Archive for May, 2011

May 31, 2011

Ask, seek, knock

Dunasead Door

This door knocker at Dún na Séad Castle in Baltimore reminded me of those famous words of Jesus:

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…”

(Matthew 7:7,8)

The search for meaning in life can be and is baffling for many people.  These words of Jesus have always been a source of encouragement for me and for many others also.  May they be, for you reading this, a great help too.

 

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May 27, 2011

Col. Gaddafi comes to Clonakilty…

Clonakilty Street art

Walking down the main street in Clonakilty yesterday evening I was stopped in my tracks by this picture, painted on a board that has been placed over the window of a closed shop.  It intrigues me on a number of levels; firstly, although it is a fairly simple painting / stencil, the person depicted is instantly recognisable as the longtime ruler of Libya, Muammar Gaddafi who has been a thorn in the flesh of the U.S. and U.K. at least since the Lockerbie Bombing of December 1988 and probably for many years before that.  Of course more recently Gaddafi is in the news for the terrible situation in Libyaat the moment, a heartbreaking conflict between those loyal to Gaddafi and those (inspired by the success of their neighbours in Egypt) wanting the end of Gaddafi’s regime and to replace it with a democracy.

Secondly, the name of the artist is interesting; “Zirak” is not a common name in West Cork!  A quick Internet search shows that the name originates from an area overlapping Pakistan and Afghanistan, so perhaps the artist has come from there, or if not then certainly the artist’s ancestors did.  Why did they feel the need to paint this?  Perhaps it is a very graphic (literally) way of expressing their thoughts on what is happening in Libya at the moment – which brings me to the third level of interest, the words:

They still love me … right?

This puts in a nutshell what it is all about.  The conflict in Libya for many people is simply Gaddafi’s ego verses everyone else.  He would of course not be the first leader attempting to cling on to power in the face of overwhelming opposition, but it seems that his desire to be liked, respected, feared and revered has cost many lives, including members of his own family – and ultimately it may very well cost him his life also…

Of course we all want to be loved, but when that desire to be loved mutates into a desire to be adulated, whether the person is a rock star, footballer or political leader or even just somebody like you or me, then that is a recipe for grief.  It all makes me think of Someone who loves us more than we will ever know, understand or fully appreciate:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

If only Gaddafi had been told this news while he was still a young man…

May 24, 2011

If at first Ewe don’t succeed…

There is something delightful about watching young lambs running about skipping and jumping – enjoying life in the way that is common to all sorts of species, from kittens to puppies to foals, calves or even humans!  In the field just over the road from us there have been three lambs to enjoy watching these past few weeks and trying to photograph them has been surprisingly difficult.  First of all they are often too far away and secondly if they hear me approaching at all they quickly scatter and thirdly, the light has been so poor recently which has meant dull pictures.  After many failed attempts I finally managed to get a couple of photos – not quite what I wanted but they will have to do as the lambs and sheep have now been moved on (hopefully to another field but I don’t know).

May 18, 2011

Hargadon Bros.

1104Velvia_056

Back in the days when we lived in Sligo this place was a favourite haunt.  You could buy a box of Cornflakes from the shelves of grocery items (if you felt so inclined) and then a pint of Guinness and no one considered that strange.  The best thing though was the little alcoves to sit it – two or three or perhaps at a push more of you could get a good bowl of soup (and a glass of free water) and have a private lunch screened off from the outside world.  Summer in Sligo only lasted for a couple of days in June but the rest of the time there was always a turf fire going so there was always a haze of smoke giving ‘atmosphere’ to the air.

Sligo has changed much since then; they built a ‘bypass’ through the middle of the town, an architecturally disastrous shopping centre and several housing estates on the outskirts, some of them remaining long half-finished.  But despite all this it remains a special place, with a heart and character able to withstand the greed and ignorance of modern ‘development’ (gosh I’m sounding like a grumpy old windbag so I’ll stop there!)

Anyway, despite being closed for a couple of years (due to the building of the aforementioned shopping centre), it is great to see Hargadon Bros. open again and more or less unchanged from what it was.  If you were wondering why the photo  looks a mess it’s because I took the roll of film out of the camera in bright sunlight – you can get away with this using 35mm film because it’s in a metal cartridge, but I was using medium format 120 film, with only a paper backing :-( lesson learned the hard way…

May 15, 2011

Tranquility

1104Velvia_036It was a lovely still evening, I had to feel a bit sorry for those in their sailing boats, almost going nowhere.  But then that’s O.K. isn’t it?  It’s good to not always be rushing around but occasionally just sit back and drift a while, feeling the cool evening breeze on your face and listening to the gentle movement of the water.

