Candlemas – The Presentation

Candlemas – The Presentation

The feast we celebrate today has many names; the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the Meeting of the Lord, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, …. Candlemas – based on the tradition of the priest blessing beeswax candles on February 2nd for use throughout the year, some of which were distributed to the faithful for use in the home. Candles light our processions and stand on our altars, candles are with us at the time of our departing, at our funerals as a symbol of hope and light, but above all candles are with us at our baptisms, all our baptisms.

For if Christ is the light of the world, to the darkness in the world he brings hope and love and light. We too as Christians are meant to be a light to others – to carry the love and light of Christ to all whom we meet.

What is your passion? – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany 2023

What is your passion? – 3rd Sunday of Epiphany 2023

As the new year starts, advertisers often ask us to look ahead. January may be grey and dull we are told; it is dark and cold when you get up, and the same before you finish for the day. But just think, in the summer you could be on a beach, bathed in sunshine, far away from the realities of today. And, of course, it plays to our weaknesses. Our dissatisfaction with January needs little help or encouragement. But in all this looking forward we are blinding ourselves to the possibilities of life now.

Instead we might give thought to what energises us, what gives us meaning, what is our passion – now. For life is to be lived, not tomorrow – but today.

Who would you be? – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany 2023

Who would you be? – 2nd Sunday of Epiphany 2023

Jesus said ‘Come and see’.

What if he hadn’t? What if Jesus had not called Andrew and Simon. He would have found other disciples of course. But for Andrew and Simon, what would life have been like for them if he had neither spoken to them or called upon them to follow?

By extension we might ask the same question of ourselves. How would your life be different if you were not a Christian? If you had never been a Christian, what would your life be like? Where would you be, who would you know and love? What would you be doing, what would you be thinking and saying – what difference would it make – who would you be?

What is your Epiphany? – Epiphany Sunday 2023

What is your Epiphany? – Epiphany Sunday 2023

Apart from their names, over the centuries, the three Magi also developed distinct characteristics in Christian tradition, as new generations added new symbolisms and discovered new meanings in the story, so that between them they came to represent the three ages of (adult) man, three geographical and cultural areas, and sometimes other aspects as well.

We accompany them on their journey for we are pilgrims too, on our own holy journey. The journey through life, the journey in faith, the journey into the mystery of eternity.

And what Epiphany, what discoveries might we encounter in our own time?

The business of our lives | 1st Sunday after Christmas 2023

The business of our lives | 1st Sunday after Christmas 2023

As we look to the future in our lives and for our churches we might reflect what is the core business of our church and our faith. For a church that merely looks inward can never truly be called a church. In much the same way as the dead partner of Ebenezer Scrooge, Jacob Marley reflects on the business of his life in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’: “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.

What is the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas?

What is the ‘true’ meaning of Christmas?

Jesus did not come to us as a powerful warrior, or as a ruler; he was neither rich or powerful or even particularly accepted in his day. Indeed, Jesus was rejected by so many in his lifetime precisely because he did not meet the expectations of a glorious deliverer – who they believed should be mighty, and military; who should sweep all before him, commanding armies and nations and people.

It is often said that in our present day we have lost the true meaning of Christmas. If that is true, then we clearly stand in a very, very long tradition of misunderstanding not only the purpose of Christmas, but also of the coming of Christ himself. So what is – the true meaning of Christmas?

A new humanity – 4th Sunday of Advent

A new humanity – 4th Sunday of Advent

By tradition, on the fourth Sunday of Advent we say prayers for Mary; we light the fourth Advent candle in her honour, we recall that she is to bear a child, under frightening circumstances, being little more than a child herself. 

Patriarchal societies can sometimes be cruel and unjust, especially to women. But such has been the culture and practice of countless numbers of men throughout history – who have bullied, abused, intimidated and dominated their way through life, when in fact it was a woman who bore them and gave them life and so often extended to them acts of kindness that they little deserved and most certainly did not repay. But this, as it turns out, was not Joseph’s way. What can we learn from the examples of both Mary and Joseph?

Our faith is never secure – 3rd Sunday of Advent 2022

Our faith is never secure – 3rd Sunday of Advent 2022

For some time John the Baptist had been preaching, echoing Isaiah’s words of ‘the one who is to come’. Knowing that his time was drawing to an undoubtedly violent end, but at this stage still able to receive visitors in prison, John sent some friends to enquire of Jesus ‘Are you the one, of whom I have been speaking? Is it you that I have been pointing to, praying for?’

