Sunday, 30 November 2008

First Sunday of Advent

Mark 13:33-37
Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Be on your guard, stay awake, because you never know when the time will come. It is like a man travelling abroad: he has gone from home, and left his servants in charge, each with his own task; and he has told the doorkeeper to stay awake. So stay awake, because you do not know when the master of the house is coming, evening, midnight, cockcrow, dawn; if he comes unexpectedly, he must not find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Stay awake!’

Today we begin Advent; the Advent wreath takes pride of place in our churches, perhaps in our homes, and we light the first of five candles. We face the beginning of a journey; the need for preparation; the countdown begins. But to where and to what?

I shall warn you that this will indeed start with a rant against the monster that is Christmas commercialism.

While churches open their doors with services of reconciliation and reflection, we are caught by the guile and come hither entreaty of the shop window. Every late shopping night, Saturdays and Sundays, we are there. And not only there, these days, but on-line. The countdown is repeated in every media, tv, papers, posters; like a warning of the Apocalypse 'Buy now! Spend now! This Christmas's must-have! Show them you love them!'

'Show them you love them?'

By driving yourself, your bank balance, even your sanity into the ground?

For one day?

For one day, when, in the main - I am excluding children here (but just look at how much some of them get) - we give and receive presents that we could all well do without. We fill the bin with wrapping paper that could have saved the rain forest, we eat (and waste) food that could feed the starving millions and ther next day we are worrying about how we are going to pay it all off before we start again.

Along the way we may have got to a Carol Service, and maybe Midnight Mass, and bemoaned the fact that there wasn't much Christmas Spirit. And really who's to blame for that?

The Church gave us Advent to prepare - think back to our other time of preparation - Lent.
Lent is longer than Advent, yet I know people, non-churchgoers, even non-Christians who take up a Lenten challenge. I know people who make real efforts to do something for charity, who try to find out a bit more about their faith. And doing this they enter Holy Week prepared for a week of Church drama - if you really get into it you can follow those last few day with all the mystery and trepidation of the first disciples.

Why not Christmas? Is the birth less important than the death? There's a theological debate for you. But isn't it easier to imagine the eager awaiting of new baby into the family. We all know people who have tried years or had other problems and shared that 'one day at a time' pace of waiting. We've all sat up into the night waiting for a phone call that may or may not bring good news.

Imagine Mary and Joseph, secure in their own belief, yet having to face the gossip and stares of the local community; imagine them discussing the future - maybe already making plans to move away to somewhere they would not be known; imagine the trepidation of the journey to Bethlehem, so far along in the pregnancy. The last four weeks of a pregnancy, uncomfortable, restless, tired, wanting it to be over but worrying that everything will go alright. This is how we should spend Advent because, like Easter, this is a God time event, this is relived every year. And the more we participate; make the effort; take the time; the more it will impact on our hearts and our spirit.

And I am not saying stop shopping; I'm really not that much of a Scrooge, but just as the shops manage to find those extra hours for 'late nights' please try to find some time for prayer, reflection, contemplation on what is really going on. Join your church community at an Advent service or scripture meeting. It won't cost you anything and it may just mean everything.


Monday, 24 November 2008

Praying the Scripture - Paul

During Advent our Diocese have been asked to reflect on the teachings of Paul. Whilst not an apostle, Paul wrote most of the New Testament. He prepared the way for the development of the early Church, particularly those who were not Jews. And it is through his teaching that we have our understanding of what being a disciple of Christ means.

Paul received his ‘Call’ when he was the greatest enemy that the early Christians faced.
His story is a story of conversion to Love through love.
For Paul, the ‘Call’ never ended – this is an opportunity to tune in, contemplate and share our own experiences.

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

Ephesians 3:14-21 (New King James Version)

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church of Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.


Like Father, like Son. Isn’t that what they say? And whilst we may both have our own ways of working; sometimes our own views on solving problems; it is probably more true than not; especially when we’ve got a job to do and a person to find to do it.

We like to take chances; to pick the one that never got picked for the team; to pick the one that’s always in the kitchen at parties; to pick the one nominated ‘ least likely to…’

We‘re looking for a chairman – he’ll have no people skills
We’re looking for a spokesperson – she’ll probably stutter
We’re looking for someone to promote the business – he’ll work for the opposition.

Be assured we do have some experience of success. For example, look where the Father sent me – dead-end town in the back of beyond. Even my cousin, John, got to be born into a Temple family, but me? Well, my family kept the gossipers in business for some time.

But in the end it was fine; it was more than fine. You’ve got to trust Him, because from where I started I couldn’t look down my nose at anyone, even if I had wanted to. Find even one of the apostles that was ‘made for the job’. Yet I knew what was inside me and I learnt to look for it in everyone else. I always found it. That flame of Grace that says ‘this is a child of God’. Even Paul – that passion, that conviction, that energy – all going the wrong way; racing headlong towards the annihilation of my followers. All it took was a word, and listen to him now; his prayer has such love, such power no matter how often I hear it. Who could be downhearted with Paul on your side? Although he does say the same about me!

