Sunday 27 April 2014

Baptism of Daphne Jane Eve Clarke, 13th April 2014, Killodiernan

Address given at the baptism of Daphne Jane Eve Clarke at Killodiernan on Sunday 13th April 2014, Easter 6 - Palm Sunday.

Today is a joyful occasion, a day for celebration, a day of baptism!
For many of us it is a family celebration. Particularly so for Peter and Natasha, as with their daughter Hollie they bring their baby daughter Eve to be christened in the presence of so many of their relatives and friends, who share their joy in her.

For Eve’s Godparents, for Janet McCarthy, Brenda O’Laughlin and Adrian Gordon it is a day when they promise to encourage Eve in her life and in her faith. It is a day to celebrate the start of a very special relationship they will have with her as she grows up. My daughter, when she was small, didn’t understand what a Godmother was. She called her Godmother ‘my bed-sitter’, because when she came to stay her Godmother would sit on the end of her bed and have long talks with her. My daughter loved those special talks. May you as Godparents be equally special ‘bed-sitters’ for Eve!

It is surely right for families to celebrate as families. Our Lord Jesus Christ himself was reared in a human family, and he took part in family celebrations such as the wedding in Cana of Galilee.

But today is about much more than just a family celebration.
St Matthew’s Gospel tells us how Jesus after his resurrection commissioned the apostles to make disciples of all nations, and to mark it by baptism. They in turn passed on the commission to others, handing on the gift of faith to new generations. And so we, as that part of Christ’s church gathered here today, as Jesus’s disciples, pass on this gift to a new generation, to Eve.

We are here to welcome Eve as a new member of Christ’s Church.  Baptism marks the beginning of a journey with God, which will last for the rest of her life. Whether we are family or not, we celebrate that today. And as we renew our baptismal vows in a few moments, let us reflect on our own journey, and let us be determined to support Eve’s parents and Godparents as they guide her on her journey.

Eve will be baptised “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”.
Matthew tells us that Jesus himself used these words. Those of us who are Anglicans share this baptismal formula with most other Christians, including the Roman Catholic, the Orthodox and most Reformed Churches. It is a symbol of unity within the diversity of our denominations that we all baptise in the same words.

We shouldn’t see the Trinity as a static thing, I think. Rather, God reveals himself in the Trinity as a dynamic cycle of loving relationships. The Father and the Son loving each other; the Son and the Spirit loving each other; and the Spirit and the Father loving each other.

May Eve grow up to recognise God’s dynamic cycle of love reflected in her own relationships!

According to Matthew, the last words Jesus spoke to his disciples are these: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Jesus was speaking to the apostles, but he still speaks these words to his disciples today.

What an amazing thing it is, that Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour, our friend and brother, is travelling with us on our journey. Even when we are tired or anxious, lonely or frightened, doubting or lost, Jesus is there with us, to encourage and support us, to love us.

The loving Christ journeys with Eve, and with every one of us. Let us give thanks for it, and let us celebrate it!

Passion Sunday - Take this cup from me

Address given at Templederry on Sunday 13th April 2014, Easter 6 - Palm Sunday, after reading Matthew's Passion Gospel

Wow, that was a long reading (Matthew 26:14- 27:66)! It is surely good for us to hear the whole story of Christ’s Passion from beginning to end at least once a year, to better appreciate the enormity of those events. But I also feel sure you’ll be glad to know that I’m not going to preach a long sermon too!

Instead I ask you to reflect with me for a moment on Jesus’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane:
‘My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.’
Jesus is distressed and agitated. He is certain that what he is doing is the will of God, his loving Father. He knows what is likely to happen next – his execution as a dangerous agitator, perhaps even the agonising death of crucifixion.

And he does not want to die – he is a man in the full strength and vigour of his early 30s, he loves life, he loves his friends, and he loves his ministry to those who need healing and forgiveness. So he prays to his loving Father for himself, that his death may be averted - ‘let this cup pass from me’.

But that is only half his prayer. Even more important for Jesus than his own distress at the prospect of death is that his loving Father’s will should be done. So he finishes his prayer with ‘yet not what I want, but what you want’.

This prayer of Jesus should be a model for our own prayers for our selves, I think. When I desperately wish for something, it is right and proper for me to pray to God for it. If I cannot ask God for it, who can I ask? But I must never forget how much more important it is for God’s will to be done, than for my wish to be granted. So I should always finish a prayer for myself with Jesus’s words, ‘yet not what I want, but what you want’.

In the end, like Jesus, we must trust that our loving Father knows what is best for us.

