Sunday 31 December 2023

Shepherds glorifying God

Adoration of the Shepherds, Annibale Carracci 1560-1609

Address given at Killodiernan Church on Sunday 31st December 2023, the 1st of Christmas

“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing which has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us”.

So say the shepherds who were keeping watch over the flock in fields close to the town, as St Luke tells us in the Gospel reading (Luke2:15-21).

Luke’s is the only Gospel to tell us about the shepherds who visited Mary and Joseph and their new-born son Jesus. His beautiful story, so familiar to us, still resonates today. So let’s try to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the shepherds that night 2000 years ago.

Some of you I’m sure know much more than I do about sheep. Perhaps you’ve kept and tended them. But I doubt if any of you would call yourselves shepherds. Shepherds are few and far between in Ireland these days - but they would have been very familiar to Luke’s readers. The rugged Judean uplands were a pastoral country. Flocks of sheep represented wealth. A shepherd was paid to stay out night and day in all weathers to guard the sheep against wild animals and robbers. It was a hard, dangerous job, but very responsible. Jesus likens himself to the Good Shepherd, who would lay down his life for the sheep.

Luke’s shepherds are ordinary people, much like you and me. They are not self-important rulers or highly educated opinion formers, as Herod and the Wise Men were, in Matthew’s alternative Christmas story. Luke chooses to tell us about how ordinary people responded to the miracle of Christmas, not the great and mighty. And we have much to learn from them.

The shepherds had just experienced a miraculous vision, a vision of angels.

‘The glory of the Lord shone around them’ – I imagine shimmering light, like the Northern lights. An angel announces, ‘To you is born this day in the city of David’ – that is Bethlehem – ‘a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’  They are given a sign; they ‘will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger’. Then the angel is joined by ‘a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours”’

Wow! What an experience! What an exhilarating joy the shepherds must have felt!

Have you ever heard the heavenly host? I have, I think, and you may have too. I can remember my joy and exhilaration after the births of my twin girls. I can remember literally skipping down the wet deserted streets of Guildford at 4am in mid December, on the way back home from the hospital. It was as if the whole universe was laughing and crying and singing with me. And I shared my joy with everyone I met over the following days. Angel voices, indeed – a memory to treasure!

Surely it is an experience of this same kind that Isaiah speaks of in today’s OT reading (Isaiah 61:10-62:3), when he says:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
   my whole being shall exult in my God;
for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
   he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
   and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Most if not all of us, ordinary people, experience once in a while that sudden rush of exhilarating joy, as both Isaiah and the shepherds did. It is not just poets and the mad who experience visions of angels. We should not be afraid of them, I think. Rather we should see it as God granting us a glimpse, just a fleeting glimpse, of his loving power and majesty. We should treasure such experiences when we return to the world of normality, and ponder them in our hearts, as Mary did.

The shepherds ‘went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger’.

These shepherds are straight-forward, practical people. They don’t stand around debating and philosophising about what their extraordinary experience means. They go with haste to look with their own eyes. And what they find confirms their experience – it is just as the angel had told them. This little child is special, very special - a Saviour, a Messiah, the Lord. And they can’t stop talking about it! Just as I couldn’t stop telling everyone about the birth of my children.

The real miracle of Christmas is that through his grace our loving Father God makes the first move towards us, to you and me, to all people. He reveals himself to us as Mary and Joseph’s beautiful, helpless baby, their first-born son. This baby grows up to be our Lord Jesus Christ – in St John’s mystic vision, the Word of God, the true light that enlightens everyone – through whose life and teaching, and death and resurrection, we are shown the way to God.

But God’s grace is of no use to us unless we respond to it. We should learn from the shepherds how to respond to the miracle of Christmas. They went with haste to find Jesus, and we must too. Like them, we will not be disappointed.

‘The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.’

They don’t hang about. Once they have seen the child Jesus lying in the manger – the Saviour, the Messiah, the Lord – and told their story, they just go back to work, to tend their flocks.

