Sunday, December 23, 2018

oh, hell?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 21, 2018

Prayer diary Saturday 21 December 2018

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

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

Prayer diary Friday 21 December 2018

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

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

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Prayer diary Thursday 20 December 2018

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

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

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Man to Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer diary Wednesday 19 December 2018

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

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

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Prayer diary Tuesday 18 December 2018

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

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

Monday, December 17, 2018

Prayer diary Monday 17 December 2018

'The chief priests and the elders ... said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 
Matthew 21. 23

Did the religious authorities really need to ask such question? The truth was before them if they did but look. But they did not care to. There are many like them today.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

only the fun people go to hell?

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen
Today is the third Sunday of Advent. During this season it is traditional to preach on the four last things: death, judgement, heaven, and hell. Today is also Guadate Sunday, the Sunday of rejoicing, when the penitential aspect of the season is lightened somewhat. It is therefore very appropriate that we look at that most joyful of topics, the place we were created to spend all eternity: heaven.

Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, the author of such classic novels as 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer' and 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn', once remarked that he would chose heaven for the climate and hell for the company. Mr Clemens was, as you will be aware if you have ever read any of his works, a man of great wit. But his humour in this case betrays a profound theological ignorance. This is not surprising; he was, while not an atheist, someone who was highly critical of organised religion and who found the concept of divine revelation implausible. Perhaps this is what led him into his error.

The first place where he goes wrong is with the idea that heaven is full of boring people. Consider all the interesting characters that we know who are in heaven: Jesus Christ himself, and his mother the Blessed Virgin Mary, for example; St Peter and St Mary Magdalene, King David and his great-grandmother Ruth who stood among the alien corn; Moses and his sister Miriam who hid him in his basket among the rushes; St Patrick and St Brigid, those great saints of our own land; and St Francis of Assisi and his co-worker St Clare.

These are not dull people! And the Bible and the various lives of the saints that have been written down through the ages have thousand of more examples of those who are numbered among the company of heaven, all great heroes of the faith not one of whom can be considered boring or someone that would not make for a lively companion for a conversation that might last an hour a century or some other part of eternity.

And the second place he goes wrong, and more seriously I would suggest, is that his joke presumes that he knows who it is who goes to hell. Those he considers fun people, are in the light of his joke, surely damned. And this is not the case; for as Christ himself told us, who are we to judge? This is why the Church will teach how it is that a person may sin and as a result lose out on the eternal happiness of heaven; but never who. No matter how bad a person has been in the eyes of the world, the Church has never dared to say that that person is in hell.

Hell is real, or else Christ would not have told us of it; and people do go there, or else he would not have warned us against it. But as to who those people might be, we cannot say. It is not beyond hope that the person who seems in the eyes of the world to have lived a life of absolute depravity and reached the end of their life unrepentant of all their sins, caring not how their wickedness may have hurt others or offended God, may have in fact secretly had a change of heart, even if only at the last minute; that in their dying moments, with their last breath or last thought they cried out to God: 'Lord, have mercy on me, for I am a sinner' and been forgiven. 

I would not, of course, recommend leaving things to the last minute like that; nor would I recommend gambling with your eternal soul by leading a life of wickedness thinking that you will have time to repent at the last moment! I am merely saying that it is not impossible that such may happen; and therefore it is not possible for us to say who fails to achieve heaven. It is for God to judge and he is merciful.

And God wants his children to go to heaven. That is why he created us. Mark Twain might have found it funny to joke about how only the good but dull will end in the sunny climes of heaven; and those who like to have what the world calls a 'good time' will go to where things are a great deal warmer and far less pleasant; but for God it was no laughing matter. He took it so seriously that he sent his only Son into the world that all might be saved. Therefore, let us all, on this Guadate Sunday, rejoice in the hope we have of heaven through our Saviour, Jesus Christ!

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.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Prayer diary Saturday 15 December 2018

'I tell you that Elijah has already come, and ... they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.’ 
Matthew 9. 37

The joy of Christmas can sometimes cause us to think only of the babe in the manger. But we must never forget that the Christ-child came to suffer and die for our sins.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Prayer diary Friday 14 December 2018

John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, 'He has a demon'; the Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard' 
Matthew 11. 18,19

Those who love evil will hate the good no matter what they say or do. Therefore do not try to win their favour; instead, stay faithful to the will of God.

Burning questions

The images of the rioting taking place in France over the past few weeks were shocking. Hundreds were injured, and several were killed. This was accompanied by massive destruction of property, both public and private. I found the scenes of burning cars somewhat ironic. The major complaint of the protesters is the escalating cost of living; and yet every time a car is burned, some poor unfortunate, a blameless fellow citizen, finds themselves without transport in the morning, unable to go to work. And if they don't have the wherewithal to replace the vehicle quickly, perhaps they will soon find themselves out of a job altogether.

