Couldn't have said it better myself...

"We are all made in the image of the God we choose to serve."

Blaise Pascal

Monday, April 25, 2016

Litany for Peace

This week is the actual centenary of the Easter Rising in Dublin, and as part of our response to that and the other centenaries being marked in Ireland from 2012-22, tonight Rev. Dr. Johnston McMaster gave a lecture helping us to make "God-Sense" of it all, in the different world that is Ireland 100 years on. In it he asked a number of questions including "Does violence ever bring peace?" challenging the place of the myth of redemptive violence in Christian thinking. As a partial response to that I thought I would post this Litany for Peace fromr yesterday morning's broadcast Service on Radio Ulster when we were reflecting on Jesus' challenging promise: "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." 

Prince of Peace
deliver us
From those who use violence to impose their will on others.
From those who stir others up to use violence to achieve their ends.
From those who turn a blind eye to violence and injustice because it doesn’t affect them directly.
From the mindset that might is right and the end justifies the means.
Prince of Peace
deliver us
From simplistic divisions into us and them, wherever the dividing lines are drawn.
From those who use division and fear as a means of garnering support for their position.
From endless and unproductive cycles of resentment and recrimination.
From the tendency to use words to wound and the desire to win at all costs.
Prince of Peace
deliver us
From the confusion of peace with order and justice with legalism.
From the folly of thinking we have all the answers and have nothing to learn from anyone
From the use of your word as a justification for our prejudices
From divisions in your body that bring shame on your name and make a mockery of your command to love one another
Prince of Peace
deliver us
From the pain of the past, confusion in the present and fear of the future.
Prince of Peace
deliver us
From the limitations of our own knowledge, the selfishness of our desires and the tendency to blame others for our failings
Prince of Peace
deliver us
By your words of forgiveness uttered on the cross
Prince of Peace
deliver us
By your victory over death in your resurrection from the grave
Prince of Peace
deliver us
By your Spirit breathed upon us
Prince of Peace
deliver us
We pray this for ourselves, our province, our nation, our world,
looking forward to that time when your Kingdom of perfect Peace comes in all its fullness
On earth as it is in heaven


Sunday, April 24, 2016

The World's Beatitudes

Over recent months in Belfast South Methodist we have been thinking about the implications of Jesus’ Beatitudes in Matthew chapter 5, and in this morning's broadcast Service on Radio Ulster we were reflecting on "Blessed are the Peacemakers..." and as part of it we contrasted the words of Jesus with common attitudes in the world at large:

VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are the materially wealthy, because theirs is the kingdom of the here and now."
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are those who are too busy living to think about death, because life is for living."
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are the self-assertive, because they will get what they want."
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are those who are satisfied with the world as it is, because they don’t have to do anything to improve it."
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are the merciless, because they will never allow themselves to be at anyone else’s mercy." 
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are those who keep their hands clean, because others will do all the dirty work."
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are the warriors, because no-one will ever treat them like children."
VOICE 1:          Jesus says:
VOICE 2:          "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
VOICE 1:          The world says:
VOICE 3:          "Blessed are those who get their retaliation in first, because good guys finish last in this world."
VOICE 1:          And all the people said:
ALL:                  AMEN


Monday, March 28, 2016

Before the Cock Crows

The second of our two Easter Eye-Witnesses, bringing to a close a series of 7 monologues delivered by various friends as part of our Holy Week Services at the Agape Centre.

