Saturday, November 30, 2013

Prayer diary Saturday 30 Nov 2013 (St Andrew's Day)

Andrew first found his brother Simon and said to him: 'We have found the Messiah.'John 1.41 

The natural reaction of those who truly believe in the truth that Christ teaches is a desire to share that truth with others. We are all called to be evangelists; and we all have a part to play in the mission to bring Christ to all people.

Friday, November 29, 2013

As shepherds watched their flocks by night

'Eeeww! He smells! Daddy, make him go away!'
All by the stall turned to stare. Jeremiah went the colour of new wine. Bethlehem was full of strangers that day. People pressed hard against each other.
'What do you expect?' said a man in fine clothes loudly. 'This census drags us to the middle of nowhere and forces us to rub elbows with all sorts. Now this boy,' he made a pretence of taking a deep sniff in his direction,' if my nose judges right, works with sheep. Boy! Tell the truth now – are you a shepherd?'
Jeremiah put down the loaf he was holding and started to walk away. The man continued talking.
'I knew I was right. Dirty, smelly types these shepherds.' Those standing nearby laughed.' And no manners whatsoever. If they did, they'd know to stay clear when decent folks are about. I don't know what the Romans are thinking anyway, forcing people to actually travel to their family's ancestral towns. Surely we could have just filled out a form where we lived? The inn-keepers are behind this, I'll wager. They're making a fortune out of all this. They probably bribed someone on the governor’s staff!'

Jeremiah fumed with anger. It wasn't his fault his clothes smelled of sheep; he was a shepherd after all. He was so cross, he didn't look where he was going. He bumped into someone.
'Easy now, young man.'
Jeremiah glared at him, prepared to take out his anger on another of the finely dressed strangers in his town. But the man was dressed in rough robes of home-spun cloth. A poor working man, Jeremiah thought.
'Sorry,' he mumbled.
'No harm done,' said the man with a smile. He was broad and strong looking, with a beard that was mostly grey. He had kind eyes, thought Jeremiah. 'I don't suppose you could direct me to the inn?'
Jeremiah realised the man wasn't alone. He led a donkey on which sat a young woman, not many years older than he was. She also smiled at Jeremiah. His heart gave a jump. He had never seen anyone so beautiful.
'It's just there,' said Jeremiah, pointing to the building a few yards away. 'But I think its full. There are so many strangers in town today.'
The man looked worried.
'I must check. We can't sleep outside tonight. It's too cold and …' his voice trailed off and he looked at the woman. He glanced down at the reins of the donkey he held in his hands and then cast his eyes about, looking for somewhere to tether it.
'I'll hold it,' said Jeremiah. 'You go see.'
'Thank you,' said the man. He handed him the reins and headed off through the crowds.
'You're very kind,' said the young woman. Jeremiah shrugged. He didn't think it would be right to tell her that he was more than happy to stand there and wait just as long as he could look at her.
'Your father seems very worried,' he said. 'He shouldn't be. Sleeping under the stars isn't so bad. I have to do it all the time. I'll be doing it tonight. I have to stay out looking after the flock.'
'My father?' she said. 'But Joseph isn't my father. He's my husband.'
'Oh,' said Jeremiah. 'I'm sorry … I …'
The woman laughed.
'Don't worry. I know he's older. But he's a good man. He's the kindest man I've ever known. But you,' she looked at the boy,' you looked upset when we met you. Is something wrong?'
Jeremiah kicked at a cobble stone then winced as he bruised his toe. He shot an angry look back at the stall.
'It's those strangers. They come to my town, where I've lived all my life. And then they complain. They say I smell. What do they expect? I'm a shepherd. I smell of sheep. Do they expect me to bathe in rose-water every time I come into town?'
The young woman frowned.
'That wasn't very kind of them. It's honest work. They seem to forget their fine clothes are made from wool. And that the meat and the cheese on the table comes from flock's like yours. And what about the lambs they buy for sacrifice in the temple – where would they get those if there were no shepherds? And don't they that King David himself was once a shepherd. If it was good enough work for a king, who are they to look down upon it? People should think before they talk. And when they do, they shouldn't be cruel.'
She sounded cross. Jeremiah smiled.
'Maybe I should take you over there and let you give them an earful,' he said. 'All I did was run away angry.'
Joseph returned. He didn't look happy.
'It's no use,' he said. 'There's no room. They couldn't even squeeze us in when I told them … I don't know what we're going to do.'
'Don't worry, Joseph,' said his wife. 'We'll find somewhere. But please help me down first. My back aches.'
The man helped from the donkey. He was very gentle. As she stood, she put her hands to her back and stretched. With surprise, Jeremiah realised she was pregnant. Very pregnant. He cleared his throat.
'I might know somewhere.' They both looked at him. 'My father has an old stable, not far from here. He's uses it for the sheep when he brings them to market. Its not great, but it's dry, with plenty of hay to sleep on. And there's an old brazier you can build a fire in, if it gets cold.'
'Are you sure?' said the man. 'Will your father give his permission?'
'He's with the flocks in the hills,' said the boy. 'But it's all right. He won't mind. He often lets travellers stay there if they have no where else, especially shepherds who can't afford the inn. I know he would want you two to stay there.'
'Well, that's very good of you,' said the man. The woman leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek.
'You're very kind,' she said. And Jeremiah, once again, turned the colour of new wine.

