Archive for ‘Parish’

August 13, 2015

“Imprints of Light” Exhibition

Soon we will be leaving Cork to move to Dublin, where I will take on a new role as a school chaplain (more on that another day). We have greatly enjoyed our twelve years in this wonderful part of Ireland and God-willing we will return for holidays and other adventures in the future.

One of the things I have been asked to do before we go is to have an exhibition of photographs for the Timoleague Festival. I feel very honoured to have been asked and a little daunted by the whole undertaking. Thankfully I have some excellent help from a parishioner who is also a very accomplished and gifted photographer and who knows a good deal about this sort of thing. The photos will go up later today and the display will be open to the public from Saturday for a week.

Here is a gallery of the photos that have been printed for the exhibition; some of them have appeared on this blog before and others are new:

December 16, 2014

When God comes near

I came across this painting in the Chapel of one of the local nursing homes. As I saw it from a distance, at first I thought the foreground was the rolling waves of a tumultuous sea at night. I felt drawn in to the scene and as I got closer I saw the snowy landscape and that what I had originally thought to be the moon, was of course a star, and not just any old star, but The Star of Christmas.  The star is small and right on the edge of the picture but nevertheless it casts significant light on the mid and far distance, even if the way immediately in front of us (as we look at the scene) is still in darkness.

There is much here to meditate upon (whoever decided to hang this painting in the chapel knew what they were up to). In this season of Advent we are reminded that God comes near, very near and yet He is hidden also. We are called to seek Him and to find Him in unexpected places and in the lives of unexpected people. This is the season where darkness gives way to Light, where sin gives way to the Saviour and where death is overcomes by New Birth. Come O come Emmanuel, God is with us!

Postscript:
We have been greatly enjoying the Advent series of videos produced by 24-7 Prayer called “When God comes near” (the inspiration for the title of this blog post). Here is the link, they really are well worth watching.

July 24, 2013

A walk through history

Last Sunday our Parish took part in the Clonakilty 400 celebrations.  We walked from the site of the ancient church to the ‘new’ church that was built in 1818.  Here is a gallery of photos from the day…

Here are the words I spoke in the church service:

21st July 2013, Kilgarriffe Parish Church, Clonakilty.  

I would like to thank Tomás Tuipéar for his excellent talk up at the old church site and for giving me all the fascinating bits of history that I am about to share with you and for all his help in preparation for today.  There are many others to thank also, including Councillor John Loughnan, the Mayor Phil O’Regan and members of the town council, Cork County Council (who did a huge job in preparing the walkway for us today), members of Clonakilty Duchas and of course the Clonakilty 400 committee, without which the walk would not have been possible. Thank you to our bus drivers John and John, and a special thanks to our churchwardens, Joyce and Elma, organist Roy, Ernie, Jean, Tommy and to the many others who have more than played their part in making this event happen…

This church building where we are now takes its name from the ancient church at the old Kilgarriffe, from which many of us have walked.  The name Kilgarriffe comes from the Gaelic ‘Cill’ (kill) meaning church and ‘Garbh’ (gorrive) meaning rough or rough ground.  Kilgarriffe is of course also a townland and gives its name to the Civil Parish of Kilgarriffe as well.

When Clonakilty was set up in the early sixteen hundreds, church life moved from the ancient Kilgarriffe to this place.  Historians believe this was the site of the Clogh ny Kylte castle recorded in 1367; it would have been usual to have a church or chapel of ease attached to such a castle.

The castle of Clogh ny Kylte didn’t survive the many battles of the time but it is possible that the chapel attached to it did.  In 1605 settlers are recorded here and called the ‘Portreve and Corporation of Cloughnakilty’. Their place of worship is not known but when the charter of 1613 was granted, the limits of the borough were measured from this place and referred to as ‘the old chapel’.

Richard Boyle, who was made lord of the town, is credited with building a church for worship on this site in 1613, then In 1615, James Worth is recorded as Vicar.

The next reference is in 1663 when the inhabitants of the parishes of Island, Kilkerranmore, Desert and Ardfield were united by commission to repair the church of Cloghnikilty – 139 years later in 1802, the building was re-roofed and a gallery added.  Then in 1818 it was taken down and the present church erected on the site at a cost of £1,300.  The church contains a chalice (which you can see on the Communion Table) with the following inscription ‘This cup was made in the year 1636. Humphrey Jobson Esq. and John Baker, gentleman, being church wardens.