The protesters claim to be acting this way because the government is out of touch and doesn't listen to the ordinary people, particularly those living away from the big urban centres such as Paris. The violence, it should go without saying, is deplorable; but it isn't something we can afford to be too self-righteous about right now. We've had some public burning of our own recently, the hotel in Moville, Co Donegal, that is slated to become a direct provision centre in the near future and become home to about a hundred or so asylum seekers.

No one knows who did the arson or what their motives were; but, of course, words like 'bigotry' and 'racism' were quickly thrown about in the media. And for all I know that's exactly what lies behind it. But there's no harm in mentioning that there's more going on here than simple prejudice against outsiders. For example, a lot of locals were very annoyed at the way they found out about the plan – on social media, of all places, and after contracts had been signed between the Department of Justice and the hotel. They were presented with a done-deal, with no opportunity to air their concerns in advance.

And the concerns they raise are not unreasonable. Is a small coastal town really the place to put a hundred asylum seekers? Given its remote location, with fairly poor public transport links, what are these new residents supposed to do all day? Stay in their rooms? Walk the streets? Local schools are already at full capacity – where are any children who come supposed to be educated?

The concerns being raised by locals are not of 'not in my backyard' kind. They echo those raised by the Irish Refugee Council that the town is too remote to be suitable.

But there is a major difference about what happened in Donegal and France. The French protesters stated their cause and went out on the streets openly. The arson in Moville was done at night, anonymously, with no reason given. But in both places people feel they're not being listened to. And that can be dangerous. The fires in Donegal and France show that.

At least in Donegal nobody was killed or injured. Some better listening from now on is needed so that there isn't a next time when someone is.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 1 December 2018

‘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 30, 2018

prayer diary Friday 30 November 2018 (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.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 29 November 2018

'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.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 28 November 2018

'They will arrest you and persecute you … will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. This will give you an opportunity to testify.' 
Luke 21.13,14

The world has always been hostile to the message of Christ. Do not fear to preach it boldly, nonetheless, for this is your chance to be a witness to the faith.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 27 November 2018

‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.' 
Luke 21.8

Christ warned us against false teachers. Be wary, therefore, of those who preach that which has not 'been believed everywhere, always, by all' (St Vincent of Lerins).

Monday, November 26, 2018

prayer diary Monday 26 November 2018

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

Love of God and neighbour is not expressed through giving what you can easily spare out of your abundance. Rather it is when you must make real sacrifices to give.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

eat, drink, and be merry!

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 Sunday before Advent, the Sunday when we celebrate the Kingship of Christ. What that kingship entailed in his first coming is laid out for us in our Gospel reading this morning: the word made flesh, suffering and dying for our sins. What it will comprise of in his second coming is laid out in our reading from the Revelation to St John the Divine: 'Look! He is coming with the clouds; every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and on his account all the tribes of the earth will wail. So it is to be. Amen.' The wailing that is foretold is because when he comes again Christ will 'judge the living and the dead,' as we pray each Sunday and on every other occasion when we recite the Creed And we know, for Christ himself told us in the parable/prophesy of the Sheep and the Goats, that at that judgement many will be found wanting.

And for those found wanting his judgement will be severe: Christ often speaks of such as they being cast into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth or into the fires of hell; and his parable of the ten minas, where the ruler returns to reward those who have used his gifts to them well, punish those who have not, and utterly destroy those who have fought against him in his absence, is a sobering vision indeed of the day of his return.

But this is not to say that Christians are to live their lives in fear and trembling, afraid to enjoy themselves in any way in this life in case they are punished for it in all eternity in the next. That kind of thinking would be to adopt the type of false view of our faith put about by those who hate religion. God gave us the good things of this earth and intends us to enjoy them. For evidence of this, we may look to Genesis. All that he created God called good. And then he set the man and woman he had made in the beautiful garden of Eden and told them they might enjoy everything there – as long as they kept within the limits he had set. They did not, as we all know; and that was the sin of our first parents, the sin which brought about the Fall.

Those instructions essentially hold true today. We may enjoy all God has given us in the world, but within limits. And those limits are that we should use what God has given us according to his will.

Therefore, for example, there is nothing wrong with a good dinner, whether at home or even occasionally in a fine restaurant. But we are not eat and eat and eat to the point of gluttony; and if we stuff ourselves endlessly while others go hungry, then we offend against charity. Similarly, there is nothing wrong with a glass or two of wine, or whatever you're having yourself, but we are not to be drunkards. When it comes to money, there is nothing wrong with working hard in order to provide a comfortable home for yourself and your family and have a decent standard of living; but avarice, or greed for money, is to be avoided … and from your plenty, you must share with those who do not have enough.

And the marital embrace, to phrase things delicately, is a good and wholesome thing, where the couple, to paraphrase from the Prayer Book, with tenderness and delight may know each other in love and through the joy of their bodily union they may strengthen the union of their hearts and lives. But that bodily union was ordained by God to take place within the bonds of holy matrimony, and there only.