So when I choose you – don’t say ‘I’m not worthy’: don’t say ‘I can’t’; please don’t say ‘choose someone else’, because I know what I am doing when I call you by name. Trust me - after all, I am my Father’s Son.

‘A Beloved Child of God’

No-one would have chosen Paul to bring the Good News to us.
No-one wanted him. Certainly the Apostles didn’t want him; the Jews didn’t want him.

But Jesus wanted him, and has a specific task for him – to take the Good News to people who hadn’t a clue, who weren’t expecting, who weren’t waiting for Good News.

Perhaps when we feel that call, we react against it - knowing or believing that everyone else we know is better read, better educated, more holy, more devout.

But when we do this we are looking the wrong way. Why do you think Paul was made blind? We are looking out of who we think we are instead of in to who we really are. The answer is within us.

Spend some time with yourself. Seeing yourself through God’s eyes as his beloved son or daughter. He did not make people to a pattern – everyone is unique. And seeing our uniqueness is not vanity it is honesty. Honestly wanting to fulfil the potential God gave us.

So try to strip away the doubts and the excuses and try to find the confidence and joy in sharing the knowledge of God’s love for you and for all of us. Maybe to just one other person. And remember Francis of Assisi’s instructions to his brothers
‘ preach the gospel always – if necessary use words.’

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.

Christ the Universal King

Sunday 23rd November

Jesus spent most of his time showing us that, in his humanity, he was one of us. And yet we still feel that we have to revere him as ruler over us. Perhaps, from a respect point of view, this is true. Nearer the end of his ministry he did admit to his Messiah-ship, but even then only to those in authority - so they would know who and what to expect when judgement came. One of his final acts, you will remember, was the washing of his disciples feet. Not really a 'kingly' act. Not an earthly king in any case. But Jesus came to turn the tables and question the way the world thinks. If he is a king then what kind of king is he?

Servant King

In the Great Hall stands the Throne
Empty and expectant.
For the Christ is not here.
He does not sit in majesty,
He does not sit in judgement
He does not sit in power.

He does not sit at all.

The Servant King is about his people.
The poor, the lonely, the weak,
The unwanted and unloved
Are the courtiers of his kingdom.

His boots are worn from the road,
His robes stained with the grime of toil.
His hands laboured raw,
Gifting healing and love.

A shepherd’s staff his sceptre
So he gathers them in
And brings them
To the Greatest of Halls
Where a seat of honour awaits

and Lazarus is poor no longer


Monday, 17 November 2008

Pray the Scripture - Jeremiah

This is a prayer project that a group I belong to has started recently. For those who have come here via the project I apologise for repeating myself - for anyone else - this is a weekly prayer and meditation based on a piece of scripture with the intention of finding how God is trying to speak to us or guide us in our lives. So if you have fifteen minutes or so to do a bit of reading and inwardly digesting...

Opening Prayer

Here I am Lord,
Speak to me
within my heart and soul.
I am listening.

Jeremiah 15:16-19 (New King James Version)
Your words were found, and I ate them,

And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;
For I am called by Your name,
O LORD God of hosts. I did not sit in the assembly of the mockers,
Nor did I rejoice;
I sat alone because of Your hand,
For You have filled me with indignation. Why is my pain perpetual
And my wound incurable,
Which refuses to be healed? Will You surely be to me like an unreliable stream,
As waters that fail?

The LORD Reassures Jeremiah

Therefore thus says the LORD:

“If you return,
Then I will bring you back;
You shall stand before Me;

If you take out the precious from the vile,
You shall be as My mouth.
Let them return to you,
But you must not return to them.


When you called me I was intrigued; when you spoke to me I was captivated; when I felt you I became yours. You are all and everything to me. A consuming love that feeds my heart and soul, and directs my mind.

My thoughts are not my own. Your Will is mine. I shout your praises from the rooftops but no-one listens, I tell my good fortune to my friends but they turn away. Why do they not see through my eyes? Their ignorance is beyond my understanding. I am tormented by you; I am tormented by them. You send me to those I cannot bear to be with, and yet I cannot bear to be alone.

Is it envy that makes them this way? That cannot see the beauty in your words. Is it disbelief that makes me a scapegoat for their displeasure? Is love meant to be this hard, this painful, this joyless? What exactly do you want me to do? Am I bound to fail? Will failing mean losing you?

Would it be better if we had never met?

How could I have said that?

You are all I have. There is no going back to before. Your words are like honey; sweet, soothing, restoring my poor spirit, which is nothing without you.

I will live with my faults; I will live with theirs; trying to convince them of your mercy and goodness. I will find those who will listen, and bring them to you. I will be your word in the streets and houses of this place.

And I will return at the end of each day to the comfort of your heart and your arms.

‘Turn to me’

When you make ‘that’ connection with God - you know it.

It’s first love all over again; it is the Eureka moment of your life,
it all makes sense.
But then what do you do? Because like any Good News
you want to tell others; like anyone finding true love you want others to have what you have found;
like anyone who sees the truth you want others to see the lies.
But they don’t – not all of them. Suddenly, it is you who is the misfit; you who is upsetting the applecart;
you who is acting out of the ordinary.
And, it seems, God is not always there to back you up.
Faith is not easy; being a voice is not easy.