Years after these events, the small Jewish Christian community of which Matthew was the leader was trying to work out why this question was still being asked by some, and why Jesus and the beauty of his message of the Kingdom were still so widely rejected, both by his people generally and by the most powerful in the land especially, including the religious authorities to whom they looked for acceptance. Perhaps in our own age we can draw a kind of comfort from the fact that faith has never been easy, its future never secure.

Crying out to be free – 2nd Sunday of Advent

Crying out to be free – 2nd Sunday of Advent

‘…the voice crying out in the wilderness’. What a powerful phrase that is, it speaks of a yearning, of a need so deeply felt that it erupts from inside, a cry for justice, for deliverance, for humanity in the face of cruelty, for peace in the face of violence, for freedom in the face of oppression. In the desert of human suffering, in the wilderness of pain, a voice cries out. At this time in Advent, why do we hear of John the Baptist? Is his call for repentance all that Advent is about – or is there more?

Finding our real self – Advent Sunday

Finding our real self – Advent Sunday

It has become a cliche to say that Advent is a time of preparation, especially as we so often seem to prepare for the expected rather than the unexpected. But what does it even mean to prepare? Are we being invited to make temporary and external arrangements, are the changes to be practical, visible but extrinsic? Is this to be but a brief hiatus before we return, once more, to ’normal’? Or are we being invited on a journey of transformation that is essentially intrinsic, perhaps even private and invisible to others, but which for us helps to uncover and discover our true selves, the true ‘us’ inside. Isn’t that what Jesus meant when he called us to life ‘in all its fullness’?

The Kingdom of Christ

The Kingdom of Christ

Due to illness – this week we have a short video meditation.
For the festival of Christ the King, this poem entitled ’The Kingdom’ was written by R.S. Thomas 1913-2000.

Remembrance Sunday 2022

Remembrance Sunday 2022

Today we make an act of commemoration but not celebration; we hold in our prayers those who have died and suffered in two world wars, in countless regional conflicts since, and in peace-keeping duties across the world. We mourn their loss and their suffering; the failure of politics and diplomacy that led to their sacrifice on the altar of human pride, obstinacy and indifference, and we also confess the darkness in our own hearts that all too often gives way to anger and seeks retribution. We pray that humanity may, before it is too late, consign war to the sins of history, and instead walk the ways of conciliation and peace.

We are all a bit cracked

We are all a bit cracked

The video was recorded in Montesinho, Northeastern Portugal at A Lagosta Perdida (https://lagostaperdida.com). The poem comes from ‘the state of us’ a first collection of poetry by Larry Doherty – ISBN: 978-1-5272-7173-9. Larry Doherty’s debut collection of poetry is eclectic, nuanced and powerful. It reflects his thoughts and feelings on life in these challenging, turbulent, watershed times.

All Saints & All Souls | Does charity really begin at home?

All Saints & All Souls | Does charity really begin at home?

Perhaps one of the hidden dangers of keeping ‘All Saints Sunday’ is to project their goodness away from ourselves. To see sainthood as rarely bestowed, exceptionally lived out, the province of the miraculous and extraordinary. Examples perhaps, but ones that shouldn’t trouble us too much as they are so far removed from the normal, the average, the everyday human condition – hardly human at all, divine, godlike creatures. But the proximity of the feasts of All Saints and that of All Souls reminds us that the witness and example of the few, must also be reflected in the witness and example of the many. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain confronts us with stark choices, for does charity really begin at home?

The Reality in the Eucharist – Last Sunday after Trinity

The Reality in the Eucharist – Last Sunday after Trinity

Christ was the word that spake it. He took the bread and brake it; and what his words did make it, that I believe and take it.

These words are famously attributed to Elizabeth the first when she was asked in Queen Mary’s reign what she believed to be happening in the Eucharist. In fact, it is a quote from John Donne’s Divine Poems – On the Sacrament. Today we focus on the sacrament itself, its meaning and implications for us, how in the Eucharist, Communion, we encounter Jesus in a way that we do at no other time. But what do we mean by Christ being present? And are more than bread and wine transformed?