We could go through all areas of life, but if I did we'd be here a very long time indeed! And I think the examples given are sufficient. Christians may indeed eat, drink and be merry – but not to excess and not as if that was all there was to life and not in ways that do not conform with God's law. But otherwise, by all means enjoy yourselves! Good news, I think, as we draw near to Christmas, and all that comes with it.

The reason, of course, why we celebrate the feast of Christ the King this Sunday is because it is also the last Sunday before Advent. And Advent is the season when we remember both the time when Christ came first; and that he will come again in order to help prepare ourselves for that day. St Augustine of Hippo had something very appropriate to say concerning our Lord's first and second coming: and that was that we should not resist the first in order that we may not dread the next. To put it another way: if we embrace his first coming by doing all we can to live good Christian lives we have nothing at all to fear on the day when he shall come again. 

But why should we resist? For he came to suffer and die that we might be saved. And why should we dread? For it has been his hope out of all eternity that we would be saved. And therefore my prayer for you this morning is to say again those words of St Augustine: that you may not resist the first coming so that you never never dread the next.

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.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Prayer diary Saturday 24 November 2018

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

Christ gives us a firm promise of the hope we have of eternal life. With such an assurance, how might anyone not do all within their power to achieve it?

Friday, November 23, 2018

Prayer diary Friday 23 November 2018

Jesus said, ‘It is written, “My house shall be a house of prayer”; but you have made it a den of robbers.' 
Luke 19. 46

Do you always treat the Lord's House with total reverence? Indeed, is your lack of attention during Divine Services such that it might be said that for you it has ceased to be a house of prayer?

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Prayer diary Thursday 22 November 2018

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it. 
Luke 19.41

Even when we are at our worst God weeps for our sins. He will not deny his mercy to those who seek it; but he will not force it upon those who do not wish it.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

They Shall Not Grow Old

On the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War One, my wife and I went to see the documentary They Shall Not Grow Old. It was directed by Peter Jackson, whose previous work includes the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. After the film, they showed a short question and answer session with the director, where he said that, of all his works, it's this one that he's proudest of. And when one considers that the others have won multiple Oscars and earned billions at the box-office, that is really saying something.

He is right to be proud of it. The film is a technological marvel. He took the scratchy old footage filmed during the war and ran it through computers to change it to the right speed, cleaned up all the graininess, enhanced it so that every minute detail could be seen, and removed all the blotches and scratches. Then he ran it through more computers to take it from black and white to full living colour. He did that so perfectly that my wife thought he must surely have recreated the scenes using modern actors on film sets. But no, the men the movie showed marching, digging trenches, and lying wounded in field hospitals and dead in no-man's land were the real deal. So marvellous a job had he done on it that one could almost say that he's brought the dead back to life.

The war took place in the days of silent film. So we couldn't hear the voices of these men from long ago. Yet Peter Jackson overcame this difficulty ingenuously. The documentary is narrated, not by actors, but by the actual voices of men who fought in the war, who memories of the conflict were recorded by oral historians many years ago. There are only a few times when actors voices are heard; that's when the long dead men on camera are speaking and Jackson had people who could lip-read work out what they were saying and had actors duplicate what those men had said on the field of battle all those years ago.

Several things shine through about these men from our past. One is their bravery. Another is how little ill-will they bore towards those they fought; they knew they suffered just as much as they did, and if anything felt sorry for them. And finally, despite all their sacrifice, they never really knew what they were fighting for.

What was the war all about? My own thought is that it was pride. The 'powers that be', having got themselves into a pointless, brutal conflict couldn't admit that they had got things badly wrong; instead they kept going to the bitter end. And their pride cost millions their lives.

Pride in a worthy achievement, like Jackon has in this film, is good. The stiff-necked pride that ignores all common sense, whatever the cost, is not. If those men died for anything, let us hope that it was so that future generations might understand the difference. 

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

Prayer diary Wednesday 21 November 2018

'Why then did you not put my money into the bank? Then when I returned, I could have collected it with interest.' 
Luke 19.23

Our life on earth is the time we must put to good use the talents God has given us. On the day of judgement he will not be held guiltless who has wilfully wasted those gifts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Prayer diary Tuesday 20 November 2018

All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ 
Luke 19.7

How foolish it is to condemn others, for all are sinners and have fallen short. To do so risks not only your own soul but that of those you would keep from seeking out God's mercy

Monday, November 19, 2018

Prayer diary Monday 19 November 2018

Then he shouted, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’Those who were in front sternly ordered him to be quiet. 
Luke 18.38, 39

We are all sinners in need of God's mercy. We must never heed those who would try to prevent us seeking out the life-giving mercy he offers.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Beware that no one leads you astray

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.

We may wonder today why when Jesus' disciples ask him when the destruction of the temple which he has just foretold will take place, he answers them by speaking on a different topic altogether – things to do with the end of days, his second coming, and the false teachers which may appear before those events take place. Why does he do so?

