Sunday, 5 July 2020

Finding rest at this time

you will find rest for your souls’ (Matt 11:29)

 (Year A: The Fourth Sunday after Trinity, 5th July, 2020)

Parallel Gospel readings are found in Luke 7:31-35; 10:21-22

July is associated with the very modern notion of holidays – a time when workers and families took time off to go away to a different place and enjoy different surroundings and things to do. This was not so one hundred years ago and is not true even in recent years for the 100s of millions who are too poor to pay for travel and accommodation.  This year – the year of the first wave of the current pandemic – we have all experienced significant restrictions on movement and social interaction. As nations press forward to rapidly open economies and societies there is an air of mixed feeling – excitement, relief, anxiety and uncertainty. Most people simply want to be with their loved ones and to experience, perhaps, a change of scene and routine if that is at all possible.

The idea of rest in the Bible has a difference meaning to what we understand it today. We read in Genesis 2:2:
on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done.
The Sabbath became a defining feature of Jewish life and for us Christians the Lord’s Day (Sunday) is meant to be a time set apart for rest, worship and gathering with families and friends. Too often it has become a day like any other day or, in many cases, a day to catch up on shopping, washing and cleaning.

We know we need to rest some of the time and, in a way, all of the time. There is a restful way of approaching work and relationships just as there are ways of wasting energy in patterns of thinking and behaviour which are unfruitful. The choice is ours. There is a strong case for times of silence or prayer – on our own or with others specially on Sunday. Good habits are formed over 40 days or so of repeated practice. So, here, I suggest is a time to try. And those blessed with retirement or partial shielding advice do well to use the opportunity.

At its simplest ‘prayer’ is an act of raising mind and heart to God. Or, to put it another way, prayer is the art of calming the mind and heart to become aware of God’s love in our lives. Making time and space for prayer every day (and not just Sunday) is a major challenge if we are not in the habit. But, nothing is impossible where there is a will. A time of mindful and prayerful rest is like an oxygen for the body and soul. We know it when we really try it and stick at it: it gives us space. But, God is the first invitor and mover.

We need Holy Spirit moments when the Spirit comes down over the material of our head-filled Christianity to move not only our intellects but our hearts and our wills.

In Matthew 11: 25 Jesus takes aim at a religion of the head and not a religion of simplicity and childlike trust.  Book learning and academic scholarship are excellent means in the human search for meaning and truth and goodness. That Jesus extolled the benefits of a deeper wisdom and insight rather than mere academic discourse and speculation is not to be taken as in any way as justifying a certain anti-intellectualism.

Line by line ….

In saying ‘Come to me..’ (verse 28) Jesus is offering himself as an immediate and real friend of our soul. Coming to a place or person or state of mind is the first step. It means going to something and someone greater than our immediate situation where we can be ourselves.
‘.. all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens..’
It means coming as just as we are Warts and all, Worries and all and Wants and all (WWW) Specifically, it could mean putting aside special times and places where we can be still for a few moments. The morning can be a good time. Also the evening. Or, in the middle of the day. Or, any other time depending on circumstances.
‘..and I will give you rest..’
The rest spoken of here is an inner freedom together with a certain underlying peace and contentedness even in the midst of great anguish, stress and sadness (..peace is never without a price).
‘Take my yoke upon you..’
Taking on the yoke of discipleship means dying/denying/losing in a certain way in regards to our own plans, opinions, terms of reference and ways of framing the world around us and within. It means following a call to serve others in ways that we never thought of or expected.
‘and learn from me..’
Learning is about changing. Learning is about being open to experience, example and doing with others. It is not to be confused with teaching which may lead to learning. But not all learning (or teaching) are positive. A lot of learning can be about Unlearning.
‘..for I am gentle and humble in heart..’
The most powerful form of learning is that which is associated with the example of a teacher who is gentle, honest and humble because the One who exemplifies is a humble suffering servant foreshadowed in the Old Testament/Hebrew scriptures.
‘..and you will find rest for your souls.’
Finding rest is the fruit of trust and abandonment to God’s will as it is revealed to each one on the path of life. How do we know when we find rest for our souls? This question is redundant when we find such rest!
‘..for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
Really? Following the high road of lowly service is counter-cultural and always was. In what sense is the yoke of discipleship ‘easy’ or its burden ‘light’? It is the sense that by putting aside our plans and our wishes we find new plans and new wishes that release new depths and expressions of human creativity that we never imagined or dreamed of. The problem, too often, is that our world view and ‘wish-fors’ are small world shadows.