He settled the couple in his father's stable, bought bread at a different stall, and trudged back up into the hill where his father and brothers waited with the flock. It was getting dark by the time he arrived.
'You took your time,' grumbled one.
'Enjoying the sights of Bethlehem?' teased another.
'Leave the boy alone,' said his father. 'The town will be a mad-house with all those people. Be grateful he wasn't longer and that there was bread for him to buy.'
They ate their simple meal, laughing and joking. As the stars began to twinkle, with his belly full of new bread and fresh cheese, Jeremiah thought he wouldn't trade this life for anything. Let the fancy strangers in town laugh. The lady was right – they'd be the ones in trouble if there were no shepherds.
One of his brothers gave him a nudge.
'What's that?'
He nodded at the sky. There was a light glowing up high. Jeremiah frowned.
'I've no idea.'
The light grew nearer and brighter. His youngest brother began to tremble.
'I'm frightened.'
His father laid a hand on his shoulder.
'Don't be. I'm here.'
Jeremiah glanced around. Despite their father's comforting words, all his brothers were shivering. And he had noticed a slight shake in this father's hand as he reached out to reassure his brother. Jeremiah wondered what was going to happen to them. Was it a great comet, falling from the heavens? Were they about to die? His lips began to move in prayer.

The light was almost above them now. At the centre of of was what looked like a person. Jeremiah blinked his eyes and shook his head. How could there be a person in the sky surrounded by bright light? The person spoke.
Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
And then she was gone.
'What was that,' Jeremiah whispered to his father.
'And angel. God's messenger. God has spoken to us.'
'Well, whatever it was, I'm glad its gone,' said his eldest brother.
The skies lit up again without warning. The angel was back. But this time she was not alone. Thousands upon thousands of angels filled the sky. The darkness of the night was banished and it was brighter than the brightest day. All the shepherds, Jeremiah, his father, and his brothers, fell to the ground in fear and amazement. All the angels spoke at once. And it was sweeter than the most beautiful music that Jeremiah had ever heard. And again and again they said:Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.'
And then they were gone. They all lay there for a long while, not speaking, not moving. At last, his eldest brother spoke
'Do you think they're coming back?'
His father sat up. He shook his head.
'I don't think so.'
'Why did they come?' said Jeremiah
'They had a message from God.'
'But why us?'
'Who knows? They spoke of the Messiah. It is said that he will be a descendant of David. And David was a shepherd himself before he was chosen by God to be his anointed one. So perhaps this is why God sent us his angels to tell us this great news, that poor shepherds might be the first to know that the Son of David has come.'
'So what do we do?' said his youngest brother.
'Do? We do as the angel said. We go right now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’
'But where in Bethlehem?' said his eldest brother. 'The angel didn't say. It's a big town. And it's crowded with people. Where do we begin?'
'I don't know,' said his father. 'The inn perhaps? And if he's not there, we keep looking. The angel wouldn't have told us to go if we wouldn't be able to find him. Someone must know where there's is a new born child in a manger.'
Jeremiah laid his hand on his father's arm.
'Wait. I think I know where to look. And it isn't in the inn.'