In the Bible we have a wonderful description of the church as being made up of ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:4-6).  We often think of a church as a building made up of blocks of cut stone, but isn’t it a powerful image to picture the church instead as being made up of living stones, of all the people who worship together with their common foundation in Christ?  As we listened to Tómas earlier, his infectious enthusiasm helped to bring the history of that ancient place to life and my mind was transported back, imagining what the people were like and what kind of lives they lived and how for the vast majority life must have been very hard.  Their belonging to the church of ‘living stones’ must have been at least as important to them as it is for us today.  As their spiritual descendants, may each of us, regardless of what building we worship in remember that as living stones we are part of that one church founded on Christ, whose great privilege is to pass on the faith to those who would come after us so that the history of the church in this part of the world might go on being written.  Wouldn’t it be great if at the celebration of the ‘Clonakilty 800’, a mere 400 years from now that our descendants could celebrate even more than we can today all that God has done in His church and that any religious divisions of the past would be nothing more than an historical footnote?  May God bless us and bring us together more and more as Living Stones for the glory of His name, Amen.

February 3, 2013

Worship is a way of life

Rainbow Panorama

Photo: A Rainbow from our garden, November 2010

Sermon for Sunday 3/2/13

Text – Revelation 4

I remember as a ten-year-old the mixture of fear and curiosity as I waited outside the headmaster’s study, I had been summoned to see him but I did not know what it was about.  He was Scottish, he had no sense of humour (at least as far as I could discern) and he had the temper of a hungry polar bear that had just been hit with a stick…

What’s the most important meeting to which you have ever been summoned?  Can you remember what it was like; the mixture of emotions that were going through your mind and how time seemed to pass by either so quickly or so slowly, depending upon how you felt?

In our second reading today, John, the disciple of Jesus has an important meeting, but it is not one that he had been expecting or could have planned for.  John was a prisoner on the Island of Patmos, about 35 miles off the coast of south-western Turkey.  The authorities put him there, in exile, as a punishment for being a follower of and such effective witness for Christ.  Of course, rather than stopping John from being effective for Christ, the exact opposite happens; he has the chance to pray and to reflect and he receives the most explosive vision of God’s power and love, written down in this incredible last book of the Bible called ‘Revelation’.[1]

John has a vision in which he sees a door, but it is no ordinary door, this one opens up into heaven!  No doubt John is aware of his surroundings, the sky is still blue (remember, this vision is not happening in Ireland), he can still hear the waves crashing on the shore nearby and he can still feel the wind on his face, but nevertheless there is a door that is clearly from a different realm and it is open.  And a voice, like a trumpet speaks to him saying,

‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ (1)

The voice belongs to Jesus, John recognised the voice, it was loud, clear, penetrating, (like a trumpet), this was the voice of the risen Jesus.  Different but perhaps similar to Jesus’ voice with which John would have been so familiar from the three years they spent together during Jesus’ earthly ministry.

Once Jesus has spoken the vision becomes deeper, John now tells us that

‘at once I was in the spirit.’ (2)

What John sees next could not be seen with ordinary eyes, what he sees is the throne of God in heaven, yet he sees a highly symbolic view, perhaps an ‘actual’ or ‘real’ view of God’s throne would be too overwhelming to even approach, let alone describe.  He writes:

‘… and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne!  And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. (3)

Then in verse 5 we see that:

‘Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God;’

Last Wednesday night do you remember the thunder and lightning we had?  Together with the howling wind and driving rain it was quite a night of weather!  On Thursday morning I opened the back door and I could see that we had a visitor – it was next door’s dog, he’s quite an old fella and he was cowering in the corner of the porch looking frightened.  The cat was there too, looking quite pleased with himself, thinking that he was the cause of the dog’s terror, but no, the dog had escaped from his own enclosure during the night because of the thunder and lightning.

