Our world would listen to a church that with humility but also with resolve and with wisdom, pointed us to a way of living, a way of loving, a way of being fully alive, fully human, fully at one with the God who made us and who speaks daily into the wilderness of our own hearts, if we would but listen. We are not that church. We are not that people. Yet. But we could be.
Jesus instead wants us to be whole rather than religious, he calls upon us to be loving rather than moralistic and self-righteous, to be inclusive rather than exclusive and divisive, to live life abundantly rather than be constrained and withered by guilt and shame and failure to follow impossible rules. It was this freedom, this emancipation that caused people to seek out the baptism of John, and it was this experience of limitless and indiscriminate love that compelled the multitudes to Jesus’ side and made them hang upon his words. This must be the task of the church of the future. To preach the gospel that promises us our release from captivity, from the chains that bind us and to discover the liberty, at last, to realize our full potential, our full dignity, our fullest and truest humanity.
We commence our journey through these days of Advent, leading to a destination that is not so much a finish line as it is a starting point, not so much a goal, as a waypoint on our Christian journey. A new beginning, but also a continuation. But do we need to continue the reactions and fears of the past in our own spiritual lives and our own reading of scripture? Perhaps we might understand the words of Jesus in a less literal but also more ‘revealing’ way. Advent is a good time to ask those questions…. our entire life long is the time to answer them.
Christ is a strange sort of King. By worldly reckoning kings should be dripping in jewels, living in enormous palaces with hot and cold running servants. Privileged, pampered and powerful. But the Kingship of Christ is not of this world, and not of such indulgent and transient standards. Indeed, Christianity itself cannot be judged by the corrupt and superficial measures that our society employs. For the Gospel of Christ, the Kingship of Christ turns the world upside down.
As Christians we are not called to be curators and our faith is not to be locked in a museum. Our faith is not a refuge or hiding place, or a port in a storm, but a source of challenge, of renewed energy and the courage to imagine and to create a better world. Our faith must live and grow and change and prosper – we must leave our world and our faith a little better for them having passed through our hands, for one day we too will be asked to make an account of what kind of stewards we have been.
In this service 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 and in peace-keeping duties around 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.
At ‘All Saints’ we commemmorate those who the Church has held up to us through long years of tradition and prayer as somehow having an exceptional degree of holiness, sanctity, and virtue. Some of course are legends, myths of the Christian tradition, but many were real people, who have lived and hoped and dreamed, laughed and cried, loved and lost. They might also have been selfish, like us, sinful and imperfect like us, very very human, like us. But there was something. A spark – something compelling that spoke of hope, of forgiveness of peace. At this time of year we also commemorate ‘All Soul’s’ – those who were not particularly famous, nor are they generally held as examples to many but we remember those who are so inextricably linked with us that they may well have been amongst the most important influences in our lives.
Jesus issued the two great commandments: that we should love God with all our hearts and we should love our neighbours as ourselves – on these two hang all the law and the prophets. In other words, this is it, the Christian faith pared down to the absolute essentials. Such simple sentences to say and to remember, and yet how difficult to actually live up to. Moreover, before we even start, what does it mean to love God, and quite what is entailed by loving our neighbour? What do we mean by God, and who do we mean by neighbour?
Supermarkets and the efficiency of the international trade in foodstuffs, mean that our tables and fridges groan under the weight of delicious fresh food whenever and from wherever we want. But a casualty of that surplus has been our keeping of Harvest. The older of those among us will remember when the Harvest Festivals of the past were a much more important part of local and church life. But much of that has gone, with multiple harvests, products now available throughout the year, and if the harvest is poor then the supermarkets can always import. In this way many people, especially in towns and cities, can increasingly feel disconnected from the land and from our farmers and farms. Thankfully here in western County Clare, our farmers and our farms are still close and dear to us.
In Matthew’s gospel the story of the wedding banquet is not really about a social event, but is an analogy of the the Kingdom of God. And the Kingdom does not happen by itself, but through the dedicated work of its people. To play our part in the creation of the Kingdom, we need to imagine what God’s rule and justice might look like and then seek to live according to that way and not the ways of the world that surrounds us. As Mahatma Ghandi once said ‘Be the change you would like to see in the world’. He also reminded us that “Whatever you do will be insufficient, but it is very important that you do it.”
Jesus tells us a parable of the vineyard, its owner and the faithless and wicked tenants. On the face of it the story seems fairly simple, about greed, betrayal and murder, but this is about far more than property disputes between a landowner and some ruthless tenants. For Jesus’s listeners the parable struck at the very core of what it meant to be Jewish, what the prophets should mean to them and how to build a relationship with God. For Christians since that time the story has all too often been misinterpreted and warped, with disastrous consequences for Jews and Christians alike. But there is something profound, uplifting and emancipating here – if we listen carefully.