It was half a world away from here and half a lifetime ago, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. The day that changed my life forever, even though I didn’t realise it at the time… the day that changed the world, even though the world hasn’t yet woken up to the fact…
I had barely woken up… The cock had just crowed, bringing the memories of two mornings before flooding back… The shame at being proved a coward… Realising how hollow all my brave words at the dinner table had been… That he knew… he knew everything…
He had been warning us for ages that it would happen, but none of us believed him.
“If anyone would follow me he must take up his cross and follow me...” I didn’t think he meant it literally…
“I’ll follow in your footsteps wherever you go… even to death itself!” I said… And all the others said the same. But he warned me I would deny even knowing him before the cock crowed the next day…
Who did I think I was fooling? I’m always the same... Full of bold words... But when it came down to it, I was always scared... Scared stiff... Like that time on the sea when he walked on the water... I wanted to follow him... But when I was out on the water I was scared witless... I had to call to Jesus to save me...
And that night I was just as scared... more... I made great play of trying to save Jesus from the soldiers when they came for him in the garden… Waving my sword around like I knew what to do with it… But I was terrified, and when Jesus told me to put it away, after I had lopped some poor guy’s ear off, all pretence at courage evaporated…
I did follow Jesus down to the High Priest’s palace… I tried to blend in to the crowd in the courtyard, but there were too many people there who had seen me with him in the previous week… They kept on asking if I was one of his followers… I was terrified that they would call the temple guards… Finally I lost my temper, I swore at them and said I had nothing to do with Jesus…
And that’s when the cock crowed… Just as Jesus was being led out of the palace to be taken for questioning elsewhere… He looked at me… Not judging me… But with that deep sense of compassion that he always had for the hurting, the lost, the losers of society… There he was, beaten, bloodied and bound, looking at me with pity… Somehow he knew what had just happened…
And that was it… I ran out of the courtyard found a deep dark corner, and wept... My heart had broken into a million pieces… I stayed there most of the day, terrified that the soldiers would find me and drag me off to wherever they had taken Jesus…
It was only when I made my way back to the upper room later that night that I found out what had happened… John told me… he was the only one who had followed Jesus to the end…
I couldn’t believe it… This was how it was all to end!? This was what I had given up the fishing for!? We stayed in the room right the way through the Sabbath… We were all there… family and followers… all except Judas… No-one had seen him since the garden… and a good job too…
It may have been the Sabbath, the Passover Sabbath, but there was no celebration… no prayers… we all felt as if God had abandoned us… Night fell again and I slept fitfully at first… But eventually exhaustion got the better of me and I was in such a deep sleep that I didn’t even realise that some of the women had gone out to the tomb where they had laid Jesus’ body…
But then the cock crowed again and it all came flooding back… A waking nightmare… made worse by Mary of Magdala coming rushing in, screaming and shouting about Jesus’ body being missing… John and I took off like Greek athletes... Well, John did, I trailed along in his wake, but when we got to the tomb I pushed him out of the way... and found that Mary was right... there was no body... But it didn’t look like someone had stolen the body... It looked more like Jesus had got up after a good night’s sleep, taken off his shroud and folded it up neatly like a nightgown... He always was neat... Liked things done properly...
I didn’t understand… I didn’t understand any of it… His death… the missing body… I wasn’t certain about what I had seen, but somehow a cloud had lifted... It was like beginnings of the dawn… I had vague memories of Jesus talking about rising on the third day... And then later, when Mary rushed in again, this time jabbering about having seen Jesus, while others said she was mad, that she was possessed again... Did I tell you about her and the seven demons Jesus cast out of her... No? That was quite a story, but it’ll have to wait for another time... But anyway, the others thought she had lost the plot... but I wasn’t so sure...
That night, was when we first saw him again… the first of many times… many experiences that changed me from that man denied his master into the man you see before you here today, here in Rome… At the centre of the empire that crucified my master… and is to crucify me before another cock-crows… Today I literally take up my cross and make good my boast to follow in his footsteps even to death itself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still scared, but the events of those three days half a world away and half a life time ago have convinced me that death is not the end of the journey with Jesus…

Lord of all life and power,
who through the mighty resurrection of your Son
overcame the old order of sin and death
to make all things new in him:
grant that we, being dead to sin and alive to you in Jesus Christ,
may be strengthened to walk with him in his risen life
to the glory of his name. AMEN

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Have You Seen Him?

The first of our two Easter Eye-Witnesses... Delivered in the beautiful surroundings of walled garden of Sir Thomas and Lady Dixon Park this morning as part of our communion service... bathed in early monring sunlight and accompanied by birdsong.

I saw him… with my own eyes… although I didn’t recognize him at first… it must have been the tears… I thought he must have been the gardener, and I gave him a hard time about where they had put the body… I can’t imagine what he thought… I gabbled on until he said “Miriam”… My name… though you know me as Mary…
Whatever way he said my name cut through my distress and confusion and I saw him as clearly as I see you now… my dear teacher… “Rabboni” I said as I rushed to embrace him… But he wouldn’t let me… Something about not holding him back from returning to his father… So I didn’t… But he asked me to go and tell his friends and family that he had risen and was returning to his Father God…
So I did… to a mixed reception… but they saw that I was right in the end when they saw him themselves…
Although I was angry at the time that they wouldn’t all believe me, I realized later that it was predictable… Of course they wouldn’t believe a grief-stricken woman… Even when we’re in our right minds a woman’s testimony is only worth a fraction of a man’s in court… And that morning I will admit I wasn’t in my right mind…
But again, as I thought on it later, how typical of God to allow me, a woman, to be the first person to see the Master risen from the dead… and in a garden too… So many women-hating religious teachers justify their position by pointing the finger of blame at a woman in a garden for bringing sin into the world… when Eve gave in to the serpent’s temptation…
Was this Father God being funny? Or was he bringing things strangely full circle?
I don’t know… I’ll leave the religious teachers to work that one out… But me? I just know that I have seen the risen Lord… Have you seen him?

