Sunday, July 15, 2018

come away and rest a while

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
I remember once some years ago standing in a queue in a credit-union in Cork. The line was long and moving slowly and the two elderly ladies in front of me struck up a conversation. And standing behind them as I was it was, of course, impossible for me not to overhear what they were saying.
'Ah, that plane crash yesterday was terrible, girl' said the first.
'Oh, it was,' said the second.
'All those poor people, going off on their holidays.'
'Shocking awful, girl.'
'Still, they had to be going off, gallivanting around the world on their foreign holidays. Back in my day, we happy enough to get on the bus on go down to Crosshaven for the day. And bring our sandwiches with us. No airplanes for us, flying here there and everywhere, and we were happy out, like.'
'Oh, we were indeed, girl.'
Now, while there is nothing wrong with spending the day in Crosshaven – I have spent many a happy afternoon there, a truly charming place, particularly in the summer when the weather is fine, there is a gentle sea breeze, and the merries are open for the children to enjoy a ride on the carousel or the bumper-cars - I can't help but think that the two ladies were being a little hard on the doomed holiday makers. For a holiday is a holiday, whether it is a day by the seaside or a fortnight abroad, and the difference between the two is only a matter of degree; and, of course, not only is air transport very safe, but a bus may crash perhaps even more easily than a plane.

And the truth is not only do we need a break now and again, it is actually part of God's plan that we should. He teaches us this by the example of his own actions when in Genesis he rests on the seventh day after the work of creation on the preceding six; and later in Exodus he makes it part of his Divine Law that man should keep holy the Sabbath day and refrain from work.

Our Lord in our Gospel reading today recognises his disciples need for a break. They have just returned from the mission he sent them on, out preaching and teaching and calling people to repentance. We don't know exactly how long they have been gone, but these are the instructions that he gave them before they went out:
He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. He said to them, ‘Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

We can presume from all this that they were gone more than a few days – weeks, perhaps even months. A good long time certainly, walking on dusty roads wherever they went in the hot, dry climate of Israel. They have been working hard, these fishers of men. And so Jesus wants to take them away from it all for a while. But the break he is suggesting is not the ancient world's equivalent of a 'mini-break' at some sort of spa-hotel. 'Come away to a deserted place' he says. And the word that is translated here as 'deserted' in used elsewhere in Mark's gospel, in the first chapter, where it is more usually translated as 'wilderness.' And there it refers to the wilderness where John the Baptist preached and the wilderness into which our Lord was driven by the Holy Spirit after his baptism. So already we should be realising that there are spiritual dimensions to this 'time away from it all' that Jesus wants his disciples to take.

And our Lord, of course, does not send them to this 'wilderness place' alone – he goes with them. They are going to a quiet place to spend time with Jesus. After their long, hard weeks of pounding the roads and working hard what the Son of God thinks his followers need is not some time in the local tavern, filling themselves with food and wine; neither is it to lounge on the shores of Galilee, relaxing on the beach in the sun and splashing in the cool water; nor is it to go off to some place they have never seen before and see the sights and learn interesting details about the local culture. It is to go to a desert place and spend time with the Lord.

Something for us to consider, perhaps, at the end of our own working day, or after a long, hard week, or even after many weeks of particularly arduous labour. Is there more to refreshing ourselves than an hour in front of the telly, or a shopping trip in a nearby town, or yet another holiday of sun, sea, and sand? Perhaps true refreshment lies in making a quiet space in our lives to spend time with the Lord. It was what he wanted for his disciples; and as we are his followers also, I can not but think that it is what he wants for us also. Amen
(as I am currently on leave, this is a reprint of a sermon preached 19 July 2015)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

prayer diary Saturday June 14 July 2018

The Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him. 
Matthew 12.14

This is something for all Christians to consider, for if the master was hated, why should the servants be surprised if they too face hatred? For the servant is not greater than the master and can expect no better treatment than he.