The readings today present a challenge to all of us – perhaps especially to those who feel overly secure and established in our church attendance and dare I say it – perhaps a little too confident in our faith or at least taking it too much for granted. We are warned that whilst we may engage in the outward forms of religion, whilst our faith may show on the outside, we need to ask ourselves how much we have been changed, converted on the inside? How much of our life, how many of our decisions and our choices are taken because of our faith rather than despite it? Might it not be that there are those who may be judged on the surface to be less worthy, are in the eyes of God closer to his ways, closer to the paths of his son than we by comparison chose to follow. It is a question from the very beginnings of the Jewish faith, long before Christ came into the world and it continues to challenge us as we seek to follow in his ways.
It is all too easy in our daily strivings, in our aspirations and the enjoyment of what we are and what we have – to leave God out of the equation. To somehow think that our life is somehow in a separate existence, rather like the labourer’s in the vineyard – in a world of exchange and negotiation, of worldly concerns and worldly solutions. Where we owe everything to our own efforts, perhaps a bit of luck and good or bad genes and to what we have been able to wrestle away from an impersonal world of work. But that is to forget, as the eminent American protestant theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich said, that God is the very ‘ground of our being’.
Forgiveness is a much mis-understood notion. All too often Christians can be accused of being a naïvely misguided patsy if they advocate forgiveness, or hypocrites if they display any anger. On the one hand idealistic, unrealistic and culpably weak and on the other hand unwilling to live the gospel they profess. So where are we to find some sense of balance, and the true virtue of which Jesus speaks?
(First appeared in Clare Champion, Friday, August 14, 2020) Sometimes you can be quite wrong and at the same time absolutely right; however in today’s digital world we seem to be so obsessed with ‘facts’ that we can find it hard to accept that many profound realities...
(First appeared in Clare Champion, Friday, July 17, 2020) The holy places of the world are not by any means perfect. They can be highly compromised, chaotic, corrupt; a place to fleece pilgrims and purvey artefacts of dubious authenticity. They can even at times be...
The essence of prayer is not asking but offering, not self-seeking but self-dedication. That is not to say that our own personal griefs and doubts and fears should not be placed before God, quite naturally if we have embarked on a conversation then all manner of concerns will rightfully crop up. What we do know, and this relates to the experience of any who have truly been through the wonderful highs and the most terrible lows of human life, is that in the last resort we pray because we must, because the needs and yearnings of our hearts cannot be hidden away or repressed without damaging the very core of our human natures.
Our cross may be one of drama and obvious pain, or it may be a burden borne quietly and without complaint over many years. It may be one big task or many smaller ones. It may be presented suddenly as a clear choice, or we may look back and realize that is what we have been carrying all along. We may feel that it is something thrust upon us or something we have chosen to do. But of one thing we can be sure, all Christians, all disciples of Christ have a cross of some kind to bear.
A lot of people have said a lot of different things about Jesus, probably the man about whom more is written than any other in history. But in all that clamour, in all the debate, in all the speculation and claim and counter-claim across time, and across different cultures and creeds – the vital question he asks of each of us is – ‘Who do you say that I am?’. The answer says as much about ourselvesves, as it does about Jesus. Some questions are defining, some answers decide how we live the rest of our lives.
In the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman did her challenge actually teach the teacher? Did the ‘dog’ teach the master? Anyone who has taught will tell you that we can learn, as much as we impart, from those whom we teach. It’s certainly an intriguing thought that Jesus may have been caught unawares and his thinking changed by her challenge, that she brought him up short and reminded him of the true implications of his own teaching and that of Isaiah, to which he referred so often. And her rebuke still calls to us today.
The sea, for the people of biblical Palestine, was a terrifying prospect, for without any compasses or reliable navigation aids, to be hopelessly lost at sea was an ever present danger. The sea resounded in their minds as a symbol of man’s powerlessness in the face of overwhelming forces. Even today we should rightly fear its awesome power and know that it describes both our limits and our need of hope when all else has failed.
In today’s gospel from Matthew we hear the story of the loaves and he fishes, and in the sermon we confront a much debated question head on. Did Jesus really feed five thousand men (plus women and children) from just five loaves and two fish? Ironically the least satisfactory answers to that question are either ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
This week we look at Paul’s letter to the Roman 8.26-39. The reason for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, was not to create a new clique of the chosen, to the abandonment of all others; it wasn’t to offer a blood sacrifice to an ancient God of anger and vengeance in order to spare us eternal torment; it certainly wasn’t to exclude the very people Jesus had come to teach and emancipate from older, more dogmatic, harsher expressions of faith, but to witness to a new openness and a new way of relating to the divine and the holy.