Why is it that as John looks at the place where God is, it is terrifying? Why is there lightning and thunder and flashes of fire?  Perhaps this is to remind us all that God is holy, He is powerful and mighty and awesome and scary – He is not some cuddly granddad figure floating on a cloud!  In the Old Testament for an Israelite to even touch the mountain where God had come down to meet Moses would mean certain death (Exodus 19:12,13,21).  God in all His glory is utterly unapproachable, He is so incomparably perfect in every way and we are so sinful and imperfect that the gulf between us is too big.  Yet His love for us is far greater than our sin.  He is determined that we should be able to approach Him and to know Him and love Him as our heavenly Father.  The good news is that He has made a way for us to approach Him and that is through Jesus.  As well as the thunder and lightning, John also tells us that there is a rainbow that looks like an emerald.  Perhaps the most famous rainbow in the Bible is the one God showed to Noah and his family when they came out of the Ark.  That rainbow was a promise from God that never again would there be a flood like the one Noah and all in the Ark had to be rescued from.  Every time a rainbow has appeared in the sky ever since it is a reminder to humankind that God always keeps His promises.  Yes we imperfect people will break promises and go back on our word, but God never has and He never will.  So the rainbow here in the vision that John is seeing in heaven is a reminder to us all of God’s faithfulness; He will never betray us and His love for us is perfect and holy and total and that love has been fully expressed to us in Jesus.  It is a love so great that it allowed His own Son to be nailed to a cross in our place, to die the death that we deserved (Isaiah 53:5).

There’s a lot more going on in this vision; we see that around God’s throne in the centre are twenty-four thrones and seated on those twenty-four thrones are twenty-four elders.  There were twelve tribes that made up the nation of Israel and there were twelve Apostles at the birth of the church, so put the two twelve’s together and you have ‘ta daa’ … twenty-four!  So this represents all God’s people through the ages; through the time of the Old Testament and through the age of the Church (which is where we are to this day).

Then we come to what are called four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind’. (6) Often when you talk to someone who has a group of rowdy children to look after they will say something like ‘you need eyes in the back of your head with this lot’!  Of course, what they mean is that it is really difficult to see everything that is going on and they are afraid that they might miss something, such as a child injuring themselves or another child during the course of play.  So these four living creatures being covered in eyes is symbolic of the fact that they see everything, there is no pulling the wool over their eyes, they don’t miss a trick!  As well as all the eyes, each creature has a different appearance; the first one has the appearance of a lion, the king of the untamed animals and who represents power.  The second creature has the appearance of an ox, the greatest of the tamed animals, representing strength.  The third creature has the face of a human, representing intelligence and showing the importance of the human race in God’s creation.  The fourth creature is like a flying eagle, the undisputed king of the birds, representing swiftness.  These creatures appear elsewhere in the Bible (Ezekiel 1, Isaiah 6) and they are called Seraphim, high ranking Angelic beings, they are the ones who surround the throne of God and who lead worship – and what worship it is!

I’ve sometimes heard grumpy people complain that in some other churches they sing too much (indeed I know I have sometimes moaned about it too); whether it be charismatic praise lasting twenty minutes or more, or choral evensong in a Cathedral taking far longer than we think it should.  If we think that is bad we might be in for a bit of a shock in heaven, where in this vision of John, the four angels around the throne of God never stop singing, day and night!  Of course this would be no ordinary singing; this would be the most beautiful noise and well beyond the scope of our earthly ears to fully appreciate… and what do they sing?

‘Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is and is to come.’ (8)

The thing that happens next is so beautiful that I had tears in my eyes as I was typing the words at the computer – the twenty-four elders join in the worship too.  We as the church of God are included; the day will come when we are around the throne of God, there are absolutely no words to describe what that will be like; it will be beyond spine-tingling, it will be the most beautiful and awesome thing beyond what we could ever imagine and with countless numbers of others we will join in the worship and we will sing, with beautiful new voices:

‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.’ (11)

All Creation exists because of God the Creator and all creation exists to worship Him.  God made us as the pinnacle of His Creation and the whole point and meaning of our lives now and that new life which is to come finds its purpose and meaning only in worshipping Him who made us.  Let us worship him now and never let us stop worshiping Him in the way that we live our lives for Him who gave His life for us.  Worship is indeed a way of life and we will never be fully content or find peace and joy until we realise that God is worthy, more than worthy of our worship, not just singing worship but to worship Him with all of our lives, every moment, with all that we are and everything that we have… Amen.