Let justice roll down like waters – 18th Sunday after Trinity

Let justice roll down like waters – 18th Sunday after Trinity

Jesus tells the story of the so-called unjust judge – a story unique to the Gospel of Luke. From the language that he uses it is clear that Luke is not relating a parable about a particular judge, but a stock character, an archetype. The casting of a widow in the story heightens the listener’s sense of the judge’s wickedness. In Israel of the time, as in any patriarchal, agricultural economy the most vulnerable type of people were invariably orphans, strangers and widows, without land to their name – at the mercy of the powerful.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said: “What is the gospel if not a gospel of justice” We might re-phrase that and also ask ‘What is our church, if not a church of justice’. We might further ask ourselves, can that truly be said of me and my church?

The Wisdom of Strangers – 17th Sunday after Trinity, 2022

The Wisdom of Strangers – 17th Sunday after Trinity, 2022

As the author, Aldous Huxley once said “Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted”.

And if that is true of our everyday lives how much more true it is of our spiritual lives? For we can all get caught up in the routine, the familiarity of it all, the expected.

In today’s gospel by using the example of Jesus’ encounter with the faithful ‘outsider’, Luke is powerfully warning the Jewish people of his time, but also us and anyone who cares to listen, of the danger of taking some of the most important blessings of our lives for granted. Do we truly see and hear what is around and within us? Are we willing to learn from the one who is different?

Faith’s warning label -16th Sunday after Trinity

Faith’s warning label -16th Sunday after Trinity

By chapter 17 of Luke’s gospel, we are now approaching the end of what is called the journey narrative. Jesus’s disciples will soon welcome him into Jerusalem, for some brief moments of triumph, and so it is fitting that the main focus of his teaching now moves to them. By now his audience is well primed to favour the ‘poor’ over those of riches and privilege. But, just because you might be considered among the more blessed poor, Jesus warns them, don’t think for a moment that you are exempt from responsibility and judgement. Even in the Kingdom there is opportunity for scandal and the need for repentance and forgiveness. How might that warning apply to us in our own time and very different circumstances?

Which side of the gate is safest? – 15th Sunday after Trinity

Which side of the gate is safest? – 15th Sunday after Trinity

The idea of the ‘gated community’ has grown enormously in recent years. They are a symptom of societies that are so divided, so unequal, with such a small proportion of those who might be called well off and a vast number of those living in poverty, where such communities fear that at any moment the dreadful reality of their society could come crashing into their lives and homes. Gated communities are an attempt to deny the truth, to create a bubble of existence, that shuts its ears and eyes to the pain and suffering of society, in which one is actually involved and of which one might be also a cause. In today’s gospel reading Jesus confronts the timeless reality of injustice and indifference.

Showing who we are – 14th Sunday after Trinity

Showing who we are – 14th Sunday after Trinity

In Amos, the guilty are directly addressed – “…. you that trample on the needy and bring ruin to the poor of the land.”

And as he continues to travel towards Jerusalem, preaching as he goes, Jesus tells those with him just what it means to be a ‘disciple’.

Many of those with him would be the poor, the outcast, the oppressed, so a story about a rich man, moreover the most hated kind of all, the absentee landlord, would go down well. The master directs the cruel policy, the manager, the steward enacts it.

A tragic story not unknown in this land too.

And Jesus goes on to speak of money, how in their case, but also how for us, our attitudes to money can reveal who we are.

Lost, and found again – 13th Sunday after Trinity 2022

Lost, and found again – 13th Sunday after Trinity 2022

Jesus tells the parable of the hundred sheep, the ninety-nine in the shepherd’s care and the one who has wandered away and become lost.
The Pharisees and the scribes were quite certain, totally reassured, without any doubt, that they were the ninety-nine and that those of whom they so readily disapproved were the lost. No doubt there are some Christians today, equally convinced that they stand in the full and enduring glow of God’s approval, that they are the elect, the favoured ones, the ones who are certain and guaranteed and secure. But if we are honest, and have true spiritual humility, which of us, can be in any doubt that oftentimes we are in fact the one? Hoping against hope to be found – calling out here I am, please find me – bring me home!

