Category Archives: talks

Talks given in services at St Lukes and beyond

A perfect Day

Luke 6.1-11

Psalm 23

 

Now I know I have told you this before. But my uncle and aunt in Lairg, Sutherland, were members of the Free Church. And so, Sundays were days when the TV and radio were kept off, books were not read and the minimum of cooking was done.  The Bible and books of sermons were the only source of reading materials. In fact, it was only the going to church twice that broke the day’s silence. The Sabbath then was a day of rest. Indeed, for a small boy like myself it was a day of enforced rest. So much so that my grandfather was once asked by mother what he did on his Sundays during his 2-month summer visit to my aunt’s family in the North. He said that he waited until the family had their afternoon rest and then he unearthed his Sunday Post which he had got in the week and secretly read it.

 

Well, looking back it is easy to take pot shots at such a restricted day. Yet as they were crofters possibly this rest day gave a recharging time from subsistence farming. As committed Christians this rest day definitely restored their souls. Or as the psalmist has it:

He makes me lie down in green pastures

He leads me beside quiet waters

He restores my soul.

 

Well, of course, things here in Broughty Ferry today are quite different. For some of us must work on Sundays. But for many others, it more about doing things left undone from the week behind and doing things for the week ahead. It is more about doing things for and with the family. More about doing things for pure enjoyment Now these are very worthy yet they aren’t in the end – a rest. Put more bluntly, we are still obeying the rules of duty, obligation, loyalty and pleasure. We are still being bound by the compulsions of the moment. Or as one member once said to me – she couldn’t possibly come to church on a Sunday as she had to make the lunch for his visiting grown-up family. And the result is we are still enslaved to doing instead of being; being a child of God rather than an employee, father, grand-mother or neighbour. Being a child of God indeed for just a few hours free of the rules.

 

Yet we say, my work is important, my family is paramount or my neighbour needs me. Doubtless all true. Yet..yet we still need that restoration of soul, that moment for quiet water refreshment and a period of green pasture nourishment. We need time for ourselves with God and only God. For without that, life becomes a conveyor belt, a drudge even one that is flatly two dimensional without spiritual heights or depths. Moreover, as the psalm reminds we need time to ourselves to be guided into righteousness and faith to fear no evil. In simple terms, we need this day to heal our souls for the shadows and the valleys ahead.

 

However, the idea of a resting day still seems as unexciting and restraining as it was to me as a child in the highlands. In truth, it seems that it could make our Sundays rather cheerless, dull and even soulless.

 

When I was in university, the divinity faculty had a weekly lunchtime service in the Chapel. Often led by students there was always a mixture of worship styles on offer. Yet only one sticks in my mind. We entered, sat in the pews and nothing was said or done – only restful music was played. At first we were restless – wanting something, anything, to happen. Then we fiddled with the bibles in front of us – looking for some stimulation. Then slowly, we slowed down. We became restful. Indeed, we started quietly to be still with God and God was still with us. At the end of quarter of an hour, our time was up – yet we did not want leave – we didn’t want to stir – we didn’t want to break the bridge between heaven and earth. Nevertheless, we did and returned to the world refreshed, ready to do what was important; ready not to exist but live again.

 

This illustrates that to give this day to God is not to be selfish, slothful or constrained. It is to be still by casting aside our life’s lesser rules and demands. It is to sense that a deep love and goodness is following us through our sometimes-taxing journey. It is to luxuriate in a repast of peace where there is healing to life and life in all its true fullness. It is, indeed, to take time out in the house of the Lord and know it to be our perfect dwelling there forever.

 

So, this Sunday let us turn it into a perfect day.

For as Lou Reed sang in his famous song,

Oh what a perfect day’:

Just a perfect day
Problems all left alone
Weekenders on our own
It’s such fun

Just a perfect day
You made me forget myself
I thought I was
Someone else, someone good

 

Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas’ Golden Box

Once upon a time,

there was a man

who worked very hard

just to keep food

on the table

for his family.

 

This particular year

And

a few days before Christmas,

he scolded

his little five-year-old daughter.

 

Because he had found out

that she had used up

the family’s only roll

of expensive gold wrapping paper.

As money was tight,

he became even more upset

when

on Christmas Eve

he saw that the child

had used all that paper

to decorate just one shoebox

she had put under the Christmas tree.

 

He also was concerned

about where

she had got hold of the money

to buy what was in

the box.