Bibliography:

Tom Wright, ‘Revelation for Everyone’, SPCK 2011 (Kindle edition)
William Hendriksen “More than Conquerors”, Tyndale Press, 1962
John Richardson, “Revelation Unwrapped”, MPA Books, 1996


[1] Tom Wright, ‘Revelation for Everyone’, SPCK 2011 (Kindle) Location 315

January 27, 2013

The day they wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff

Inchydoney Sea Thrift

Photo: Sea Thrift flowers at Inchydoney, on the side of the small cliffs there.

Sermon for Sunday 27/1/13.  Text Luke 4:14-30

Many of you have I’m sure lived away from home for a time and if you have, can you remember what it was like coming home?  Perhaps you were nervous, perhaps you were excited about seeing your family and friends again and revisiting those places that were so much a part of your upbringing.  Think too of what it was like going back to the church in whose pews you sat as a child…

The Lord Jesus had been away from His home town for a while; He had been down in the south of the country and there he had been baptised by John in the river Jordan and then he had been in the desert wilderness and Samaria.  Now he was back in the North, back in Galilee and was returning to His home town of Nazareth, to his Mother and family and to the houses and streets and Synagogue with which He would have been so familiar from his growing up years.

Luke tells us that Jesus was ‘filled with the power of the Spirit’ (14)  There was something different about Jesus now, of course, he had always been different, he had after all never sinned (2 Cor.5:21), and as fully man and fully God, he had always been full of the Holy Spirit.  Now though there is a new power about him, his ministry has fully begun – He has been baptised and filled anew with the Spirit and he has overcome the devil in the desert.  He has a new focus, a new passion and commitment.  He has been going around the synagogues in the area and everyone has been really impressed with him and sung his praises.

So, the Lord is back in Nazareth and on Saturday morning, the Sabbath, he goes to church (I mean synagogue, but it really was quite like church).  The Synagogue in Nazareth would have been small, it would have been traditional, they wouldn’t have had the latest worship songs.  I think it’s safe to say that Mary and perhaps Jesus’ younger brothers and sisters would have been there and it’s not hard for us to imagine the anticipation in the air as the Lord stood up to read from Isaiah.  He unrolls the scroll and reads the words:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.  He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ (from Isaiah 61:1,2).

As he rolls up the scroll and hands it back to the attendant you would have been able to hear a pin drop, all the eyes are fixed upon Him.  This is Jesus, the local boy made good.

It all starts off very well.  Jesus says in response to the reading from Isaiah:

‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’ (21)

Now this is a very bold statement, these words from Isaiah are part of a prophecy about the Messiah, that He will be the one sent to Israel to set them free from oppression and captivity and to usher in a new era of God’s blessing and favour.  Jesus’ audience like what He has to say; Luke tells us that, ‘All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.’ (22)

But the honeymoon doesn’t last long.  The awe of the people in the ‘pews’ doesn’t linger, they say, ‘hang on a minute, isn’t this Joseph’s son, we’ve known him since he was knee-high to a grasshopper?’  It is always easier for the outsider to be listened to; we take them at face value and give them the benefit of the doubt.  But when it is one of our own, one whom we have known since they were a child then it is much more difficult for us to accept them and what they have to say.  So for these people of Nazareth it is a difficult thing to accept that this child of Joseph as they thought, (see 3:23) is the Messiah.

The people are confused and that confusion will very soon turn to anger.  They had heard about the miracles that Jesus had been performing and His reputation was growing all the time, but could He really be the Messiah?

Perhaps any ordinary preacher would have snuck out the back door by now, but Jesus is no ordinary preacher, and He will certainly not let anyone get in the way of God’s Word.  There is more to say and He is going to say it:

‘…there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up for three years and six months, and there was a severe famine all over the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon.’ (25, 26)

The citizens of Nazareth were just like their fellow countrymen and women throughout Israel, they were a proud people.  As far as they were concerned, they had the monopoly on God.  Their history showed that they were God’s chosen, special and blessed people.  They would have treasured the promise of Deuteronomy 7:6, which says:

For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

The Lord Jesus is saying that God also loves the other nations; Jesus will die not just for the sins of Israel but for the world: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.’ (John 3:16)  Jesus reminds them of how God sent the prophet Elijah to a foreign widow for food and shelter when he was on the run from king Ahab (1 Kings 17,18).  In case the point has not hit home, Jesus gives them another example, of the Syrian army commander Naaman, who was healed of leprosy through the ministry of Elisha.  In other words yes God loves Israel, but He also loves the rest of the world and He wants to reach out and save them too.