The shepherds shuffled their feet outside the door of the stable. His father raised a hand to knock on the door, then paused.
'It is very late,' he said. 'What if this is the wrong place? What do we say to them at this hour?'
But Jeremiah pointed to the shutter,
'Look, there's a light. They're awake. And listen.'
It the silence of the pre-dawn night they heard the sound of a baby's soft cry, followed by that of a mother gently singing.
'I guess there's no harm in knocking then.'
He gave three soft taps on the door. After a moment it opened and Joseph stood there. He smiled when he saw Jeremiah.
'Come in,' he said in a quiet voice. The shepherds followed him in.
'Thank you for letting us sleep here,' he said to Jeremiah's father. The man just shook his head and stared past him. There, in the light of the fire in the old brazier, sat the young woman on some hay. Next to her was a rough manger of wood. It was filled with hay and in it lay a child, wrapped in swaddling cloths.
'It is just as the angel said,' Jeremiah said in a barely a whisper.
'Angel?' said Joseph. They told him and the young mother all they had seen that night and why they had come.
'What does it mean?' said his father when they had finished. Joseph smiled.
'It means, I think, just what the angel said. You have been give good news of great joy. Joy for you and for all people. This day our Saviour has been born, in the city of David just as Scripture foretold. A Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.'
As the men talked, Jeremiah crept closer to the manger. The young woman looked up at him and smiled.
'What do you think of him?' she asked.
Jeremiah looked at the child, who lay there without a sound, his only movement the gentle rise and fall of his chest.
'He's lovely.'
'Would you like to hold him?'
Jeremiah shook his head.
'I can't. He's the Messiah. And I'm just shepherd boy. And anyway, my clothes aren't very clean.'
The young woman lifted the child from the hay.
'It's all right. Right now the Messiah is still a baby. And baby's need to be held. And as for your clothes, remember what I said earlier. King David was a shepherd. I doubt he was any cleaner when he called in from the flocks and first anointed as king.'
She handed him the child. For a moment Jeremiah was afraid, worried he might hurt him. Then he cuddled him, just as he would a new born lamb. The baby stared up at him, his eyes dark in the dim light. Jeremiah wondered what he was thinking. What kind of thoughts would be going through a new-born Messiah's mind?

The baby took his finger. His grip was strong. He pulled it towards his mouth and pressed it to his lips. He gave a little gurgle. His mother laughed.
'He likes you.'
Jeremiah was glad of the dim light then as, for the third time that day, he turned the colour of new wine.

 ©  Fr Levi 2013 (all rights reserved)

Prayer diary Friday 29 Nov 2013 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

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

The teaching of Christ, which we receive through the Church he founded for our salvation, is unchanging and eternal. Resist those who try to tempt you into turning from what he gave us by saying that this teaching or that no longer matters.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

invitation to a book launch

Prayer diary Thursday 28 Nov 2013

'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, know that its destruction has come near.' 
Luke 21.20

Christ holds the fall of Jerusalem up to us as a model or type: it rejected him and his teaching and so brought about its end. So too we, if we refuse Christ, also reject the salvation that he offers and destine ourselves for destruction.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

why death?

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

As I have remarked previously, it is traditional during Advent to think on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. The reasons that we do so is because Advent is a penitential season – something that is often forgotten about in the exuberant commercialism that seems integral to our society. And the reason that it is penitential is because during Advent we not only look back to the first coming of our Saviour as the Christ-child that long-ago day in Bethlehem, but also forward to the time when he will comes again, the end of days when he will judge the living and the dead. Thus the focus on death, judgement, heaven, and hell. When that day comes they will be the only things that are of any relevance any more. And since we do not know when that day will come, this season of Advent is a time of special preparation, to help us be ready for that time. That is why our readings focus on such things: the judgement that came upon king Belshazzar suddenly in the night; and Christ speaking of the end of days.

Last year I looked at the 'what' of the four last things; what they are as far as know. This year I intend to reflect on the 'why' – why we have death, judgement, etcetera at all. And don't worry – I don't intend to move on in future years to the 'where,' 'what,' and 'how.' So, why do we have death? It has always been the teaching of the Church, based on the revelation of Sacred Scripture, that death is as a result of Original Sin. God in creating us did not will for us to die. But our first parents were tempted by the Devil to disobedience and using the free will given them by God, rejected his authority over their lives. We as their children are tainted by that first sin – we did not commit it ourselves, but we have nonetheless inherited it.
This gives rise to a couple of obvious questions. The first is that God, who knows all things, knew when he created Adam that he would sin – does that not in some way make him blameless or at least lesson his guilt? The second is that, whatever about Adam, why are we held in some way to account for what he did?

