Saturday 22 September 2012

God’s ever expanding Kingdom

The pews creaked as I contemplated approaching the altar for Holy Communion. I had been praying, Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word…but would the priest deem me worthy? Was I going to be permitted to give myself to Christ in this act of receiving Holy Communion, and thus take one step closer to my desired union with God?

As I knelt reflecting on the possibility of a place for me in God’s Kingdom, I reflected on the creaking pews, not only in this church, but around the world, all those kneelers stretched under the weight of so many looking for a place in God’s Kingdom.

The creak of the stretching wood is an evocative image, reminiscent of the creak in heaven as God stretches out to enfold us.  It is also reminiscent of our bodies and minds stretching, extending and reaching heavenward; the creaking wood is but a tiny echo and a tiny reminder, that God’s divine grace, and our desire for eternal life are one continuous exercise in stretching.  May your whole life stretch out before you, as you stretch to embrace God’s love which enfold you.

May our journeys be shared, and may life be one.

Two people meet each other on a single track road.  The person heading west knows that her destination is a mile ahead.  The person heading east knows that his destination is a mile ahead in the opposite direction.  The two sit in their cars staring at the other; each desiring to preserve their individual ways of life, each hoping that none of what has already been gained on the journey will be lost.  What will happen if one were to back-up to a lay-by or side drive?  Would his journey lose ground?  Would life go on, or would it come to an end?

Similarly, we might consider the farmer, who growing his grain, was afraid to cut it.  After all, the grain is growing, the field is producing grain, and if you cut it, the field will cease producing of this harvest; the farmer will lose the very thing he is there to produce.  What shall the farmer do, shall he cut his grain, or shall he keep it?  If he loses his grain, will he lose his livelihood?

Obviously, this is a ridiculous proposition, because the purpose of farming is to cut your grain that the people of this world might have food to eat.  If a farmer did not give up his grain, or his cattle, or whatever crop or animal is his source of livelihood, then the world would go hungry, and the farmer’s purpose would never be met.

Just as the farmer must share his crops (give up his crops) that others may live, so when we drive down a road on a daily journey, we realize that the road we drive down is a shared way.  If progress is to be made then we must give way to one another, we must share what we so easily view as ours, otherwise neither of us moves from our track, then no progress will be made by anyone either behind or ahead.

Just as what makes a farmer a farmer is that the farmer produces a product for the livelihood of others, so, we share the road, because if we each held onto our piece of road, as if the piece of road makes us who we are, no-one would get anywhere.

As we have been celebrating harvest festivals across the country, let us remember that our lives are best lived when our lives are shared with others; life given by one for the sake of another.  Living a life that is not shared or given for others is no life at all, but more like single track road leading nowhere.

I stand at the door and knock

In the book of Revelation we read, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.”
The verb to knock is an apt one, communicating a persistence and eagerness. It is especially appropriate in our media driven climate where nearly everyday people are vying for our attention.’
In this day of mobile phones, email, texting, tweeting, and skyping, we frequently have too many people ‘knocking’ at least electronically if not really, and with the knocking comes the choices, overwhelming choices, over who will get my attention in this moment? To survive, we quickly learn to pay attention only to what is important and to ignore what is not immediately necessary. After all, isn’t that what the answer-phone, the text and email inboxes are for, to keep messages that we do not have time to get to?

If the tsars of advertising had their way, we would live at the beck and call of every form of modern communication technology, as if we were all nurses or doctors who are constantly on-call. If you are like many others, you will find it all too fatiguing, and at some point you will turn off the phone, the computer, and answer phone, close the curtains, bolt the door, and dream of those days before anyone could find you in any minute of any day.

Yes, in this day and age, “I stand at the door and knock’ may sound like one more distraction, one more unnecessary commotion. But this knock, the knock of Jesus is different. He wants to come in; he wants to be your place of rest. In his patience, he waits for you, he is in your inbox waiting to be dealt with.