Friday, July 13, 2018

prayer diary Friday 13 July 2018 (day of discipline & self-denial)

'For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.’ 
Matthew 12.8

The Lord's Day is for rest and worship. Necessity can make this difficult for some; but the necessity of the few does not grant license to the many. Consider this in relation to how you spend your own Sundays.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 12 July 2018

‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.' 
Matthew 22. 28

This world is no easy place. But Christ calls us all to him; and those who take up his yoke find peace, for the things of this world can trouble them no more.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

answered prayers

I was talking to a man recently. Let's call him Corky (because that's the name he asked me to use for this). Corky is in a bad way. He suffers from a variety of various fairly serious health problems, affecting not only his quality of life but also his mobility and therefore his independence. And, to add suffering to suffering, he's recently been diagnosed with cancer. Corky is a few years younger than I am. Will he make it to my age? Only God knows.

'A lot of prayers have been said for me,' he told me. 'I've said a lot myself. But they don't seem to be working.'

What he means by this, of course, is that he has not been healed from the diseases that afflict him. And his disappointment is understandable. People of faith know that God can heal our bodies of anything. We read of it in the Bible all the time. When Jesus walked the earth all people had to do was touch the hem of his garment to be cured. And cured they were in their droves. So why them and not us? And why not Corky?

To make matters worse, Corky seems like a genuinely good bloke. He wakes up every morning and gives thanks to God for another day, for the blessing of being able to get up and get dressed and put on his shoes. Before he even gets out of bed he says a prayer, dedicating that day and the remainder of his life to God. When he was well he worked for a charity, helping raise money to help needy children in Africa. His work involved a lot of travelling and meeting people. And a lot of them found a sympathetic ear in Corky for their troubles.

'I suppose they found it easier to talk to a stranger,' he said. 'Sometimes they'd be crying before I left. I'd be crying myself.'

So, a man of faith. A man who has done some good in the world. What could I say to a man like him about his suffering? Only what I say to all who think their prayers go unanswered when they aren't healed – that there's more than one kind of healing. There's physical; but there's also spiritual. The first is always temporary. In the end we all die. But the second has the potential to be eternal if it helps get us right with God. After all, which is more important: relief from the sufferings of this life, however bad they may seem? Or eternal life in the next with the one who created us? The answer, I think, is obvious. It was to Corky, at least.

'Better if we're healed in here,' he said, touching his chest, 'in our souls.'

Afterwards I stopped at a church I was passing and lit a candle for him. I said a prayer for his healing also. I didn't specify which kind. That I left in the hands of God. 

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

prayer diary Wednesday 11 July 2018

‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants.' Matthew 11.25

Those who think themselves great can often miss that which is obvious to the humble of heart. And their self-importance, if not repented of, carries within it the seeds of destruction.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 10 July 2018

'Then he began to reproach the cities in which most of his deeds of power had been done, because they did not repent. … 'I tell you that on the day of judgement it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom than for you.’ 
Matthew 11.20-24

The more gifts God grants you, the more he expects from you. And those who think they can take and take and yet reject him without consequence are wrong.

Monday, July 9, 2018

prayer diary Monday 9 July 2018

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.' 
Matthew 11. 34

The Prince of Peace sends his followers forth to challenge the consensus of the world. Difficulties should be no surprise; they are what we are called to face.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Amazing God

May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is never pleasant when you give someone important information and they refuse to believe you. I remember one such occasion when I was working as a broadcaster in the Azores. It was a joint-services unit, made up of people from the Army, Navy, and Air Force. I was in the Navy; and my immediate supervisor was in the Air Force. One day I was called down to the Naval personnel office to sign my regular six-month evaluation. And I was rather stunned to find that it was rather a poor one – I had always had excellent ones in the past. And not only was I the senior naval person at the station, I had essentially being given a promotion recently, being made the manager of one of the sections in the station, and had had no complaints about my work – quite the opposite in fact – the poor evaluation was rather out of the blue.

I did not, of course, sign it. I knew exactly what was going on. My supervisor had going through a bad patch in his own career and had been taking it out on those around him. Clearly my turn had come. I went straight to my supervisor and asked for a meeting to discuss the matter. He gave me a little smirk.