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.

Mark 6:30-32

May 13, 2011

Window (on the past)

I must have passed this window dozens of times and never really noticed it before.  It is on the road between Timoleague and Kilmalooda – ‘in the middle of nowhere’, you might say!  As far as I can tell the cottage is no longer lived in and yet the owner has gone to the trouble of putting a pot of flowers on the windowsill.  It reminds me of ‘Old Ireland’, of days different to these.  Of course for all the romantic notions of yesteryear we know there was much that was bad about Old Ireland, and in so many ways the Ireland of today (despite its many faults) is a better place to live.  But still, I sometimes wish I could time-travel and experience the days when living in cottages like this was the norm and when people had more time and when the world was in less of a hurry than it is now…

May 10, 2011

A walk to Wood Point

Yesterday we took the opportunity of some welcome sunshine to take our visitors on a walk to Wood Point via the beach and woodland at Courtmacsherry.

As close to the edge as I dared!

Wood Point.  I didn’t know the name of this spot as it is not given any name on my recent Ordnance Survey map.  It was only by going to the OSI website and looking at the historic overlay from 1887-1913 that the name was given (though to add confusion the name “Land Point” is given in the even earlier 1829-1842 overlay).

The “Navigational Aid” – wearing its rust with pride!

Walking back through the woods, some bluebells…

The pressures of my work have been considerable of late and it was wonderful to be able to get away  – even if only for an hour or two, a real blessing it was.

May 8, 2011

The way…

The Road to Mombasa

The Road to Mombasa, which I took in 1988!

Today’s sermon.  Text Luke 24:13-35 (Year A, Easter 3)

Sometimes it’s helpful to think of life (and the Christian life in particular) as like a journey on foot.  For anybody that likes hill walking, this is not hard to imagine.  There will be times when the going is good, the sun is shining, the view is amazing, the ground is firm and we are warm and dry.  But as we all know, it’s not always this way.  Sometimes the ground is wet and hard going, it’s raining and there is no view because you are stuck in a bog in the middle of nowhere surrounded by fog – all you want to do is go home!  And of course we have highs and lows in our everyday lives as Christians – times when God seems very near and easy to talk to and times when He seems quiet, distant and very difficult to talk to.

It’s probably the latter that two of Jesus’ followers are feeling as they walk along the road to the village of Emmaus, about 11 Kilometres from Jerusalem.  This is still Easter Day, the same day that the women had met with the risen Lord Jesus and the same day that Peter and John had ran to the tomb, found it to be empty and wondered what on earth was going on.  So now in the latter part of the day a follower called Cleopas and another are walking away from Jerusalem discussing everything that had happened when all of a sudden a stranger comes alongside them and asks them what they are talking about.  In response, Cleopas turns to the stranger and says:

“Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?”  (18b)

Then Cleopas goes on to tell the Stranger about Jesus of Nazareth and how He was a powerful prophet in both what he said and what he did and how the chief priests and rulers handed him over to be crucified.  Cleopas then says (you can almost hear the sadness in his voice at this point) about how they had hoped that Jesus was going to be the one who was going to set Israel free but alas it was three days ago now that he was killed.  But he hasn’t given up all hope yet because he continues by telling the stranger that that very morning some of the women in their group amazed them all by going to the tomb of Jesus and finding it empty and they talked about a vision of angels.  Then some others had gone also and found the tomb just as the women had said.

The Stranger listened to all of this and then said to Cleopas and his companion:

“Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared!  Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then to enter into his glory?” (25, 26)

So then the stranger goes on to explain to them from the writings of the Old Testament about the Messiah.

Cleopas and his companion (possibly his wife, see John 19:25) are no doubt a bit confused by this stranger who has suddenly come up beside them on their journey.  Luke tells us that they were ‘looking sad’ (v.17)  After all, they were followers of Jesus and their Master, Friend and Teacher had been taken away from them like a common criminal and cruelly executed.  They couldn’t face staying in Jerusalem with the others any longer, they had to get out and go home to Emmaus.  It was too much to be able to cope with.  Were they running away?  Did they think their lives were in danger for being followers of Jesus?  Perhaps, or maybe they thought they would go home, away from Jerusalem in order to rethink and get some rest before they decided what to do next.

