Archive for January, 2012

January 30, 2012

January has flown by!

Winged head

January has to be my least favourite month of the year but now it is coming to an end I have to say that it hasn’t been too bad this year.  The weather has been ridiculously mild, (especially compared to the last two years) and for a month that normally drags on it just seems to have flown by this year.  January is usually a fairly quiet month work wise, but not this year.  Lots of good stuff is happening in the parish at the moment; the three mid-week home / bible study / worship groups are going well and it’s really exciting to see people getting involved and using their God-given gifts to make a difference in all sorts of ways.  Perhaps we are slowly beginning to open the door to the 21st century and realise that it’s not as scary as we thought it would be…

The interesting headstone above is is the graveyard of Timoleague Abbey, which I drive past several times a week.  I had noticed it on an earlier visit and so when I had a bit of time on my hands on the way back from Courtmacsherry earlier this month I stopped and another look.  I find this winged head fascinating – does it represent the persons soul flying away or does it represent the fleeting nature of life, is it a type of Angel?  I don’t know.  I found a good article on these motifs here.

January 24, 2012

The ultimate ‘Fail Whale’, a lesson from Jonah.

"The Whale Tail", Clonakilty

Photo:  “The Whale Tail” sculpture in Clonakilty, the nearest I could get to a whale around here without getting on a boat!

Sermon from last Sunday.  Text: Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (though the whole story is discussed).

You’ve got to feel a little bit sorry for Jonah; he was just sitting there, minding his own business and then God comes along and tells him to get up on his feet and go to an enormous city and start preaching.  Imagine if that were us?  There we are sitting down one day, watching T.V. or counting our ‘Friends’ on Facebook and all of a sudden there is a Big Voice and the Big Voice tells us to get up off our backside, to leave our comfortable life in West Cork and go to a big city, far away in another country, where we have never been before and we are to walk the streets and market places and we are to tell people that they had better turn to God, because God is angry with them!  What would go through your mind, how would you react?  Right now, are you trying to push out of your mind something that God has called you to do and you are not yet doing?

Jonah ran away, he wanted to hide, silly thing that, ‘how can you hide from God?’ we say, but haven’t we tried to hide from God sometimes too?

There’s a wonderful few verses in Psalm 139 that go like this:

7Where can I go from your Spirit? 
Where can I flee from your presence? 

8If I go up to the heavens, you are there; 
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 

9If I rise on the wings of the dawn, 
if I settle on the far side of the sea, 

10even there your hand will guide me, 
your right hand will hold me fast. 

Of course, these are meant to be comforting words, but if you are trying to run away from God, then they will help you to see that it is all pretty pointless, because God is everywhere!

But that doesn’t stop Jonah.  He gets up, then standing at the crossroads and looking at the sign for Nineveh, (which is in the East), he takes the road heading in the opposite direction to a town on the coast called Joppa.  Then from Joppa he pays to board a ship headed west for Tarshish and as far away from God as he can get.

Once on board the ship, perhaps Jonah begins to feel a bit safer, perhaps he feels he can stop looking over his shoulder for a while.  It is an exhausting thing running away from God.  Jonah goes down into the safety of the ships hold and in no time at all he is in a deep sleep.  We are told that the LORD hurls a great wind upon the sea and that there is a mighty storm that threatens to break up the ship. Things are desperate and the crew of the ship sense that there is something supernatural going on here.  Perhaps this is a storm unlike any other they had seen and they reckon that it is somebody’s fault, they cry out to their gods for help and they throw cargo overboard to lighten the ship, but it is no good.  Jonah’s disobedience is putting the lives of everyone on board in grave danger.

But not for long, the captain wakes him up and says:

‘What are you doing sound asleep? Get up, call on your god! Perhaps the god will spare us a thought so that we do not perish.’ (1:6).