Perhaps it because there is a link between his own death and downfall of the temple; with his death and resurrection the temple becomes superfluous in God's economy of salvation. Also, we may remember his words elsewhere in scripture where he says 'destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days' – and those listening thought he meant the temple made of stone, whereas in fact he spoke of the temple of his own body. Perhaps it is that when his disciples begin to question him about future events he takes the opportunity of their interest to speak about future events of greater important than when a building may be destroyed – their salvation and the salvation of generations to come. Time for him was all too short, as he was well aware; he is Jerusalem only days before his passion begins - and the fact that he uses what was effectively his last opportunity for teaching on this topic can only act to emphasise importance of what he teaches here.

It is a lengthy passage, consisting of most of the 13th Chapter of St Mark's Gospel, which makes it more than we can possibly consider in detail today. So let us perhaps look at just one point, the one that Christ begins with, one intended to help us avoid one of the great temptations of this world – false teachers who claim to teach not just with authority, but with Christ's own authority: ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”  and they will lead many astray'

What does our Lord mean precisely by this? Scholars are uncertain. He might mean that after he is gone others will come claiming to be the Christ come again, and lead people off the one true path; he might mean that false teachers will arise, claiming to speak with the authority of Jesus, or the authority of the Church and that their false teachings will put at risk the salvation of those who listen to them; perhaps it is something else. In our own era it would be tempting to think his warning points to those in the secular world who, despite their avowed or practical atheism, drape their philosophy with an almost divine authority and use it to pronounce judgement on the teachings of the Church and where it does not agree with theirs call it evil; and, bizarrely, even at times declare the teachings of Christ 'unchristian!'

Whatever the precise meaning, our Lord's words certainly serve as both a warning as a blessing. A warning, because they tell us to be on our guard against such teaching – teaching that will not build us up but instead will serve to tear us down because it is false. We may distinguish false teaching from true by applying the simple test of considering whether it is in agreement with what it says in the Sacred Scriptures or that which has been taught by the Church from the beginning. If it does not, then we may usefully keep in mind the words of St Paul on the subject, as written in his letter to the Galatians: 'even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

And it is also a blessing, not only because all the words of our Saviour are a blessing, but because all warnings which are spoken truly are a blessing, as they serve to keep us from harm if we heed them; and as we know that Christ is The Truth, then we know his warnings are true; and we are truly blessed to receive them. I pray that you all will indeed heed them with great joy; and thereby be kept safe from all the false teachings and teachers of the world that would seek to deny you the eternal life that Christ suffered and died to place within your reach.

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.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 17 November 2018

The Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night?' 
Luke 18. 6,7

Be persistent in your prayers; God will heed you. Pray most of all to know what it is that is his will for you ... and that you will show your love for him by listening to his word and obeying.

Friday, November 16, 2018

prayer diary Friday 16 November 2018

'The day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them — it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.' 
Luke 17.29,30

When Jesus returns it will be without warning and swift will be his judgement. Therefore we must live as if it might be within the next moment; for thus we may keep alert and avoid falling prey to the temptations that will bring his judgement upon us.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 15 November 2018

'But first the Son of Man must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.' 
 Luke 17. 25

The generation of which Christ speaks was not only those of his day but all people until he comes again. Therefore do not be amazed by the lack of faith you see in the world.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 14 November 2018

Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? ' 
Luke 17. 17

All receive blessings from God, but not all give thanks in return. Do not behave thus; for your humble gratitude is pleasing to the Almighty.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 13 November 2018

'So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’ 
Luke 17.10

Many expect the praise of men for their obedience to God. There is but one reward to be hoped for: eternal life on the last day.

Monday, November 12, 2018

prayer diary Monday 12 November 2018

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!' 
Luke 17.1

We will be held accountable if we lead others astray. Therefore the example of your life must be good and the doctrine you share must be sound, because you will not be found guiltless if you cause another to stumble.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 10 November 2018

‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.' 
Luke 16. 10

It is easy to excuse what we see as our small failings, thinking they do not matter much. But it is the small that hardens our heart to ever greater evils, until the time comes when we have fallen into grave sin and, sadly, do not even know it.

Friday, November 9, 2018

prayer diary Friday 9 November 2018

His master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. 
Luke 16.8

While he still had time the manager used the resources at his command to secure his future. So also must we use our temporal goods wisely, showing charity to those in need and using them to advance the Kingdom, so as ensure our Eternal destiny.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 8 November 2018

And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ 
Luke 15.2

How foolish were the Pharisees and how silly the scribes in their grumbling for did the Scriptures not teach them that all men are sinners? So too must we never forget that we are sinners in need of God's mercy.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 7 November 2018

'Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.' 
Luke 14.27

The Lord makes it clear that to be his follower is to take up the cross. Therefore if you will not take it up you can not be his follower.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 6 November 2018

'He sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” But they all alike began to make excuses.' 
Luke 14. 17,18

All are invited by the Lord to his table each Sunday for a foretaste of his heavenly banquet. And yet many do not come, making excuse after excuse for their absence.