However, their confusion wasn’t to last much longer.  Things began to become clearer as this Stranger went through the Scriptures with them.  There are so many Old Testament passages that talk about the Messiah and the nature of His mission that we cannot go into them in any detail, but here’s perhaps some of the texts that Cleopas and his companion heard explained to them:  The promised offspring who would crush Satan in Genesis 3:15, the suffering Servant of Isaiah 53, the pierced one in Zechariah 12:10 and the Messanger of the covenant in Malachi 3:1.  There are of course many more passages throughout the Old Testament, more than enough to explain about who the Lord Jesus is and what He came to do.

So the Bible study is cut short as they arrive at the village of Emmaus.  The Stranger acts as if he is going further, but Cleopas and his companion are very impressed and want to hear more of what he has to say, so with the Sun beginning to set they urge the Stranger to come and stay with them.  No doubt their conversation about the Scriptures is continuing over their meal when all of a sudden they notice the Stranger taking a loaf of bread, giving thanks for it, breaking it and passing the pieces to them.  You can imagine the mixture of emotions can’t you?  Shock, bewilderment, fear, guilt, love, but above all excitement.  It’s Jesus!  All along it was Jesus who had met them on the road, Jesus who had been explaining the Scriptures to them and now it was Jesus who they were eating with!  I’m sure they just wanted to jump up and down and shout and sing their praises and fall at the feet of their guest and worship Him.  But before they can do any of this He disappears!

They look at each other in astonishment and say to each other:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the Scriptures to us?” (32b)

Just a few hours before they had been explaining to a Stranger about how sad and confused they were.  The Stranger had ministered to them firstly through God’s word and then through the breaking of bread.  As God had revealed Himself to them through His Word and through His Son their hearts and lives had been transformed from despair and confusion to utter joy and excitement.

Even though they are 11 kilometres away from Jerusalem and it is dark they cannot keep their excitement to themselves any longer.  They get up at once and ‘hot foot it’ back to the house in Jerusalem where the disciples are staying.  Even though they have travelled on this same road just a few hours before, their journey this time is very different.  Now they are travelling in the opposite direction (and not just in a physical sense).  On their journey out, they had been sad and confused and their feet had felt heavy along with their hearts.  Now they are full of joy, there is a spring in their step and they can’t wait to get back to the disciples’ to tell them what had happened.  They have done a complete U-turn from a state of sadness and ignorance to one of joy and understanding.

And so it is for us also.  Before we encounter the risen Lord Jesus, we are wandering around in a state of spiritual sadness and confusion.  The purpose and meaning of life is not clear.  Just as Cleopas and his companion were walking away from Jerusalem, where they should have been, before we encounter Jesus we are walking in the opposite direction from that which we are meant to be travelling.  But then Jesus meets us – do we listen to Him and what He has to say?  Do we invite Him in to our hearts and lives?  Do our hearts burn within us as we listen to God’s Word?  Do we repent and turn around and walk in the right direction?  Do we long to tell others what we have learnt and experienced?

Yes, life is a journey, but only Jesus provides a map that makes any sense of it all.  Let us then let Him walk with us and show us the way.  Let’s stop trying to take our own paths thinking we know best.  Let’s listen to Him, and follow always, Him who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  Amen.

May 2, 2011

You want proof?

Spider Monkeys

(Photo: Spider Monkeys at Fotataken in 2009)

Sermon from Yesterday.  Text: John 20:19-31  (Easter 2, Year A)

We’ve all heard the phrase “Seeing is believing”; if we hear some news that seems out of the ordinary we want proof, so the man coming home from work with a pay rise will want to show the new pay slip to his wife, the woman who has a winning lottery ticket will carefully guard the proof of the win until it can be handed in, the sports fan will keep the ticket stub from the match when her team won the cup to prove that she was there and the proud Father-to-be will carry around in his wallet the fuzzy black-and-white ultrasound printout as proof that he is going to have a son or daughter.

Of course when it gets to matters of faith, this can be quite confusing, it is not like we can physically see God with our own eyes, we cannot pick up the phone to Him or send an email.  Jesus is not on Facebook or Twitter and it is not possible to go and see Him onstage or even in a Church.  That is of course why many dismiss the claims of Christianity without ever really bothering to look more deeply.  But there are many things which cannot be proven which we know are real; for example love, or the beauty of music or art.  Yes there are signs and indicators that two people love each other, but how would we mathematically prove it? The look of rapture on the Opera lover’s face as he is absorbed by his favorite Aria is clear to see, but could it be quantified or reduced to its core elements in a test tube?

