an idea that is false. Not only is hell real but people do indeed go there. And we know this because Christ himself told us that they do. We need only look to the parable of Dives and Lazarus, where the rich man who neglected his poor neighbour in this life is in hell in the next; and also the prophecy/parable of the sheep and the goats where Jesus speaks of his own second coming and separating one from the other, welcoming the faithful into his kingdom, and the wicked going to eternal punishment.

So hell is not something that man for some perverse reason or other invented to frighten people; it was something that Christ taught us about and warned us against. Because of that it is something that we can not have any doubts about; and the Church, who was commanded by Jesus to teach all nations all that he had commanded them too, must also teach people of hell, now, and always, unto the end of the ages.

But knowing that it exists does not necessarily tell us why it exists. Perhaps to answer that, we should look at the matter from the opposite direction and instead ask the question that no one seems to ask: why heaven? The person who says they do not believe in hell are quite happy to believe in heaven. But what is heaven for? It is the place that God created us to be; but God forces nothing upon us. We have free-will. And just as our first parents through the misuse of their free-will lost the paradise that was Eden, so too may we lose the paradise that is heaven if we misuse our free-will by being disobedient to God and sinning.

Heaven is the place for those who love God. And, as Christ tells us, those who love God are those who know and do his will. So how can those who commit serious sin, freely, knowingly, and deliberately, without any sorrow at what they do, be said to love God? More, if they will not trust in his mercy and ask his forgiveness, if they will not do as Christ asked and repent and believe in his good news, how can they be said to love God? The merciful God the person who told me they did not believe in hell spoke of will grant this mercy to all who ask; but he will not force it upon them. And neither will he force into to heaven to dwell in his presence for all eternity those who refuse to love him.

They have rejected God and so have rejected heaven. But God has created them with an immortal soul and he will not annihilate them. What then is to become of them if they will not enter into heaven? They must go somewhere; and that somewhere is hell. And they go there not because God is without mercy and condemns them in spite of their begging him for forgiveness; they go there because they will not repent and a merciful God respects their freely made decision to reject him. Hell is their choice.

Advent is the time when we remember that Christ came into the world to show us how we may best avoid making such a choice, so that all who listen to him may instead have eternal joy with him in heaven. I pray that all here will choose to listen to him.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Prayer diary Saturday 21 December 2018

'With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him to … make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ 
Luke 1. 17

First came the prophets and then John the Baptist to prepare the world for the coming of Christ. Now that he has come we must all turn our hearts and live as those who know his grace and truth.

Prayer diary Friday 21 December 2018

His mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 
Matthew 1.18

The evangelist here makes explicit that Christ had no human father. Mary, the spotless virgin, is with child by the Holy Spirit; and her Son is therefore the Son of God.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Prayer diary Thursday 20 December 2018

' … and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.' 
Matthew 1.16

Matthew's genealogy traces Christ's human ancestry, so that we may know he was truly man. But he makes it clear that Joseph was not his father in the flesh, so that we may know he was truly divine.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Man to Man

Here's a news flash for you all. Men and women are different. In an era when many like to pretend that they're not, that is important information. The physical differences are obvious; but the differences also exist deep in the core of their being. Anyone with a couple of adequate brain cells to rub together will have noticed, for example, that men and women deal with matters that effect their emotions differently. Women talk about things. Men not so much.

I don't know if I've mentioned this before, but I spent some of my younger years in the US Army. Happy days! Boys do love their toys and the army sure has a lot of shiny things that make loud noises to play with.

The army, of course, has lots of men in it. Men who, more than most, don't want to show weakness and certainly don't want to talk about their problems. They have them, naturally, like anybody else. Concerns about relationships, money, health, the future. They just don't want to talk about them all that much. It doesn't go with the tough guy image that comes with wearing a uniform and being ready to fight and die for your country.

One of the things I noticed about men while I was in the army was that they were more inclined to talk about things that were bothering them when they were working away on something. It was almost as if having their hands dealing with some physical task loosened their tongues and they didn't realise they were talking about their problems. That, or maybe the fact that they were doing some rough piece of work provided enough external proof that they were indeed tough which allowed them to talk about what was on their minds.

I'm not the only one to have noticed this. Someone came up with an elegant phrase to describe the phenomenon – men don't talk to each other, they talk alongside each other. And that's fine, most of the time. But what happens when men no longer have work to go to, jobs where they can work alongside other men and chat about the things that worry them almost without meaning to? What happens when they retire, get laid off, or take an injury and can no longer work?

Well, one thing they can do is get involved in the Men's Shed movement. It provides places where men can go to do a bit of carpentry or metal work. The work is good; but it's the company that's really important. Other men who can listen to their problems as they work, even as they listen to theirs.

I know there's a fine Men's Shed in Castlecomer. And I'm sure there are many others around the county. Track them down, either for yourself or for someone you know. Men are different, but difference is good. The result will be happier men. And if a few birdboxes get made or lawnmower engines fixed along the way, so much the better!

this article appears in this week's issue of the Kilkenny Reporter

Prayer diary Wednesday 19 December 2018

‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.' 
Luke 7. 22

Whenever you have doubts, reflect on the witness of the Gospels. They speak to us of the deeds of Christ; and through them we may know who he truly is.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Prayer diary Tuesday 18 December 2018

(A man asked his two sons to work in the vineyard). The first said “I will not”; but later he went ; the second said, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. 
Matthew 21. 28-30

Some pay lip-service to the faith, but do not live by it. Others struggle and stumble but do their best to be obedient to God's will. It is they who will enter his Kingdom.