Monday, November 5, 2018

prayer diary Monday 5 November 2018

'Invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.’ 
Luke 14, 13,14

Do your good deeds without expectation of reward, whether in kind or by the praise of men. By doing so you lay up treasure for yourself in heaven.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

the death of Lazarus and the faith of Martha

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.

I wonder if any of you have ever noticed how much space St John the Evangelist devotes to the story of Lazarus? The entirety of chapter 11 of his Gospel is spent outlining not only the raising of this man from the dead by Jesus, but also the build-up to the miracle and the aftermath of the event. That's fifty-seven verses of Sacred Scripture; by contrast, the other evangelists spend only a handful of verses in the accounts they give us of our Lord raising someone from dead. This means that St John believes that these details are of immense importance; and more, that the Holy Spirit, as he inspired the Beloved Disciple in his writing, knew that the details were essential for us to know for the sake of our own salvation. So it would well behove us to ponder these details very deeply indeed.

Therefore this morning I would like to consider not so much the raising from the dead itself, but the behaviour of his sister Martha in the lead-up to that miracle. For I think that her reaction to the death of her brother has much to teach us as to how we should act ourselves when faced with adversity and when God, seemingly, has not answered our prayers – or, to put it more accurately, has answered them, but not in the way that we would have preferred.

Now, we have met Martha before in the Gospels. St Luke introduces us to her in Chapter 10 of his account. Let us remind ourselves of what he says:

'Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

It is not very flattering to Martha, is it? Her busy-ness is rejected in favour of her sister Mary's more contemplative approach, echoing in a way God's rejection in Genesis of the sacrifice of Cain in favour of that of Abel. But Martha is no Cain, as we discover as St John tells us more about the woman who at another time worried about many things. And look at the reaction of this practical woman when Jesus arrives on this occasion.

She asked Jesus to come and heal Lazarus, but he did not come.
Indeed, perhaps she even knew his decision not to come was deliberate, for most likely those she had sent to ask him to come had returned to her and said that Jesus had refused to come with them. And so her brother is dead and four days in the grave when the Lord arrives. Indeed, not only did he not come in time, the one that can cure at a distance as we learn from the healing of the Centurion’s Slave, did not do so for a man whom the evangelist said he loved.

But despite all this, Martha has not lost faith in Christ. Consider how absolute her faith is from her words to Jesus only moments after he arrives ‘I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ And remember that she says this after her brother has died but before he raises him to life again or even says that he will; she says this while her brother lies in the grave where he will, for all she knows, remain until the end of days.

This is what it is to have faith; and why it is that I believe that Martha's faith is an example to us all. For real faith accepts God's will whatever it happens to be. Real faith accepts that sometimes God's answer to our prayers is 'no' or 'not yet' or even that his answer may be something completely different to what we expected or hoped for. Real faith accepts that God in his wisdom knows best, even if we cannot understand what that better thing is, and that lack of understanding causes us pain in the here and now.

This is what happened in the case of Martha's prayers. God said no to the healing of her brother; but only for the sake of the greater miracle that would help bring many to faith in Christ. But Martha did not know that when Jesus arrived. And yet her faith in Jesus, her faith in God was not shaken. I pray that we will all learn from Martha's example. Was it not for that reason that the evangelist told us of her faith, that we could learn from it? And was this not also the reason that the Holy Spirit inspired him to write of it? So that we might learn, like Martha not to doubt or lose hope, even when things seem at their worst.

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.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 3 Nov 2018

'For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ 
Luke 14.11

The proud of heart will be humbled, for their false pride is a rejection of God. Yet the humble will be exalted, for in their humility they seek God's mercy and he is faithful to all who call upon him sincerely.

Friday, November 2, 2018

prayer diary Friday 2 Nov 2018

'And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent.' 
Luke 14. 3

They were silent because they sought a reason to accuse Jesus. Wicked indeed is the one who hates another so much that he will use any means to attack another, even his good deeds.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 1 Nov 2018 (All Saints')

'Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God'. 
Matthew 5. 8

A saint is not some plaster figure, divorced from reality and untouched by the troubles and temptations of the world. A saint is one who has struggled with the messy reality of human life and managed to remain faithful to the end.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

prayer diary Wednesday 31 Oct 2018

'The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ 
Luke 13. 20,21

The work we do for the kingdom can seem as nothing when placed in the scales against all that is in the world. Yet continue your labour and trust in God that his Good News continues to work its way into to all places.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

blind faith

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.

Our Gospel reading today tells us the story of Blind Bartimaeus. And I think it must be said that there is none who sees so clearly on the road that day as he, even though he is the one who is without sight. For consider what it is that he cries out when he hears that Jesus of Nazareth draws near: it is 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!' He addresses the Lord by a royal title, for he recognises that he is the Messiah. How is it that he, a blind man, knows this, someone who because of his disability can not move about the country freely and is forced to survive by sitting on the side of the road and calling out to others to help him?