Nevertheless, the next morning

the little girl,

filled with excitement,

brought the gift box

to her father and said,

“This is for you, Daddy!”

As he opened the box,

the father was embarrassed

by his earlier overreaction,

now regretting

how he had been angry

with her.

But when he opened the shoebox,

he found it was empty

and again his anger flared.

 

“Don’t you know, young lady,”

he said harshly,

“when you give someone a present,

there’s supposed to be

something inside the package!”

The little girl looked up at him

with sad tears

rolling from her eyes

and whispered:

“Daddy, it’s not empty.

 

I blew kisses into it

until it was all full.”

The father was crushed.

 

He fell on his knees

and put his arms

around his precious little girl.

 

He begged her to forgive him

for his unnecessary temper.

An accident

took the life of the child

only a short time later.

 

It is told that the father

then kept this little gold box

by his bed

for all the years of his life.

 

Whenever he was discouraged

or faced difficult problems,

he would open the box,

take out an imaginary kiss,

and remember the love

of this beautiful child

who had put it there.
That is both and sad

and uplifting story.

 

Yet for all of us

who have reached

a certain age,

we know life

to be both bitter and sweet.

 

But despite that

we still try

to candy coat Christmas.

 

We spend too much,

eat too much

and become couch potatoes

too much.

 

And then…

and then it’s all over.

 

That is the moment

we feel like that father

who opened

that apparently empty shoebox.

 

It’s at that moment,

we exclaim –

is that it!

 

It is that moment,

we feel a bit cheated.

 

However, that feeling

forgets that Christmas

is like that

beautifully wrapped present

the little girl

gave her father.

 

For the true content

of Christmas is invisible.

 

It is the invisible idea

that there is a Creator God

who came down to earth

not as a thunderbolt

but a baby risking human hands.

 

The idea

that he did this

for no other reason

that his concern

for each and everyone of us.

 

The idea

that we can respond

to this unseen present

by showing concern,

companionship and even love others.

 

Since who can doubt

that Christmas

does make the world

a better place.

 

For don’t we greet

total strangers

on the 25th

with a smile

and a ‘Merry Christmas’?

 

Don’t we give generously

to charities

for human beings

in trouble, far and near?

 

Don’t we revel,

if only for a day,

in a peace

that seems beyond understanding

but not out knowing?

 

And the answer are – Yes we do!

 

The Australian columnist

Clive James

once wrote

of visiting Paris

 and reading

the author Albert Camus.

For he said –

I wanted to write like that,

 in a prose that sang like poetry.

I wanted to look like him.

 I wanted to wear

 a Bogart-style trench coat

 with the collar turned up,

 have an untipped Gauloise

dangling from my lower lip,

 and die

 romantically

 in a car crash.

He then decided

quite wisely

to keep the crash

for a more propitious moment.

However, he then wrote –

when you leave Paris,

you also leave behind

 the person

you might have been.

Let us then

not leave Christmas behind.

 Let us not leave Christmas

 like a discarded empty box.

 Let us see more

than its golden wrapper.

 Let us not leave

the person Christmas

 could make us.

Instead let us

open and open again

 the gift of Christmas.

And then blow

its kisses of love

towards people

who need their presence

more than most.

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

Jeremiah’s Promises

Jeremiah 36.1-7 (p798)

Jeremiah 31.31- 37 (p793)

 

Promises! Promises! Promises! If there is one word that can sum up this year politically it is promises. And whether they will be fulfilled remains to be seen.

 

Yet life is full of promises which are not quite all that they seem. The small print in that insurance policy. The advert which is misleading. Or, more trivially, the food that is not as tasty as the picture on its packaging suggests. So, in a way, we are quite sceptical even cynical of promises.

 

Yet in Jeremiah we hear of two promises. One which is summarised for the Israelites in the scroll that Baruch reads out in the temple.  Since, in our first lesson, God is portrayed as promising judgement upon their ruler and themselves. In fact, that is a recurrent theme throughout the Book of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, elsewhere in Jeremiah we have found a more palatable promise; the promise – I will be their God and they will be my people. A promise indeed we hear echoed in the words of the last supper – the words we repeat communion upon communion – the words that we find made flesh in our lives through the risen Christ.

 

How then do we reconcile these two apparently opposing promises? How do we find hope as well as admonishment in Jeremiah’s prophecies? How do we understand a God who judges firmly as well as covenants to be our saviour in time of trouble?