Life is too short to drink bad wine and coming to Jesus and taking his yoke is much too attractive to turn down. Be reckless. Be open to restfulness you never dreamt of.

998 words

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Hospitality to all

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me’ (Matt 10:40)

 (Year A: The Third Sunday after Trinity, 28th June, 2020)

Parallel readings are found in Mark 9:37, 41 as well as Luke 10:16,12:51-53, 14:26-27, 17:33.

‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’
(Matthew 10:40-42)
In the course of life nobody crosses our path who does not provide an opportunity for us to learn and to show kindness. It happens more often, perhaps, that we receive more kindness than we give. And there are kindnesses that we may never know about or that we took for granted at another time in our lives. 
The point of life is to live it in the now. Regrets may teach us valuable lessons and may spur us on to leave the past behind and to live better in the now while leaving the future to God’s mercy and help. Life is precious and the people who cross our paths are precious. There is a purpose and direction in life even if we cannot appreciate it fully now.
In this short passage from the gospel of Matthew we hear about welcome – God’s welcome of us in Jesus Christ and the welcome we can give to one another. Especially in the context of this Gospel reading there is the special welcome that is given to those who announce with their lives the truth that is in Christ. Their role in proclaiming, announcing and living the gospel message is a vital part of the experience of a Christian community.
In some selections of gospel readings for this particular Sunday verses 37-39 are added just ahead of the verses focussed on welcome:
‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;  and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it’.
(Matthew 10:37-39)
This may seem like a harsh statement and one that is divisive. Read in the context of the experience of the Jewish-Christian community in the region of Antioch (roughly present day Syria and south east Turkey) we should not be surprised that a decision to follow Christ cost dearly. Tragically, it often had the consequences of division not that Christ or his earlier followers wanted, planned or engineered these sad outcomes even if, subsequently, some followers have misunderstood the gospel message and inflicted wounds of division.
Welcome for one another complements the carrying of the cross. If we are to truly love others including those different to us by virtue of race, religion or other characteristics we must welcome them as they are and not as we would wish them to be. Welcome is a difficult idea and can rail against our assumptions and defences. Welcoming another does not necessarily mean abandoning our own principles or beliefs. Rather, it means listening to, acknowledging, learning from and communicating with another human being different to us but sharing the same ancestry as human beings planted on this fragile earth for a time.  Welcome founded on love is the basis of Christian mission and witness.  

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Facing up to fear with faith

So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows’ (Matt 10:31)

 (Year A: The Second Sunday after Trinity, 21st June, 2020)


If I should walk in the valley of darkness no evil would I fear. You are there with your crook and your staff; with these you give me comfort. (Psalm 22:4).

These words are often heard at funeral liturgies. In many parts of the world millions have died from the covid19 disease and more are expected in the coming months as the disease is now spreading into economically fragile regions of the world in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.  We have lived through many months of uncertainty, anxiety and in many cases loneliness. The plague that spread from one end of the globe to the other in weeks and days has gripped us. Families have been torn apart and loved ones taken from us.  A major fear, especially those at higher risk by virtue of age or some underlying condition, is that the disease will strike oneself or one’s family. The consequences can be devastating and even those who recover can, in a minority of cases, be scarred physically and psychologically for life. This is a most virulent and evil disease and only faith and science will eventually crush it.

