Here’s some more photos from our recent family outing to Kinsale, home of the great Giles Norman…
Much to my astonishment I opened the Irish Times yesterday to see four of my photos printed in the “Gallery” section! This is a new section where they invite readers to send in their pictures on a certain theme. This time round the theme was “Autumn” and so I sent a few in and well they actually printed them! (One of them is the blog entry for October 11, “Sunrise in Glounthaune”)
The picture above was taken last Saturday on a family trip to Kinsale. With all the roadworks going on there at the moment preventing cars from driving along the quayside it actually makes things much quieter and more pedestrian friendly.
“The Heaven’s Declare the glory of God”, (at least they would without humankind’s best attempts to blot out the night sky with light pollution)!
I’ve been itching to try out the “starry sky mode” on our new compact camera, so last night I set it on a tripod at the side of the Rectory facing south towards Great Island. You can make out the stars but the scene is dominated by the bright lights from what I think must be the floodlights from the Cobh Ramblers ground, roughly 4 miles away as the crow flies.
On a camera such as this, with a fingernail sized sensor, it really struggles to capture detail without making the photo very blotchy and full of digital ‘noise’. At a small picture size like this it looks okay but at full size it’s pretty ghastly. Of course in the days of film you just pointed your tripod mounted camera at the night sky put it on ‘bulb’ and went away and had a cup of tea for half an hour or so. Hmm, I guess that this is one example when film is actually better – maybe I’ll give that a try soon.
Garrettstown is a fantastic place for surfers of all ages and abilities. You get those who are clearly beginners mixing with those who make the whole thing look so easy that they might as well be walking on water! If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can see a few more surfers in the background – there were at least 50 of them out there that day…
Does anyone like paying tax?! I don’t think so! It’s that time of year again when tax returns have to be in and we start to grumble about giving away our hard-earned money to the government. And (say some), it’s not as if the Government spend our taxes very wisely. How many hundreds of millions of Euro have been wasted on tribunals or should have been saved rather than spent trying to artificially prop up the economy? The list of financial mismanagement is a long one, and we hear about it in the media every day.
But actually, taxes are a good thing if we think about it. It’s nice to get in our cars and drive on a tarmacadamed road! It’s good to know that the Gardai and Defence Forces are there to protect us and the Fire service and Ambulance Service there to rescue us. It’s comforting to know that there are fully equipped hospitals waiting for us when we get sick and schools for our children to attend. So we might after all begrudgingly admit that taxes are a good thing, even if sometimes the government (allegedly of course) doesn’t use our tax money very wisely!
I read this story recently (I don’t know how true it is). A Little Boy in the United States wanted $100.00 badly and prayed to God for a whole week, but nothing happened. So, he decided to write God a letter requesting the $100.00. When the Post Office got the letter addressed to God they forwarded it on to the Whitehouse. The President was very impressed, touched and amused so he instructed his aid to send the boy $5.00. He thought $5.00 would be a lot to the little boy. The boy was, indeed, delighted by the money. He sat down and wrote a thank you note immediately, which read: Dear God, Thank you very much for sending the money. However, I noticed that for some reason you had to send it through Washington and, as usual, they kept most of it as tax! (From Bucket of Surprises by John and Mark Stibbe)
In our gospel reading for today (Matthew 22:15-22), two groups of people, the Pharisees and the Herodians try to trick the Lord Jesus by asking Him a question about paying taxes. This is just an incredible situation, because the Pharisees and the Herodians hated each other, and yet here they are working in alliance against the Lord because their contempt for Him was even greater than their contempt for each other! The Pharisees, were the Nationalists, they hated the Romans and they were fiercely loyal to the idea of an Israel free of all oppressors. They also liked power and the support of the people, so they wanted to get rid of the Lord Jesus because He was eroding their support among the people by showing what Hypocrites they were. The Herodians were the collaborators. They supported the Romans and Herod Antipas, the King put in place by the Roman authorities. So these unlikely allies get together to try to trick the Lord Jesus. They say to Him:
“Teacher … we know that you tell the truth about God’s will for people, without worrying about what others think, because you pay no attention to anyone’s status. Tell us then, what do you think? Is it against our Law to pay taxes to the Roman Emperor or not?” (Matthew 22:16,17).
You can just imagine the smug look on their faces once they had finished asking this question. They really think they have got Him this time. If the Lord Jesus said that it was wrong to pay taxes to Caesar the Emperor then they could have Him arrested for rebelling against the authorities. If the Lord said that the taxes should be paid then they would call Him a collaborator with the Romans and He would lose popular support. So what did the Lord do? How did He respond in this seemingly impossible situation?