 

I am not sure if you have seen the new Netflix series called The Crown. It is based on the early years of the reign of our Queen. Whilst I suspect that it is a bit apocryphal in parts, it is nevertheless very entertaining and glossy. That isn’t surprising, as the price tag for 10 episodes, was a cool 100 million dollars.

 

In it, we see the child Princess Elizabeth being taught the elements of the constitution. Not least that the monarch’s role is only to warn, advise and guide her government. So too we can see the role of God in human affairs. This is not surprising as we can warn a child not to go near hot stoves but in the end, we cannot always prevent him or her. We can advise on friendship but not stop a relationship. We can encourage the doing of homework but not actually do it for a youngster. And so, it is with God.

 

Here then lies the apparent judgement of God. For it is more about foresight, more about a warning, more about lifesaving advice than any imposition of a sentence.

 

However, in the end, we can and do ignore this sage wisdom and go away ahead to the inevitable outcome. We can and do turn our backs on God’s foresight and travel blithely on. And so, in the end of the day, we are not really visited by God’s action rather we must live with our own.

 

Where then does this leave God’s second promise. The one about being our God and we being his people?

 

I must admit to never having read Clive Staples Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I have only seen the film. Nevertheless, even in that format, its Christian message cannot be mistaken. And it is all to do with that second divine promise.

 

Since At the beginning of the book four children are playing in their uncle’s wardrobe when they discover it is a doorway to Narnia. As they enter Narnia they learn it is under the spell of a wicked witch.
The children hear rumours that Aslan, the great Lion, will soon return to the forest so they devise a plan to overthrow the witch. But Edmund then turns traitor to the cause.
The witch requests an audience with Aslan and talks to him about the deep magic from the dawn of time. She says, “You know that every traitor belongs to me as my lawful prey and that I have a right to a kill.”
Aslan agrees and Edmund is to be sacrificed on the Stone Table. But then something unexpected and horrible happens. Aslan offers to be sacrificed in place of Edmund. The witch is delighted to be rid of Aslan once for all. He is bound, humiliated before the Witches entourage, and killed. It appears to the children that wickedness has won the day and that all is lost.
As the children tearfully leave the scene it is dawn. They hear a great cracking, a deafening noise. They rush back and find the great table split in two and Aslan gone. Suddenly he appears before them and as they shake in fear he explains to them “that though the witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she does not know. The magical promise beyond time that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”

 

Here then is the throne of the second and greatest promise from God. Since he doesn’t just stand aside wringing his hands as we make a complete mess of things. He doesn’t just stand waving a teared stain hankie as go our errant way. Instead, he has sent someone to help get back on track. He has sent someone to help change us towards making amends. He has sent us an ever-present saviour to sort out the debts we have accrued and take their price upon his own head. Simply, he has sent, sends and ever will send Jesus Christ.

 

As this year ends with all its promises threatening to turn to unwelcome omens, let us remember the opportunity always to go in a different direction. Let remember the promise of God’s wisdom to illuminate a brighter path. Let us indeed remember the Son’s promise of opening a fresher way by paying off the toll.

 

No wonder then the Witch in C S Lewis’ book banned Christmas – for then there would be but a wintery foreboding in our hearts. Mercifully, the Lion’s return is always promising.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communion – the movie in your mind

Just recently, I made a short animated video to promote St Luke’s. As this has proved popular on the web, I thought I might try my hand at one on communion. But then a question struck me. And it is – what is sacrament of Holy Communion really all about?

Continue reading Communion – the movie in your mind

Why bother be still?

 

Psalm  1

Mark 1.29-39

 

I well remember on being on watch many years ago at sea during the night. To break the monotony, I burst into a song. For some now forgotten reason – it was ‘rock of ages’. Frank, our Chaplain, happened to be on the Bridge at the time and remarked in jest– Graham – you stick to your songs and I will stick to mine.

 

But the psalms are really everyone’s songs.

 

For it is highly possible they were sung in part song at the temple of Jerusalem long before Christ. They have been sung in worship over these last 2000 years. We even sang a rather difficult setting of one of them just last week at the General Assembly.

 

It seems then that we need to hear the psalms not just as prose but as poetry, as lyrics as indeed music designed to stir the heart and soul as well as the mind.

And what better place to start the music than at the beginning with Psalm 1?

Now it has to be said that we could spend a month of Sundays studying this work alone due its richness of language and imagery. So let’s narrow into what we can valuably explore in this hour. Let us focus in on the wider picture given by the psalmist. Let us grapple will the fruits of the tree planted by the stream.