'There's nothing to discuss,' he said. 'I have written it. And there's nothing you can do about it.' Now, that might have been true were I in the Air Force as he was; but, as I said, I was in the Navy. And that wasn't how things worked. I was entitled to discuss the evaluation with him – in fact, he should have discussed it with me before sending it down to the personnel office – and I was also entitled to go over his head and appeal what he'd written to higher authority. And I warned him that, on the basis of my past record and known current performance, that what he'd written wouldn't stand. And I suggested to him that, based on my superior knowledge of the way that the Navy worked, that the least embarrassing way forward for all concerned would be if he would simply re-write the evaluation.

Naturally, he refused to believe a word of it. He was outraged that I would challenge what he had written. I was called a great many names. He also said a great many uncomplimentary things about the Navy when things turned out exactly as I told him they would and the evaluation was changed, leaving him with egg all over his face as a result.

He should, of course, have believed me when I told him about the way things worked in the Navy. I was after all, as I said, the senior naval person in the station. But the simple fact is that there are times when people don't want to hear the truth. No matter how clear that it it, objectively speaking, the truth; and despite the fact that consequences will follow for having treated the truth as if it were a lie.

This is the situation we read of in our Gospel reading today. Jesus is visiting Nazareth. And objectively speaking they should have no doubts about who he is. He has by this time healed a great many people. He has, for example, cleansed lepers, he has by his power caused a paralysed man to rise from his mat and walk, he cured a woman of a flow of blood that has afflicted her for twelve long years that no physician was even able to grant her some relief from, much less cure. And if that were not enough, he has cast out demons from those possessed by them, including the notorious case of the Gerasene Demoniac who was in the power of not just one evil spirit, but an entire legion of them. More, he has calmed a storm that threatened to engulf the boat he was on and the other boats that accompanied him. He has even raised the dead.

On the basis of this objective evidence they should accept him as the Messiah. At the very least they should regard him as a great prophet, a holy man sent from God. And yet they reject him. Why? It would seem because of pride. They can not believe he could have walked among them for almost thirty years, from when he was a boy until he was a man come of age, without them realising that he was someone special. And so they mock and sneer at him and will not accept him - to his amazement.

But before we wonder too much at their foolishness, perhaps we should look to our own age. We live in a time of great apostasy, of turning from the faith. Some do so openly, rejecting Christ and what he teaches; of these, some think Christians deluded – others hate them and see them as the enemy of progress in the world. But they, at least, are open about their apostasy. Others I think are perhaps worse, the ones who claim to be Christian, but feel in no way bound to live by the faith, at least not in its entirety. They cherry-pick what they like or causes them no discomfort or challenge; and the rest is put to the side, either ignored or vociferously dismissed as no longer mattering in the modern age. It is almost as if they think there is two Christs; one in the pages of the Bible, and another for time in which we live. But this can not be so; for as St Paul tells us in his letter to the Hebrews, 'Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever. What he taught, and has been passed down to us in Scripture and the Apostolic Tradition, stands until the end of the ages. And of those who would claim otherwise, we may look to our Lord's own words in Matthew's Gospel where he said that not everyone who calls him 'Lord, Lord' will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of his Father in heaven.

My supervisor suffered no lasting harm for his refusal to listen to my advice concerning Navy performance evaluations. At worst some slight embarrassment at being proved wrong in the end, along with some damage to his reputation among the Navy personnel on the base. Indeed, perhaps in the end it did him some good by teaching him that he can not treat people unfairly and expect to get away with it. But those who reject Christ by refusing to listen to what he says to us through the Bible and what he teaches us through the Church he founded risk far more. The risk being counted among those our Lord said would not be welcomed into the kingdom of heaven. This is truly a fate worse than death; because it is a fate that entails the loss of eternal life in heaven.

