Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The sign of Jonah

In our Gospel reading today, Jesus talks about the sign of Jonah ... what is that exactly? Of course, it is impossible to separate in our minds the way in which Jonah's three days in the belly of the great fish prefigures our Lord's three days in the tomb. Is that what Jesus is speaking about here? He says 'The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here.'

The people of Ninevah had not seen, according to the text, Jonah's being spat out onto the shore. They seem to be responding solely to his words, telling them that in 40 days more that their city would be no more. Jesus himself says that 'they repented at the proclamation of Jonah.' And so they spend that 40 days in sackcloth and ashes, repenting, and God is merciful unto them.

But Jesus means more than simply proclamation. He says 'For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation.'  The Son of man will be a sign, future tense. He may not be as he speaks, but he will become one ... by his death, three days in the tomb, and resurection.

Jonah became a sign to the people of Ninevah, calling them to repentance;  and Jesus has beome a sign to this generation, calling us to repentance. We may not have the keen motivation of knowing that if we do not spend 40 days in sackcloth and ashes, sincerely repenting of our ways, that our entire civilisation and way of life will be destroyed. But we do have Jesus words telling us that if we do not respond to the sign that is he, the people of Ninevah will condemn us at the judgement. Condemn us for what: for our blindness, our refusal to see and respond to the sign? For our refusal to repent?

May this Lent be for us all a time when we cast off our spiritual blindness and joyfully respond, in penitence and faith, to the good news that is Jesus. Amen.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

pray then in this way ...

Our Gospel reading today is St Matthew's version of the Pater Noster/Lord's Prayer/ Our Father (so many names for such a little prayer ... indicative of it incalculable worth).

In this holy season of Lent, our Lord's words remind us that the call to prayer is an inextricable part of what it is to be a Christian. Reading it this morning, I was reminded of something the scholars like to point out: that the phrase 'on earth as it is in heaven' refers back not just to the phrase that immediately precedes it, but to all three phrases that go before. In other words, as we pray the first part of the Our Father, we should keep in mind that the full meaning is:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
Hallowed be your name: on earth as it is in heaven
Your kingdom come: on earth as it is in heaven

Your will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.

Perhaps as you pray this prayer through Lent, you will keep the above in mind. Perhaps also, as you engage in the traditional Lenten disciples of prayer, alms-giving, and fasting you will think how they might relate to how Jesus taught us to pray. What occurred to me this morning, was that as I prayed it this Lent I might hold in my heart:

Hallowed be your name: on earth as it is in heaven ... help me in my prayers this Lent to always praise your name, in my words and actions, so that all might come to know your holiness and love you as their Father in heaven;
Your kingdom come: on earth as it is in heaven ... inspire me in my charitable giving this Lent to be so generous to those in need that they will begin to see that your kingdom is truly of this world as well as the next;
Your will be done: on earth as it is in heaven ... strengthen me in my fasting and other works of self-denial so that I may do you will in thought and word and deed, now and always.

I pray that you all will have a prayerful Lent, to the good of your soul & to the glory of our Father. Amen.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Reviewing your Lent so far

'All I want is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and to share in his sufferings by reproducing the pattern of his death; that is the way I can take my place in the resurrection of the dead. Not that I have become perfect yet. I am still running, trying to capture the prize for which Christ captured me.'
Philippians 3.10-13

These verses are from the Epistle for Morning Prayer on 23 February – the day after Ash Wednesday. St Paul was writing from prison, more than 20 years after his dramatic experience on the road to Damascus, following which he completely turned his back on his old way of life and devoted his life to Christ as a missionary.

Few of us could hope to give as much or achieve as much in the service of our Lord. And yet St Paul believes that he is far from perfect. He is running a race; and it is a race that will continue until the end of his life. His focus is on the Cross, and the suffering of Jesus, and wishes to join himself with that suffering as best he can.