They draw lots to see whose fault it is and sure enough the lot falls on Jonah.  The sailors are convinced that it is his fault and they ask him to explain himself.  Jonah replies:

I am a Hebrew,’ … ‘I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’ (1:9)

And when the sailors learn also that Jonah is fleeing from this all-powerful God, they become even more afraid, so they ask him what to do because even as they are speaking the wind and waves are growing in strength and stature.  Jonah replies:

‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will quieten down for you; for I know it is because of me that this great storm has come upon you.’ (1:12)

What an astonishing response.  Jonah realises that he is cornered, that it is ultimately futile trying to run and hide from God and so he gives up and resigns himself to the fact that he has lost, that God has won and they might as well throw him overboard because that is the only way that the storm will stop.  But the sailors don’t want him to die so they try hard to row the ship back to land, but it is no use so they cry out to Jonah’s God asking for mercy and they throw him overboard, into the dark ocean depths … and immediately the sea quietens down.

Perhaps Jonah is convinced he is going to drown, that the light from above will fade as he disappears into the inky blackness of the deep, that yes it is possible to run away from God, but if you succeed the place where you will end up is called hell.  But God has other plans; He sends a big fish to swallow Jonah.

Have you ever been swallowed by a great fish?  No, I haven’t either, but perhaps we have been or are in the same place that Jonah was.  Now at last the running away had stopped, Jonah cries out to the God that he had been running away from and he does something that he had not done for a long time, he prays.  Jonah pours out his gratitude to God that he has not drowned.  Overwhelmed with relief, he looks to God again and over a period of three days and nights, he refocuses his life, he stops trying to be in control and he hands his life back to God.

Jonah learns his lesson (I suppose that it goes without saying that he has learnt it the hard way!) So when God sees that Jonah is a changed man He speaks to the fish and so Jonah is unceremoniously spewed out onto dry land.  He stinks and looks like he’s been in the belly of a fish for three days, but he has been saved, he is alive and stands on solid ground once again.

God tries again, He says:

‘Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.’ (3:1)

So we are told that Jonah goes into the middle of the city and he speaks out the word that the LORD had given to him, he says:

‘Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’

I imagine that he was probably thinking that they would grab him and throw him in prison, or something much worse, but at least God was on his side now, he was doing the right thing.  But something amazing (and probably most unexpected) happened, in chapter 3:5 we read

5And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

Next time you are thinking that people will think you are strange if you tell them about Jesus, think again.  You may very well be surprised at their reaction.  The longer we follow God’s way, the more we realize that we do not need to be afraid, so we certainly do not need to be afraid to tell people that we are going to church, that we are going to a Home Group or helping out with Sunday Club, God can and will use all these things to bring people to Himself.  The people of Nineveh were far from God, but on hearing the message from God they repented and they fasted and they changed their ways, so that in verse 10 we read:

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

If you ever doubted that God is the God of the second chance or that He is the God of new beginnings, read again the story of Jonah!  Just because we have made mistakes in the past, it does not disqualify us from serving God in the future.  On our own, none of us are good enough, none of us are qualified enough to serve God.  It is all down to His love, His mercy, His healing, and His undeserved favour.  One of the most incredible verses in the whole Bible is found in Romans 5:8, it says simply this:

‘… but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us’. (ESV)

God loved Jonah and He proved it by not leaving him to be a victim of his own choices and in rescuing him from the dark depths of his own decisions.  God loved the people of Nineveh so much that He wanted to rescue them from themselves and the mistakes they had made.  He wanted to warn them and He wanted them to change their minds and be saved.  God loves you and me beyond all measure and He proves it by giving His Son to die for us, in the place that we deserved upon the cross.

Please don’t let your life become a tangled, mixed up mess of your own wrong choices and bad decisions, hand it over to God, all of it.  Trust Him, He does, after all know what He is doing … Amen.

January 18, 2012

For those in Peril on the sea.

There have been two sad and tragic maritime incidents over the past days.  Firstly the ‘Costa Concordia‘, a Cruise Liner which ran aground off the west coast of Italy.  At the time of writing there are 11 people confirmed dead and 23 still unaccounted for.  Secondly, and closer to here, the search continues today in Glandore Harbour for the five missing crewmen that went down with the vessel ‘Tit Bonhomme.