The simple answer to the first is that indeed God knew how Adam would act. But foreknowledge is not pre-destination. Man was the pinnacle of God's creation, made in his image and likeness. God in his infinite wisdom knew that such a creature must of necessity have free will. Free will is just that: the freedom to do good or evil as one chooses. God did not create us to sin; but the possibility of sinning existed as a result of free-will. God knew beforehand how Adam would chose; but Adam alone remains responsible for his choice.

The second question is more difficult to deal with. In many ways, the concept of original sin remains at the level of a mystery, something that is beyond human understanding. Clearly it is not at the level of actual sin, because it is not something that we have actually done ourselves. It is something inherent in the human species, like not being able to fly or not being able to breathe underwater. We may wish it were different, but we can not alter it. It is something that we simply must accept. Human beings are prone to sin; and the evidence of that is seen all too clearly in not only the sad state of the world, but also in our own lives – presuming, of course, that we are willing to look at our lives honestly … neither trying to excuse ourselves with endless versions of 'but it's not my fault' or worse, deny that anything we do is sin at all …

But our Father has not abandoned us to our choices … from earliest times he promised us a way of making things right with him … and that way is through his Son, Jesus Christ. Because of that death for us is not some meaningless end, but holds the promise of hope … the hope that we can actually achieve what it was that we were made for … that having been made in God's image and likeness to be with him for all eternity, we may at the last enter into eternal life … because even though with Adam death entered into the world, through Christ death was defeated and the promise of eternal life restored … the end of days will come … but they are not something for us to dread, but rather a time of joy because of the hope we have in Christ.

In the following weeks of this series I will look at the remaining elements of the four last things .. but I end this look at death this evening with a prayer for you all … that you will overcome death at the last through the power of Christ … even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Prayer diary Wednesday 27 Nov 2013

'They will arrest you and persecute you … you will be hated by all because of my name … by your endurance you will gain your souls.' 
Luke 21.12-19

Christ gives his followers a choice: comfort in this life; or eternal life in the next. Choose wisely. The salvation of your soul depends upon it.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Prayer diary Tuesday 26 Nov 2013

'When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow at once.' 
Luke 21. 9

The troubles of this world cause us anguish and grief and indeed confusion. Why must such terrible things happen? But we must not let them trouble us unduly, for they they are part of this life, even if we cannot understand why they should be.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Prayer diary Monday 25 Nov 2013

''Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.' 
Luke 21.3

True generosity does not lie in sharing what you can easily spare, but what you can ill afford to do without. Real poverty of spirit is to be found in those who will place the needs of others over their own.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Examin Saturday 23 Nov 2013

thou shalt not commit adultery
This commandment, as our Lord makes clear, covers all sins of the flesh, not only in deed, but in word and thought also. Sexual purity is therefore a fundamental aspect of Christian living. Treat members of the opposite sex with respect. Do not dress in such a way that will tempt them towards impure thoughts. Avoid places or situations that you know will lead you into temptation and put you in danger of sinning. Cherish and promote Holy Matrimony

prayer diary Saturday 23 Nov 2013

'Now he is not the God of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive. 
Luke 20. 38

Christ would brook no contradiction from anyone, no matter how powerful, as to the reality of life after death, and that the resurrection from the dead awaits us all. He proved his words by his own rising from the dead. Therefore we have nothing to fear – except the consequences of our own actions.

Friday, November 22, 2013

prayer diary Friday 22 Nov 2013 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'My house shall be a house of prayer; but you have made it a den of thieves.' 
Luke 19.46

One of the few times we see Christ angry, and the only time we see him moved to violent action, is in the presence of those who disrespect the house of God. Consider well, then, your own behaviour, when you stand in the sacred places.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 21 Nov 2013

As he came near and saw the city (of Jerusalem) he wept over it. 
Luke 19.41

The Holy City rejected the Son of God and destined itself for destruction. So too do we seal our own fate on the basis of accepting or rejecting Christ.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 20 Nov 2013

'I tell you, to all who have, more will be given; but from those who have nothing, even more will be taken away.
Luke 19.26

God gives his gifts to all. Those who make the best of them to his greater glory in the world will be rewarded at the end of days; and those who refuse to make use of them, or use them vainly, will be left with nothing.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

prayer diary Tuesday 19 Nov 2013

Then Jesus said to (Zacchaeus): Today salvation has come to this house 
Luke 19. 9

Zacchaeus did more than merely acknowledge Jesus with his lips; he repented of the sins he had committed and took action to make reparations for them. We must also remember that if we hope for salvation in the next life we must turn totally and completely from our sins in this one.