Take time now to think about a time when you felt your faith made you unpopular; when it would be have been easier to simply blend in; to go along with the crowd. Watch what happened from as many angles as possible. Try to see every side of the story; especially try to see God’s side. Discuss it with Him. If you gave in – don’t worry about it – think about how you may deal with a similar event in the future. If you kept to your beliefs, think about where that strength came from and give thanks for it.

This is all in the past so there is not need for regret—simply find a sign, a message that will help you today and thank God for it.

Closing Prayer

May the blessing of the Sacred Three
The Father who gave us the Word
The Son who is the Word
The Spirit who opens the Word within us
Be with us today and evermore.


Sunday, 16 November 2008

Don't quote me

1 Thessalonians 5:1-6
You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like
a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober.

While I was out shopping this weekend I was handed a little compliment slip by a member of the local Gospel church. He smiled at me and said 'God loves you- I smiled back and said ' I know'. Then I looked at the card - THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH. Well that's it then, we are all doomed, because I know I can't go through even one day without sinning somewhere. That has to be the extreme version of tough love if we believe God loves us. But Paul has to be the most mis-quoted person in the Bible. These six words belong to the following

But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Doesn't that sound much better - you were in the wrong place and now you are in the right place.

And today's reading has a similar tag-line 'the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night'. Well that's it again then. God is going to sneak up on us when we are at our most vulnerable and there's nothing we can do about it. But no - that is not what Paul is saying. The early Church expected Jesus back any second, like the merchant who has just gone abroad. Some of them got quite idle waiting for him. But, after a while the penny dropped - we don't know; we can't know, all we can do is trust and be ready. The Day of the Lord might be like a thief in the night to those that aren't listening - but that is not us. We are not living in cloud cuckoo land. We cannot claim ignorance - we have been lifted out of that daydream 'it'll never happen' into an awareness and a readiness for the Call. It's still up to us how ready we are but we can't say we didn't know.

Scripture is so open to media hype and propaganda that there is no better advice with scripture that to read it yourself.
I know this is a strange idea for Catholics to consider, we tend to trust the church to tell us what to think. But if we only go to Mass on Sunday and we only listen to our parish priest's interpretation of the Word of God (as informed, biased, inspirational or boring as that will be - he is only human) then we will be getting a nth of what we need to know, out of cultural context, out of historical context and often out of spiritual context. You can only interpret it in the knowledge that it was meant for you - personally. God wants a relationship with us and the Bible is another communication tool - there may even be a bible lying dustily on your bookshelf, there will be a scripture group somewhere and there's plenty of commentary on the internet - just don't believe everything you hear or read - discuss it with God first - it will keep you wide awake and sober.
And also:
As we approach the end of the Church’s year our readings turn to the anticipation of a Second Coming,. As such Paul, in his letter to the Thessalonians encourages them in the need for readiness. We can be living our daily lives in the most ordinary of fashions and yet it can all change. But, says Paul, we should not be taken by surprise because we do not live in the dark – we live in the light of Christ. C S Lewis wrote ‘We can make people attend to the Christian point of view for half an hour or so but the moment they have gone away from our lecture…they are plunged back into a world where the opposite position is taken for granted.’ This is probably more true now than it was when Lewis wrote it. A good word to describe our status as Christians is sojourners – we are on the way somewhere, we are in the world but not of it and we must practice that attentiveness.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Church Building

The Dedication of the Lateran Basilica

1 Corinthians 3:9-11,16-17
We are fellow workers with God; you are God’s farm, God’s building. By the grace God gave me, I succeeded as an architect and laid the foundations, on which someone else is doing the building. Everyone doing the building must work carefully. For the foundation, nobody can lay any other than the one which has already been laid, that is Jesus Christ. Didn’t you realise that you were God’s temple and that the Spirit of God was living among you? If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred; and you are that temple.

Today we celebrate the church of St John Lateran in Rome. When we were a fledging church we met in houses and small groups but once the Roman Empire took us under it's wing, we needed a temple - a real church and St John's is it. It is the Mother church of the Church.
Not often we celebrate a building, although that's actually nonsense - very often we think more about the building than the people in it; which Paul reminds us today not to do - the Temple of God is actually each and every one of us and we should celebrate that every day.


For Your Glory, stone is unhomed,
And sent, gravity defiant, towards Heaven.
Oak and elm are torn from earth’s grasp,
Then set to guard sacred space.
Earth’s treasure is drawn, twisted and bent:
Compelled to meet our will.

For Your Glory, saints are called here
Held within, named and known.

Arrogant children,
We think ourselves creators,
Innovators in texture, form and colour.
We imagine we encompass You
within our ambitions,
Within these walls.
Yet remain ignorant of Your Presence,
Of Your design in our daily lives.
How do we not see that
You have built Your church;
We are living it,
We are its stones.