But something has changed - they are changed. They go back ‘glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen.’

And this surely is what we must do too. We are not meant to remain for ever in our visions, no matter how exhilarating they may be. We must come back to earth. Our job is to bring our experience of the love of God back into the everyday world. Let us pray that we too may go about the world as changed people, glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen.

So we have indeed a great deal to learn from Luke’s shepherds:

  • We should treasure the glimpses we are granted of the love and majesty of our loving Father God.
  • We should go with haste to find God’s grace in the Christmas miracle of the birth of Jesus.
  • And we should return as changed people to bring God’s loving Spirit out into the world.

Let me finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word

Saving God,
whose Son Jesus was presented in the temple
and was acclaimed the glory of Israel
and the light to the nations:
grant that in him we may be presented to you
and in the world may reflect his glory;
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Tuesday 12 December 2023

The birth of the universal church

Peter's dream, by Domenico Fetti

Reflection at morning worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator on 12th December 2023

Today’s reading (Acts 11:1-18) records one of the most important moments in the life of the earliest church, the moment when it began to move from being a purely Jewish sect to being a church which accepted Gentiles as full members. In this moment we witness the birth of the Church Catholic – the universal Church.

In the paragraphs before today’s reading, the author of Acts tells us how Peter had come to associate with Gentiles in Caesarea.

Peter had an extraordinary dream while he was visiting disciples in Joppa, now a suburb of Tel Aviv in Israel. He heard a voice commanding him to kill and eat animals which as a Jew he had been taught to believe were unclean – they disgusted him, they were taboo. And a voice from heaven declared to him, ‘What God has made clean, you must not call profane’. We have our own food taboos in Ireland today. Most people are horrified at the thought of eating horse-meat. But I tried it once in the Netherlands, and I can confirm it is delicious.

Just as Peter was processing this shocking dream, three men arrived at the door asking for him. They had been sent by a Roman Centurion called Cornelius, a pious and God-fearing gentile, who asked Peter to come with them to visit him in Caesarea, about a day’s walk away. Peter felt the Holy Spirit urging him to agree, so the next day he went to see Cornelius. But we should notice that he took the precaution of bringing 6 witnesses along too. Under Jewish tradition if seven people give the same testimony it must be accepted as true.

When Peter arrived at Cornelius’s house, he tells him and the assembled household, ‘You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection’. Clearly Peter has been reflecting on the meaning of his strange vision, as we walked to Caesarea.

Cornelius tells Peter, ‘All of us are here in the presence of God to listen to all that the Lord has commanded you to say’. Peter replies, ‘I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him’. And he goes on to proclaim the Gospel to Cornelius’s household.

Cornelius and his household receive Peter’s teaching with great joy. We are told that Peter and his 6 witnesses were amazed at their response. They could see that these Gentiles had received the gift of the Holy Spirit, which they had all received at Pentecost. Seizing the moment, ‘(Peter) ordered them to be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ’.

Now we pick up the story in today’s reading.

When Peter got back to Jerusalem, news of his visit to Cornelius had arrived before him. The Jewish Christians were outraged that Peter had consorted with gentiles, in breach of Jewish law and tradition – and he had even gone so far as to have them baptised. ‘Why’, they ask him, ‘did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?’.

Peter then, in front of his 6 witnesses, tells them the whole story we have heard. He concludes saying, ‘If then God gave (Cornelius and his household) the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?’. The critics are silenced, and they praise God, saying, ‘Then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life’.

Let us praise God with the Jewish Church in Jerusalem, because God has given to us as well, as Gentiles, the repentance that leads to life!

Sunday 10 December 2023

Make Straight the Way

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 10th December 2023, the 2nd of Advent

Let’s listen again to the prophet Isaiah’s beautiful, poetic words in the 1st reading (Isaiah: 40:1-11):

A voice cries out:
In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.