In our reading from John’s gospel this morning we have something to greatly help us with this whole question of proof.  Firstly the Lord Jesus proves His resurrection in a way that is beyond any doubt and then He shows that it is also possible to believe in Him without seeing the proof and how wonderful it is when that happens.  The reading starts off with the disciples huddled together in a room with the door locked because they are still in a state of shock and numbness over Jesus’ death.  Even though the risen Lord had already appeared to Mary Magdalene and she had told them as such, they were still not able to see the bigger picture.  Their master had gone, their Shepherd had left them the flock without a leader to guide them, they were sheep left alone in the hills without protection.  They were afraid of being arrested and killed because they were disciples of the One who had been arrested and killed a week before.

The door is locked, there is no other way in and suddenly there He is!  Jesus comes and stands in their midst and says “Peace be with you”.  To prove that it is He, He shows them his hands, the scars left by the nails and he shows them his side where the spear went in.  Understandably the disciples are overjoyed that their master and their friend is with them once again.  In a moment their despair had turned to joy.

No doubt, Jesus sees the state that they are all in, a mixture of utter joy, excitement and maybe a little fear so he says to them once more “Peace be with you” and then he continued:

“As the Father has sent me, so I send you”.  When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (v.21)

Jesus was not only giving them a job to do, but also giving them the power to do that job.  What he required of them was to tell people about him, to proclaim the good news to all nations.  Jesus breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit”, as a foretaste of what would happen on the day of Pentecost, when all believers from that time on would experience the power of the Holy Spirit working in their lives.  Of course that mission to proclaim, to speak and to live out the gospel message is entrusted to us and to all believers today and is just as important as it ever was.

Then Jesus then says to them:

If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.(v.23)

Of course he was not giving them the power to forgive sins, because only God can forgive sins.  Rather, Jesus gave them the privilege of telling new believers that their sins have been forgiven because they have accepted Jesus’ message.  All believers have this same privilege.  We can announce with certainty the forgiveness of our sin once we come to the place of repentance and faith.

It is easy to feel sorry for Thomas; he wasn’t there when Jesus visited the other disciples in the locked room and he wants proof.  When the other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, he said to them:

Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe. (v.25)

Next we read that a week later the disciples were again in a locked room, though his time Thomas was with them.  As before, Jesus came and stood amidst them and said “peace be with you” and then he turned to Thomas and said:

Put your finger here and see my hands.  Reach out your hand and put it in my side.  Do not doubt but believe. (v.27)

Thomas did not need to reach out and touch him, the sight of his Master induced a new depth of faith in him and he exclaimed:

My Lord and my God! (v.28)

Thomas got his proof and his response is clear, He calls Jesus God and Jesus does not object because what Thomas says is true.  Of course we might think that if we could have proof like Thomas did to show to people then many more would come to faith in Christ – maybe, but then there were many people around at the time who did not believe, despite the evidence.

I’m sure that we have all wished that we could actually see Jesus and hear Him speak to us in the way that we would speak with each other.  We want to know what he looked like (Did He really have long hair and a beard for example) and so on.  Like Thomas we want Jesus’ physical presence.  But God’s plan is far greater than this would allow.  He has not limited himself to a physical body.  That is why he is present with his people at all times, He is Here now and He is just as much with others as they meet in his name all around the world.  He lives in our hearts by his Holy Spirit.  He does speak to us now, through the Bible, and as we grow and mature in our prayers, we hear God’s still small voice speaking to us.  The Lord Jesus today can be as real to us as he was to Thomas.  For Thomas and the other disciples, they believed when they saw the risen Lord Jesus for themselves, and Jesus’ response to their joy and new-found faith was this, he said:

Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe. (v.29)

The days when Jesus would be visible to the physical eyes were limited because he was soon going to return to his Father in heaven.  But Jesus would still be visible to the eyes of faith.  For the benefit of all those who would believe as a result of the testimony of the apostles, including us, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe”.

Some of us believe because we were brought up by our parents to believe.  Some of us believe through finding the Saviour later on in life.  No matter how or when we came to believe, God blesses us because we do.

And so we come to a rather startling conclusion:  The proof of Jesus’ resurrection today is us!

Yes, we are the one’s given the responsibility to show Christ’s love and his power to forgive to a world that is lost, broken and hurting and which desperately needs a Saviour.  It is not up to anyone else, it is our job, our responsibility and our great and awesome privilege.

I’ll finish with some famous lines from Teresa of Avila:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
      no hands but yours,
      no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
      Christ’s compassion to the world
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about
      doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless men now.

Amen.