That we have this reading so soon after Lent has begun is not accidental. It reminds us of what we are called to do as Christians – to strive like St Paul to run the race, keeping in mind the suffering that Christ endured for us. Ash Wednesday was merely the 'starter's gun' for Lent; the race itself continues through until the glory of Easter morning.

Some are no doubt are going strong and considering increasing the pace. Others perhaps have already stumbled and fallen … if they ever made it to the starting line in the first place! St Paul's words remind us of the race that we are called to run … because we are all called, as he was, to endure to the end for the sake of the prize for which Christ captured us.

I pray that you all will have a blessed and joyful Lent.


Listening to God

Today's Gospel was the wonderfully succinct version of Jesus' baptism, temptations, & beginning of ministry by St Mark. Bang, bang, bang - he says in a few verses what St Matthew and St Luke take many more. His punchier style gives his account a real focus ... and gives us something to refocus on this Lent. We too have been baptised. We too are called to prayerful reflection of what it is that God wants from us. And we to are to conform ourselves to his will, doing his work in the world. Lent gives us the space to open ourselves to listening to God. I pray that you all will see it for the opportunity that it is ... and seize that opportunity with joy.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

your adversary the devil

On Ash Wednesday, my wife spotted that a local supermarket (which is part of a chain) had a special offer on chocolate bars - two for one. On the first Friday of Lent, two of my boys visited the shop of a local petrol station (also part of a chain) where they also discovered a special offer on chocolate bars - in this case a special low price if you bought four.

Why do I mention this? Let's face it - chocolate is probably the number one thing to give up during Lent. I did two school assemblies this week. About half the children in each school had given up chocolate. Chocolate sales must go into a real slump once Lent begins.

So what would be the reasoning for retailers to decide this is a good time to start selling chocolate cheap?

One could be charitable and say they are trying to increase volume of sales to those who haven't given up chocolate (not so charitable really when you think of the problems we have in society with obesity and diabetes). That this would  put added temptation on those who have would be merely a side effect. Unfortunate, but unintended - and in any case, the responsibility for people to keep a Lenten fast is their own. These people are in business; their responsibility is to make money, to keep their businesses afloat, and their employees in jobs.

Less charitable would be to see it as a deliberate and cynical attack. They know that chocolate lovers are all but addicted to the stuff (after all, both sugar and caffeine which are in it are addictive) ... if they start offering it cheap they hope they will tempt those who have stopped buying back and their bottom line will return to normal.

Whichever it is, there is a lesson for us here. We live in a world where your Lenten disciplines are a blip on someones' flow chart ... a blip that has to be smoothed out, whatever the cost ... whether by selling more product to someone else ... or enticing you back into buying ... The world can be a tough place when you are trying to be spiritually minded. There are lots of temptations out there ... and plenty of people ready to exploit our weaknesses for their own ends.

Through Lent, it would be no harm to remember the verses from the beginning of the office of Compline: be strong, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seek whom he may to devour; whom resist, steadfast in the faith. (1Peter 5.8,9)

Friday, February 24, 2012

Ash Wednesday 3

The internet is an amazing thing. I came across a blog post singing the praises of Pope Benedict's Ash Wednesday sermon & a few moments later, courtesy of the power of Google, I was able to read the text of his sermon for myself.

As I read it, one line really struck home:  'in many cases we are the only Gospel that the men of today still read.' How true those words are. In a world where many neglect their faith & more have none at all, it is only in our lives that they will have the chance to encounter the Risen Lord. Our words, our actions, our interactions with those we meet every day is the only place where they will hear and see the Good News of Jesus Christ.

A heavy burden for us to bear. But perhaps part of what Christ meant when he told us to take up our cross and follow him. And all the more reason for us to remain faithful to our own Lenten disciplines - both for the strength they will give us to be the Gospel in the world, and the witness that they provide to that Gospel. Amen.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ash Wednesday 2

Yesterday my youngest made off with the scissors from his art box and took to his bedroom to trim his own hair ... his response when discovered was that he was cutting it off for Haiti!