Are we just a drop in the ocean? | 12th Sunday after Trinity

Are we just a drop in the ocean? | 12th Sunday after Trinity

Today’s gospel message seems to create extreme pre-conditions for entry into the Kingdom: a willingness to break family ties, a willingness to face radical self-denial, and a willingness to renounce all material possessions.There may be some consolation in the fact that Luke was employing a typically Palestinian form of expression of its day, where the word ‘hate’ denotes not so much the emotion as a sense of priority, but nevertheless this is strong stuff. In wrestling with the passage we need to confront our notions of self, of society at large and lastly what, who, how we conceive God to be. We may come up with different answers to the people of Luke’s day – as well we might. What does it mean to be a drop in the ocean?

Exposing the great deception | 11th Sunday after Trinity

Exposing the great deception | 11th Sunday after Trinity

Sadly, in our modern world we have bought the great lie. The great deception. The famously wealthy businessman and politician, Nelson Rockefellor was once asked “how much money does one need in order to be happy?” His answer – “Just a little bit more.”

Coveting is based on fear, fear that only our possessions guarantee security, fear that we have nothing that we can put in place of the great lie. Coveting today is not only condoned, it is promoted and praised. We are told to be demanding customers, for whom good is never good enough. To be discontented. Except maybe that small still voice inside, telling us that we surely are meant for higher things.

So how then, can we be truly free?

All are free or none are free | 10th Sunday after Trinity

All are free or none are free | 10th Sunday after Trinity

In the time of Jesus illness was not just a terrible burden in a time of primitive medicine, but also seen as a sign of guilt and divine punishment; freedom from illness as a sign of virtue and of moral worth. In today’s gospel the synagogue leader castigates Jesus for performing an act of healing on the Sabbath – his piety and fixity on the rules cancelling out his compassion. Jesus, on the other hand, speaks not only of healing, but also of setting free, of emancipation from the strictures of false piety and prejudice. Are we prepared to follow his example?

Fighting the right battles – 9th Sunday after Trinity

Fighting the right battles – 9th Sunday after Trinity

You only have to look at the issues of gender and sexuality to see how churches have become obsessed with fighting changes that wider society has long since adopted and recognised as moral progress. The irony is that there are real battles to fight. Many today live in denial of their own spiritual needs, of the need to feel connections beyond themselves, to their community and the world that surrounds them, to the landscape, the creatures that we so often treat as mere things for our use and the environment that we continue to pollute and abuse. How can we as disciples recapture some of the passion and energy of the heroes of the Christian faith, and provide true moral leadership, without regressing into some of the narrow-mindedness and judgmentalism of the past?

Who are you? Who will you be? – 8th Sunday after Trinity

Who are you? Who will you be? – 8th Sunday after Trinity

In writing his gospel Luke has a number of issues to address. As eye witnesses of Jesus’ life and teaching are passing away, he wants to leave a lasting record and legacy of those days, he wants the gospel, the good news to be freely available to all who are ready to hear, and also he wants to stiffen the sinews of those who continue to follow Christ, to put iron in their resolve, to bolster their determination. So he relates the story of the householder and the servant, part encouragement and part admonition and warning. In our own way, we too are subject to the same concerns and obstacle to our own spiritual growth. What is holding us back from becoming the person we are meant to Be?

What is rich? Is it a sin? – 7th Sunday after Trinity

What is rich? Is it a sin? – 7th Sunday after Trinity

A gospel that preaches “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” and “Alas for you who are rich, you have had your time of happiness” can cause us to shift uneasily in our seats. For in reality who of us, using a comparative measure, is not rich? The term ‘rich’ is rather imprecise. By comparison to the starving even those with a loaf of bread are rich, would it not appear that Christianity and particularly St. Luke’s gospel carries an almost universal condemnation?

But something changed between the short-lived and urgent days of Jesus’s ministry and the faith as it came to be considered by the writers of the gospels and Acts. Is it a sin to be rich? Is it a virtue to be poor? How are we to live lives usually considerably longer than Jesus and his disciples? Do the lessons of Luke’s day have something to teach us in our own time?

How can the Kingdom come? – 6th Sunday after Trinity

How can the Kingdom come? – 6th Sunday after Trinity

One could argue that each era of the Church has been typified by an emphasis, an over emphasis of one aspect of the Trinity to the detriment of the other – interacting with great tidal movements in human history; in part shaping them, but also being shaped by them.The earliest church was a Jesus movement, founded by his closest disciples, people with personal experience of him, who then handed on to the next generation who remained faithful to a person who they had never met, but who still felt close enough almost to touch.