Glandore Harbour

(Photo: Glandore Harbour in happier times)

Last night, in the home group that meets in our house we discussed the passage in Matthew 14 where Jesus walks on the water towards his stricken disciples.  It was only natural then that we found ourselves praying for those affected by these two tragedies and for all those whose livelihood depends on the sea.  It is perhaps impossible to imagine what it must be like for the relatives, as they wait for the bodies of their loved ones to be recovered.  May God help them in ways beyond words and understanding and may He give all help to those involved in the search.

Of course, the words of that great hymn, “Eternal Father Strong to Save” comes to our minds at times such as this:

Eternal Father, strong to save,
whose arm doth bind the restless wave,
who bidd’st the mighty ocean deep
its own appointed limits keep:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Saviour,whose almighty word
the wind and waves submissive heard,
who walkedst on the foaming deep,
and calm amidst its rage did sleep;
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Holy Spirit, who didst sweep
across the dark and formless deep
to bid its angry tumult cease,
and give, for wild confusion, peace:
O hear us when we cry to thee
for those in peril on the sea.

O Trinity of love and power,
sustain us all in danger’s hour;
through wreck and tempest, grief and loss,
renew the triumph of the cross:
and ever let  there rise to thee
glad hymns of praise from land and sea.

William Whiting (1825-78)

January 17, 2012

Random Light No.5

Some photos from the last few weeks…

Rose B&W

The Rose bush outside our Kitchen window is a never ending source of inspiration.
Gullanes Sunset (again)!

Taken one evening from the back garden.

Kilkenny window

“And now we shall look through the Round Window…”

Kilkenny rainbow

Rainbow over the rooftops of Kilkenny.

Mini wedding car

A “Mini” wedding.

'Here doggy doggy...'

A couple of the Residents at Hayfield Manor, Cork.

Curracloe grass

Marram grass, at Curracloe, Co. Wexford.

January 12, 2012

“… so that our church does not die out with us.”

Overgrown church building

Below you will find the sermon from last Sunday as I had it printed out, (I think it came out a bit differently but anyway there was some interest in it so I thought I would post it here).  The picture above was taken at the ruins of Lislee church, near Courtmacsherry.

Text: Mark 1.4-11

A happy New Year to you all!  One thing I love about a New Year is that it is a reminder to us that God is a God of ‘new beginnings’ and that it is never too late (while there is breath in our body) to have a new start.  But of course it is not just at New Year, but all the year round that God works and He is always doing new and exciting things.

Recently I was listening to a talk by Nicky Gumbel (the man who started the Alpha course), about the church where he serves in London.  He reminisced about when he first started going there as a parishioner and how in those days there was a very small congregation and they were mostly elderly.  At their equivalent to a vestry meeting they said to the Vicar, (a chap called Sandy Miller), ‘Yes, we like traditional church services and the old language, but please do whatever you need to do so that our church does not die out with us.’  So, many changes were gradually made and one of them was to take the pews out of the church and replace them with chairs, so they could do more things with the large space.  Nicky Gumbel loves the chairs and now twenty or so years later he finds himself in a similar position to the older folk when he was young and that is to the young people of today, chairs are a hindrance and just so old-fashioned; they just want an empty floor!   The thing about chairs is that you are stuck in them and the young people love to be able to move around freely, sit in groups get up and go over to another group and so on.  So Gumbel says that even though he loves the chairs and finds it difficult when they are not there, he is willing to not have them at some of the church services for the sake of generation who are growing up in the church.

Why am I going on about this?  One reason is that I want us to start thinking a bit more about the future of the parish but mainly it is because I believe that there is a connection with our reading from Mark’s Gospel.  The Jewish people were very traditional and very stuck in their ways and it was John the Baptist’s job to wake them up.  Have you ever had someone throw a glass of cold water on your face?  Well, that is what John came to do, as Tom Wright puts it:

“John’s ministry burst in upon the surprised Jewish world.  Many had been looking for a sign from God, but they hadn’t expected it to look like this.  Many had wanted a Messiah to lead them against the Romans, but they weren’t anticipating a prophet telling them to repent”. (From Mark for Everyone, SPCK)

What did John want the people to do to be ready for Jesus?  He called them to ‘repent’, to turn around and start walking in the right direction, to wake up to God’s reality.  John wanted people to be ready for the new thing that God was doing.