To explain ... two years ago, my middle two boys cut off their flowing locks to raise money for the people of Haiti ... they received good support from the local & Church communities and were able to send off about €700. What is remarkable is that their snipping took place also on Ash Wednesday of two years ago ... when my youngest was only two! Was it co-incidence? Did he actually remember? Had he over-heard something during the day that triggered a memory? Or did something else inspire him? Certainly something that makes you go 'hmmm!'

Of course, wondrous as he is, the poor child didn't fully understand the point of what he was doing ... at least, since he was putting his actual hair in a bag to send to the people of Haiti, I think that he didn't! But despite his truly tragic hairdressing skills, it was all too sweet to be cross with him about it. His mother evened things out. And then we decided that the money we saved as a family from the things we have given up for Lent would be used to sponsor his hair cutting endeavours. I don't expect that we'll raise anything like what we did two years ago. But it is nice to think that, little though it may be, it will go to a good cause. And it is also nice to think that we will be supporting was an inspired choice ... whether inspired by the actions of the Holy Spirit or those of a sweet little boy, who am I to say?

today's Gospel is Luke 9.18-27

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

Our Gospel reading today reminds us that prayer, fasting, and alms-giving - our traditional Lenten disciplines - are very much part of what Christ expects of his followers. Indeed, if we look at the hardships that St Paul had to endure for the sake of following our Lord in today's epistle, it is clear that it is not asking too much of us that we occasionally strive a little harder for the sake of our faith.

In our Gospel, we hear Christ condemn those who practice their prayer, fasting, and giving for the sake of gaining earthly glory for themselves. His words still ring true. But we live in a world that is very different from the time of Christ ... and very different from the world of only a few generations ago ... we do not live in a world where the open display of religious practices is likely to gain us much worldly glory. We live at a time when many have no religious practices or even faith. So perhaps it behoves us, as we follow our Lenten disciplines to walk a delicate path ... to tread carefully between doing it for the sake of pride ... but also doing it quietly and confidently for the sake of witnessing to the Gospel in the world.

Have a blessed and joyful Lent.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Shrove Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday (the day when Christians were traditionally 'shriven' of their sins by going to confession before Lent). In Ireland and Britain it is also known as Pancake Tuesday. Why? Well think of what goes into pancakes ... now think of all the things people used to have to take off the menu during Lent. Pancakes were a good way of using up some of these rich foods in advance rather than seeing them go to waste. Possibly it says a lot about the psyche of these islands that we came up with Pancake Tuesday, while the rest of Europe came up with the more colourful Carnival and Mardi Gras.

But thinking of the eggs that go into pancakes reminds me of the Easter eggs that are waiting at the end of Lent (and, of course, the custom of Easter eggs arose because people were just so happy to be able to crack a few eggs again after having been off them for six weeks!). Our 40 days of Lent are in a way the time between eggs ... the eggs in pancakes and the Easter eggs that are coming ... who would have thought that eggs could work as bookmarks!

Anyway, have a happy and joyful Lent. I know that it is almost upon us, but if you haven't thought of what you'll be doing (giving up, taking up, etc.) there is still time ... just keep in your mind that this is the time that we journey together with Christ to Jerusalem ... the Christ who suffered and died for us ...

Monday, February 20, 2012

Something to give up for Lent

who we are image - flag featuring a pioneer shield

I have been an active Pioneer for about five years now. This means I have taken a vow to abstain from alcoholic drink for life. Like most Irish Catholic youth, I originally made a pledge to abstain from 'drink' when I made my confirmation. Like most, I did not live up to that promise!

I also took the Pioneer pledge sometime in my late teens ... my mother got the idea that one could get cheaper car insurance if one had taken the pledge ... well, I didn't drink much, so I took it ... maybe I thought there was a car in there for me as part of the deal? I must have misunderstood ... to be fair, she did pay for driving lessons!