Over the years, people have told me that the thought of Jesus is unbelievable and our Christian faith is little more than a mind-game. It has been said that yes perhaps Jesus did live, but not anymore, he is gone and buried, and there is no one there knocking anymore. Perhaps, with the onslaught multimedia devices, this thought is comforting, one less distraction in my life, and one less thing to have to attend to.

But, what if, just what if, he really was there, knocking at the door of your heart, but with so many distractions you couldn’t quite hear or didn’t find the right moment to deal with it? So, perhaps He is still there asking you if he may enter into a relationship with you; one that would feed you and the world. Would you, could you, be ready to welcome such an encounter? Jesus tells us he is there; our shared faith testifies to Jesus’ continual and constant knocking and waiting. All you need to do is open that door, and together, nourished in His grace filled presence, the rest of the knocking will be dealt with in its turn…but, it will only happen if you stop and make the time, take the time, to open that door.

Monday 28 May 2012

Overcoming Life's Separations

People do not speak much about sinfulness anymore, but it hasn't gone away, it does still exist. I tend to think about sinfulness as a measurement of distance. If we really use a tape measure to determine such things, how far would your thoughts, feeling and actions be right now from the thoughts, feelings and actions that God wants for you and the world?

If you are like me, you can probably all think of a time or times when you were aware of the distance between you and God. You might also ask yourself another question, what is causing this distance between you and God, is it you, is it others, or is it something you do not understand? Sometimes you may be the cause of the separation, sometimes the separation between you and God has been influenced by others, and sometimes it is caused in ways you cannot comprehend. In every case, because you find yourself unable to be God's love and blessing for the world, you then find yourself living in sin or as I have suggested above, you are living in a separated state.

So what might you do? Well you pray to God, but more specifically you approach his Son Jesus in prayer. Jesus who walked the earth lives amongst us in Spirit. While you do not see Jesus or the Spirit, when you ask him to help you to overcome this distance between you and God, he will help you. And the prayer is not magic, it is not the sort of thing you will say once and never have to repeat. Instead, you will have to say this prayer more than once a week, more than once a day. Each of us will do well to be saying this prayer several times each day. Try it, and see how God our Father, through his Son Jesus Christ will transform your life through the power of their Holy Spirit.

Friday 20 April 2012

Being Bigger than Bigotry

As children, my siblings and I were taught that no one’s life exists outside of God’s love and grace.  Similarly, we were taught that even if a person went to a different church, or held beliefs different to our own, we should recognize that God’s grace is big enough to accommodate human difference.  The underlying principle is that Life belongs to God and not to us.  We occupy this world for a brief spell, and in that brief spell, we are permitted to touch this world by the manner we choose to live this gifted life.

With the advent of the Civil Rights Movement in the Untied States in the late 1960s, there have been times when I thought we, modern people that we are, had outgrown discrimination and bigotry.  I am bigger than that after all! Aren’t I?

I was caught off guard recently however.  In my business, being a minister and all, I encounter lots of atheists and agnostics and followers of other philosophies and beliefs.  Well, it has happened from time to time that a person of another following will make a derogatory comment about a God-centred life.  If God does not exist to them, how ridiculous must it seem to them, that whole populations base their lives around the idea that Life belongs to God.

The fact remains, that such derogatory comments aimed at theists are an expression of bigotry, but it does it stop there.  If I, a theist, turn my ire back on those who have spoken such offensive words, and unleash my own venomous words of anger against them in the name of my beliefs, haven’t I too slipped?  When I free myself to speak sarcastically or hatefully about the lives of those with whom I disagree, am I not fuelling the fires of bigotry?

If I am going to out-grow bigotry, then I am going to chose to be a person who gives Life back to God for God’s glory.  This will invite me to look for God’s hand beyond my own life experiences, and to refrain from reducing the Life that belongs to God to a collection of personal opportunities where I may use my words to shame, manipulate and coerce others into adopting my superior way of thinking.  I will not agree with all the people I encounter regarding the source and end of Life, but I will honour God when I take a stand to be bigger than bigotry.