Monday, November 18, 2013

prayer diary Monday 18 Nov 2013

'Receive your sight; your faith has saved you.' 
Luke 18. 42

Consider carefully Christ's words. First he heals; then he says that the man's faith has saved him. Blind though the man was, he saw more clearly than most around him who Jesus was. And that spiritual clarity of vision is was what saved him, not from the griefs of this world, but from the perils of the next.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

How to be a hero

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

As I was reading the Gospel reading for today I was reminded, of all things, of the story of Achilles. Not the movie version, Troy, starring Brad Pitt, but rather the old Greek myths, as found in Homer's epic poem the Iliad and elsewhere. Of course, we live in a age when it cannot be assumed that people are familiar with such stories any more – and more than it can be presumed that the all people in our society know the great stories of the Bible very well either – so permit me give a very brief account of the life of Achilles.

Achilles was the son of a king and a goddess and the greatest warrior of his age. So mighty was he in battle that when the Greeks went to war with Troy they knew they could not succeed with out his help and went to extraordinary lengths to persuade him to come with them. Once there, so important was his assistance that, when the leader of the Greeks did him an injustice and he declined to fight further, the tide of the war turned badly against the Greeks. They were close to defeat when Achilles' best friend was killed in battle, and in a rage, not even wearing armour, Achilles' returned to the fray and drove back the Trojans. It is not too much to say that there were three forces on the field of battle that day: the Greeks, the Trojans, and Achilles.

Achilles was given a choice in his youth by his mother, the goddess Thetis: he could have a short but glorious life as a warrior, and be remembered forever; or he could have a long and peaceful life of total obscurity. I'm sure you can guess which he chose, if you don't already know. 

The choice that Achilles made caught the imagination of the ancient world, so much so that almost a cult grew up around it. Famously, one young prince from Macedonia fell in love with the ideal of preferring a short but glorious life over a long one after which you were forgotten. So great an impression did the story of Achilles make upon that he slept with a copy of Homer's Iliad under his pillow. That young prince got his wish: he did have a life that was glorious but short; and his name remains famous to this day: Alexander the Great.

Now, you might at this point be wondering how our Gospel reading made me think of that. And started me on that train of thought was our Lord's words: 

'they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.'

You'd almost think he was trying to put them off! And it gets worse:

'You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name.'

He's not exactly sugar-coating it, is he? But then he gives them a reason why they should persevere, something that will make the suffering he is telling them they will endure, worthwhile:

'But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.'

At which point, perhaps, you can see why the reading made me think of Achilles; Christ is essentially offering his disciples the same choice as the mythological hero faced. He is telling them they can walk away from him, and lead a quiet, safe life; one that does not have the guarantee of hatred and persecution and a strong possibility of violent death; or they can continue to follow him, knowing that after the suffering of this life come the reward of eternal glory with him in heaven.

It is a choice that still faces his followers today. We live in a world that is increasingly hostile to the truths that Christ taught; a world that tolerates Christians as long as they keep their views to themselves; a world where many Christians prefer to keep their heads down and their mouths shut rather than risk what might come with rocking the boat. Is the kind of behaviour that Jesus expected from his followers when he warned them of the dangers they would face? I have searched the Gospels in vain looking for verses to support the idea that Jesus would have said something along the lines of: 'but it is OK; I don't want you to take any chances; saying you are my follower privately is enough; out in the world, I do not expect you to say or do anything about the evil you see.'