Over the centuries Christian communities have taken a wide variety of stances when faced with unbelief and rejection, but many have been tempted to adopt a divisive and judgmental approach. At face value, today’s gospel parable has been interpreted by some individuals and churches as condoning such an approach. However, they have paid insufficient attention to the countervailing patience and forbearance demanded in the parable of the wheat and the tares, and indeed the inherent warning. We are simply not wise enough, we are told, we have neither the depth nor the length of vision, to tell between what deserves to be saved or discarded.
A seed is one of the miracles of life – within that kernel is contained all the genetic information, all the instructions, all the raw material for abundant life, for fields of corn, acres of wheat, orchards of apple trees, a wine harvest, the food to provide for an entire planet – all there in microcosm; essential, teeming with all the possibilities of life. Jesus compares the fate of seeds, filled with life, but dependent on where they fall in order to bear fruit, to the fate of his message in the hearts of those who hear it, the people of his time and by inference all of us today. What kind of home are we for the seeds that he sows? His message of faith, hope and love – just how well do they fare with us?
The message of John the Baptist was stern; acknowledge your sinfulness, repent, or face the punishment to come. John himself was reclusive, self denying, almost self punishing. Jesus was a very different kind of man, and told a very different story. He loved his friends, he enjoyed a glass of wine, the company of others, and he felt no need to distance himself from those deemed disreputable by the overly pious. But they both found their teachings accepted by some, yet rejected by many. John was seemingly too severe, Jesus apparently too sociable – one might ask, was the problem to do with the teachers, or those who did not wish to be taught?
The sermon today looks at St Peter and St Paul, two dedicated, resourceful and committed men, but very different. Paul was a like a graduate of one of the elite Universities of his day, educated in the city of Tarsus. He had been tutored by the famous leader of the Hillel School of Rabbis called Gamaliel. Peter, by contrast, was someone whose formal education had ceased probably at what we’d call the primary school stage. He was a fisherman, married with a family, but unlike Paul, who had started out as a persecutor of Christians, he had known and actually worked alongside Jesus during his earthly ministry. Whilst Paul was a man of letters, eloquent, persuasive, perhaps more so on paper, Peter relied more on his personality – his letters in the New Testament betray his discomfort with long treatise. And the tensions between them and the different priorities and approaches they espoused, are still being played out in Christianity today.
(First appeared in Clare Champion, Friday, June 12, 2020) When we first met Seamus he was shivering with fright, emaciated to almost a skeleton, he had been living rough for three months during which time he had crossed three or four counties in search of food and...
In today’s gospel Matthew speaks of what some scholars call – ‘the cost of discipleship’, and others name – ‘the conditions of discipleship’. And harsh, indeed unnatural, impossible, conditions they can seem to be; but Matthew in reporting, perhaps partially shaping the words of Jesus, is making a particular point – about the priorities and the boundaries within which love is all too often acted upon. The condition of discipleship of which Matthew speaks, is therefore not to love our loved ones less, in fact paradoxically, it is to love them even more deeply, but only through first acknowledging some hard truths about our compromises and limitations.
In contrast to the cruelty of the Roman Empire, today we do not condemn Jesus, or attack him, or seek his death – why would we need to it has already been done for us? Today we are much more subtle, after all we have had two thousand years to learn how to deal with him. Reverently, devotedly, lovingly and with great care we take his teachings and mould them into a shape and size that we prefer. We contain and constrain him within the bounds of ‘common sense’, ‘living in the real world’, ‘taken in moderation’ and all the other rationalisations that we can think of to keep him safe and compatible with how we prefer to live our lives. But we know in our hearts, that this is not how we are meant to be.
This Sunday at St Columba’s Ennis we celebrate Trinity Sunday. The sermon examines a concept of Celtic spirituality, the idea of the ‘thin place’, where the distance, the wall, the gap between here and everywhere, between now and eternity, between us and God is ‘thin’. Where we can almost feel the veil pushed aside. Those places, those times, those people where God, holiness, wonder and love can feel so very close. All to often fleeting moments in most of our lives, even fractions of a second, where for that instant time is halted, the here and now is transcended, made ‘other’.