So, another pledge broken ... time passed, and from my mid-20's on I got into the habit of periodically giving up drink for a month or so ... not that I drank a lot, but it seemed like a good thing to do both as self-discipline as well as being healthy. After a bit more time, it seemed not unreasonable to make that self-discipline part of my spiritual disciplines for Lent.

So for perhaps five Lents in a row, I gave up the gargle. During the course of the final one five years ago, I decided about half-way in to consider giving it up for good. There were some issues relating to alcohol & addiction with some people close to me at the time which I won't go into ... plus I was a bit turned off by what I was seeing in society around me in relation to alcohol. So I signed up for a temporary pledge. After about a year, I decided to make it permanent.

A slight side effect of taking the pledge is that I am on the Pioneer's emailing list! A few weeks ago they sent me a poster for me to display(see below) to encourage people to take a temporary pledge for Lent. There used to be a great tradition of that in Ireland. Maybe not so much anymore? Or perhaps people give it up without involving the Pioneers? I don't know ... but if you are thinking of giving it up, why not take the temporary pledge ... and send off to the Pioneers for a short-term badge to wear while you are doing it. Show the world what you are doing! Not out of a sense of vain display, but rather as a form of witness. One thing I have found in wearing the Pioneer badge is that it is a great conversation started. Perhaps if you wear one for Lent it may start a conversation with someone ... maybe someone who is struggling with addiction ... and that conversation may be the start of something that changes their life.

Something that we can all pray for this Lent. (& perhaps you would also pray that I may have the grace to stick with the pledge this time?)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Transfiguration

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit – Amen.

When I was in the army, one of the big mantras was: train as you will fight. What that meant was that when you went out on a training exercise, you had to take it very seriously, for the purpose of ingraining the skills that you would need in combat.

Our battalion Sgt Mgr took this doctrine very seriously indeed. I remember one field exercise, when we were out on the drop zones in Ft Bragg in the summer. It was over100 degrees, 100 percent humidity, and the helicopters that were part of our battalion kept throwing up dust and sand in the air so that we were always covered in it … we were hot, sticky, & sweaty … I was part of a 3/5 platoon, in charge of ammunition & fuel, so we were working hard all the time, shifting heavy boxes of ammo and rockets … we were hot & sweaty & sticky & working hard! … and strapped to our sides was a heavy gas mask that we weren't supposed to take off …
train as you will fight … in combat, you could face a chemical attack at any time … having your mask on you could be a matter of life and death … but we were hot, the masks were heavy and awkward & getting in the way as we tried to get our work done … our platoon was well away from everyone else … well, it is a good idea to keep things that explode away from others just in case there's an accident! … so we took the masks off … and of course the Sgt Mgr came sneaking up and caught us! And was he cross! As you can well imagine, some severe punishment details followed!

But not for the sake of getting off on being in charge … the Sgt Mgr had seen combat … he understood first-hand the importance of training hard in peace time so that if & when you were in real danger & perhaps panicking, that you would have the skills that could save your life all but hard-wired into you, so that you could do the things that would save your life by instinct … in this case, the instinct to never move without your mask strapped on tight!

today is the Sunday before Lent, & also the Sunday we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord … both remind us the Lenten journey that we are about to undertake … the first because it directly reminds us that the count-down to Lent that we have had over the last few Sundays is all but over … and Lent itself begins on Wednesday …
and the second because the Transfiguration - Christ's self-revelation to his disciples of his glory - is intimately connected with Lent, marking as it does in the Gospels the turning point in Our Lord's time on earth … the between the time when he was focused on preaching and teaching … and the time when he began his journey to Jerusalem … his journey to the place where he would suffer and die … a journey we are invited to make alongside him as we make our own journeys through the season of Lent …