This is because all Christians are called to the short and glorious life. Achilles and Alexander followed it, and found merely fame that lived past their death; if we follow it we gain the glory of life everlasting. And so I pray that you will ponder well the choice that lies before you, today and everyday; even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Examin 16 Nov 2013

Thou shalt not steal
There's more to stealing than robbing a bank or burgling a house. Do you give your employer an honest day's work? Do you pay those who work for you a fair wage? What of the poor – do you give them what justice and Christian love demands? What of the Church – do you support it as you ought, with a reasonable share of your time and money? And if you have stolen or denied anyone anything that is due to them, have you made reparations – that is, have you not only paid them back what you took or withheld, but also given compensation adequate to make up for the period of time that had to do without what they were entitled to?

prayer diary Saturday 16 Nov 2013

'And will God not grant justice to his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?' 
Luke 18.7

Christ taught his disciples to pray by word and deed, not just occasionally, but always. To be a Christian is to be a person of prayer. Pray constantly, therefore; at your first waking moment ask God to make your every thought, word, and deed as a prayer to him.

Friday, November 15, 2013

prayer diary Friday 15 Nov 2013 (Day of discipline and self-denial)

'Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too will it be in the days of the Son of man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage until the day Noah entered the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. 
Luke 17. 26-27

No one knows the day not the hour of the Lord's return. But we must be ready and live as if it were to happen within the moment. Otherwise for the sake of what will matter not at all we will have given up the one thing that matters – eternity.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 14 Nov 2013

'For in fact the kingdom of God is among you.' 
Luke 17. 21

The kingdom is present where those faithful to Christ and his teaching are. It is with us in the worship of his Church, the prayers of his faithful, and the daily living of all Christians. How can it not be? For Christ is with us always.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 13 Nov 2013

'Get up; go on your way; your faith has made you well.' 
Luke 17. 19

True health, true well-being lies beyond the physical in the realm of the spiritual. What does it matter if the body is healthy if the soul is crippled with sin? Therefore, look to your faith; being right with God is above all else in this life.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Press Release: Urgent Appeal for Funds after Typhoon Haiyan hits Philippines.

Disaster relief efforts are in need of emergency funds after a typhoon with winds reaching 200m/p/hr hit parts of the Philippines causing flooding and extreme devastation. People are being evacuated from severely hit areas. Up to 10,000 people are feared dead and a further 150,000 are in need of assistance to evacuate. Damage to infrastructure and buildings is on a scale not seen before.

The Church of Ireland is responding through the Bishops’ Appeal emergency fund. Archbishop Richard Clarke and Archbishop Michael Jackson have sanctioned the immediate release of €10,000 to Christian Aid partners on the ground to provide tarpaulins, tents, food and hygiene kits to those who urgently need them. They urge the Church to respond generously in the face of such overwhelming need.

It is hoped that there will be special collections over the next two Sundays in all churches. To donate to this emergency relief response, please send funds to:

Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal
Church of Ireland House,
Church Avenue,
Dublin 6
Or contact: 00353 1 4125610 for more information or lodgement details.

prayer diary Tuesday 12 Nov 2013

'So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say 'we are worthless slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done.' 
Luke 17. 10

Do not feel proud of yourself for obeying God's law; for by that pride you fail to obey his command for humility; worse, this pride may lead you into thinking yourself better than others and judging them. Pride over your obedience in one aspect of Christian living runs the risk of falling into sin in another.

Monday, November 11, 2013

prayer diary Monday 11 Nov 2013

'It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.' 
Luke 17.2

Christ has harsh words indeed for those who lead others into sin. Consider how it is that you might cause others to stumble: the example of your life; tempting others to engage in sinful practices with you; or simply keeping silent when faced with the wrongdoing of others, thereby giving the impression it has your approval.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

the importance of orthodoxy

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

I suspect that it is difficult for most people to read today's Gospel text and not feel some sympathy for the woman in the Sadducees' example – Elizabeth Taylor at least got to chose her seven husbands! But to fully understand what is going on here, some historical background is required … apologies to those of you for whom this is familiar information.

The type of marriage the Sadducees are talking about here is what is called 'levirate marriage.' The idea was that if a married man died childless, his brother then married the widow. The first child of that marriage was treated as being that of the deceased man, rather than his biological father, and was the heir to his property. It might seem odd to us, but it fairly widespread practice in many cultures throughout history. 