The Gift of Faith on the 2nd Sunday of Easter

An address given at St Mary's, Nenagh on the 2nd Sunday of Easter, 27th April 2014, year A

There is a common theme running through all 3 of today’s readings.
That theme is belief; belief that God raised Jesus from the dead; belief that his resurrection reveals Jesus to be the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one.

This belief is a hard call, isn’t it? In our common human experience, people who are dead - really dead, not just in a coma - stay dead. They don’t come back to life, walk about and talk to us. But that is what the Gospels tell us Jesus did. It seems impossible. Yet this belief is the very heart and centre of the faith that brings us all together here today.

Can we really believe it? Let’s look a little more closely at the readings to explore the question.

First we turn to the reading from John’s Gospel (John 20:19-31) about the apostle Thomas.
Thomas is nobody’s fool, he doesn’t take anything on somebody else’s say so, he thinks for himself. I like that! He is one of my heroes.

Thomas isn’t there when Jesus appears to the other disciples on the day of his resurrection, so when they tell him their extraordinary news “We have seen the Lord!” he doesn’t believe them. He says “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”  But a week later Thomas is there when Jesus appears again. Jesus talks directly to him, and invites him to touch his wounds. Thomas responds immediately, saying “My Lord and my God!”  For all his initial scepticism, Thomas is convinced by his own senses that Jesus has risen from the dead.

Yet there is something odd about John’s story - as there is about all the stories of Jesus after the resurrection. The risen Jesus is not the same as he was before. Neither Mary Magdalen nor the disciples on the road to Emmaus recognise him at first. And in today’s reading Jesus seems to appear out of nowhere, even though the doors are locked. It is clear to me that we can’t imagine the risen Jesus as just the re-animated corpse of the man Jesus who died on the cross. There’s more to it than that!

So what are we to make of it all? If there is any truth in the Gospel accounts, the disciples experienced something mysterious but quite extraordinary. They described it as meeting Jesus the risen Christ: “We have seen the Lord” they say. It would be futile to try to explain what they experienced scientifically – there just isn’t enough evidence. But that doesn’t mean that whatever it was contradicts what we have learned through science about the way God’s creation works.

The first point I hope you will take away today is this:
We can believe both in the truth of science and in the disciples’ experience. We can believe both and accept the mystery. And we can choose to call their experience what they called it – meeting Jesus the risen Christ.

Now let’s turn to the reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 2:14a, 22-32).
The scene is set at 9 am on the day of Pentecost; 6 weeks after Thomas declared his belief, and 7 weeks after the resurrection. The twelve have just received the promised gift of the Holy Spirit, and begun to speak in all manner of foreign tongues, attracting a crowd. Peter, acting as spokesman, starts to make a speech.

For the first time in public, Peter boldly declares his belief, and that of the other disciples, that God has raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, “This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses” he says. And he quotes Psalm 16 to show his Jewish listeners that King David had prophesied the resurrection of the Messiah:
"He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption."

These days we can’t argue convincingly from biblical prophecy, because it doesn’t fit in with how our scientific culture understands the way the universe works. But people did then, and his words were very persuasive - we are told he persuaded 3000 new disciples to be baptised that day!

What really impresses me is the change that has come over Peter - he has become a different man. This is the man that only seven weeks ago denied that he knew Jesus three times and ran away, because he was afraid of what might happen to him. Yet now this ordinary fisherman is inspired to stand up in public and preach to a crowd, testifying to his belief that God raised Jesus from the dead. Peter is completely changed. He kick-starts the process that has led to countless people sharing his belief.

And Peter isn’t the only one changed. As we read on in the book of Acts, we see how the disciples pass on their belief to others; how they start to organise themselves into a Church; how they seem to be propelled by some irresistible force to go out and make disciples of all nations, just as Jesus asked them to do.
The 2nd point I want you to take away is this:
The experience of meeting the risen Christ, and receiving the Spirit he promised, utterly transforms his disciples. What a powerful force for change it is!

Finally we turn to the 1st Letter of Peter (1Peter 1:3-9)
The author gives us a glimpse of how Peter and Thomas and the other apostles passed on their belief to new generations. “Although you have not seen (Jesus), you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him”. Notice how this echoes what Jesus said to Thomas: “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Those who heard the Apostles testify to their belief accepted it on faith, AS their faith. And that faith has been passed on from generation to generation, until we ourselves received it. And we in turn will pass it on to our own children and grandchildren, by the grace of God.

The 3rd point to take away is tis
We should see our faith in Jesus the risen Christ, and our capacity to believe it, as like a magnificent gift from God - a gift which will utterly transform us if we let it, just as it did the first disciples. I think it is what allows us to be truly human. We are blessed by it.

Let us thank God for the gift of faith, handed down to us from Thomas and Peter and the first disciples!