Well, it seems certain that he has heard the stories about Jesus, the signs and wonders he has done, how the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and – most importantly for him – the blind see. And perhaps he may even have heard some of the teaching, for there is an echo, is there not, of the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican in what he calls out to Jesus? In the parable the publican, the who goes away justified, prays 'Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner' and the blind man says 'Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.' A remarkable similarity, which may well indicate that he has heard some of Jesus teaching; and more, pondered it deeply in his heart.

I think that likely; for he has come to the conclusion that the man who walks down the road before him, the man who has performed great deeds of power and offered the world teaching teaching so wondrous it can only have its source in heaven, is indeed the Messiah. And so he cries out, according him that Messianic title. Not all nearby are pleased. They tell him to stop. Perhaps they are scribes and Pharisees, following Jesus not because they believe, but because they seek a chance to condemn him. And just as the religious authorities in Jerusalem during our Lord's triumphal entry, when the crowd is calling him the Son of David, try to silence them, so too do these men try to silence Bartimaeus that day.

But he will not be silent. Instead he calls out all the louder for the Son of David to have mercy on him. And the Lord hears him and calls him to him. And note well the way Bartimaeus responds. St Mark provides us with a very telling detail of that moment. He tells us that he throws off his cloak and springs up. And to understand the importance of that, we must first understand how important his cloak would have been to him. For a poor man, his cloak was both his blanket at night and his coat during the day, the most expensive item of clothing he would have had, something almost irreplaceable for a blind beggar; not something he would normally let out of his reach. And yet in that moment he casts it aside, with no heed as to how or if he will be able to find it again. His trust in Jesus is total.

Note also the beautiful simplicity of his prayer to Christ. He does not plead or bargain, does not boast of previous good deeds that make him worthy to receive what he asks; instead he simply asks 'My teacher, let me see again.' Even the way he addresses Christ is beautiful – my teacher, acknowledging both the authority of Jesus as teacher and the personal relationship that exists between them; for to call someone 'my teacher' is to recognise also that you are their pupil, student, follower, disciple. And thus it also demonstrates humility, for the student knows he is not equal with his master.

There is much for us to learn from the example of Bartimaeus, and I pray that all here will learn it: the spiritual awareness to know who Jesus is, and the willingness to proclaim it openly, even before the hostility of the world; the total faith and trust in him, no matter what the risk , or what it may cost; and the faith to throw yourself upon God's mercy, bringing before him your needs, humbly and reverently, knowing you are a sinner in need of that mercy. And, of course, that you will, like him, follow Christ.

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.

Thursday, October 25, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 25 October 2018

'For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ 
Luke 14.11

The proud of heart will be humbled, for their false pride is a rejection of God. Yet the humble will be exalted, for in their humility they seek God's mercy and he is faithful to all who call upon him sincerely.

prayer diary Thursday 25 October 2018

'Jerusalem, Jerusalem ... How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!' 
Luke 13. 34

God does not cease to love, nor abandon, those who reject him. Neither should we abandon those who reject us when we try to bring them the Gospel truth.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Nothing but crickets

I don't know if you ever walked out into a field at night, away from the noise of traffic and the glare of the street-lights. It's quite a pleasant thing to do of a summer's evening, standing there with nothing to distract you from the light of the moon and stars, and the smell of the grass. Pure silence. Well, not exactly pure – the reason you know that it is so quiet all around you is because of the little noises of the night that you can't normally hear over the sounds of modernity. Like the whisper of a slight breeze among the trees, or the fluttering of the swallows overhead as they swoop to claim the last of the insects before full dark falls. Or the chirping of crickets.

Ah, crickets. It has to be very quiet indeed before you can hear those. So much so that the phrase 'nothing but crickets' has entered into modern parlance to describe the response of politicians to questions they refuse to answer, or their words on issues that they avoid addressing. In other words, none. Just silence. Nothing but crickets.

The referendum about deleting the reference to blasphemy from the Constitution is starting to feel like that. No, not starting. It's been like that from the beginning. Almost nothing from our politicians as to why we should vote 'yes' to the proposal to change the Constitution on this. They have explained in such detail as to why we're holding a referendum on this issue that the sound of the crickets is almost deafening.

Now, why is that? If it is important enough to hold a referendum on, important enough to ask the people to change the fundamental source of all law in the land, it is surely important enough for our elected representatives to take some time to put the arguments about the issue to us. Most referendums have politicians out knocking on doors, canvassing for a vote one way or the other. They have posters up on every lamp post, blocking your view as you drive, and coming down and nearly taking the head off you when there's a strong wind. And glossy pieces of paper come through the letter box, with little pictures of various politicians on them, and a brief overview of what they, and perhaps their party also, thinks of the matter and why it is that they believe you should vote one way or the other on the matter.

But not this time. This time the silence is eerie. And, frankly, a little insulting. Why are we holding a referendum on this if our politicians don't think it is important enough to hold a debate on? Do they just take it for granted that we're all in agreement in this and are going to vote blasphemy out of the constitution? And if so, how would they know? Their asking us about it in advance of calling the vote was exactly the same as the talking they've done after. Nothing but crickets.

