Monday, October 18, 2010

Into another's shoes

Little shoes

It was Atticus in Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird who said:
"... you never really understand a man unless you step inside his shoes and walk around in them." 
Last week at the Cork, Cloyne & Ross Clergy Conference I learnt a lot.  The speaker was Nick Baines, Bishop of Croydon and he spoke to us on "Old message, new media: communicating the Gospel in the digital age".  Key points included understanding what it was like for the person who has no experience of church or theological language coming into a church service and how alien an experience it can be for them.   How do we present and share the gospel with a 16 year old and / or someone from a completely different background or cultural environment than our own?  What language do we use, does it make sense?

Another point Bishop Nick made was the importance of engaging with people through blogging, Twitter, Facebook etc.  It was like the penny finally dropped for me; yes I have been blogging for a while but now I see a greater purpose in it.  Likewise I have been on Facebook and Twitter for some time, but have never really got going with either.  Now even in the past few days I have found myself joining in a debate with some Atheists on Facebook - what an opportunity this is, to share the gospel with people who are never going to go anywhere near a church!  Compared to many I do not get huge numbers of visitors to my blog, but the numbers reading my sermons on line would fill all the church pews several times over - this is exciting stuff but it will only work if I am able to communicate in a way that those who I am trying to engage with understand what I am trying to say.  That of course is a huge challenge...

Monday, October 11, 2010

The AIB in Schull

Cape Clear Island - South Harbour

AIB Schull

On a visit to Cape Clear Island a couple of years ago a particular field on a steep slope behind the Youth Hostel was pointed out to me.  It was nothing special to look at (rougly near where the top photo was taken from).  I was told that this was the site of the former Church of Ireland church, which had been dismantled in the 1930's - and that the stone was taken and used to build the AIB bank in Schull.  

There was a time, I am sure, when it was beyond the comprehension of the people involved that the church building would ever be dismantled and yet that time came.  It was no longer financially viable to keep the church open, numbers had fallen and the stones (which had come from Cornwall) had to be dismantled.  

There was a time too when the AIB (along with the other banks) seemed totally secure.  Banks (like churches) were built with stone to convey solidity, security and permanency.  Yet it seems that were it not for our children (and goodness knows how many further generations down the line that will be paying to keep the banks open for business) then they also would be going the way that the Church on Cape Clear did all those years ago...

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Remembering to say 'thank you'.

I have not had much time for blogging recently.  I have put together several 'posts' in my head but have not got around to creating them yet.  In the meantime here's today's sermon (the usual caveats of poor grammar and bad syntax apply!)  Oh, and if I can think of a suitable photo I'll put it up later...

Text:  Luke 17:11-19

Mother Theresa told this story to a gathering in 1994: ‘One evening we went out, and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. I told the sisters, "You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worst."

So I did for her all that my love could do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said two words only: "Thank you." Then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: What would I say if I were in her place? And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said, "I am hungry, I am dying, I am in pain," or something. But she gave me much more; she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face. Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.’[1]

Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.  How good are we at saying ‘thank you’?  Sometimes we forget ourselves, we are like the child with a present that tears off the wrapping paper and runs off with the new toy and forgets to say ‘thank you’ to the person who has just given them the gift!  Think of the times you have opened a door for someone and they have just breezed on through as if you were their slave and not said a word of thanks!  Do we remember to say ‘thank you’ to those who love us and care about us for all that they do, whether it be cooking us meals, washing our clothes or going out to work so that there is money to put food on the table? 

In our reading from Luke’s gospel, we see that the Lord Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem.  He is journeying towards that city where He will be crucified and where He will rise again.  He is on his way to die for my sins and yours.  As He does so he comes into a village where there is a colony of ten men who have Leprosy.  Leprosy in those days was the number-one dreaded disease.  Today we fear Cancer and we fear Heart Disease, in those days they dreaded Leprosy, a disease that was (and is) caused by a bacteria.   Pale patches on the skin were usually the first sign of the disease then other complications occurred as the disease progressed. Numbness and lack of feeling in the limbs often led to festering wounds on the hands and feet, and then to the characteristic deformities of the face and limbs. This led to stigma towards those affected and their families, causing them to be shunned and excluded from everyday life.[2] 

So these ten men that the Lord comes across are living in isolation, away from their wives and children, away from their community.  They must be very lonely; it would be an awful existence.  They call out to Jesus:

‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ (v13)

Jesus’ reply doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to us at first, so lets have a look at it.  He says:

‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ (v14)

Back then, the way that it worked was that if a persons leprosy went into remission, if they were healed then they would have to go back to the priest before they could be declared clean and fit to live in their community once more.  So the Lord is not beating about the bush here.  He does not deliver a sermon, pass round the collection plate  and then pray for their healing.  He simply tells them to go to the priest.  All ten men knew what Jesus was saying and so they did as He told them.  Not one of them said, “Yeah right, I don’t believe you.”  All ten had faith in Jesus, because it was not until they responded in faith that they were healed.  Luke puts it like this: 

And as they went, they were made clean. (v15)

Now, like the child who in their excitement forgets to say ‘thank you’ for the birthday present, the men run off.  They have been imprisoned with this disease for so long, they can’t wait to get home, to see their wives and children.  They never thought they would see their homes again and yet here they are, healed and made whole.  Wouldn’t that be the most wonderful thing?  Would you not just run and shout and jump for joy? 