and the reason why I think of my old army mantra today is because Lent is, for all Christians, a time of extra special training … a time when we are called to engage in extra spiritual disciplines – traditionally prayer, fasting, and alms-giving … these disciplines serve several purposes: first they give glory to God, as they make visible to the world the commitment that Christians have to their faith; they also strengthen the Church, both in the way the privations we voluntarily take on in Lent help foster a sense of corporate identity, but also serve to strengthen and encourage others among us who might fall prey to the temptation to neglect the disciplines we are called to; and finally, they serve to strengthen the individual Christian …
St Paul compares the Christian journey to a race … and just as an athlete will go through periods of greater and lesser intensity of training in order to prepare him or herself to compete in the race that must be run, so too we have seasons of greater and lesser intensity in our training to run the Christian race … and Lent is a time when our training must be particularly intense … why? Because it is the periods of intense training that allow us to 'coast' along at ordinary times … and it is the periods of intense training that give us the skills that we can fall back on at times of emergency …

to give but one, obvious example, if we do not train ourselves to resist temptation by denying ourselves permitted things for short periods times, how can we expect, when faced with the temptation to indulge in that which we know is not permitted – suddenly and unexpectedly – that we will have the strength, the courage, and the will to resist?

My old Sgt Mgr insisted that his soldiers trained realistically in times of peace in order that their lives would be safe in time of war … during this time of Lent we too must train realistically in order that when faced with the very real spiritual dangers we will face in this world, our souls will be safe unto eternal life … and so as we begin our Lenten journey, travelling shoulder to shoulder on the way to Jerusalem with the Christ who revealed himself to his discipleship on the mountain that day – I pray that will have the strength and courage to train realistically this Lent: in the name of the Father, & the Son, & the Holy Spirit - Amen

Sermon notes: 19 February 2012 (Sunday before Lent)

Friday, February 17, 2012

First Holy Communion

I had what can only be described as a beautiful moment today. The widow of a priest gave me her husband's home Communion set - a really lovely one, of sterling silver made in the 1830's. I racked my brains as to how to thank her - a card didn't really seem adequate to express my gratitude for such a generous gift. Then a thought struck me ... I phoned her and asked if she would like me to use it for the first time in her home. She was delighted, not least because she had been under the weather recently and hadn't made it to Communion for a couple of weeks.

As we celebrated the Eucharist together, remembering her husband, in our prayers, it seemed truly fitting that my first time using it should be in his home with his wife.

Afterwards, as she was thanking me, I thanked her - not only for giving me the set (thus ensuring that it would continue in the liturgical use for which it was intended) but also because celebrating with her meant that I would always remember the first time I used the set. It was a very special experience, one that I truly thank God for.

today's Gospel reading

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

rural isolation and the elderly

I was visiting an elderly aunt that lives in a fairly rural part of north Cork today. She lives alone. Another nephew and his family live the next house up the road, maybe 100 feet & a home help comes most days for about an hour. She can't get to Mass, so the local clergy bring her Holy Communion about once a month. She manages on her own quite independently with the help she receives. 

Her only outside excursions, bar the occasional trip to the doctor or the hospital, is to a daycare centre, about 6 miles away, twice a week. Until quite recently she was brought there, free of charge, by taxi. With the recent cutbacks that changed & she was told she'd have to pay 15 euros; a small charge for two 12-mile round trips, perhaps; but a large amount out of someone's pension; & quite the kind of thing that would discourage an elderly person worrying about feeding themselves and paying the bills from going ... which would have quite an impact on someone's life. For my aunt, for example, this twice weekly trip was her only social outlet.

Luckily, the daycare centre rallied round the people they look after & found some way to fund a bus so that all their users could continue to come free of charge. But it did make me wonder ... most of these elderly people living in isolated rural locations have 'the bus pass' - free travel passes on public transport paid for by the government. And a lot of them get no use from it whatsoever.

What use is free travel on the bus or train to those who live nowhere near a bus route or train station? Wouldn't some form of voucher system that allowed them to access taxi services be of more use to them? An elderly person living alone up a mountain would get a lot more benefit from a weekly trip to the local town to do their shopping then an infinite amount of free bus and train rides that they can't use.