 

Of course, to us in rainy Scotland, the sight of some scrawny bush surviving on a heather-clad moorland by a brackish burn is very common. But such a phenomenon was very rare in the land of the Psalmist. For the Holy Land has always been challenged for water; in fact much of heart of the problems over that divided region today lies in the access to this scarce resource.

And so we need to ponder what is the cause of another type aridity today’s modern Britain?

In general, it is not material lack albeit there is poverty around. It is usually not a shortage of things to do or watch or read. It is not even paucity of ideas and opportunities of expression.

 

Instead, it is quite the reverse. It is the almost irresistible allurement of the vast riches of attractions. It is the constant movement of interest for one mental bauble to the next. Indeed, it is often our ill-discipline of mind that prevents us staying focussed on one thing for more than a second.

Therefore, the concern provoked by Psalm 1 is how to survive in the most desolate of spiritual places. It is how to our souls can thrive in acres of distraction. How in fact do we live a fulsome and rewarding life in a landscape that seems literally without God.

 

And the answer is to realise that even in this glitteringly unproductive environment that the spirit is close at hand, Christ is indeed just beside us and that God is just below us as the foundation of our being.

Therefore, to be spiritually refreshed, we need to do nothing. We need to be still in our very being. We need to let our roots sink deep into divine sustenance. Since then alone will be sure to drink from living waters that freely flows from the Holy Spirit.  Or as Psalm 46 has is:

God is our refuge and our strength

An ever-present help in trouble

Be still and know that I am God

I will exalt you among the nations

I will exalt you in the earth

 

To illustrate my point,  let’s take that reading from Mark.

 

In it, we heard that Jesus had just started his ministry and was encouraged by the positive response of his first disciples. Yet now he had a daunting responsibility for them. Not least for their safety in an occupied land under a self-serving administration. He had also found the power to heal physically, mentally and spiritually. However that had brought fame and even more demands on his time and talents.

His answer to these competing forces of attraction was to be still – be still in a solitary place of focus and be still and know that God was God.

And as a result, he moved forward to be the universal saviour and not just a small town celebrity. Fruit had indeed flourished in an adverse place.

Few people would call the village of Woodstock near Oxford an arid place. It lies at the gates of that world heritage site which is the huge Blenheim Place. Its streets then are always crowded tourists and its ‘well to do’ bistros never seem to lack customers for their high prices. I know all this because one of our favourite caravan sites lies a mile away.

 

Well one warm day, last summer, I took a walk into Woodstock and meandered through its lanes. As is often the way in my holidays I was restless in my contemplation of what we as a congregation should be doing next. It was then I chanced upon the village church hidden from the madding crowd in a leafy yard up a honey-stoned byway. I entered and in its ancient silence sat and was still. Without a sound I suddenly knew refreshment, I knew again certainty to risk new ways and I knew in my quietness that for me, for you and for St Luke’s – God was God.  I left ready to travel on!

Today more than ever we need to say to ourselves in life’s hurly burly – let me be still. We need consciously to give ourselves over to moments of tranquillity, of open spirituality and infinitely godliness. We need to force ourselves to focus not on the world that is beckoning us but the sustaining divine that we are rooted in.  Because it is he who gifts fruits in this dry season, it is he who awards leaves that do not wither and it is he alone who allows us to prosper along the quiet lane of righteousness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal

 

Romans 5.1-11

 

I recently renewed

by broadband package

and in the process

decided to read

the small print.

 

Of course,

it meant little to me

as it was a mixture of

gobbledygook;

legal-ese

and contract speak.

 

So much so

that the famous Marx brothers

sketch came to mind.

 

You might remember it.

 

It’s when they are discussing

a contract a

and they start off

by read the document –

 

the first clause was

the first part will be known

as the first part

—– and so it went on.

 

Well I have to say

sometimes reading Pau

can feel like reading

a legal document

generated

in the bowels of the EU.

 

Since his pen produces

dense texts

that needs careful reading.

 

In fact,

like most theology,

we need to read it

three times

before sense

starts to appear.

 

Today I won’t foist

two further readings

on you.

 

So if you will allow

I will lead your eye

and ear

to what I,

at least,

think is important.

 

In essence,

let me bring a hope of understanding

even

an understanding of hope.

 

Now hope

is a very interesting word.