For every death from covid there are is a large multiple of deaths from all manner of conditions, accidents and circumstances. Death awaits us. But, we are a people of hope waiting in hope not for death but for the life that God alone gives not, it must be repeated, just beyond death but right now in the place where you and I find ourselves with all its worries, uncertainties and fears. Why in the Bible do we hear over and over again the call - ‘Do not be afraid’?  Likewise in the Old Testament reading the angel of God tells Hagar not to be afraid. In today’s Gospel reading no less than three times Jesus bids us not to be afraid. The first example that he gives in the discourse of chapter 10 relates to the malign opposition that we as disciples will encounter, inevitably, if we are true to our calling. We hear the words of the Lord:
If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! (Matt. 10:25)
God seeks to reassure us in the midst of fear and danger then and now.
Fear was very much to the fore among the early disciples of Jesus – the first and second generation that followed those who had directly witnessed the Lord’s resurrection.
Jesus reassures us that we are known, loved and precious to God. He cites the example of the sparrow: ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father’ (Matt. 10:29). Every human life is sacred to its maker and worthy of protection, respect and dignity.

A recurring theme in the scriptures is what might be referred to as the trilogy of: Fear, Reassurance and Trust.  The prophecy of Isaiah, for example, is full of this. In the New Testament Jesus, again and again, calms our fears and stormy waters and invites us into a trusting relationship with him and Our Father.  Even today, in the midst of personal, familial, communal or societal anxieties and traumas not least those arising from the pandemic and its continuing economic and social impact we hear this call to trust in the One who is Peace at the very heart of our beings.  Knowing this trust and this peace does not take away the pain of what happened or what is happening right now to each of us.

We live in extremely challenging times and many of us are called on to undergo much suffering for what we believe in and the values we live from (even if the two are not always in harmony). In many parts of the world to be a person of faith – faithful to the social gospel of true freedom may demand a type of martyrdom (to which the root word in Greek is witness). It is idle fantasy to try to imagine what we might do in this situation or that. It is enough to embrace the small trials and tribulations of each day. The most credible witness is to be true to ourselves even to the point of exclusion, ridicule and condemnation.  The one we follow met such and we cannot expect less.
Silence is complicity. Like Jeremiah, we cannot remain silent about the injustices around us at this time and in this country.  Reverend Patrick Comerford over on his blogsite writes this week:
Are we prepared to stand up for our faith and its values even at the risk of being ridiculed? Even when this upsets the peace of our families, our communities, our society and our land? Readings, hymns and sermon ideas for Sunday 21 June 2020,
He goes on to ask:
Or are we prepared to speak out, not worrying about the consequences, knowing that ‘whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me (Matt. 10:38).?

Matthew wrote his gospel for a Jewish-Christian community in Antioch at a time of great trauma and separation from Judaism.  Through the discernment of the church his writings along with other gospel stories were stitched together – over 300 years - in an agreed set of books which we now refer to as the New Testament of the Christian Bible. The Bible was the fruit of a lived and narrated catholic oral, and then written, tradition.  The Word of God is received and eaten in the inspired writings of the biblical authors.  In this sense do we say ‘This is the word of the Lord’.

Word count = 952

Loving God we place our trust in you. Show us your great compassion and mercy that we may entrust everything to you.

We pray for those struggling to know you the Truth that is Love. Lord hear us.  R. Hear our prayer.
Grant to those caring for the sick at home or in places of special care. Be their rock and courage. Lord hear us.  R. Hear our prayer.
We are worth more than these little creatures that surround us. Teach us not to be afraid. Lord hear us.  R. Hear our prayer.
Inspire leaders to defend the rights of the most vulnerable in our societies. May they fearlessly live by the values of the Gospel. Lord hear us.  R. Hear our prayer.
We pray for all the people of China, India and he USA as they endeavour to overcome the devastation caused by covid19. Help them to work with the international community to defeat the virus.  Lord hear us.  R. Hear our prayer.
We take a moment to pray for each other, for ourselves and our families and for those fears and doubts that assail us from time to time. Silence ….. Lord hear us.  R. Hear our prayer.
Merciful father: accept these our prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Our Father ….