While the other gospel writers give us more detail on the Lord’s baptism, Mark gets directly to the point, he tells us:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’ (v.9-11)

One striking thing here is the words of the Father, which in one translations reads:

‘You are my wonderful son; you make me very glad.‘

I don’t know what it is, but in our part of the world the relationship that fathers have with their sons is such that it is not unusual for sons to never hear things such as ‘my dear child’ or ‘I’m very pleased with you’, or even simply ‘I love you’.  I believe that these words of the Father to Jesus, the Son should be an encouragement to all of us Fathers who have sons, to follow the example given to us, to tell our sons that we love them, that we are pleased with them and how much joy they give to us and how proud we are of them.  As a father, it might be one of the most important things we ever do.

The account of Jesus’ baptism is very important not just for the relationship that we see between the Father and the Son but also their relationship with the Holy Spirit.  Now sometimes our lectionary readings come together remarkably well and today is one of them.  All of the readings show God at work doing new things by the Person, work and power of the Holy Spirit.  In the reading from Genesis chapter 1, it is the Spirit of God that broods over the chaos of the deep and breathes God’s creative life into it.  As Jesus is baptised God’s Spirit settles on Him, affirming His identity and mission.  In the reading from Acts we hear how a group of new believers break into a whole new dimension of faith as they are baptised with both water and the Holy Spirit and yes if we engage with this reading it is a bit like a wake up call, like a glass of cold water being thrown in our face.

There are of course many people today who think that Jesus was a great teacher, who gave us an important moral code and ethical guidelines as ideals to strive for, but then they leave it at that.  Jesus though is not past tense, He is alive today working with the Father and the Spirit as He always has and always will.  The option to see Him as just a good moral teacher is not enough.  He wants to do new things in us and through us.  He wants to indwell us by His Spirit so that the words of the Father to Jesus that day become the same words that He says to us.  “He sees us, not as we are in ourselves, but as we are in Jesus Christ.  It sometimes seems impossible, especially to people who have never had this kind of support from their earthly parents, but it’s true:  God looks at us, and says, ‘You are my dear, dear child; I’m delighted with you.’” (Tom Wright, Mark For Everyone)

Your Heavenly Father loves you so very much, believe it.

In a similar way to that in which the Holy Spirit brooded over the face of the deep at the dawn of Creation, so He broods over us.  God wants to breathe His new life and love into the darkened chaos of our doubts, fears and sin.  He strongly desires to cleanse us with the blood of His Son and for us to let Him in, let Him work, let Him act in us and through us.

Change is something that typically the older we get the more difficult we can find to accept, whether it be the change that God wants to work in us as individuals or change that He wants to happen in the Church.  Over the past while as I have been driving around different parts of the country I have noticed more clearly than I ever have before the number of closed church buildings there are.  Now of course we can argue that church buildings are closed because of changes in population, emigration, intermarriage, Ne Temere and so on but I think the overwhelmingly greatest reason for church closure is the refusal to pass on the gospel to the generations to come in a way that is relevant to their language and culture.  Thankfully there are many churches and parishes that have successfully passed on the gospel message to the new generations and as you know this is something that we try (with limited success to do here) but I think no one would disagree that we need to be a lot braver and less tentative about it.  God wants to do new things in you and me and I believe he wants to do new things in this church and in this parish because He does not want this church to die out with the generations represented here today.  Remember that God is a God not of endings, but of new beginnings!  Let us pray… Amen.

January 9, 2012

Deep calls to deep.

Glenmalure Waterfall

Waterfall at Glenmalure, on the approach to Lugnaquilla, Co. Wicklow.

In taking this picture on our recent trip to Co. Wicklow, I remembered these lines from Psalm 42:

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

(Psalm 42:7-8)

The Psalms are so refreshingly (sometimes even painfully) honest; you will not find here any pretense that a life trying to follow God will be an easy one.  The writer of this Psalm is thirsting and longing for God in the midst of overwhelming depression, but even in the deafening roar that threatens to engulf them, the trust in God remains – even if it is only hanging on by a thread, that is enough…