 

So much so,

that it features

in many

of our well known sayings.

 

Take the adages –

hope against hope,

living in hope,

hope springs eternal

or there is always hope.

 

Yet each of these clichés

has a negative connotation.

 

In fact, they are used

when hope

is really

not much of an option.

 

When indeed hope

is hardly even a chink of light

in a bad situation.

 

And that is why Pau

l is so very valuable.

 

Because he suggests that,

bleak as

apparently impossible situations are,

they not hopeless.

 

Instead they are the roots

of perseverance and character.

 

These qualities

in turn

germinate into hope.

 

Put bluntly, hope

comes from adversity

rather despite it.

 

Maybe that is the meaning

of a less well known saying –

where flowers bloom

so does hope.

 

Yet despite saying all that,

it still seems

that to blunder

into someone else’s

desperate moment

prattling about hope

is at best offering another cliché.

 

To offer

that tribulations

are a great road to character

is no less than crass.

 

To counsel that awful circumstances

are good for perseverance

can be utterly insensitive.

 

And it is for that reason

we need to read on

in Paul.

 

Since it is then

he adds the essential ingredient.

 

He introduces

the factor X t

hat turns wistful

even forlorn hope

into genuine expectation.

 

In truth, he gives the way

to turning platitudinous waffle

into real comfort.

 

Because he then points out

that the veritable soil

that allows

the painfully won

seeds of character

and perseverance

to blossom into hope

is faith.

 

To him, faith is seeing

in Christ’s selfless sacrifice

the unrestrained love of God;

a love that defies hopelessness.

 

To him, faith that Christ died

and rose

is proof that the impossible

is most likely for God.

 

Moreover, to him faith

is knowing

we can always to tap

into a greater glory.

 

Because it is the phrase

‘hope in the glory of God’

that gives us

not just an aimless hope

but a focus

what we can hope for.

 

Since we cannot hope

to avoid trying times

nor can we hope

to escape tests

that build character and persistence.

 

But we can hope

wholehearted

that through faith

we have a new purpose

and value;

that through faith

we have a refreshing

and everlasting destiny

and that through faith

our life’s meaning

will be eternally fulfilled.

 

Or as David Odunaiya wrote:

“Faith and hope

work hand in hand,

however while hope

focuses on the future,

faith focuses on the now.”

 

All of this is summed up

in a story told

by Linda Ellis.

 

Hope Stout

was a twelve-year old girl

who was offered

a “wish”

in early December 200

by the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation

after being informed

that she had a rare type

of bone cancer.

 

 

However, when she found out

that more than 150 children

in her area

were waiting for their wishes

to be granted,

she unselfishly used her wish

to ask that those children

have their wishes fulfilled.

 

She also asked

that it be done

by January  2004.

 

Unfortunately, however,

the organization informed her

that her noble request

could not be granted

as the funds

were simply unavailable.

 

They calculated that

they would need to rise

more than one million US dollars

in thirty days in order

to grant her wish.

 

Disappointed,

but not discouraged,

she turned her dismay

into an enthusiasm

that inspired caring individual

s to spearhead fundraising

to help grant the wishes

of the other children,

and eventually hers as well.

 

Newspaper columnists

and reporters

for radio and TV stations

shared the story

of this caring young girl

who had touched

the hearts

of so many

and as word spread,

the community was challenged.

 

Committees were formed

and schools, corporations

and various organizations

assisted in raising money

to help bring Hope’s dream to fruition.

 

Though she lost her battle in 2004,

knowing that her wish

was going to come true,

Hope lives on.

 

Her heartfelt efforts

were not in vain

as they continue to help others,

not only physically,

but spiritually

and emotionally as well.

 

At the initial fundraiser

and gathering

to celebrate her life,

“A Celebration of Hope”

In  2004,

the announcement was made

that they had

indeed

received donations

totaling more

than one million dollars

on behalf of Hope Stout.

 

Her wish had been granted!

 

Well I truly pray

you are not facing

the trails of young Hope Stout.

 

But other tests

seem to be in our paths

individually,

as a congregation

and as a nation.

 

In fact, there is much

to try us

each and every day.

 

Yet with hope

we will grow

in character and persistence.

 

With hope

we will be certain

that we will not just prevail

but achieve God’s purpose

as well.

 

Indeed, with hope,

we will know our new direction

in Christ

is toward eternal glory

and victory.

 

All we need do is

to have faith now.