It's strangeness to us lies, I suspect, in our modern notion that the focus of marriage is about satisfying the romantic notions of the adults marrying; but our obsession with the individualistic aspects of marriage would seem equally bizarre to cultures who saw the heart of marriage as being about the begetting and rearing of children, both for the perpetuation of the family line, and out of a sense of duty to wider society. With the birth-rate in Ireland having declined steadily over the last number of years, to the point where it was recently announced that it has fallen below the replacement rate and continues to decline, there is arguably something about such an attitude to marriage that our modern society needs to rediscover.

Continuing with our history lesson however we must next look at why the Sadducees were presenting Jesus with this somewhat ridiculous example. It was because how their religious beliefs differed from the Gospel that Jesus was preaching. Truthfully, we don't know a great deal about the Sadducees; any more than we do about the Pharisees really. We have a lot of information about both groups from various sources; but unfortunately that information tends to be somewhat contradictory, so that despite all different accounts, we have little that amounts to clear knowledge about either. We do know, however, that the Sadducees did not believe in any kind of a personal afterlife; and that they only saw the first five books of the Bible as being authoritative.

It is because of their lack of a belief in the resurrection of the dead that they challenge Jesus with their hypothetical case about a women who was widowed seven times. What they are really trying to do is make fun of Jesus and what he teaches. If what you claim is true, they say, then whose wife is she? A woman can only have one husband, but she has been married seven times. When they all rise from the dead, who gets the woman?

But Jesus takes on their challenge and defeats their arguments. And because he knows that they only accept the first five books of the Bible as having authority, he basis his case on that, so that the Sadducees can't try and dismiss his arguments on those grounds. He has rooted his case on the Scriptures on which their own faith rests.

Why does he do so? Why does he bother with their arguments in the first place? And why does he deal with them in a way that at least has the possibility of being persuasive to them? Theirs is a fairly minority view – what does it matter if a few do not believe in the resurrection? Indeed, assuming they are otherwise faithful Jews, why care at all if they differ on a point of doctrine? Isn't the important thing that they lead good lives?

Well, clearly not. The fact that Jesus wasn't willing to take a 'live and let live' attitude to beliefs that differed from his teachings tells us two things: the first that Orthodox doctrinal views matter – which is a fancy way of saying that it is important that people believe the right things. Why? For the reason that Jesus came to earth to bring us that teaching: to save people from theirs sins and the salvation their souls.

The second thing it teaches us is that if Jesus was a stickler for passing on to people the full truth of the Gospel message, so should we be. We don't have to be obnoxious about it – Jesus makes his points politely and respectfully, unlike the Sadducees attempt to mock and ridicule with their hypothetical widow; but we must firmly point out to others where their views differ from the Orthodox Teaching of the Church. Because their salvation depends on it; and because we have a duty to make disciples of all people, so does our own.

And so I end this morning by praying that you will have the strength and courage to follow the example of Jesus and gently but firmly correct error where you find it – whether in the faith of others, or indeed your own – even as I ask that you pray the same for me. Amen.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Examin Saturday 9 November 2013

Honour your father and mother
This includes the duty parents have towards their children. Remember as a parent you have primary responsibility for their education  This includes bringing them up in the faith. You can't simply abandon the task to others. Sunday School and religious education at school are a supplement to what you do, not a substitute. 

Take an interest in what they are learning; satisfy yourself that it is in accord with a sound Christian upbringing. Pay attention to what they are reading, listening to, watching on television, or on line; make sure it is appropriate, not just for their age but for the values you want them to have. 

Ensure their regular attendance at Church and worthy reception of the sacraments. Your most powerful teaching tool is your own example of godly living. 

Pray with them. Do your utmost to prepare them to live out the vocation that God calls all his children to in this life. And most of all pray for them daily.

Open my heart, O my God, by your grace and purify me from any association with sin.
~St. Isaac the Syrian

prayer diary, Saturday 9 November 2013

'Whoever is faithful in in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in little is also dishonest in much.' 
Luke 16.10

Do not tolerate any level of sin in your life. Do not say to yourself 'I am good enough.' Rather ask 'How can I be holier in all that I think, do, and say?'

Friday, November 8, 2013

prayer diary, Friday 8 November 2013

'The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation that are the children of light.' 
Luke 16. 8

The love you show to those in need by helping them materially is a way of winning souls for heaven. Always remember that your generous giving is both ministry and mission.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

prayer diary, Thursday 7 November 2013

'Rejoice with me, for I have found the sheep that was lost.' 
Luke 15. 6

Great is the joy in heaven over a single repentant sinner. But do you accept that you are lost, that you are a sinner, and that you need to repent and be saved? Or are you stubborn in your heart and think that sin is something other people do?