Maybe it's time for a change to how the free travel scheme operates ... after all, the 'free travel' scheme is intended to be of benefit to the elderly, not just another way of subsidising the public transport system. And surely what Christ meant, in part at least, when he said to the Beloved disciple at the foot of the Cross 'behold your Mother' was that we have a duty to cherish the aged among us?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Christ Saving India Ministries

I've had a few kind comments recently from a pastor based in India, extolling the merits of this blog (always a good way to attract my favourable attention!). He sent me a link to the website for his organisation, which is called CSI Ministries (Christ Saving India). He asked that I keep his work in my prayers, which I have been happy to agree to. Perhaps you would like to check out his website and do likewise? I know nothing about them other than what I can see on the website; if you know more, perhaps you will share that information in the comments box? Thanks & God bless.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Linda Carty

A friend sent me an email asking me to sign an online petition seeking a reprieve from the death penalty of a woman on death row in Texas. I had never heard of Linda Carty before, so I googled her and found out a little from the font of all knowledge that is Wikipedia.

A brief recap of what she was convicted of. Carty persuaded several others to help her kidnap a newborn baby so she could pass it off as her own. The baby's mother, Joana Rodriguez, was killed in a particularly brutal fashion. She had a plastic bag taped over her head, was stuffed in the trunk of a car, and left to suffocate to death. Carty's accomplices testified against her in return for life sentences.

Some of her supporters believe that she is innocent. Looking at the evidence produced in court, I would have to disagree. However, anyone who did what she was convicted of is clearly deeply disturbed. Her defenders also argue that her defence team didn't do enough at trial. Ironically, I think their hands were tied by her insistence of innocence in spite of what seems, on the face of it, overwhelming evidence against her. Her best hope was surely to plead guilty and throw herself on the mercy of the court. But it appears she refused to co-operate with her defence team.

So, based on what I read I think she received a fair trial & is guilty of the crime of which she was convicted. However, I not agree with the death penalty, so I signed the petition.  If you wish to do likewise, you will find it here. Even if you favour the death penalty you might agree that her tenuous grip on reality warrants she be shown clemency. If you do, please sign the petition.

Whatever you decide, please say a prayer for Joana Rodriguez, her motherless child, and her bereaved husband. And, if you can, say one for Linda Carty also.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Preparing for Lent

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, the Son, & the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Today is the 3rd Sunday before Lent … & the countdown means that we are in the time of preparation for the preparation … by which I mean that just as Lent is the time when we prepare ourselves for Easter, now is the time when we prepare ourselves for Lent. Which makes sense when one thinks about it … if we are to take Lent seriously, then we must realise that we can not simply leave it to until we wake up on the morning of Ash Wednesday to decide how it is that they are going to make the spiritual journey that is Lent … all journeys require forethought and planning …

and just as we would never set off on an important journey to some physical place without the necessary planning, so too we must not approach our spiritual journeys without also doing the work that is needed in advance that will allow us to get the most out of that spiritual journey … because if there is a lack of preparation there are many things that may go wrong: you may never leave at all … the journey may be more difficult or uncomfortable than it needs to be … or you may end up in completely the wrong place, either because you took the wrong path to where you were going … or because of poor preparation discover that you have journeyed to the wrong place … somewhere that you should never have chosen to go to …

Of course, Lent is a journey within a journey, a journey within the overall of our greater Christian journey through life … & it would be easy to fall into the temptation of thinking that no special preparation is needed for this part of our journey … but that would be as sensible as an athlete thinking that because he ran the Dublin marathon last year, he needs no training before he runs it again this year!

And of course, life throws many distractions in our way … it would be arrogant to think that it doesn't … think of Jesus, & all the distractions that he faced … the distractions of peoples' ideas of what the Messiah should be, and the pressures of their expectations as to how he should conduct his ministry ...