Almost overnight, and on the whim of one particular Caesar, the Christian faith went from being the most dangerous choices one to make, to one of the safest and the most socially advantageous, no longer outlawed but out in the open, adopted by the Roman Empire as its official religion, the cult of a person transformed into a vast organisation that matched, in certain ways, the structures of power and domination that had adopted it. And a price was paid. How deep and how long that price extended is a burning question for today

Sorting our priorities? – 5th Sunday after Trinity

Sorting our priorities? – 5th Sunday after Trinity

In the story of Martha and Mary, perhaps all of us can feel rather sympathetic to Martha, some from more personal experience than others, and we might also be tempted to think that Jesus reacts, or at least Luke has Jesus reacting, rather typically as a Palestinian male of his time. He has blithely accepted the hospitality, seemingly taking such work for granted as a woman’s rightful place, whilst at the same time as he disparages its value. Would he prefer to have gone hungry?

So, I can see how this story has the potential to be rather irritating to all those people who selflessly and often without the credit that they deserve, give so much to the church and their community behind the scenes.

On the other hand, we could read this story rather differently. But not focusing too literally on the words reportedly exchanged, but on the lesson that Luke is trying to teach, both to his readers at the time, and also to us.

Can we become sanctuary? – 4th Sunday after Trinity

Can we become sanctuary? – 4th Sunday after Trinity

Today’s gospel reading lays out in one short story, not only the very essence of the Christian faith, but also its connection with the past and the profound change that it ushers in as Jesus both evokes that which has gone before at the same time that he radically breaks with it. For Jesus stands within a great continuity, but he also represents in himself and in his teaching a great disruption, a refining clarity of mind that is able to strip the faith to its absolute essentials.

We like to think that we would always be the people to welcome Jesus if he knocked at our door, and if he asked to stay, we would surely invite him in. But are we really prepared for him to turn our lives upside down, are we ready to make the changes he would require, the sacrifices he would expect? What if it turns out, that we might be the wolves? Are we ready to set Jesus free, or would we decide to lock him up?

Keeping Jesus locked away – 3rd Sunday after Trinity

Keeping Jesus locked away – 3rd Sunday after Trinity

In the Gospel reading Jesus says: “Go! I am sending you like lambs among wolves…… Whenever you go into a town and are made welcome, eat what is set before you, heal the sick in that town, and say to the people there, “The Kingdom of God has come near you.’ ”.

We like to think that we would always be the people to welcome Jesus if he knocked at our door, and if he asked to stay, we would surely invite him in. But are we really prepared for him to turn our lives upside down, are we ready to make the changes he would require, the sacrifices he would expect? What if it turns out, that we might be the wolves? Are we ready to set Jesus free, or would we decide to lock him up?

Faltering first steps – 2nd Sunday after Trinity

Faltering first steps – 2nd Sunday after Trinity

On his way to Jerusalem Jesus instructs his disciples in the demands and the expectations to come. Discipleship is a hard road ahead he warns, you had better be prepared for what it will require of you.
We know in our hearts that we always hold something back, out of caution, out of fear, out of the simple desire to place our own desires, our own advantage, our own comfort before the call of Jesus that we can hear, that is often repeated to us, but we have learned to temper, to compromise and to water down.
But if we can acknowledge this tendency, we are at least taking the first faltering steps towards spiritual growth and the development of our souls

One and All, Individual and Universal – 1st Sunday after Trinity

One and All, Individual and Universal – 1st Sunday after Trinity

The story of the healing of the afflicted man, sometimes referred to as the Miracle of the Gadarene Swine, is a story about one man, a profoundly personal experience, but also about the wider community of his time, the way that mental ill health and spiritual pain were both viewed, and indeed created, by the socially and politically oppressive systems of their day. We should also note the seeming disregard of the narrative towards the suffering and death of the pigs, and the terrible loss of their owners. Are they both metaphorically and literally ciphers? Is the antipathy in fact directed elsewhere? What does the story teach us about the time of Jesus, and indeed our own?

Trinity Sunday 2022 – We are our relationships

Trinity Sunday 2022 – We are our relationships

It was once said by a famous politician that ‘there is no such thing as society’, but one could counter by saying that there is actually no such thing as an individual. For our experiences of one another, temporary as those encounters may sometimes be, can well influence who we are and who we later become. And if even transient encounters can shape us, how much more profoundly might we be affected and re-made by some of the most loving and powerful relationships of our lives? We do not remain the same, we are not untouched – we grow, we are moved, we become a quite different person to the one who might have been. We live our lives, we find our meaning in and through relationship. When we look at the Trinity we see this reality already expressed, already lived, timeless and eternal.