He says to his questioners:
“Show me the coin for paying the tax” (v.19)
It’s funny isn’t is that the Lord didn’t even have a coin on Him. He chose to be poor, He didn’t need wealth. Here is the King of the Universe and He has humbled Himself so much that He asks them to hand Him a coin so He can make His point . The coin in question was a Denarius, a Roman coin that was worth a days wage for a labourer. So, they hand Him the coin and then the Lord says to them:
“Whose face and name are these?” (v.20)
On the coin would have been written “Tiberius Caesar, Augustus, son of the deified Augustus, chief priest.” There was also a relief, a side-on picture of Caesar, not unlike coins in the UK today with the picture of Queen Elizabeth II on them.
So probably sensing that the trap they thought that they had set for Jesus was unravelling before their eyes, his accusers reluctantly answer that it is the Emperor’s face and name on the coin.
So then the Lord Jesus answers them by saying:
“Well, then, pay the Emperor what belongs to the Emperor, and pay God what belongs to God.” (v.21).
The Lord Jesus completely avoids the trap that was set for Him by showing that we have a “Dual Citizenship” . We belong in two Jurisdictions. We are citizens of our country here on earth and if we put our faith and trust in Christ, we are also citizens of Heaven. We have a passport with a Harp on the front (if we are Irish) and if we are a citizen of God’s Kingdom, then we have a passport for Heaven.
The simplicity and obviousness of Jesus’ reply is very clear; the coin was just a coin, it was no big deal. If Caesar the Emperor wanted it as tax, give it back to Him! But there is something else we learn that is very important too. The Lord said that we should not only give to our Government what belongs to them, namely the taxes that we owe, He also says that we should give to God what belongs to God. What was He talking about when He said this? Well, just as in the same way that the coin had Caesar’s image on it and so it should be given back to Caesar, so we have God’s image stamped on us and so we should give ourselves to the One who made us in His own image and likeness.
In Romans 13:7 we read:
Give to everyone what you owe them: Pay your taxes and import duties, and give respect and honour to all to whom it is due.
And in 1 Peter 2:13, 14
For the Lord’s sake, accept all authority–the king as head of state, and the officials he has appointed. For the king has sent them to punish all who do wrong and to honour those who do right.
It is important therefore that we are good citizens in the country that we live. We should pay our taxes, because we enjoy the benefits that those taxes pay for. We should obey the laws of the land be upstanding members of society.
In some ways it might seem that God has a harsher tax regime even than that imposed by the recent Budget. Our government may have many tax rates, levies and stealth taxes, all varying year by year. God only has one rate. 100%! In other words, the Lord Jesus is telling us to be loyal to our country and our government, but be totally committed to God. Remember what He said elsewhere:
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’
That is what God requires of us. Yes it sounds difficult and (excuse the pun), taxing. In fact it is impossible in our own strength. So we need to ask for God’s help to love Him and God’s help to love each other – something far more exciting than any tax return …
Sources of help:
Justin Meek in sermoncentral.com
Michael Green, “Matthew For Today”, Hodder & Stoughton, 1989, p.212
Life Application Bible, New International Version, Kingsway, 1991, p.1691
Nikon D70s 3 photos at 1/400 sec, f10, ISO 200, 40mm
Well the annual Cork, Cloyne & Ross Clergy conference has been and gone once again. The speaker this year was Bishop Michael Mayes who gave us some truly excellent insights into the interpretation of Scripture with genuine warmth, wisdom, humour and humility. One thing that he said that has stuck with me is that dissection is done usually to something that is dead and that if you dissect something that is alive you would end up killing it – and to bear this in mind when we try and dissect the Bible. In thinking about this I would further say that it should be a case of allowing God’s word to dissect us – but of course we try not to do that too much becasue when we do we usually don’t like all the ugly rubbish and selfishness in our lives that is exposed!
As always though my favourite part of the conference was the afternoon on the second day when we were allowed to escape! The sun came out and it was great to go around taking pictures …
Have you ever been invited to a feast or banquet? Well I suppose that a wedding would come into this category wouldn’t it? We get the invitation through the post and although we are excited, the worries almost immediately come upon us. For the ladies it’s, “what shall I wear”, “how much weight do I need to lose”, “how should I have my hair done”, etc. For the blokes it’s a little easier, as all it requires is getting the suit out of the wardrobe and dusting it off a little. Then it comes to buying the present. Usually these days, people have wedding lists, which are a good idea, until you try to buy a present off the list and find that all the cheaper items have already been bought and the only things left are the solid silver egg cups or the Japanese Mahogany bird table, both of which would require you to part with half that months salary!