But only one man remembers to thank the Lord Jesus.  He falls at Jesus’ feet and thanks Him.  This man is grateful.  Then Luke drops the bombshell - this man was a Samaritan! The Jewish people and the Samaritans hated each other.  From a Jewish perspective the Samaritans were unclean, although originally Jews, their ancestors had intermarried with Gentiles, they had their own temple and style of worship and they were outcasts.  This man was not a member of the Select Vestry, he was not even a member of the General Vestry, his name was not even on the Parish list!  He was an outsider.  But Jesus came to save any who would come to him, Jew, Samaritan, Gentile, any who would respond to Him in repentance and faith. It should have been the insiders who said thank you to Jesus, but they ran off, they took Jesus for granted and off they went. 

17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’

Why do we do it?  Why do we take God for granted?  If we are honest, we find a pattern as we examine our lives and our relationship with God.  We see that there are times when we are thankful, when we do pray and when we do worship with fervent hearts.  We have no problem showing our gratitude.  But there will be other times, perhaps the majority of the time when we do not.  We just cruise though life, hardly praying, hardly worshipping, hardly showing any gratitude at all.  Then Bang! Something goes wrong, we get bad news from the doctor or from our employer or from a relative or friend and we are back on our knees praying with all our heart once again.  A few days, weeks, months later, the problem has passed, the prayers have been answered and what do we do, we slowly fade in our daily devotion to God, slowly, but surely His Lordship of our life slips and downwards we go until something else happens.  How do we solve this?  One word:  Discipline.  We make sure that we have a regular time and a regular place of prayer and Bible study, preferably in the same place, so that that chair or that room or that part of the garden becomes our sacred space.  We do this even and especially when we don’t feel like it.  Don’t just pray when you want to, pray when you don’t want to.  Don’t just say ‘thank you’ to Jesus when it is easy, say ‘thank you’ to Jesus when it is not easy. 

Pastor Rinkhart[3] was a Minister of a church in Prussia from 1619 to 1649, during the Thirty Years War[4].  From the year the war began until the year the war ended, he was the minister in the same walled city.  Many refugees from the war flocked into his city to find safety inside as the battles raged around them.  His town was overrun with poverty, the plague, and all the perils of war.  It was awful.  It was hell on earth.  By the end of the thirty years war he was the only minister left in town alive; all the other clergy had died, so he alone was to bury the plagued villages and refugees from war. Somewhere in the middle of all of that suffering, he wrote a hymn, “Now, thank we all our God; with hearts and hands and voices; who wondrous things hath done; in whom this world rejoices.  Who from our mother’s arms, has blessed us on our way, with countless gifts of love and still is ours today.”  Incredible, isn’t it amazing that he was able to be so thankful in the midst of such suffering because he kept his eyes on the Lord Jesus.  It is a great miracle when the human heart is healed of ingratitude, when we can be filled with daily thanksgiving God and others..... for God’s countless gifts of love.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, I lay myself at your feet and with all my heart I thank you for all that you have done in my life.  I thank you for forgiving me; I thank you for saving me, for loving me and for washing me clean.  Help me Lord to follow you, teach me to be your disciple and to show you how very thankful I am by living my life, all of my life everyday … for You. Amen. 


Sunday, October 3, 2010

Encouragement for the journey


(Photo from the Sheep's Head walk for Christian Aid last month)

A couple of people actually read last weeks effort, so for anyone that may be interested, here is this mornings sermon.

Text:  2 Timothy 1:1-14

Have you ever watched or taken part in a long distance endurance test, you know something like a sponsored walk from Malin Head to Mizen Head, a cross-channel swim, the Cork, Dublin or London Marathon, or crossing the Himalayas on a pogo stick!?  One of the things that they all have in common (apart from making the participants very tired) is that they all have support teams.  There will be a crew of people backing up the walkers, providing food, drink and perhaps shelter.  There may also be a crowd along the way, clapping and cheering as the participants pass by, giving encouragement “well done”, “keep going”, “Only 4000 Kilometres to go” and so on. 

The Christian life is in many ways a bit like a long endurance race.  We will sometimes find the going tough, we may even want to give up, drop out completely or hail a taxi to take us to the finish line!  One of the things that makes it easier is when we encourage one another.  I just love it when I hear that happening, when you take the time and the effort to look after your fellow travellers and ask how they are doing and help them in different ways, encourage them to persevere and pray for them.  This is one of the reasons why the Tuesday morning and Thursday evening groups work so well for those that take part; they are places of encouragement.  People always come away encouraged and built up in their faith. 