Lord God
Creator of life and light
As we gather in this garden in the light of the morning sun
We give thanks for another garden where on Easter morning long ago
Your Son rose from the dead
Heralding a new beginning for all creation.
May we celebrate with joy his glorious resurrection
And be set free from the power of sin and the fear of death
Through faith in him who is alive and reigns with you
In the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God 
Now and forever more. AMEN


Friday, March 25, 2016

I was There…

The fifth of our Holy Week eye witnesses at the Agape Centre, an appropriate one given that this day in the Christian calendar is usually the Feast of the Annunciation, 9 months before Christmas, but because it falls on Good Friday, that feast is deferred until the 4th April. 

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing near by, he said to her,‘Woman,[b] here is your son,’ 27 and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said,‘I am thirsty.’ 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
John 19: 25-30  (NIV-UK)

I was there… with the other women… I had been there at the beginning… I was going to stay right to the end… I had given birth to the eternal son of God… So it was no stranger to watch that same eternal son of God die…
But while I thought nothing could be as painful as the birth of my firstborn, absolutely nothing could compare with the pain of watching him die… No child should die before their mother… It seems to be against the natural order of things… But even more so when the natural order has been overturned in the first place… Why was he born if it was only to die? Would I have said “Yes” in the beginning, if I had known how it would end? I don’t know… Did I have a choice? Did God have a choice? I didn’t understand why it had to be that way… If he had listened to me it mightn’t have ended like that… But he didn’t… and it did…
When I think back, I cannot believe that when I learned I was pregnant I sang that all generations would call me blessed… Of course I had been blessed, but standing by that cross I felt the curse of God fall on me as scripture tells me it fell on him and all those who die on a tree…
I cried with him, “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Old Simeon in the Temple could see things much clearer than I could in my childish naivety when he told me at the time of my son’s circumcision that a sword would pierce my soul… Maybe not a sword, but a spear… My son didn’t feel it… He was beyond feeling by then… But I felt every inch of that spear as the soldier probed his side and my soul… And as the water and the blood poured from his side… Finally the dam burst and I cried for the first time that day… But I made up for lost time… I cried as if I would never stop…
John, my cousin’s son, steered me away… He had had his arm around me the whole time… My son had seen that and he asked us to look after each other as mother and son… Typical of him to think about others while breathing his last… I know that John will do his best for me… and I will try to do my best for him. But it’s not the same… It will never, ever be the same… As he said, “It is finished…”

Father God
On this day when the Mother of your Son Jesus,
watched her own flesh and blood 
tormented on a mockery of a tree
for the whole world to see,
Our heart goes out to countless other Mothers
whose hearts are breaking 
because of their children...
Lives cut short by acts of violence, 
by the actions of unjust governments, 
by wrong choices that those children have made for themselves 
no matter how much their mothers and fathers and others urged them not to… 
those whose lives have been cut short by disaster, or disease or tragic accident… 
But we thank you that because of the life and death of Mary's son
No son or daughter's death need be the end...
You have not forsaken us...
Christ’s work is not yet finished in us...
The Holy Spirit is there to breath into us anew
Love into loneliness
Hope into despair
Life into Death.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

It Had Nothing to Do With the Money...

The Eye Witness at our Maundy Thursday Communion Service in the Agape Service offered us a different perspective on the events around the Last Supper and all that led up to it... 

he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table.
Luke 22:19-21 (ANIV)

I was there at the table with him… as I had been many times before… and I suppose it was me he was talking about… But  before we go any further, let’s get this clear, it had nothing to do with the money... I just had to do something. The others think the same as me, but they'd never do anything... All talk and no trousers. It’s always the same... It’s left to people like me to get blood on our hands... It was the same with the resistance. No-one likes the imperial occupiers, but it was left to people like me to do what needed to be done... Did you not know I worked for the resistance? Thought it was only Simon, the Zealot, who had served the cause? No. I did my bit.
But I was a specialist… an assassin... That's where I got my nick name... Sicarious... The knifeman... (produces a flick-knife) And you have to wield a knife sometimes... You have to cut deep... But Jesus is only scratching the surface... He needs to wake up... Well, if this doesn't force his hand nothing will... And if he does nothing... Well, we'll just have to look for someone else to lead us...
I mean, where HAS Jesus led us? I thought it was all coming together with the entrance into the city – fulfilling all the prophecies about the entrance of coming messiah - and then when he overturned the tables of those leeches in the temple... That was straight out of the prophets too; Malachi I think: "Then suddenly, the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple..."
The time was right... We could have taken back what is ours, and set up the Kingdom again. But no... He turns his back on the city and goes out to Bethany...    
And there while we were sharing that table he sits back and allows that whore to bathe his head and feet in expensive perfume...
Everyone was amazed. I said it wasn't right... "What about the poor?" I said... Three hundred silver pieces that perfume would have raised. A year’s wages.
But he said "Leave her alone. She's done a beautiful thing for me. There'll always be poor people... But you won't always have me."
I don't understand... all his talk of a new kingdom where the first will be last and the last will be first... And then he allows himself to be pampered like that... It's not right... Why should he be any different from the rest of us?
Of course the rest of them all said I was only interested in getting my cut as the treasurer. They're all jealous... They're always talking about me behind my back... Its because they're all from up north, while I'm from round here… They're always saying I'm light fingered...
If they'd wanted light fingered they should have given the job to Matthew, the tax collector... He'd have robbed them blind... Well, they'll talk about me now all right... But I don't care... History will prove me right...
300 silver coins... Its not the money... But 300 silver coins poured on his feet. He could have had all that and more when the Kingdom was established, but no, he wanted it here and now... He's not prepared to make the necessary sacrifices... Not prepared to get blood on his precious hands... or feet... He'd rather have them bathed in perfume.
So when I went to Caiaphas and he asked me my price... I told him 30 silver pieces... a tenth of what that whore's perfume would have raised... A tithe for doing God's work. We all have our price. The question now is what price is Jesus prepared to pay?