Pentecost 2022 – Flames of Transformation

Pentecost 2022 – Flames of Transformation

People’s imaginations are ignited; they can be fired up with energy, emotions can become inflamed, someone has a fiery temper, our hearts can be on fire, we can have a burning desire to succeed, or a burning hatred. When we use the imagery, the metaphor, the meaning of fire we are saying something very clear, very dramatic. That whatever is happening goes far, far beyond the everyday, the normal the expected, the controllable. When we say something, a place, an emotion, a person, is on fire, we mean that they are energised, passionate, erupting, growing, expanding – out of control. When something is on fire it rages, it spreads, it is reaching out, running away with itself; it is wild, elemental, untamed, unstoppable. People can often ask the question ‘What actually happened at Pentecost?’ I wonder whether a more fruitful question is ‘What happened after Pentecost?’.

7th Sunday after Easter and Ascension – Our Theology is our Psychology

7th Sunday after Easter and Ascension – Our Theology is our Psychology

In the annual sweep of gospel readings we have come this week to a profound moment of change. It is still Easter, but though the story of the risen Christ continues, for the disciples at least, Jesus is no longer among them.

Whenever and however the actual events unfolded, and whether the story of the Ascension is largely symbolic and allegorical or not, it powerfully describes both a single time in history and also a universal experience. Our world and our lives are constantly in a state of change and flux, that which we felt to be fixed and permanent can often disappear before our eyes, to be replaced by new realities that we could scarcely imagine. The church too, perhaps at its best, occupies the liminal space between the world and the divine, between the temporary and the eternal. Ascension is such a time – a hinge, a turning point, a watershed, for Jesus and the disciples to be sure, but also for us, both in itself, and as a symbol of all that is both permanent and impermanent in our lives.

6th Sunday after Easter – Hearing the Spirit – Living the Spirit

6th Sunday after Easter – Hearing the Spirit – Living the Spirit

How many times have we heard people speak of the Spirit moving them to a certain course of action, only to notice that it is indeed a fortunate coincidence that the Spirit and their own self-interest and prejudices seem to be so neatly in tune? As Galatians exhorts us, are we patient and kind, generous, faithful, gentle of heart and action and speech, do we hold back from advancing our own comfort and instead seek the comfort of others? Or do we create false boundaries around ourselves, and see some people as less than, not as worthy or as loved by God because they come from a different country, speak a different language, worship God in different ways, or perhaps they love people of they own sex, or have identities and lifestyles that we find new and strange? What role do our own personalities play in hearing the authentic call of the Spirit?

5th Sunday after Easter – The Logic of Love

5th Sunday after Easter – The Logic of Love

Of the three virtues that Paul names as over and above all, faith and hope and love, it is love that he names as the greatest. In many ways faith is not only a gift but also as an act of will. We can now see what the disciples later came to perceive, that mutual love is the hallmark of the Christian community, and without it the community cannot claim to be Christian at all. However, this love must extend beyond the demands of mutual dependence and reciprocal service, one hand washing another. It must extend beyond the group that merely cares for its own members and reach out to those beyond its boundaries and notions of what is fitting, included, or acceptable or worthy. Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members’. But if we believe this do we truly live out the logic of that statement?

4th Sunday of Easter – A choice between two Empires

4th Sunday of Easter – A choice between two Empires

‘My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.’

The feast of Dedication was a very particular festival of the Jewish year, and a very profound statement about allegiance and faithfulness, contrasted with disloyalty and betrayal. You can imagine that now under Roman rule the Feast of Dedication took on new meaning and relevance, with this time Roman pagan invaders, and those who resisted as best they could, set against some in the Jewish elite who sought to curry favour with their conquerers. In certain ways our modern world, with its accelerating inequalities and divisions resembles the Roman world of Jesus, into which he delivered his Gospel of hope and of choice. As a church and as individual Christians, those choices come starkly to us again as once they did before, though perhaps in new and updated ways.

3rd Sunday of Easter – Two Visions – One Gospel

3rd Sunday of Easter – Two Visions – One Gospel

Today’s gospel is a rather curious reading.