 

Since as Paul’s great guarantee reminds –

faith is the assurance

of things hoped for

and the conviction

of things not seen.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

Fame or Fortune or..

As a child of the sixties, it easy to look back at that era with rose tinted spectacles. Of course, in some ways it was a more innocent and cohesive time. Yet within that greater trust and togetherness we now know that there were many dark corners in our national life; areas which are only coming to light today.

 

This can no better be illustrated than the celebrities of back then. Most have faded into well earned obscurity. Others are pillars of society or, even more cringe-making, awarded the status of national treasure. However, a few have been found to have been the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Whatever – however they are seen today, none have retained their ‘god like’ status of 50 odd years ago.

 

Nevertheless, despite the experience of history, we continue to thrust divinity onto celebs, politicians and other ephemeral worthies. It seems then that the time-honoured wheel of human psychology demands we ever confer immortality on humanity.

 

Now I think I said not so long ago that when I did my Naval Instructors course, we were taught to start each lesson with something to engage interest. Well, that day in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas certainly did that (Acts 14.8-18). Yet, I have to say, by conducting such a spectacular curing, Paul and Silas did rather ask for the adulation they gained. I am not saying they courted it, but it was pretty obvious what the outcome would be. Nevertheless, they quickly realised their danger and to their credit soon put it right. They made clear they were but agents of the living God; a caring divinity that stood just outside of the pagans’ line of sight. And as a result of rejecting this unmerited fame, they returned to being the type of followers which earn the highest honour – that of being called ‘disciple’.

So where does the Lystra story leave us? How do find our place within the short lesson from Matthew (Matthew 10.37-42)? How indeed do we find greatness within the sometimes uncertain framework of being Christ’s disciples?

 

Well, rather as Paul did, we need to keep our eyes open. For there is little point trying to serve as Christ’s disciples to someone whose mind is closed. Instead, like Paul let us spot faith no matter how ill-formed or ill-informed it is and use it. Let us respond to an openness to things beyond self. Let us work within that space created by the sense of beyond. Since after all, few here would claim to absolute certain of their doctrine on this issue or that, yet we can lay testimony of Jesus’ present and curing in their lives.

 

Next, we need to let matters not lie there. Instead we need to move the another’s spiritual awaking to a sharper focus. It needs to be – front and centre – aimed at the life and teaching of Christ. Because in the false deifying of Paul and Barnabas the greatest danger was not in them becoming too big for their boots. No the real threat was the distraction – the distraction from a God who nurtures humanity, provides for humanity and wants every human life to have meaning, purpose and worth.

 

But then what can we cure?

 

The university faculty gathered for their weekly meeting. A professor of Archeology brought with him a lamp recently unearthed in the Middle East. It was reported to contain a genie, who, when the lamp was rubbed would appear and grant one wish.

 

A professor of Philosophy was particularly intrigued. He grabbed the lamp and rubbed it vigorously. Suddenly a genie appeared and made him an offer. He could choose one of three rewards: wealth, wisdom, or fame. Without hesitating, the philosophy professor selected wisdom. “Done!” said the genie and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

 

All the other faculty members turned toward the professor, who sat surrounded by a halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispered, “Say something. What wise insight do you now have?”

 

The professor, much wiser now, sighs and says, “I should have taken the money.”

 

Today, most people would have taken not the money but the fame. It seems worth is popularly measured in fame and attendant wealth. And if they don’t have it, then they feel their lives are humdrum, unfulfilled even worthless.

Consequently there is a huge amount of people around who suffer from a lack of self-value. Moreover, there are many whose  abject sense of  inner poverty is a genuine handicap to living a full and free life.

Here then is an affliction,we as Christ’s disciples can aspire to cure

 

 

For the sixties are well behind us. And the years may not have brought fame and wealth. They most probably have not brought outward beauty. Yet they may well have brought the internal beauty of wisdom. The wisdom to see that in using  our godly gifts we  can bring real healing. The wisdom to know we can bestow worth and meaning and purpose with simple listening. The wisdom to offer, through Christ, the quiet encouragement that transforms – transforms the everyday into  the outstanding – transforms the commonplace into the priceless and transforms the  ordinary into true greatness.

 

Above all, we need the wisdom to be ourselves.

 

Since others will then see a priceless dignity in our ordinary discipleship,  they will find the living Jesus in our cheerful everyday-ness and they will rediscover in our godly contentment their own way to inner valuing and meaningfulness.  For Thomas Moore said that by learning to discover and value our ordinariness, we nurture a friendliness towards ourselves and the world that is the essence of a healthy soul.