And so as I end, I pray that all here, and all those throughout the world who count themselves Christians will heed carefully what Christ taught us – and died that he might bring us – so that they will in the end be granted to spend eternity in the place they were created to be – with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

prayer diary Saturday 7 July 2018

Who ever divorces a woman causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 
Matthew 5.32

The idea that the sole context for sexual relations is that of a man and woman married for life is sometimes seen as one of the hardest of Jesus' teachings. It was a hard one to hear in his own day, down through the years, and especially in our own liberal times. And yet it is a teaching that Christ has given us. Finding it difficult is no excuse to disobey

Friday, July 6, 2018

prayer diary Friday 6 July 2018 (day of discipline & self-denial)

It was said 'you shall not commit adultery'. But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 
Matthew 5.27-28

Look into your hearts; if you long to do what Christ and his Church teaches is wrong, then you sin, even if the deed itself goes undone. Not having the chance to do the wrong you would wish to do will be no defence on the day of judgement.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

prayer diary Thursday 5 July 2018

It was said to those of ancient times 'thou shalt not murder;' … but I say to you that if you are angry with your brother you will be liable to judgement. 
Matthew 5. 21,22

The love of Christ is no 'soft option,' equivalent in some way to the 'live and let live' attitude of modern society. He was not afraid to call sin what it was, and often was even stricter in his interpretation of the moral law than the Old Testament prophets.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

If it wasn't for bad luck ...

Bad luck comes in threes. That's the saying anyway. The last time I heard it said was at a funeral recently.
'It won't be long before there's another death in this family,' remarked an elderly man gloomily.
'Oh yes?' I said, politely. 'Is there someone not well?'
'Oh no,' he said shaking his head. 'But they had a cousin die a few weeks back. This fella makes two. And everyone knows bad luck comes in threes.'

There wasn't much I could say to that. To tell him bluntly that I disagreed with him would have been to invite argument in a house of mourning which would have been inappropriate. But it's not a saying I put much stock in. I consider it part of the natural human tendency to find patterns in everything. That's why we can see so many amazing things in the clouds as we lay on our backs on a fine summer's day. And why conspiracy theorists can turn a late train and the shop being out of milk into a secret plot to destroy the world. But there's no reality to it – especially about bad luck and threes.

Or is there? I had a little run of bad luck recently. And it did indeed have the number three attached. Coming out of Mothel Church in Coolcullen one Sunday I noticed that one of the tyres on my car was looking somewhat flat. I pumped it up and drove home. But next morning it was down again, so it was off to Quinn's garage to get it fixed. All was grand for a few days; then I came out of the house one morning to find it flat again.
'Drat,' I thought. 'That first mend mustn't have held.' I pumped it up and went back to Quinn's. And, bless them, they fixed it again. But it was clear looking at the tyre that the mend was in a different place.
'How odd,' I thought. 'I haven't had a puncture in years – and now two in a week.' If the old man from the funeral had been about he'd have warned to expect trouble. And he'd have been right.

A week later I was driving along. It was a hot sunny day and I had the windows open. Suddenly I noticed there a noise coming from the rear of the car. Click, click, click, it went. And the faster I went, the more frequent the clicks. I got out and examined it. Another puncture. A different tyre this time. And the cause was clear – a large screw was sticking out of it and had been slapping off the road as the tyre went round.

So three punctures in a fortnight. Of course, it was only coincidence. None for ages, then they all come at once. But still, I know if the man from the funeral was to hear of it he'd give me a knowing smile and say 'Didn't I tell you?'

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

prayer diary Wednesday 4 July 2018

Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish but to fulfil. 
Matthew 5.17

Jesus made it clear that in his teaching the moral law of the Old Testament continued in its authority. This puts the lie to those who try to claim that he was silent on those areas of the moral law where traditional Christian values are in conflict with the new values of secular society.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

prayer diary Tuesday 3 July 2018 (St Thomas)

Thomas said to him, "My Lord and my God!" 
John 20.28

St Thomas was the first to stand before Jesus and recognise him as the Living God made man. Blessed are you who, like he, will do the same.

Monday, July 2, 2018

prayer diary Monday 2 July 2018

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 
Matthew 5. 6

And what is righteousness other than to hear and obey completely and willingly all that God wants of us?