In place of impatience grant us faith in your purposes;
In place of pride grant us a humble reliance upon you;
In place of cynicism grant us an openness to others;
In place of selfishness grant us generosity of spirit;.
In place of self-righteousness grant us a right relationship with you and with others.
Through Jesus Christ your Son, AMEN

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

I Had Been Keeping That Perfume For My Wedding Day…

Our third Eye Witness at our Agape Centre Holy Week Services.

Now the Passover and the Festival of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were scheming to arrest Jesus secretly and kill him. ‘But not during the festival,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot.’
While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.
Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, ‘Why this waste of perfume? It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.’ And they rebuked her harshly.
‘Leave her alone,’ said Jesus. ‘Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.’
 Mark 14:1-9 (NIV-UK)

I had been keeping that perfume for my wedding day… It was the most expensive thing I owned… even the jar itself was worth more than my other possessions… But the perfume sealed inside it had been brought from the far east… the mountains at the edge of the earth… Pure nard… the very best that my brother could buy for me…
That was back when he was working… before he became famous… Before he became ill and died… You’ve probably heard of him…  Shimon Eleazar… or maybe you know him as Simon the Leper… or Lazarus… He had been ill for a long time, and on previous visits my sister and I had hosted Jesus ourselves… But we all knew that one day that dreadful disease would finish our beloved brother off…  We had hoped that Jesus would heal him… but for some reason he didn’t… and even when the end was near we sent word to him but he didn’t come… at least not at first… He turned up 4 days too late… or so we thought… I couldn’t face him at first, I was so angry… And when I saw him I said “"If you had just gotten here on time, my brother would not have died."
I was weeping… and so did he… But then he asked where the tomb was… and… well, you know the rest… the whole country knows the rest…
And there they were… all of the men sitting down to meal… A sight I had never expected to see again this side of heaven… my brother Shimon beside the Master… Martha of course was bustling around organising everything… She never did learn to take things slower…
But I was wondering what I could do to say thank you… Then I remembered the perfume… Although I said I was keeping it for my wedding day, I had seriously thought about using it to anoint Shimon’s body before we put it in the tomb…
But Martha… ever the realist… said “No!” that I needed the perfume more than ever… either to catch the right man… or to sell to stop us starving!
But we didn’t have to worry about that now… Shimon was back with us again… Risen from the dead…
So I went over to where the Master was reclining and broke open the jar… The perfume filled the room with its heady scent… And I poured it over him… first on his head massaging it into his hair and down his shoulders… then on his feet… drying them with my own hair…
His followers were scandalised… some said I was behaving like a whore… But I don’t care what people will say about me… I had to find some way of showing my love and gratitude… and it had to cost me something… Not just the price of the perfume…
But it was the money they focussed on… Especially their treasurer Judas… He knows the price of everything that one… He spluttered about it being worth 300 silver coins… And how many poor people it would feed…
Then I felt bad about what I’d done… had I been wasteful?
Then one of the other disciples joked… said that Judas was only thinking of the tithe he could skim off the top…
But the Master told them to stop, said that I had done a beautiful thing… He then said something about always having the poor with us, but that we wouldn’t always have him. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that… He clearly didn’t mean that we shouldn’t bother about the poor… that wouldn’t have been like him…
But then he said something even stranger… That when I poured the perfume on him, I did it to prepare him for burial.
Had Martha told him about me wanting to anoint Shimon’s body with it? I don’t know…
But I didn’t understand what he meant about his burial… God willing he’ll be with us for a long time yet…
Lord, what can we give you in the light of all that you have given to us and for us?
All that we have has come from you, all that we are we owe to you,
All that we can be is known to you alone.
You loved us so much that you gave us your son;
He loved us so much that he gave up the riches of heaven
To live as one of us and die for all of us.
Nothing we can give, or do, or say, or sing can adequately thank you for all that you have done…
And so we give our all over to you who gave your all for us. AMEN