 

So go and don’t just have an ordinary day, instead be someone else’s great day!

 

 

You are not what you eat!

We are what we don’t eat!

 Acts 11.1-18

Matthew 5.1-12

I have to say I have never watched it myself. But I am told that the programme – I’m a celebrity get me out of here- usually contains a scene where the contestants have to eat something disgusting. In a way I can sympathies with their reaction having once had to eat octopus tentacles on an official visit to Spain. Actually chopped into slices and deep-fried they are delicious. Yet such experiences raise the whole question what we like to eat and what we don’t, what we think we should eat for our health and not and, indeed, what we should and not eat for religious reasons. For such deliberations brings us to the heart of today’s lessons not just from Acts but Matthew as well.

 

 

So let’s start with Peter. Now he could be a black or white sort of guy. Moreover, he saw details as the foundation of the bigger picture. Even small things could either be seriously right or wrong for him. Thus, pre-Joppa, he knew exactly what he had to eat to be God fearing. He knew what all who obeyed God should eat if they were to be on the inside. In fact, he was trying to do religion then by paying attention to the little rules and hoping the bigger ones would take of themselves.

 

That’s why his vision that day at Joppa came to him as a huge surprise. Certainly, if he hadn’t had this revelation, Christianity would have faded out as a footnote in Jewish history. But that day he was given the keys to the Kingdom; he was made to see what the nub of every religion is all about. He was shown what the sacred must truly be founded on. He was made aware that what really matters to God is often not detail. Rather it is have a go at living the truly good life. It is having a bash at obeying God in a way that serves the big picture. Put directly, it is attempting no matter how unsuccessfully to live out not the minutae of religious observance but the beatitudes of faith.

 

Ah we say – but the beatitudes are not easy. Much easier to be concerned with what we can and cannot eat – what formula of rules we can obey to the letter – what boundary walls we can erect to keep people in or out. Since being poor in spirit and peacemakers and above all merciful are painful. Let’s not even start on being pure in heart! That’s just too hard! In the final analysis we say – the beatitudes are just impossible!

 

 

But, you know, the word ‘impossible’ is a strangely flexible sort of term. Since the famous science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed three “laws” of prediction. These are known worldwide as “Clarke’s Three Laws.” Here they are:

Law 1- when a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Law 2 – The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Law 3 – Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

 

If we say then that the beatitudes are impossible we are very probably wrong.

 

If we say trying to base our life rules on them will test us to the limit then we are right. But so is venturing beyond them. For then we will discover the possibilities of God.

 

If indeed we say the casting aside of our self imposed boundaries is impossible we forget Christ did magic – it’s just we call them – miracles.

 

And where do we need miracles today?

 

Oh there are a hundred and one such places!

 

Let me take the example I heard of only last week. For Cardinal Vincent Nicols has just returned from Iraq. He remarked that until recently that country was an intricate pattern of religions and faiths. Sadly, this relatively harmonious patchwork has been destroyed and the lives of Christians as well as other minorities are now at serious risk.

 

Here then in at least one place is where we need miracles. Miracles brought about not by obeying to the letter some rule or other. Instead miracles ushered in by living, offering and inviting others into the community of the beatitudes. Miracles opened up by casting barriers aside and embracing our common humanity under God. Because that is the only way to value all human beings no matter what they believe or where they come from.

 

Or as Maya Angelou wrote of the human family:

 

I note the obvious differences
in the human family.
Some of us are serious,
some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived
as true profundity,
and others claim they really live
the real reality.

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas
and stopped in every land,
I’ve seen the wonders of the world
not yet one common man.

I know ten thousand women
called Jane and Mary Jane,
but I’ve not seen any two
who really were the same.

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

 

We are more alike, my friends,
than we are unalike.

 

So, how do we sum up?

 

Well, I think we need to acknowledge we are less what we eat than who we eat with.

 

We are less Christian when we obey rules and ignore God’s vision.

 

We are less human when we stop believing in miracles – the beatitude miracles – the miracle of the vision of Joppa – the miracles we can make happen through Christ. Since that is the food of God and the very taste of heaven!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Doubting this Sunday?