For the people of Nazareth this was a great insult, it wounded their national pride and conceit.  It would be like God saying to the flag-waving Unionists that He also loved and deeply cared about their Roman Catholic neighbours and wanted them to do the same.  How outrageous, how insulting, how blasphemous!  We don’t mind hearing that God is great and just and holy and pure, but when we are told that he will have mercy on people who we don’t like and with whom we strongly disagree, we cannot stand it.[1]  To find out that God loves those whom we hate will make us furious and so it was with the people in church that morning.

‘They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.’ (29)

What drove the people to fury was that God was rescuing the wrong people.  It would be someone in Britain or France during world war two speaking about God’s healing and restoration for Nazi Germany[2].

One of the beautiful things about the unity service we shared in the Roman Catholic Church last week was the joy of just being able to be together, free of the past, the past where we were suspicious of each other, the past where each saw themselves as the ‘real’ church and the other somehow not part of God’s true church on earth.  The joy was not ours alone but a joy that, I believe, was and is a gift given to us by God.  Generations of mutual suspicion and mistrust are, all over the country coming to an end.  None of us know what God has in store for His united Church on this Island, but the Spirit is leading us and it is wonderfully exciting.  Yes, there will always be those who will cling on to the past, who are able to give lots of reasons and examples as to why this cannot be God’s will, but so long as we keep focusing on the Lord Jesus, we will not fall into that trap.  We don’t want to find ourselves unwittingly in that angry mob as they bundled Jesus out of the church and marched Him to the cliff edge.  Jesus had returned to the town and to his home church full of the Holy Spirit and they did not like it.  God was in their midst, it should have been the start of a wonderful revival, there should have been many conversions and healings, it should have been a time of wonderful blessing and joy.  But what did they want to do when God showed up in power?  They wanted to kill Him, to kill God!  No longer was God in the box they wanted to keep Him in, so they wanted to hurl Him off a cliff.

What on earth must be going through Mary’s mind at this point?  Luke doesn’t tell us; instead we are left to ask ourselves the question, ‘What would I have done had I been there?  Would I have gone along with the crowd, would I have tried to stop them?  Am I angry at Jesus for loving the people that I don’t like, the people I disagree with and the person I can’t forgive?’  It’s OK to be angry, but in that place of rage let’s not push Jesus away, rather let us fall on our knees and surrender.  Remember that He loved us even though before we gave our life to Him, we were God’s enemies (Colossians 1:21).  Let us surrender ourselves now and always to the one who loves even us, loves us so much that He gave His life in our place.  Not only does He love us, He loves our enemies too and He wants us to do the same (Matt.5:44)… Amen.

 


[1] J.C. Ryle, Expository thoughts on the Gospel, Luke, Vol.1, James Clarke & Co. 1956, p.122

[2] Tom Wright, ‘Luke for Everyone’, SPCK 2004, p.47

January 18, 2013

A holy enchantment

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Nikon D7000, 35mm f1.8 G DX,  (1/250 sec, f8, ISO 400) Processed in Instagram.

It was Sunday morning.  As usual I was in a hurry to get myself ready and get out of the door, into the car and on my way to church to make it in time for the 9.00am service.  To make matters worse when I did get to the car it was coated in ice!  I quickly dashed back inside and filled a large jug with warm water to defrost the windows.  I was really running late now (or so I thought).  I drove reasonably quickly whilst taking care to be on the lookout for patches of ice on the road.  The sun was just coming over the low hills on the Eastern horizon, it was spectacular.  I had the camera in my bag and I started to think about how I would find the time to take a photo.

Much to my surprise I arrived in Timoleague in good time, I was early.  At the entrance to the village I pulled over and got out with my camera to try to get a picture of the Abbey ruins with the sun rising behind it, but there was a problem – I only had a 35mm lens, which meant that the Abbey was too far away and there would have been too much junk in the foreground of the picture – I really needed 150mm or more to get the right shot.  A voice in my head said ‘drive on, keep going’.  I got back in the car and drove to just beside the Abbey, facing the estuary, the tide was high.  I got out of the car and walked over to the water’s edge.  As I was lifting the camera to my eye I heard a flapping noise to my left; my presence had alerted a duck and he was now flying low across the water.  He came into the viewfinder and I waited until he was in just the right spot and then I pressed the shutter release.  I had my photo, but much more importantly I was now relaxed and ready for worship, my stress had gone.  Somehow in that moment by the water’s edge I connected with God, with His Creation as a means, a platform for holy enchantment.