You might get the feeling that underneath the words on the surface there is a sub-agenda. And you would be right. On the face of it, the rather convoluted words appear to say one thing, but something else is actually taking place. Because John is drawing together some loose threads in this final narrative, this epilogue of his gospel. The main action concerns the relationship between Jesus and Peter – something needs to be put right, something needs healing; but in the background there is also ‘the beloved disciple’. The relationships are clearly complex, at times anxious, perhaps needy, certainly all too human. What can we learn from the episode itself, and the lives that the disciples then go on to lead?

2nd Sunday of Easter – The Triumph of Hope

2nd Sunday of Easter – The Triumph of Hope

On one level one could interpret today’s Gospel as being about doubt. After all the expression ‘Doubting Thomas’ has become a well-known saying – this episode in his life is in danger of defining and confining him to a stereotype – an object of scorn or at least disapproval.

But is this really an accurate impression or is it merely a cardboard cut-out, one-dimensional portrayal of the real man. What do we really know about him, and the entirety of his life? And if there is more, much more to the story, then what can we learn, about him, and about ourselves?

Easter Sunday 2022 – Faith decluttered

Easter Sunday 2022 – Faith decluttered

We now live through a time when Christianity seems under threat as never before, at least in the West, but through violent attack or suppression but through indifference, scepticism and the sense that the insights of philosophy, of psychology and the natural sciences have made many of its claims and historic taboos no longer relevant and no longer believable. How are Christians today to respond? By doubling-down, by defending the past errors? Or by learning from the insights and instincts of some of the earliest ages of the Christian faith, but re-examined and re-expressed for our modern age.

Palm Sunday – Faith with Humility

Palm Sunday – Faith with Humility

Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey, and is hailed by all, so Luke tells us, with cries of praise, even adoration. And yet a few days later that same crowd, we are told, were baying for his blood, this man of peace, calling for his execution, in place of a man convicted of cruelty and violence. How are we to account for this turnaround, how are to square this circle that starts with adulation and ends with condemnation? Are there merely questions to be asked about a single week, two thousand years in the past, or does that week shine a light on the present, and are there questions we need to ask today?

5th Sunday of Lent – Love without boundaries

5th Sunday of Lent – Love without boundaries

Jesus is dining with his friends, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus, now restored to life. It is a loving and intimate occasion; people who have a deep connection and understanding. The Passover approaches, people are making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. There is expectancy in the air, excitement, but also the stress of being in strange places, having to rely on strange people; for some there is even a vague and growing sense of foreboding. Certainly Mary, perhaps more intuitive than the others, seems to sense it, even at an unconscious level. She kneels before Jesus and anoints his feet, note not his head but his feet, with, we are, told the costly ointment of pure nard. In fact so costly that its value equated to a year’s average salary. She also dries him with her hair. Are we meant to take the story literally, or is there a deeper meaning that John is trying to communicate in a theatrical way?

Mothering Sunday 2022

Mothering Sunday 2022

We are half-way through Lent. And this Sunday we leave the strictures aside for a day, to take stock and re-group as it were, for the final three week push to Easter. Keeping ‘Mother’s Day’ is in itself a good thing to do, to say thanks for all that Mums do, but celebrating ‘Mothering Sunday’ is of a quite different order; it has deeper roots and even greater meaning.

And particularly at this time, in this year, in this month, the emotions, the opinions and the actions of mothers may have an enduring influence, not only on our own lives, but on the course of history. We might yet learn what mothers can achieve, when the cruelty of man meets the overlooked, underestimated, but relentless power of mothers.

Third Sunday of Lent – The injustice of suffering

Third Sunday of Lent – The injustice of suffering

In the time of Jesus there was a widespread belief that suffering and misfortune were a sign of God’s displeasure and punishment, indeed many religions and cultures have clung to some form of ‘karmic determinism’ where we are deemed to be rewarded or punished according to our worth and our actions. Let us be frank we can even fall prey to the same superstitious beliefs today, despite the fact that our past century has witnessed terrible injustices, on a vast scale, where the victims suffered systematic and impersonal violence, wholly unconnected with their individual character, values or behaviour. This is partially what Luke is trying to communicate, by reporting these words of Jesus, but he is also, of course, looking back at Jesus’ teaching, after the destruction of Jerusalem, an event that happened nearly forty years after Jesus’ arrest and execution. Our hindsight is of a vastly increased length, and seen through cataclysmic events of our own time. How are we to understand suffering, is it punishment, are the victims really to blame?