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

prayer diary, Wednesday 6 November 2013

'Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.' 
Luke 14. 27

We should not be afraid to take up our cross; it was through Christ's cross that our salvation was made possible. Unless we take up our own, by a denial of self and a commitment to the Gospel life whatever the cost in this world, then we reject the salvation he offers.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

prayer diary, Tuesday 5 November 2013

'But they all (those invited) alike began to make excuses '. 
Luke 14.18

God calls us all to be with him in heaven at the last. How many of us say no to him by the way we live? Yet it is we who will ultimately be the losers. For every place at his banquet will be filled. And great will be their joy.

Monday, November 4, 2013

prayer diary, Monday 4 November 2013

'And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.' 
Luke 14. 14

Look beyond your own family, circle, or community in your generous acts. Remember the needs of those who not only cannot pay you back in some way, but may never even know who you are. Those who do so will not go unrewarded.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

a little bit of repentance

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’~Luke 19: 1-10

I'm not preaching today, so more a reflection than a sermon on the Gospel reading. This is one of the passages almost everyone remembers from their childhood, as the image of the short man having to climb up a tree to see what's happening is particularly vivid. 

But that cute image tends to obscure for us what Zaccheus was: a chief tax-collector. As I've mentioned before, what's being talked about is not the old-days equivalent of a civil servant. The word translated as 'tax-collector' means tax-farmer ... The word we are translating as 'tax-collector', tel-own-ayes, actually means 'tax-farmer' … he was a person who essentially put in a bid to raise a certain amount of taxes for the authorities … and what he raised above that he got to keep for himself … worse, he was a Jew who not only associated with foreigners, he was collaborating with the Romans, the foreign occupying power, to squeeze money out of his fellow Jews. 

And Zaccheus was the 'arche-tel-own-ayes' the chief tax-collector. Many of those we hear referred to in the gospels as tax-collectors would have been minor figures, maybe manning a toll-booth as St Matthew did. But Zaccheus was the 'big man' - the one who actually took out the contract, the one who really put the squeeze on to get money out of people. To be such a one in the Israel of that time would have required a neck of solid brass, to be someone who feared neither God nor man as he pursed wealth and power.

And yet, Jesus welcomes him in and it changes him. 

And note well what happens before Jesus speaks. Zaccheus repents of his ill-gotten wealth. He will give half of all he has to the poor. And he will make generous reparations to all he has cheated. It is only then that Jesus declares that salvation has come to his house. Jesus loves him while he is still a sinner; but he is only offered salvation after repenting of his sins.

And the lesson for us is to also welcome the sinner; more, to love them. But not to tell them their sins are meaningless, or that God doesn't care about those sins, or that there is no consequence for sin. That isn't love. Love is helping them achieve salvation as Zaccheus did. And that means showing them the way to repentance.


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Examin Saturday 2 November 2013

'Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.'

When you examine your conscience, be brutally honest. There is no point in trying to be other than who you are before the One who made you. Stand before him with all due humility; accept that all you have is from him; that all good you do is simply the duty of a worthless slave; do not attempt to boast of your good deeds, or how much better you are than others. Stand before him, naked in the truth that you are a sinner. And ask him to have mercy on you.

'If Satan fell from heaven by pride alone, humility alone lifts man to heaven.' 
the desert father Saint John el-Daragi

Prayer diary Saturday 2 November 2013

When you are invited (to a banquet) go & sit at the lowest place. 
Luke 14. 10

Christ calls his people to humility. Do not seek honour, glory, or power. Remember that these are but vain things of this world. The only thing that matters is that at the last you are called to the higher place which is in heaven.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Prayer diary Friday 1 November 2013 (All Saints' Day)

Blessed are you when people hate you … on account of the Son of Man … for surely your reward is great in heaven. 
Luke 6. 22-23

Today is the day we remember the unnamed, uncounted thousands who have been faithful to Christ until the last. Many wear the martyrs' crown; more still lived quiet, unnoticed lives of faith. All are now saints in heaven. Give thanks for their witness; and pray that you will one day join them.