Have you ever been invited to the wedding of someone famous? That must be really exciting, but the pressure to look right and buy the right present must be even more immense. In the Bishop’s house, there is a very modestly sized photo on the wall of him taking the wedding ceremony of David and Victoria Beckham, in many ways, and for many people they are like a kind of royalty. They are very famous, known all around the world, for better or for worse.
In our gospel reading for this morning (Matthew 22:1-14), the Lord Jesus tells a parable with a wedding feast as the backdrop to the story. He tells us that, “The Kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding feast for his son.” As was the custom in those days, two invitations were sent out, the first to ask the guests to attend, the second to announce that the feast was ready. (Of course all the guests would have been living nearby, so it was easy enough to do this.)
The strange thing is that upon receiving the second invitation, as the servants of the king went to tell everyone that the feast was ready, we are told that they did not want to come. Why not? Why did the people refuse the invitation? This was a very special wedding, it was the kings son, so why did they not want to come?
What is the Lord Jesus saying? His original audience would have understood exactly what He was saying. God’s chosen people, the people of Israel were those invited to His Kingdom. They were His honoured guests. He wanted them to join in the festivities of His Kingdom, He wanted them to celebrate Jesus as the Messiah, the One who would truly save them. The servants in the parable are God’s messengers, prophets and preachers, those who invite others to accept God’s message and offer of salvation. Yet they chose to ignore this invitation and to turn their backs on God and on what He wanted to give them. In verses 5 and 6 we read:
“But the invited guests paid no attention and went about their business: one went to his farm, another to his shop, while others grabbed the servants, beat them and killed them.”
It is bad enough to ignore the invitation that was given through the servants, but to kill them was totally and utterly wrong. Of course, the Lord Jesus is referring to all the prophets and messengers who had been killed for proclaiming God’s message, including John the Baptist and countless martyrs both before and after John the Baptist, even up to the present day.
So, what’s the kings reaction? We read:
The king was very angry; so he sent his soldiers, who killed those murderers and burnt down their city. (v.7)
Some people interpret this as the fall of Jerusalem in about 70 AD, when the Romans came in and destroyed everything, including the temple and thousands of people were put to the sword. But it also shows just how seriously God deals with those who take the lives of His servants and of those who continually reject His invitation. God invited His people, the people of Israel to believe in and accept His Son Jesus as the Messiah, and many of them did, (the disciples and the early church were all Jews.) But many of the people of Israel and indeed most people today do not accept God’s invitation. In the parable, we see that many of the invited could just not be bothered, one went to his business another to his shop. In other words, the cares of this world were more important to them than accepting God’s invitation. And how true that is today. The things of this world, our jobs, our friends, our hobbies and our leisure time all crowd our time, space and energies. “How can I have time for God? I’ve got to go and do something else instead.”
A good friend that Sonja and I have used to do all that he could to avoid coming to church when we were all students. On Sunday mornings I used to go round to Sonja’s house and then together we would call on our friend to see if he was coming to church. There was nearly always some excuse and usually it had something to do with fixing his old MG car. The excuse would be something like “oh I can’t come to church this morning, the brakes need bleeding”, or “the carburettor’s a bit clogged, it’s going to be a while I’m afraid.” My personal favourite was when he claimed that it was going to rain that afternoon and he needed to waterproof his wax jacket!! The funny thing was, if any of us came along to see if he wanted to go to the pub or the cinema there was never a problem, even if he was under the car covered in grease, he would down tools in no time and be ready!
Of course, it’s more than just about going to church, it’s about our whole lives. Do we make time to live our lives for God, or are we just too busy? Too busy making up excuses!?
In the parable, the king didn’t give up when the initial guests refused to turn up. He sent out his servants again and told them:
“Now go to the main streets and invite to the feast as many people as you find.” So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, good and bad alike; and the wedding hall was filled with people.”
“Yay”, that includes us! God sent us an invitation. How did we hear about the Lord Jesus? Was it from our parents, was it at Sunday School? Was it through Confirmation classes? Somehow, somewhere along the line we all heard about Jesus and at some point in our lives we have to either accept or reject the invitation. Some of us are perhaps still holding the invite in our hands, looking at it and wondering what to do with it. “How can I give my life to God”, we might ask, “I’m not good enough to accept this invitation”. The point is that none of us are good enough, if we were good enough, then there would have been no need for Jesus to die on the cross. He died in order that our sins might be wiped out. ALL WE HAVE TO DO IS ACCEPT THE INVITATION.