The Pentecost service at St Columba’s Church, Ennis, County Clare, Ireland. During the Coronavirus Covid 19 lockdown we continue with online services for members and friends of the Church of Ireland, but also for anyone who would like to join us from any church tradition and none – we are delighted that you are spending this time with us. We are a progressive church, keen to extend a welcome to all people, whoever and wherever they may be, to make them feel at home and valued. Today’s sermon looks at the experience of the disciples at Pentecost, the dramatic, even frenzied behaviour, and considers how Luke may have written the story to express a process of realisation and revelation that for some may be sudden, but for others is a more gradual process, less sudden and explosive, but equally life-changing and profound. A literal reading of Bible texts can sometimes serve to strip away the layers of meaning potentially available to us in this modern age, whereas looking at the text as metaphor and allegory can yield insight and richness beneath the surface.
Sometimes in the Gospel of John, the beauty of the language, and the soaring philosophical discourses, can obscure the Jesus who was a child, grew among a family, had friends and knowingly risked and ultimately sacrificed his life, despite the real terror that he felt, the pain he endured, and the human uncertainties he must have known; all so that his life would remain faithful to the God he believed in and the principles that he espoused. Jesus did not stand apart from the world at a lordly distance or with stoical objectivity and abstraction – he knew all that we know and feel and fear – that is why he can draw close to us, and us to him.
The sermon examines what the word belief might truly mean; how the meaning of the word has changed across Christian history and how theologians of the past, such as Anselm, would have viewed faith differently – not as a set of ‘facts’ to either ‘believe’ in or to dispute. Their sense of ‘belief’ or ‘credo’ would have referred more to commitment, engagement. Belief for them was less of an assertion of the mind, and more a movement of the heart. Seen in this light, we might be better equipped to understand how the Holy Spirit might be active in and through us.
Jesus wants us to love God and one another, without rationing or holding back or any of the barriers, and walls and obstacles that we put up between ourselves and others in our defensiveness and mistrust and fear of one another. He didn’t say love one kind of Christian more than any other, he most certainly did not say love Jews a little less, that would truly be a bizarre sentiment for a Jewish rabbi to advance. He didn’t say hate Muslims or Buddhists or atheists, or people who love in different ways to us, or live in different ways, or hold different opinions, or come from different lands and speak with foreign accents. He said love them, love them all, abundantly, wastefully, unreservedly.
St Columba’s Church Ennis, continues with this online service for the Fourth Sunday of Easter. The sermon relates to the Gospel reading John 10.1-10 and what it means to have life ‘abundantly’.
A Service of the Word with Gospel of the day – Luke 24.13-35. This sermon deals with Confirmation Bias. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Easter Sunday online service from St Columba’s Church, Ennis, County Clare. A very Happy Easter to you all as we greet the risen Christ. May God bless you and all those whom you love.
Easter Sunday online service from St Columba’s Church, Ennis, County Clare. A very Happy Easter to you all as we greet the risen Christ. May God bless you and all those whom you love.
Humility – the third virtue that Micah proposed. ‘Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God’ also concludes tonight.
Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it is thinking of yourself less.
Mercy – the second virtue. This Good Friday service of the Cross is the second of our 2020 online Triduum services. Tomorrow we shall hold the Service of Light for Holy Saturday with the Paschal candle.
Justice – the first virtue. This Holy Week we are holding these online services for the Triduum. This service of Tenebrae will be followed tomorrow by a Service of the Cross for Good Friday, and a celebration of light with the Paschal candle on Holy Saturday. We shall also hold an online service on Easter Sunday.
Palm Sunday: A celebration of Palm Sunday from St Columbas Church a story of triumph but a triumph that foreshadows terrible suffering to come.
Fifth Sunday of Lent – Rev. Kevin O’Brien. The holy gospel according to John in which Jesus restores Lazarus of Bethany to life four days after his death.
“Love is immortal, eternal, unquenchable, indestructible, unstoppable, inexhaustible.”
Fourth Sunday of Lent – Mothering Sunday. A service from St Columbas Church in Ennis with the churches of Kilnasoolagh and Spanish point. We welcome all visitors in our worship.
Third Sunday of lent 2020
The Magi Illumined by the brightest star The Magi followed from afar, Into the lowly stable shed The glowing star three nobles led. They stood and stared in awe of Him Who came to rid the world of sin, In humble homage to the child They bowed before the baby mild....
Virgin Mary’s Lullaby Sleep quietly now my little child, And I will rock you meek and mild, Cling tightly, then I’ll gently lay Your Holy head on manger hay. See the oxen stand and stare From gaping door of stable bare, In awe and wonder of the sight, My Jesus born,...
Christmas Quiz 2019 Kilnasoolagh church is an integral part of the architectural heritage of Newmarket-on-Fergus...