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

prayer diary Wednesday 24 October 2018

'The kingdom of God is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’ 
Luke 13. 20,21

The work we do for the kingdom can seem as nothing when placed in the scales against all that is in the world. Yet continue your labour and trust in God that his Good News continues to work its way into to all places.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 23 October 2018 (St James)

The whole assembly kept silence, and listened to Barnabas and Paul … After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘My brothers, listen to me.' 
Acts 15. 12,13

St James presided at the first great council of the Church in Jerusalem. As we remember him, we should also remember the great authority Christ gave not only to the Church, but to its leaders – something that was respected by all, even then.

Monday, October 22, 2018

prayer diary Friday 25 October 2018

'And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, ‘Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?’ But they were silent.
Luke 14. 3

They were silent because they sought a reason to accuse Jesus. Wicked indeed is the one who hates another so much that he will use any means to attack him, even his good deeds.

prayer diary Monday 22 October 2018

The leader of the synagogue ... kept saying ... ‘There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the sabbath day.' But the Lord answered him and said, ‘You hypocrites!' 
Luke 13, 14-15

The leader cared not about the woman, but rather used her healing on the sabbath as a pretext for accusing Christ. Be alert for those who hide evil intent under the cloak of righteousness.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Prayer diary Saturday 20 October 2018

“Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig round it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.” 
Luke 13.8,9

The parable of the barren fig tree reminds us that God grants sufficient time to all to work out their salvation – indeed, often in the eyes of the world a super-abundance of time. But the day comes to us all when that time is ended. Pray that you will be found to have been fruitful.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Prayer diary Friday 19 October 2018 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!' 
Luke 12.51

Christianity is not the faith of 'anything for a quiet life' or trembling at the thought that someone may take offence at what you say. The Gospel truth must be preached boldly so that all may have the hope of being saved.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Prayer diary Thursday 18 October 2018 (St Luke)

After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.Luke 10.1

Our Lord sent all these men out to prepare the way for him, St Luke among them. All who would follow our Lord are also sent, each with a different task. Listen carefully and prayerfully at all times; for the Lord will speak to your heart as to what task in his kingdom that he calls you to do.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Courting trouble

It will be a long time, I think, before the dust settles on Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings. Some lucky few may have been able to avoid the controversy. For those, a brief summary is in order.

Kavanaugh is an American judge who was nominated to the US Supreme Court by Donald Trump. Democrats, unsurprisingly, said he was an appalling choice; Republicans, as expected, thought him a fine candidate. However, as the senate is controlled by the latter it would have taken quite the bombshell to shake his chances of being confirmed.

And bombshell there was, with an accusation of sexual impropriety being brought forward at the eleventh hour, after the hearings were over but before the vote was taken. The FBI investigated and found the claims lacked credibility; so the Senate voted and confirmed his nomination.

His supporters think the whole thing was a stitch-up; his detractors that the investigation was a white-wash. Which makes the whole thing deeply disturbing whichever side you're on. But there is something about the affair that both sides should find troubling. And that is the weaponising of accusations of sexual violence.

By this I mean that it has been established that the faction in the US Senate that opposed Kavanaugh's nomination had been contacted by his accuser many weeks in advance of his confirmation hearings. They chose to keep that information to themselves until the hearings were over. And call me cynical, but I find it hard not to suspect that they feared that the allegations would not stand up to rigorous scrutiny, which means if they had gone public with the story at once it would have fizzled out long before the hearings and done nothing to damage Kavanaugh's prospects. So they chose instead to wait until the process was almost over in the hope of derailing the process and costing him his seat on the Supreme Court.

It's all quite dreadful. I find it difficult to believe that someone who truly wanted justice for this woman would have behaved this way. Someone who had her best interests at heart would have taken her story to the authorities immediately and allowed a discrete investigation to take place at once. If her claims were found to be credible then, and only then, would the information be used against Kavanaugh. If not, then nothing would have been said and the woman would have been allowed to go quietly back to her life with her privacy intact. Instead, because they wanted to throw him to the wolves they flung her to them also.

But at least it is over now. Or is it? The circus that these hearings became could only happen in a society that is deeply divided, one in which the concept of shared values has been lost. Being liberal or conservative is no longer different points on the political spectrum, they are the identifying labels of hostile tribes, ones that find it increasingly difficult to live peacefully alongside each other. War is coming. And it will be ugly. 

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

Prayer diary Wednesday 17 October 2018

'You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.' 
Luke 12. 40

Again and again our Lord warned that the moment when we will stand before him will come without warning. If we live as if we may be called home within the next instant we will not be found wanting.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Prayer diary Tuesday 16 October 2018

'Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes.' 
Luke 12. 37

Jesus – or death – may come at any moment. Blessed is he who lives all his life with this thought to help keep him from sin.