January 13, 2013

When you pass through the waters

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Photo: Glencar Lough, Co. Leitrim, January 2013.

Sermon for Sunday 13/1/13.  Text: Isaiah 43:1-7

Have you ever been in that place where you just want to give up? The pressures of your work, your family situation, your finances or whatever sphere of life you are concerned with just becomes too great, too overwhelming? You wish that you could get on a boat or a plane and find a desert island somewhere where there would be no telephone, only the sound of lapping waves, no bank statements, only leaves falling from the trees and no one to be cross with you or gossip about you, only the feeling of the warm sand running through your fingers…

All of us who have lived for any length of time know that life can be great but it can also seem like hell at times too. Sometimes as Christians we think that we cannot get emotional with God, we have to keep a stiff upper lip and pretend that everything is alright. Really what we want to do is find somewhere where we can shout and something that we can punch, but instead we think that God would not approve of such behaviour so we bottle it all up somehow until it bursts out of us in some other way, such as during an argument with a friend or when we beep the horn ferociously at someone who cuts us up at a roundabout!

Martin Luther King Jr. was perhaps the leading light of the movement in the United States in the 1950s for racial equality through nonviolent resistance. I doubt any of us could imagine the pressure and stress he was under; he received as many as 30 to 40 threatening phone calls a day. One night in January 1956 he returned home late after a long day of meetings. His wife and young daughter were in bed and he was eager to join them, but then the phone rang; it was yet another threatening call. He wanted to go to bed, but he could not shake the menacing voice of that phone caller that kept repeating the hateful words in his head. He made some coffee and sat down at the kitchen table. With his head buried in his hands he cried out to God. There in his kitchen in the middle of the night, when he had come to the end of his strength, God spoke to him. King later wrote: “I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on … He promised never to leave me, never to leave me alone, no never alone.’ In the stillness of the night the voice of Jesus was greater than the voices of hate and it gave King the courage to press on, to press on for the rest of his life[1]. That is what each of us needs, the voice of Jesus speaking into our lives, into our situations. It is a Voice that is greater than anything or anyone that can come against us.  If we are a Christian, then we have a relationship with God. In our reading from Isaiah, God says of that relationship:

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you … he who formed you … Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.

Aren’t those phenomenal words? God created us, he knitted us together in our mothers wombs (cf. Ps.139:13), He knows us completely and He speaks to us as He spoke to the people of Israel and he tells us not to fear, he has redeemed us (in other words he has freed us from blame, we are forgiven), and not only has He redeemed us through the cross of Christ, he also calls us by name.  I remember in the equivalent to National School that I went to all the girls were referred to by their Christian names but all the boys were simply called ‘boy’. It was wonderful then in my next school to hear my new teacher, Mrs. Jenkins, call me by my name.  I felt like a real person, I felt valued and it made me want to do my best work for this kind teacher.  God knows us by name, He knows us intimately and He cares about us and we matter to Him.  I love the bit at the end of the verse where God says, ‘you are mine’. Can you imagine God punching the air, saying your name and going ‘yes, you are mine’? We are not an afterthought for God, He is passionate about us.

Verse 2 has appeared in lots of songs, the words are poetic and beautiful:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

There’s a magnificent song by U2 called ‘drowning man’ about a man drowning in the “winds and tides” of life. As you listen to the song you can imagine him being swept down a fast moving river and he is about to be carried away out of sight when suddenly out of the darkness comes a voice saying “Take my hand … hold on tightly … hold on and don’t let go of my love … hold on tightly to this love which will last for ever…” All of us go through troublesome waters in life and if we try and swim in our own strength we are more likely to fail. But God’s promise is that the waters shall not overwhelm us.

When I read the words ‘walk through the fire, I am reminded of the event recorded in Daniel chapter 3, where Daniel’s friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the Fiery Furnace for refusing to worship a 90’ high gold statute. But rather than be burnt up in the flames they were completely unharmed, with even their hair left unsigned! When King Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace he exclaimed to his soldiers:

Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire? They replied “Certainly, O king,” To which he replied:

Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.