Sunday, July 1, 2018

healed forever

May my words be in the name of the Holy and Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I recently fell into conversation with a man when I was out and about – I won't say what part of the country I was for the sake of preserving his anonymity. As is common with such chats – which is one of the reasons why I think they do not happen by accident – it wasn't long before he was telling me his tale of woe. And by any standards he had had a hard time of it over the last number of years when it came to his health. He has suffered from a variety of various fairly serious problems for the last number of years, affecting not only his quality of life but also his mobility and therefore his independence. And, to add suffering to suffering, he has only recently been diagnosed with cancer; and in his already weakened state his prospects, quite frankly are not good. This gentleman was a good many years younger than I am; and the chances he will make it to my age seem slim.

'A lot of prayers have been said for me,' he told me. 'And I've said a lot myself. But they don't seem to have done any good.'

What he means by this, of course, is that he has not been healed from the diseases that afflict him. And his disappointment is understandable. We know that God can heal our bodies of all that ails them. We read of it in the Bible all the time. There is an account of one such miraculous healing in our Gospel reading today – the woman who had been afflicted with a flow of blood for twelve long years … causing her much suffering, huge expense as she went fruitlessly from one doctor to another, and enormous social stigma – for a woman in such a condition was considered ritually unclean, which meant that she could neither take part in public worship, not could anyone lay hands on her lest they be considered unclean themselves and be similarly ostracised. All she has to do is to touch the hem of Jesus' garment and she is at once healed. And we also read today of Jairus' daughter. She is dead when Jesus arrives at her house; whatever the unknown illness it was that she was suffering from has already killed her. But this is no obstacle to our Lord. He restores her to life and to the bosom of her family.

And I do not think it unreasonable for those who think their prayers to be unanswered to ask – why them and not me? Why were they healed while my suffering continues? It cannot be because God loves the people of that time more than those of today – our Father in heaven loves all his children equally. And indeed, the Apostle St Paul assures us in his letter to the Romans that God shows partiality to none. It can not be that we in our day are greater sinners than those who walked the earth with our Lord. The New Testament is replete with proof that sin is a fixture of the human condition. And yet Jesus healed them anyway – even healing the ear of the slave of the high priest when he was arresting him to take him to his death when it was cut off by St Peter. 

And it can not be that people's faith was greater then than now. And even if it were, we read in the gospels of our Lord healing those who, on the face of it at least, did not seem very strong in the faith. We may think here of the ten lepers who were healed of a disease which made them ritually unclean restored both to their society and their families – of whom only one returned to thank Jesus and give glory to God … and he was a Samaritan, of a race considered by the Jews as being enemies and almost worse than the heathens.

No, to understand why it is they were healed in such numbers then and why miraculous healings are so few today we have to remember why it was that Jesus performed those miracles in the first place. Compassion for the suffering of those who stood before him naturally played a part; for Christ was not only fully God but fully and man. But that was not the primary reason – for human suffering is part of the fallen world in which we live and that suffering has its purpose, even though we may find it hard to understand or sometimes even to accept. 

No, the primary reason for those miraculous healings, as it was with the other miracles he performed, was to give witness to who he was, and to demonstrate that he was who he said he was – the Son of God who had come into the world for our salvation, to save us from our sins so that all might have life and have it abundantly – eternal life in heaven. He performed miracles so that the people of his day – and the people of every age that followed right down to the present age – might believe in him and be saved. He healed the bodies of a few then that the souls of all in his day and all the days that followed might be healed of the deadly disease that they suffered from – the fatal affliction of sin – and by that healing live forever in heaven.

I told the man that I met that day that his prayers had not gone unheard. For there is more than one kind of healing. The first was the healing of the body that he longed for. But there is also healing of the soul, a spiritual healing that helps bring us back into a right relationship with God. Physical healing brings relief of present suffering, but it is of its nature always temporary, for in the end death comes to us all in one form or another. But spiritual healing has the potential to be eternal, for it is the kind of healing that at the end of our lives will bring us to be with God in heaven – the very reason for which Christ came into the world.

As I end, I pray, of course, for the good bodily health of all here. But I pray also for the good health of the soul. For that, I think, is far more important … that is the health that when your life on this earth ends will bring you to live forever with God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.