In our Gospel reading today we see how Jesus at the very beginning of his ministry … almost what we might call the prologue – the time between when he is getting ready & when he begins his ministry in earnest … and we see how he prepares himself before continuing on to the next part of his journey … and it must have been no easy thing to discern the road he had to take … think of all the places in the Gospels where it is stressed how this Messiah goes against so much of what was expected of him … it was expected that he would be some kind of warrior king who would restore the fortunes of Israel by defeating its oppressors …

but this Messiah was born in a stable and laid in a manger, because his parents weren't important enough for the inn-keeper to make room for them in his already crowded establishment … this messiah came from a family that was so poor that when he was presented in the temple, they couldn't afford the the normal offering of a lamb and had to offer instead the 'substitute' offering that was allowed to the poorest of the poor, a pair of small birds … this was a messiah without wealth or power … or even a fine education sitting at the feet of the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem … instead he was a peasant carpenter from a not highly regarded town in Galilee … as Nathanael says 'can anything good come out of Nazareth?'

But this is the one, against all expectation, that the Holy Spirit comes upon when he is being baptised by John at the Jordan … and this is the one whom John declares is the one for whom he declared that he had come to prepare the way for … this is the one whom the devil tempts in the desert and whom angels minister to once the 40 days are over …

So then Jesus comes to what I termed the 'prologue' of his ministry … he starts this not with a call to arms as might have been expected from the messiah, but with a call to Repent … and it doesn't get off to a great start … he begins at home, at Nazareth, and they reject him, because they can't accept the idea of the Messiah being the carpenter's son…

so then he goes to Capernaum, by the Sea of Galilee … and things start to look up … Capernaum was a decent sized city for the time, about 1500 people … and here people start to listen to him … he preaches in their synagogue and not only do people listen to him, they wonder at his teaching & are astounded at the authority with which he speaks … he begins to gather followers … Peter & Andrew, James and John leave their work as fishermen to become his disciples … and in today's Gospel reading, we hear just how well things are going … he goes to Peter's house and heals his mother-in-law … the word starts to go around the town: this new teacher, he doesn't just teach with authority, he can heal people as well … and so they bring him their sick, and he heals all that they bring to him …

And after a long hard day, Jesus sleeps … but he wakes early … and I wonder what thoughts went through his mind as he lay there, wrapped in his cloak in a corner of Peter's mud-brick house … did he think how easy it would be to stay in Capernaum? They loved him there; they appreciated him... they listened to his teaching … they had faith in his power and authority and brought him their sick to heal … it was a place he could have easily settled …

It is still very early. Everyone else is still asleep. But instead of rolling over and going back to sleep himself, Jesus get up. He throws his cloak around him and goes out into the dawn's half light and he walks away from the town. He needs to find a quiet place … somewhere away from all the little sounds that people make as they sleep in Peter's house … away from the sounds of a town as it wakes up in Capernaum … he finds a deserted place outside the town and he begins to pray …

How long does he pray? We don't know. Long enough for Peter and the other disciples to wake up and wonder where he was. Long enough for the people of Capernaum to get out of bed, get dressed, and start to gather again outside Peter's house, looking for more teaching and especially looking for more healing … long enough for Peter and the others to search for Jesus … first in the house, then in the town, and then outside the town until they found him … and when they found him they said 'Everyone is looking for you!'

They clearly expected him to go back … and to live up to the expectations of those who stood waiting outside Peter's door … But Jesus, after his long hours of prayer, knows that it is not back to Capernaum he must go … his journey has not ended … it is only beginning … despite what is expected of him, both by the people and his disciples, he knows that he must journey on … he must take the message to other towns and villages … why? Because that is what he came to do … that is his mission … not to be teacher and healer in one small town by the sea letting people come to him … but to be the messiah who journeys on and takes the message to all of Israel …

and just as he came to understand who he was by spending time in prayer and fasting in the desert … so he comes to understand how he is to carry out that mission during that time in prayer in the deserted place outside Capernaum … and if our Saviour needed the strength and guidance that comes from prayer to guide him … how much more do we … both to keep ourselves focused on our mission as the church of God to proclaim the good news of Christ … and our mission at this time to prepare ourselves for our Lenten journey … and so I pray that I, and you, and all our brothers and sisters may have the grace to spend time in prayer, both asking God for his guidance on this journey … and listening to and acting on what it is that he tells us to do … amen