John 20.24-30

 

Here are some useless facts for you! This Sunday is often known in the church as Low Sunday. Why it’s called that isn’t exactly agreed upon. It might be because the passion, drama and wonder of Easter are over. Or it might come from a corruption of the first word of a Latin liturgy that is Laudes.

 

This Sunday also takes its name after the first few words of the Roman Catholic introit for today. That starts with the words ‘As if as newborn babes, alleluia’. In fact, the Latin version of the words ‘as if as’ was to give the moniker to a foundling in Victor Hugo’s’ epic about Notre Dame in Paris. Because on this Sunday, a baby is deposited in the Cathedral’s hallowed portals and is then named – of course – Quasimodo.

 

But one name I don’t think we can give to this Sunday is expectant Sunday. The reason is that the disciples weren’t waiting or expecting anything. As far as they were concerned – it was over. They with their friend Jesus bin Joseph had played the game and lost. The vision that they had was well and truly over. All hope and faith had died with the crucifixion of their leader. Albeit, it has to be said, there were some pretty rum stories running around.

 

Therefore, possibly the most telling name for this day comes from the eastern church which calls it Saint Thomas’ Day; Thomas being the famous doubter. Since he is the patron saint of all who have said -I’ll believe it when I see it. He is the symbol of faith chasing facts. Moreover, he typifies so many who are Quasimodo’s in their beliefs. For Hugo writes in his 1831 novel:

 

 

Archdeacon Claude Frollo, Quasimodo’s adoptive father, baptized his adopted child and called him Quasimodo; whether it was that he chose thereby to commemorate the day when he had found him, or that he meant to mark by that name how incomplete and imperfectly moulded the poor little creature was. Indeed, Quasimodo, could hardly be considered as anything more than an almost.

 

 

It is therefore constructive to see how Thomas passed from his ‘almost’ faith state into the apostle credited with founding the church in the east possibly as far as India.

 

For, a farmer had a dog that used to sit by the roadside waiting for vehicles to come around. As soon as one came, he would run down the road, barking and trying to overtake it. One day a neighbor asked the farmer “Do you think your dog is ever going to catch a car?” The farmer replied, “That is not what bothers me. What bothers me is what he would do if he ever caught one.”

 

Here then is a dog chasing an almost unachievable goal in entirely the wrong way. A dog that was yet to learn that life is hard by the yard, but by the inch, it’s an cinch

 

 

 

Well certainly, Thomas did not try to live the life of a fully formed faith by the yard. Instead he inched towards it and that was the cinch. Put simply – he took little steps. Since he started by being honest with his fellow disciples, being honest with God and above all being honest with himself. Because it is all too easy when doubts set in to camouflage them with a multitude of distracting issues. Yet, instead of doing that, Thomas genuinely faced what was truly challenging him.

 

Next he did not stop looking for answers. He didn’t turn his back on the astounding truth of Christ risen. He did not close his mind to the Lord’s presence. And the outcome was he received the gift of renewed faith in abundance.

 

Finally, he accepted all that faith demands. He uttered up – My Lord and my God. And with those watchwords he then went forth and changed the world.

 

If then, on this Low Sunday, we feel we are ‘almost’ in our faith, let us feel our way forward in the same way. Let us not chase impossible goals lodged in the peaks of belief’s Himalayas. Let us not try to bolster our ill-formed beliefs by leaping yards. Rather let us rekindle its flame in small and simple steps. And so, may we each be honest with what is causing our doubt. May we keep our eyes open for the appearance of the living Lord in our everyday. Then may we use what we have been given to perfect ourselves and the headlines around us.

 

James Moore tells of a cartoon, run a few years ago, showing a man about to be rescued after he had spent a long time ship-wrecked on a tiny deserted island. The seaman in charge of the rescue team stepped onto the beach and handed the man a stack of newspapers. “Compliments of the Captain,” the sailor said. “He would like you to glance at the headlines to see if you’d still like to be rescued!”

 

Well, sometimes the world’s and our personal headlines do indeed scare us. Sometimes we feel that hopelessness is winning. And so there are times when we have such doubts that Thomas is turned into the very model of blind faith.

 

Therefore, why not turn back to building faith – step wise? Why not turn your almost beliefs into the certainty by acknowledging that Christ is with us – here and now. And why not start by proclaiming without a shadow – My Lord and my God.

 

Since if we do these, we will give this Low Sunday its other name, which is renewal Sunday. Because, by these little paces, once more the resurrection is repeated, once more the resurrection reforms and once more the resurrection make us – perfectly expectant.