Sunday, November 29, 2015

advent 1: death

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 first Sunday of Advent. During this season it is traditional to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. And being someone who thinks tradition is important, especially within the Church, we begin today with death.

Death has always been something of a mysterious subject throughout all of human history. How is it that one moment a person can be alive and the next dead? Why can a person sometimes can survive what appears to be catastrophic injuries and recover fully, while something that seems trivial in comparison can carry someone off within moments? How is it that an apparently frail human being can be afflicted with some serious and chronic condition and yet go on and on living for years, while a robust and healthy person can contract what seems to be no more than a bad cold and yet can slip rapidly from his loved ones into the unyielding embrace of death?

And yet, mysterious as this cessation of life has been, mankind has always instinctively known that death is not the end. We know this from archaeology, and the respectful way that even from the earliest times man has treated his dead. Buried with people are often found provisions, tools, weapons, and jewellery; all things that are needed by the living but are of no apparent use to the dead. They speak of an understanding that life continues beyond the grave. And the mythologies of later cultures developed that understanding into stories of what form that life might take – generally seeing it as being a shadowy kind of existence that was grim compared with this life. It matters little that their notions of what life after this life might be like was different; what is important here is that the idea was widespread and spoke of a universal tendency to find irrational the thought that the spark that had brought life to the dust of which we are made could ever be totally extinguished.

The tendency to realise this is, I would suggest, a form of natural revelation, knowledge of how the universe works gained from observing the natural world. It is the same reason that most people, even without exposure to religion, intuitively understand that there must be a God, for without a creator how could anything exist? Or the natural inclination toward morality and realising that certain things are right and certain things are wrong. But it is only through Divine Revelation that man is guided towards being able to take things to the next level, so to speak. Therefore, through natural revelation we know there must be a God; but it is through Divine revelation that we know that he exists in Trinity; natural revelation gives us some sense of morality, but Divine Revelation tells why it is that certain things are right and others wrong, which is that which is wrong does not conform with the Creator's intentions for how those he created should behave; and natural revelation speaks to us of life after death; Divine Revelation gives a vision of what that life will be, which is that it is eternity in heaven with the Creator and the reason for which he created us in the first place.

This knowledge of what life after death is and that it is part of God's plan for us is of unimaginable importance. Without that knowledge the life we have on this earth has very little meaning. What would be the point of life if everything ended in decay; if all we had done would be forgotten shortly after we die in the vast majority of cases and even those handful whose names live on for generations will eventually be lost, for in time all the universe will be gone? What would be the point of struggling to lead a good and moral life if its sole reward was the good opinion of those around you who will themselves soon enough be dead and forgotten?

But the right understanding of death granted us through Divine Revelation prevents that; it prevents us from falling into the trap of thinking life is ultimately meaningless and as a result leading a life that is useless or hedonistic. God created us for a purpose; and that purpose was to love him, to show that love in the manner in which we lead our lives, and at the last be with him. Whether we are, at the last with him, depends on how well, with the help of God's grace, we live out the words of Christ that those who love him are those who hear and do God's will. Whether we have done so, and therefore hear the words on the last day that we are good and faithful servants who are to welcomed into their master's joy, or wicked servants cast out into the outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth, will be decided when Jesus returns again to judge the living and the dead. But as judgement is our topic for next week, I will simply end here with the prayer that all will use the time granted them during this Advent season to prepare well for when he comes again and by it not be found wanting on that day.

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. 

Prayer Diary Monday 30 November 2015 (Saint Andrew)

He saw two brothers, Simon ... and Andrew his brother,... and he said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' 
Matthew 4. 18,19

We are all called to call others to Christ. Some must do so by preaching the word; all must do it by the holiness of their lives.

Examin Sunday 29 November 2015

Advent is upon us. St Augustine said not to resist Christ's first coming so that we might not dread his second. Therefore examine your life closely. Consider the ways it does not conform to Christ's teachings and turn from them. In that way you need have no fear on the day when our Lord comes again.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

street riddles

One of the nice things about being a priest in parish ministry is that for the most part I set my own schedule. This means that I can, on occasion, walk my youngest to school in the morning. He's eight and there's something very special about being able to walk the short journey through the small town we live in together, hand in hand, chatting about random things.

At the moment he's on a riddle-kick. I think his teacher was explaining them at school. Now, of course, I approve of teachers filling my child's head with new and interesting information. I am a little less enthusiastic when it results in:

'Dad, dad, dad! Do you know any riddles?'
Inwardly I groaned. Not because I don't like riddles, but because I don't really know any. There's one that I learned when I was a child and still remember; but that's rude and not really suitable. Then there's the ones from the famous riddle-duel between Bilbo and Gollum in The Hobbit; but I only half-know those ... and since I've read the book to son number four, he knows them better. 

I decided to try for a deflection.
'Well there's Tom Riddle, but I don't really know him because he's in a book.'
'Ha! Good one, dad!'
For a while we talked about Tom Riddle and Harry Potter and I thought the deflection had worked. But I'd only bought myself a hundred yards of breathing space. Then as we reached the hardware store:
'So, dad - any riddles?'
I groaned.
'I don't really know any.'
'So make one up!'
Ah - the confidence of a young boy in his father! How could I disappoint? I glanced around somewhat desperately, seeking inspiration from the street. Something up ahead gave me an idea.
'What can be light no matter how heavy it is?'
He thought for a moment.
'It's not wood.'
'But wood floats. It can be heavy and still float. That makes it light.'
'It's a good answer. But it's not what I was thinking of. Think about the different meanings a word can have.'
He thought a while. We were almost halfway to his school.
'I give up.'
'Are you sure. What can be light no matter how heavy it is? The clue is that the same word can have more than one meaning.'
He thought some more than shook his head.
'No idea.'
'A lamp.'
'A lamp?'
'A lamp.'
'Oh, I get it. A lamp can be heavy and still give off light. Good one dad. Did you make that up?'
'Yup. I looked at one of those tall, metal street lights as we were walking along and that gave me the idea.'
'It's a good one. I thought it was wood. Because wood floats'

That had brought us to the half-way point, the pedestrian crossing just outside the local supermarket on the square. We started talking about why it was that some things can float and others don't. About things like why can a giant battleship made of metal float but a tiny nail can't. That kept us going riddle-free to the school gate. There he took a quick look around to make sure there was no one to see before he kissed me good-bye and trotted off into school. 

The fact that he won't let me walk him to the door any more and makes sure he's not seen by his friends kissing me goodbye reminds me that there's probably not too much time left that he'll be happy to hold my hand walking along the street. Sad to think such a simple pleasure will soon be gone from my life. He's my youngest child and so after 18 years of almost taking such moments for granted the clock is ticking down on them. I'll have to be careful to treasure those that are left while they still remain to me. 

prayer diary Saturday 28 November 2015

‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with … the worries of this life and that day does not catch you unexpectedly.' 
Luke 21.34

The temptations of this world are not limited to its pleasures. It is all too easy to be so distracted by the cares of daily living that you forget about both God and godly living. Take care: there is nothing of this life important enough to risk the next for.

Friday, November 27, 2015

haiku: sudden downpour

sudden downpour
~the robin at the feeder

prayer diary Friday 27 November 2015

'Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.' 
Luke 21.33

God's word is eternal. It's truth is for all people in all places; it does not alter for the fashions of the age.