As we look at the reading today from 2 Timothy, we see that Timothy, a young church leader has a very tough job to do.  Without support, it would be fair to say that Timothy would not have lasted the distance, yet the letters he receives from the Apostle Paul (who is in prison in Rome), spur him on and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, he is given the power and energy and strength to persevere. 

Right in the first verse, Paul puts the Gospel in a nutshell; it is “the promise of life”.  Outside of what Jesus did for us upon the cross there is no promise of life.  Without Christ we are completely lost and without any hope, yet the gift of God is forgiveness and eternal life.

Then in verse 3, Paul writes: 

I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 

Wow, Imagine that, having the Apostle Paul pray for you, wouldn’t that be great!  Perhaps we underestimate the importance of praying for each other.  I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your prayers for my family and for me “Please Lord help Daniel with his work, help him to get round all the visits he needs to do, get to all the meetings he needs to be at and let his sermon not be so long this week Amen!”  Let us always pray for each other, for our family members, friends and even people whom we don’t know.  I’m sure that in heaven we will be stunned at the effect our prayers had in the purposes of God’s Kingdom, how God used our weakness to perform mighty acts of greatness.  Never underestimate the power of prayer. 

Timothy came from a godly home.  Paul writes that

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.  (v 5)

The love of Jesus was there in Timothy’s younger days.  He saw how important this faith was to his grandmother and mother.  Timothy grew up in the Lord.  How important it is for us to make sure that our children ‘grow up in the Lord’, that we show them a godly example of how to live and that we teach them to pray and teach them to read the Bible and show them how to be godly, to be loving to others, to be forgiving and gentle, yet strong in faith and courage.  I know how difficult this is and we can only begin to do it with God’s help, but I am convinced that all the effort that we put into trying to bring up our children to know and love the Lord Jesus will not be in vain.  Our children may not turn out the way we want them to, but if they can just acknowledge God in their life then ultimately that is all that matters. 

As the weather begins to turn cold once more some of you may have already lit your first fire for several months.  Some people just seem to have a gift when it comes to lighting a fire.  Many times I have a fire all set, I have a good amount of dry kindling and newspaper and it is all looking good.  I light the match and it all starts off well, the fire roars into life then in no time at all the flame dies down and there is just a bit of smoke hanging on and it is all looking rather pathetic.  Then Sonja comes in, gives me a look of pity, and in less than a minute I have to stand back because the heat of the fire is so great! 

The Apostle Paul likens Timothy’s spiritual gift to a fire.  He says:  

 I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. (6b, 7)

We don’t know especially what Timothy’s gift is, but the same truth applies to us also.  What gifts do you have?  What has God made you good at?  Gifts tend to fade in strength when they are not used or encouraged, so whatever gift you have make sure you use it and when you do, give all the credit and glory to God, because a gift is just that, a gift.  There are lots of people at the moment helping to make the Alpha course we are doing go so well, including those with the gift of hospitality.  They are using that gift so well that the Grace Centre feels such a welcoming and homely place (not to mention the fact that I have probably put on half a stone since the course has started)! 

It seems that Timothy was (understandably) a bit overawed by the responsibilities entrusted to him.  Ephesus was a city where few people had any sympathy for Christ; there was much persecution and opposition to the Christians there.  Paul reminds Timothy to rekindle, to get the fire going again, to be strong in the Lord, not to rely on his own strength and power, but Gods strength and power.  The word ‘cowardice’ in the Greek means someone who flees from the battle, who will not stand up to the fight.  How often has this been true of us, that we have not spoken up when we should have done?  How often have we neglected to tell someone of God’s love and forgiveness, how often have we fled from the battle?  I can think of many times when I should have spoken up on something but didn’t, so I am encouraged by this verse and I hope you are too; God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 

We know that in our own strength we are simply not able, we do not have the ability to use our God-given gifts, we are naturally cowards who run away from the battle, we are lacking in love and we have the self-discipline of a sloth!  Verse 8 though gives us the answer:

‘…relying on the power of God’ 

That’s it, that’s the secret.  Relying on the power of God.  Have you ever run out of petrol and had to push your car?  It’s not easy is it?  It is possible (especially with a bit of help) to move the car, but it will move very slowly and only for a short distance.  When we do not rely on the power of God it is like we are running on empty!  We need His power and we get this power when we surrender to Him, when we hand over control of our lives to Him.  Let us pray:

Here I am Lord, I give you everything, my whole life and all that I am.  All my plans, wishes and desires I give to you.  Leave no stone unturned.  Lord, please heal me of my selfishness and forgive me for the countless times I have sinned.  Cleanse me through the power of the cross, wash me from the inside out.  Lord I am yours, use me for the glory of your name and by your grace to make a real difference in this world for you.  Fill me with your Spirit that I may not be afraid to speak about you and to help people in your name, to live out the gospel everyday in all that I say and all that I do and I ask this in the name of your Son, my Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen. 

Friday, October 1, 2010



He draws up the water vapour
and then distills it into rain.
The rain pours down from the clouds,
and everyone benefits.

(Job 36:27-28)

Photo taken on the Cork Kerry border on the N71 between Kenmare and Glengarriff.