When we get to the bit in the parable about the man at the wedding feast who was not wearing the right clothes we might think that his treatment was a bit harsh! We’ve all done it haven’t we? You know, when we go to a meeting dressed in shirt and tie and everyone else is wearing jeans and tee shirt, or we go in shorts and everyone else is in formal evening wear complete with black tie! Yet we were never tied up and thrown out into the darkness, not even on our stag night! So why is the punishment so harsh?
In the time when the Lord told this parable, it was customary for guests to be given a garment to wear at a feast. It was usually longer than a persons normal robes and white in colour. So to refuse to wear the garment was to be very arrogant and insulting to the host, making a clear statement that he did not want to take part in the wedding celebrations. The application of this is that Christ has provided the garment of righteousness for us to wear through what He achieved on the cross. But each of us must choose to put that garment on in order to enter the King’s banquet / Eternal life. We are all given the invitation and offered the garment to wear. It is entirely up to us whether we accept the invitation and whether we wear the garment.
Let us seriously and soberly ask ourselves the question this morning: Have I accepted God’s invitation? Have I put on the garment of righteousness or is the invitation still unopened in the envelope and the garment on the floor? The invitation will not remain valid for ever. There is only so much time we can delay. Come on, let’s get ready, let’s accept the invitation and let’s put on the garment of righteousness that was won for us at such a great cost. And what gift do we bring? Oh, that’s easy, we bring ourselves, that’s all God wants, us, because He loves us and because we are so precious to Him…
(I got some useful bits of background for this from Michael Green’s book “Matthew for Today”, Hodder & Stoughton 1988).
Hmmm, sometimes following instructions doesn’t seem like such a bad idea after all! When I saw the Cheetah enjoying its chicken dinner underneath the sign like this, I just had to take the picture. Then it got me thinking (unusual for me some may think ;-) well on one level this sign is silly, along the lines of the peanuts in Tescos that say on the back of the packet “This product contains nuts” Obviously this animal might bite me (or worse) if I were to stick my hand through the alarmingly flimsy fence – but it’s good to be reminded of the obvious sometimes.
The rebel in us generally has a mistrust and dislike of being told what (or what not) to do. Someone passes us a plate of food and says “don’t touch, it’s hot” and of course the first thing we do is touch the plate and burn our finger. God says, “you shall have no other gods before me” yet how far down our list of priorities does He come? God says “you shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God” yet how often His name is used when, for example a thumb is accidently bashed by a hammer instead of the nail!? God says “remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy” – how often do we Christians on the Christian Sabbath (ie Sunday not Saturday) not treat the day as set apart and special? God says to honour our father and mother, not to murder, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to lie about our neighbour, and not to want our neighbours house, wife or possessions…
Ouch, there’s a bit of a bite to the Ten Commandments don’t you think? But like the sign at the Cheetahs enclosure, they are there for our own good, to ensure our enjoyment, happiness and protection.
One of the things that makes photography so enjoyable is the challenge of the limitations of your equipment. It’s great when you take a picture that a lot of people like, using an old film camera that’s worth about €30, especially when they say “wow you must have used a really good camera to take that picture”. I don’t have any photos good enough to make this point but have a look at Ken Rockwell’s take on this, “The camera doesn’t matter”. A good photographer will take good pictures using a disposable camera, because it is all about finding a location and waiting for the light to be interesting not about the better the equipment the better the picture.
Some of my favourite photos on this blog were taken with a plastic wonder of camera, the Canon A570is, which you can buy now for less than €100 on line. Unfortunately I did a very silly thing with it. We were all heading out in the car and I put the camera inside its case on to the drivers seat while I secured the boys into their child seats. Somehow the camera fell out of the car onto the driveway. Once we were all in the car I reversed it out and felt a slight bump under the wheel – I thought it might be a toy digger or something until I reversed back some more only to see the camera bag complete with squashed camera inside! Amazingly it still worked, but I couldn’t access the menu to change any settings and the focus and the metering were off, which meant that basically it wasn’t much good any more. I persisted with it for a few frustrating weeks and eventually conceded that it had to be taken to its final resting place (the retired gadgets shelf in my study).
With a very limited budget I started trawling eBay for a second-hand replacement. For €130 I got a bargain. Yes the camera is several years old but it was owned by a very careful retired chap in Scotland – it doesn’t look like it’s ever been out of the box, not a mark or scratch anywhere. For those who are interested it’s a Panasonic LX1, which was replaced by the LX2 a couple of years ago and more recently the LX3, which today sells for over €500!
On the way back from visiting a parishioner yesterday I stopped at the place you see in the picture above, it had only just stopped raining, so you can still see a bit of menace in the sky!