Sermon notes: 5 February 2012 (3rd Sunday before Lent)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Groundhog day

Today is Groundhog day. If you remember the movie,  you know that if the days dawns bright enough for the titular rodent to see his shadow when he sticks his nose out of his hole, then there will be six more weeks of winter weather. Groundhog day has been running for 126 years ... but the weather lore on which the festival is based is far more ancient. According to the old rhyme, which dates back to middle ages:

If Candlemas dawns clear and bright
then winter lasts another flight;
but if it dawns with cloud and grey
then winter time will go away.  

I mention this because today is the Feast of Candlemas, also known as the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin, but more commonly known nowadays as the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The Gospel for today from St Luke deals with Our Lord's presentation and Our Lady's purification. And hidden within the passage is a nugget of information, easily overlooked by modern eyes, where the Evangelist again stresses how contrary to expectations is this Messiah. His parents cannot afford the usual sacrifice of a lamb, but instead offer that which is offered only by the poorest of people, a pair of small birds. Yet of all the people who throng the vast temple complex, many of whom would have been far wealthier and grander, it is to this humble family that the Holy Spirit guides Simeon. And it is their child that he prophesies will be the Messiah. A powerful reminder to us never to be overly impressed by the splendid things that man creates. For more often than not God's grandeur is to be found in the humble things of this world.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

St Brigid

Today is the Feast of St Brigid, our 'other' patron saint, and I think the Gospel reading from St John is very appropriate ... it speaks of the good shepherd laying down his life for the sheep ... and we, as followers of Christ as also called to lay down our lives in emulation of him ... it isn't easy to do ... but it is a feature of the lives of those that we call saints that they have given up everything for Christ and lived lives service to others, either literally or figuratively giving up their lives for them.

Such a life was St Brigid's ... born the daughter of a wealthy household at around the time of St Patrick, the expectation was that she would make a good marriage that would be of advantage to her family ... instead she gave all that up and chose to live as a nun and spend her life helping the poor and sick ...

Time does not allow me to rehearse all the details that we know about her life ... so I thought I would tell you just one of the stories that I came across that i think reflects the focus of her life very well ...

A leper came to St Brigid ... he didn't ask for healing, as you might expect, even though Brigid was a well known healer ... he wanted a cow! Brigid had had a busy day, and wanted him to wait until she had had a chance to rest before going off to try and find him a cow ... but he was insistent ... so instead she offered to heal him ... but he refused ... he did very well out of being a leper ... he could rely on the generosity of others to support him ... which meant that he had a relatively easy life ...

But St Brigid was quite insistent and very persuasive and eventually she convinced the man that it was better that he was healed of his disease ... he consented ... and once healed, he was overjoyed ... he at once became a follower of St Brigid and spent the rest of his life in her service helping her to help others ...

The story, I think, illustrates an important aspect of the Christian life ... like the leper, there are many people in the world whose lives are in an appalling condition ... yet it has become so normalised for them that they have no desire to change ... indeed, even though they know on one level that this is not a good way to be, they manage to convince themselves that the very thing that is worst about their life actually serves to make it better ... but those who walk in the way of Christ can persuade them to change ... and once changed they are full of joy ... they life they abandoned reluctantly is now revealed to them for the poor thing that it was ...

But such lives can not be saved unless there are those willing to devote their lives to the task ... Brigid understood that and so gave her life in service to that task ... we, of course, can not expect to lead lives of such heroic witness to Christ ... but we must try to do so in our own small way ... something that I pray for us all in the name of Christ ... Amen.