Prayer diary Monday 15 October 2018

And Jesus said to them, ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’ 
Luke 12.15

Greed is not confined to a desire for riches. Some, while caring not for wealth, may burn with desire for other things – and would do anything rather than give them up. If they get between you and love of God, then they are as much a danger to you as love of money.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

'what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: inspire the hands in the writing, the lips in the preaching, and our hearts in the pondering so that we may be led deeper into your truth, better know and do your will, and grow in holiness day by day. Amen.

Our Gospel reading this morning begins with the detail that it is just as Jesus is setting out on a journey that the rich man comes to him. And I think we may place some significance on that fact. Jesus, if we look at the passages of scripture that precede this incident, has been going from place to place teaching; he would have, it seems fair to assume, spent a reasonable amount of time in each town or village or place on the road he stopped at. So he has been at the place he is leaving now for a while – many hours at least; possibly days.

But the man must only have heard of his presence. Perhaps he was away from the town on business and had just returned; perhaps other affairs have kept him occupied. Whatever the reason, he heard about the fact that the 'good teacher' is near only very late in his visit; and so he comes running, finds Jesus preparing to leave, throws himself on his knees before him, and asks him the most important question of all: 'what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

Jesus responds to him with what might be described as a summary of the Ten Commandments; and the man replies that he has kept these all his life. And we may believe that he speaks the truth, for Christ looks at him and loves him. This is more than simply the love that God has for all of his creatures; this, I think, is our Lord responding on a human level to a man who not only has tried all his life to be good, but seeks to know what more he must to go to heaven.

Perhaps this love our Lord has for him is evident to all standing there, shining forth in the way he gazes upon this man, and is later remembered and recorded by the evangelist St Matthew as he stands there watching; or perhaps Jesus shares this with his Apostles as they are walking down the road later, on the journey whose beginning the man interrupted. But we can be certain that the Son of God loved this man in a special way and that the answer he gave him was the one he needed to hear in order that he might inherit that eternal life he so earnestly sought.

But the answer he receives shocks him: ‘You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.’ And he goes away grieving. Why grieving? Remember what his question was – what must I do to inherit eternal life. And Jesus, the good teacher, tells him that there is one thing more that he must do, as well as all the rest he does already, if he is to enter into eternal life. And he can not do it; he can not give up the material things of this world.

Why will this man not inherit eternal life? He seems to be a good man; we know he keeps the commandments; and we can trust that a man who does that, who is a faithful Jew, does more as well. He surely gives alms to the poor; and is scrupulous about the paying of tithes. By any objective standpoint he is a good man; and yet, because of the one thing he lacks, he will not, it seems, go to heaven. Why should this be so?

Because he makes the mistake – a mistake that is common today – of thinking of religion as being an ethical system. How many times have your heard someone say something like 'why do I need religion to lead a good life? I can make perfectly fine moral and ethical decisions without any need to believe in any kind of god.' And that is perfectly true – although, it must also be said that one need only look at the competing ethical systems at play in the secular world today to realise that seemingly any kind of behaviour can be justified if one puts one's mind to it. No, the point is that Christianity is not merely yet another ethical system among many.

Yes, it expects people to behave in a manner that is moral according to the lights of its teachings; but it expects more than that – far more. If it did not, then the rich man we read about today would have had no problem. But the Christian is called not only to be good, but to be holy. Think what the Apostle Paul teaches us in first Thessalonians – he asks that God make us perfect in holiness. Think about what God tells us in Leviticus – be holy as I am holy.

And what is holiness? There are many long answers, but a short one would be to be set apart from the world and totally devoted to God. Using that, we can see the difficulty faced by the rich man. Yes, he was good, as the world defines good; but he could not set himself apart from the world. His possessions meant too much to him; and because of that he could not bring himself to devote himself entirely to God by following Christ. This was the 'one thing' he lacked; and even for the sake of eternal life, he could not bring himself to embrace it.

What of us? Must we give up all things to enter into eternal life? Not necessarily. Jesus spoke directly to the young man that day, to his specific needs. Perhaps he would say something different to you if you were to throw yourself on your knees before him and ask the question that poor young man asked that day: Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?' Perhaps it is something that you should do, every time you pray, morning, noon, and night. We can be sure that as you make your request he will look upon you with love, and seek to tell you what it is that you lack. Perhaps it would be as well to pray also that you will not be brought to grief by his answer, because you can not, like the rich man, find it within yourself to let go of what it is that stands between you and following Christ completely.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 13 October 2018

'Everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God'. 
Luke 12. 8,9

Fear of this world can cause us not only to fear declaring ourselves to be Christians, but also fearing to live as if we were. But the cost of such peace is a poor bargain indeed; for it trades the joy of heaven of a few quiet years in this life.

Friday, October 12, 2018

prayer diary Friday 12 October 2018 (Day of Discipline and self-denial)

‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell' 
Luke 12. 4,5

It is tempting to fear those who can harm us in this life; but is an easy life worth risking eternal life for? Better to fear God and let the world do what it may.