Collect of this Sunday
Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.  Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen (Book of Common Prayer, Ireland)

Saturday, 13 June 2020

Trusting in the holy spirit

‘When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you ’ (Matt 9:19-20)

 (Year A: The First Sunday after Trinity, 14th June, 2020)


Parallel Readings from the other Gospels
Mark 6:6-13; Luke 10:1-12


SERMON NOTES (543 words)

Have you ever been nervous before speaking publicly?  Have you ever had a feeling in the very bottom of your tummy before having a conversation about something really difficult? Does a cloud descend on you sometimes when you realise that someone is about to turn your life upside down for you? Most of us dislike change especially when it is imposed against our will. Many of us would rather stick to the quiet life rather than confront a bully or gently correct a colleague.

Let’s be clear about this: Christian religion was born in conflict, controversy, persecution and suffering.  The gospel writer, Matthew, gives us an insight into what daily life was like for followers of Jesus in the first decades after his death and resurrection. Certainly, the path of discipleship would cost dearly. Yet, the blood of martyrs then as well as now is the seed of the church.

This Sunday’s passage is a long one encompassing three main parts:

  • The call to serve the Gospel
  • The mission of those called
  • The coming persecutions
The location of the story Is Galilee where, in Matthew’s plan, Jesus’ teaching, healing and preaching is setting the pattern for those called. Chapter 10 opens up with the call of what Matthew refers to as the Apostles (those sent). We need to be mindful of the context in which the very early church developed. It was not a tightly knit, canonically well ordered structure with well defined roles and ministries. Rather, it was an evolving communion spread across the lands of the eastern Mediterranean while spreading westwards and flourishing under fierce opposition as it found it way – first mainly among the Jewish people and then increasingly amongst the gentiles.  In two thousands years much has changed in the middle east but this is one constant – those who follow Jesus face constant marginalisation and persecution. The words of Matthew apply in this context with particular force.

As I look about the world today I see many persons and whole groups who are harassed and helpless just as the crowds were that Jesus spoke about: like sheep without a shepherd as he said to this disciples. In the moral fog of 21st century world I am afraid that many of us do not know right from wrong. And if we did we might not be inclined to say or do anything about it. Even still, millions practice the compassion of Jesus when he saw the crowds; they respond in acts of compassion and in practical ways to care for others. They need help and what is offered is never enough relative to the vast amount of human need for listening, support, food, shelter, healthcare and guidance. We, too, can play our part.

The call to pray for more ‘labourers’ because the ‘harvest is plentiful’ must not be interpreted exclusively to mean that only ordained ministers or consecrated religious are called and sent to announce or live the Gospel. Every baptised Christian is called to live out their vows to the full and to witness to the love of God where they are. And if people speak out and act boldly in defence of racial justice at this time, we should not be shy to speak out and act boldly in defence of all human rights. In so doing we bear witness to Christ as the first disciples did. We can do this because, as St Paul wrote: ‘God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us’ (Romans 5:5).

Tuesday, 9 June 2020

A world set on fire: Day 9

‘and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.  (Romans 5:5)

We are given the Holy Spirit in the sacraments. This giving never stops the more we open our hearts in trust and in love.

🙏Father in the name of Jesus pour your Spirit more and more into our hearts.

For continuing series of 'A world set on fire' go to #DailyBread and/or #HolySpirit on twitter from the10th June to 10th of July.

Monday, 8 June 2020

A world set on fire: Day 8

‘for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’  (Luke 12:12)

Lost for words? Fear not.

🙏Take my worries loving Spirit and lead me one step forward at each breath

Sunday, 7 June 2020

A world set on fire: Day 7

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’  (Matt 28:19)

We are invited to bless this world not in three names but one – the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This name is love (1 John 4:8)

🙏Father in the name of Jesus open our hearts to the Holy Spirit.