2nd Sunday of Lent – Holy and Dangerous

2nd Sunday of Lent – Holy and Dangerous

Violence in and against places of worship around the world has been steadily rising in the last two decades. Tragically the conclusion one must draw is that the holiest places known to man are also some of the most dangerous places on earth. The very sites that are symbols of peace and faith and devotion, self-sacrifice and prayer, are also drenched in blood and violence and hatred.

There is a whole world of difference between a faith firmly, devoutly yet humbly held…… and a faith that brooks no opposition, a faith that sees no other way than its own, that mocks and denigrates and holds up as inferior and evil those who do not exactly share each and every minute article of faith. Fitting then, at Lent, that we should reflect on the sin and weakness that leads to such desecration.

First Sunday of Lent – Renouncing Violence, Defeating Violence

First Sunday of Lent – Renouncing Violence, Defeating Violence

In Jewish mythology the Exodus from Egypt catapulted into freedom a people who had been oppressed and enslaved. According to the legend, it was into the desert that Moses had led a group of slaves. Oppressed and bewildered, terrified and doubting, but by the end of the story of their journey through the wilderness, they were a nation, the people of Israel. The people of God. In the time of Jesus brutality and dictatorship was once again oppressing the people.

The choice before Jesus was to submit or answer violence with violence – he chose neither, and defined a new and ultimately victorious and enduring path. In the suffering of the Ukrainian people, their courage and endurance, we see some of that ancient history being replayed – the oppressor seeking to strip a population of their identity but only achieving the opposite – the rise, the affirming, the founding of a people – a nation.

Sunday before Lent – Thinking outside the box

Sunday before Lent – Thinking outside the box

Today we hear that Jesus takes three disciples – Peter, John and James – on a mountain to pray. There, we are told, Peter sees Jesus transfigured: His face changes, and his clothes become startlingly white. In his bewilderment, Peter proposes that three tents be made, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. It is an odd thing to propose – but he is trying to interpret what is happening and who Jesus is, according to established customs – to fit the strange and the new into the traditional and the familiar, perhaps even to constrain and control what is happening. How often are we tempted to do the same thing – to resist the unexpected, to contain the extraordinary, to damp down the fire of the Spirit?

2nd Sunday before Lent – Brave the Storm

2nd Sunday before Lent – Brave the Storm

In the west of Ireland, we have our fair share of storms. Storms, quite literally, ‘go with the territory’. But they do remind us of the tremendous, untamed, unpredictable power that dwells close by, the fragility of the homes and lives that we all too often take for granted, and yet are dwarfed and overshadowed by the force of the elements. In today’s gospel story, Jesus and his disciples venture out into the sea of Galilee and a dangerous, terrifying storm suddenly arrives. To the ancient Hebrew people, the great waters acted as a metaphor for evil forces active in the world and especially for the tribulations of the just. In their mindset the sea was mysterious, elemental, which God alone could order and control. So much for the fears and superstitions of the ancients – but how can the story speak to us today?

3rd Sunday before Lent – We are not utterly fallen

3rd Sunday before Lent – We are not utterly fallen

The Kingdom of God is not something that we will one day simply be given, after we have waited long enough, suffered long enough, been patient long enough. The Kingdom of God is not to be imposed on us, as recalcitrant children, who despite it all are to be taken on a picnic. Unless we assume the duties, the sacrifices and the responsibilities of its construction. However, underlying much of traditional Christian theology is an assumption sometimes spoken, sometimes implicit, that we are incapable of doing so. The story of the Fall as an historic event, that we have lost something that we once possessed, that we need to recover a previous blessed state, is not only false, but it is bad anthropology and bad theology.

4th Sunday before Lent – If Jesus asked – what would you do?

4th Sunday before Lent – If Jesus asked – what would you do?

By the Sea of Galilee, Jesus goes up to two brothers, going about the comparatively lucrative business of fishing and tells them that he has chosen them as disciples. Conscripted, commandeered, requisitioned. James and John, the same thing, ‘Drop all that, your father and the rest of the family can keep the business going, get your coat, we’re off.’
If Jesus called you to serve him, if he came to you right now and said “whatever you are doing, stop that, follow me’ what would your answer be?

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