God sent a heavenly visitor to help the three men during a time of great trial. God will help us too. Perhaps some of you have stories of how God has helped you through great trials and difficulties in ordinary or extraordinary ways. Perhaps we would be amazed too at all the times and in different ways God has saved us in different situations which we have no idea about…

Fire and water represent the totality of trials, of whatever sort and however they come – in all things, the Lord is with us[2].  As I was thinking about this I remembered the story of Terry Waite, a representative of the Archbishop of Canterbury who went to the Lebanon to try to secure the release of four hostages but ended up being held hostage himself for four long years. In his autobiography he writes much about his faith in the midst of intense difficulty. One of the bits I remember is where he used to save a little bread when it was given to him and together with a little water in a plastic cup he used to recite the Communion Service from memory. In solitary confinement, far from home, frightened, he nevertheless drew great comfort and support from the fact that God was with Him in the midst of his great trial, He did not allow Terry Waite to be overwhelmed or drown in despair, God carried him through until he was released.

In the next few verses, God shows His people how much they mean to Him, by naming the nations he has saved them from and punished in their stead, Egypt (remember Moses and the Israelites crossing the Red Sea) and Ethiopia and Seba (countries beyond the borders of Egypt). Then Isaiah plunges forward in time to a regathering of God’s people from the ends of the earth at a time far removed from the day of writing.  Some people say that the modern day nation of Israel is a fulfillment of this prophecy, with Jews from all over the world leaving the countries of their birth and setting up a new home in the land of their ancient ancestry.

In the past God gave nations in exchange for His people, with Christ though He did much more than that.  Isaiah himself would give a clear indication of this in chapter 53 when he wrote of the Messiah, the suffering servant:

But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed.

In Christ we have the ultimate fulfillment of all that Isaiah wrote. Through Him, we have a special relationship with God; we are His children, called by name, knitted together by Him in our mother’s womb. He is with us before we were formed; he is with us through life and through death. Certainly we are his if we want to be.  Often I come across people who are going through trials of one kind or another and it breaks my heart to see them trying to cope without God’s help. For different reasons people try to cope on their own – but it really doesn’t have to be like that.   He calls your name, He tells you not to fear, He has redeemed you and you are His now and always… Amen.


[2] Alec Motyer ‘The Prophecy of Isaiah’, Inter Varsity Press, 1995, p.331

October 18, 2012

Galtymore

Earlier this month we took our Confirmation group away for the weekend and one of the highlights of the trip was a walk up Ireland’s highest inland mountain, Galtymore.

It was a beautiful day, bright and clear, yet with an autumnal chill in the air.  As we climbed higher the wind became increasingly ridiculous, (just watch the video at the end to get an idea of what I mean)!

I left my camera behind, relying on an iPhone 4 to take the pictures…

October 9, 2012

Roots

‘Roots and Stream’, Cumbria 2012. (Panasonic LX1, 1/30 sec, f3.2, 8.7mm, ISO 80) Larger version here.

Every Sunday in our Parish notices we have a ‘Memory Verse’, a sentence or two from the Bible to encourage, comfort or challenge the reader.  The verse from last Sunday was still wending it’s way through the alcoves of my mind as I was looking through some pictures taken during our summer holiday.  As I came across the photo above it was just asking to be paired with that verse:

Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him.  Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

(Colossians 2:7)
New Living Translation

September 9, 2012

A ‘Soft Day’.

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If the Eskimos have many different words to describe snow, so here in West Cork there are many words to describe the numerous types of rain that we enjoy in this part of the world. One of my favourites was stated by a wise old farmer who greeted me earlier today with the words:

Grand soft day.

And that was it, no more needed to be said. The rain today was not heavy, it was not that awful sideways stuff that blows in off the Atlantic, it was gentle, misty and slightly swirling; in a word it was most definitely ‘soft’.
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I had been invited to come along ‘and show my face’ at a vintage threshing day near Pedlar’s Cross (halfway between Clonakilty and Bandon). Although I brought my camera with me I left it I the car (due to my not wanting to expose it to the ‘soft’ conditions). So I only had the iPhone to take pictures with.
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I really love these community events, enjoyed by all ages, farmers and non-farmers alike. There is something here for everyone to enjoy and appreciate and everyone has time to talk, whether it’s about the weather, the price of milk, the hurling final or anything you like.

A grand soft day it was.

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