Saturday 14 April 2012

Living in the in-between Places

 A Jewish custom, which for many is no longer practiced, involved carving the shema, on their doorpost or placing it there in a small box (called a mezuzot).  The shema, from Deuteronomy 4:6-9,  is  that reminder that there is one Lord and you are to love Him with all your heart soul and might.  In addition you are to teach this to your children, and you are to recite it whether at home or on a journey.  This reminder was to assist the faithful in remembering that all life flowed from God and to God, no matter where your foot might tread.

You might be asking, why the doorpost?  What is so significant about a door lintel?  Well for the ancients and for us, doorways are not just architectural passages offering protection and leading from one space to another, but they possess a spiritual significant as well.

Doorways are those places where we exit and enter our own world; a world created by us and for us in God’s grace, a resting place away from all that is unknown and might cause us to bristle.  Doorways are also those places where others enter and exit our world; a ceremony which too often happens with an indifference that might be worth reconsidering.  Finally, doorways are those spaces where we enter and exit the lives of others, also rooted in God’s grace; an event we do well to regard with more thoughtfulness.

So marking the doorway with a reminder that our lives are rooted in God’s love, and loving God, is a way of preparing the body and spirit of those daring the passage from one worldly environment to another.  It was a sort of blessing, because as it reminded those passing, it focused their spirits on the sacredness of each encounter.

The second week of Easter we hear that Jesus passes through a closed door.  Its occupants were not at home with God, in fact they were far away, because of the fear that their world was forever lost.  After all, Jesus had been killed, and his graced presence would no longer be there for them.

As you recall, Jesus passes through the door, entering into the midst of the disciples’ focus on fear, loss, and death.  There amongst all of that, he says ‘peace be with you.’
There in their pain and loss, he enters, and shares his own wounds, but more he shares his life which overcame all death.  His shared life gives them new hope, a hope that will lead them beyond the threshold of their own fear, pain and failure.  His sharing of his transformed life, crates within them a courage to go on and live for God’s sake, not their own.

Sharing and nursing wounds is no longer the end of life; sharing wounds is a reminder that while all are wounded as we pass in and out of life’s realities, the life we have in God is forever unending.

Looking beyond the death of Jesus to the never-ending and always present life, living for that life, we must rethink all of life’s thresholds, be them spiritual or physical.  Living in the confidence of Christ’s life, our thresholds may no longer be used as barriers and self made tombs.  Entrusting our lives to Christ we begin at the threshold of the heart, and here in the midst of life’s woes and wounds we meet LIFE as God offers it over and over again.

Friday 23 March 2012

The Word that Nourishes us

Recently, I heard a rumour that Saint Matthias National School was reducing to one teacher and the enrolment would be 14 as of the autumn of 2012. As the chairperson of the Board of management, I was caught off guard; currently, Saint Matthias National School has an enrolment of 19, to be 20 before the end of the year, and there are parents who have already expressed their intentions of enrolling young students for the next academic year. In addition, the school knows now that they will have been allotted two teachers and a resources teacher for next year. So the rumours of a school that is closing or dying are untrue, reflecting the imaginations of people who have extracted meaning from small pieces of information, and like any recipe for disaster, taken these small pieces and cooked them into a dooms day prediction.

We humans, as a species, are very skilled at creating something out of nothing. By taking pieces of information, kneading them into a whole, and offering the product as the daily bread for the local community, we direct the trajectory of an entire group of people, amazing! Who would have thought that words could be so powerful, but they are.

Our words chosen carelessly can undo, divide and demolish quicker than any wrecking-ball. Our words chosen carefully, can build up, sustain, and nourish a community into the future.

As we consider the death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality that God brings life out of death, let us remember that Christ is our Good Word, that Word which brings life out of death. Let us also consider how we might construct our own words and conversations to restore life where it seems doomed, to build up those around us when they feel weighed down, and create possibilities of life where others are looking at death