Now, we know a good deal about making highways around here – just think of the building of the M7 motorway some years ago, and the building today of the Killaloe bypass and the new Shannon bridge – I believe the first span was completed in the last week. Isaiah’s words could almost be an anthem for the National Roads Authority! Great cuttings have been blasted through the hills. Giant machines have moved the spoil to make embankments. Bridges have been built over rivers. All to make the road as gentle and smooth as possible.

Road building would not have been so vast in Isaiah’s time, but it would still have been a gigantic community enterprise to make the roads to allow farmers to transport their produce on pack-mules to market in Jerusalem, and to allow pilgrims to travel to the temple on Mount Zion. The roads knit together the Jewish people in the cities of Judah to their holy mountain of Zion, not just in a material way, but also in metaphor as a worshiping community. 

I feel sure that for Isaiah the way of the Lord was not a road for God to travel to his people on, but a road for his people to travel to God on.

Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

In our 3rd reading, in the very first words of his Gospel (Mark:1:1-8), St Mark recycles this road building metaphor.

John the Baptist is a wild man, wandering about the Judean desert, clothed in camel’s hair, with only a leather bag at his waist, who ate locusts and wild honey, we are told – the very image of an Old Testament prophet! Mark quotes Isaiah to identify him as: The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’ He is the fulfilment of the hope expressed by Isaiah.

John proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. And he is very successful to judge by the crowds he gathers. But John is also the self-effacing herald of the coming of another. Claiming no special position for himself, he says: ‘The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals.’ He means Jesus of course. And John continues I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’

When preparing this address, I asked myself, ‘Why have the compilers of the Lectionary chosen this reading for today?’. John’s message of repentance and forgiveness for sin might seem at first sight out of place in this Advent season. In Advent we look forward to Christmas and the great gift that God has given us. God comes to us. He comes in the form of a little child. His parents Mary and Joseph name him Jesus. We rejoice with them at the miracle of his birth. With angels and shepherds and kings we adore him. And we believe he grows up to lead us to God through his loving self-sacrifice. So why spoil all the joy with dismal repentance for sin?

I think the answer lies in the metaphor of road building. 

Yes, God makes the first move. Yes, God comes to us in the person of Jesus. But he does not force himself on us. He does not compel us to accept his love. He made us with free will, and we are free to refuse him. But we cannot share in his kingdom unless we make a move in response. That essential move is like building a road to travel on towards God. Each one of us must ‘prepare the way of the Lord’ and ‘make his paths straight’. And to do so we must each accept John’s baptism for ourselves. We must admit our own sins, we must seek God’s forgiveness, and we must undergo a change of heart to follow God’s way in future. Because that is what repentance means.

So, to sum up:

By the readings they have chosen for us, the compilers of the Lectionary have tried to correct any tendency we may have to be over sentimental in our anticipation of Christmas.

Yes of course we should look forward with joy to Christmas. Let us wonder at the miracle of Mary’s tiny helpless baby. Let us enjoy the stories of the shepherds and the three kings. And let us sing our hearts out with the angels in the beautiful carols we all love so much.

But let us also reflect on this. The love God shows us at Christmas is no use to us - no use at all - unless we choose to act in response, to build a good smooth road on which we may travel to God. John the Baptist has shown us the way by proclaiming his baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. All we need do is to commit ourselves to that baptism, and to build the road.

I finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word:

Merciful God,
you sent your messengers the prophets
to preach repentance and prepare the way for our salvation:
give us grace to heed their warnings and forsake our sins,
that we may greet with joy
the coming of Jesus Christ our Redeemer,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

Monday 27 November 2023

Of sheep and goats

Mozaic of the Last Judgement, Ravenna

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan church on Sunday 26th November 2023, Christ the King

Am I like a sheep or am I like a goat?

We have just heard Jesus’s vivid and memorable parable of the sheep and the goats from Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 25:31-46), told privately to his disciples. It prompts me to ask myself this question, as it should each and every one of us, I suggest.

The main message of the parable is clear, isn’t it? God judges each one of us – me and you – according to how we respond to the needs of others. Some will be found to be righteous and go into eternal life. Others will not, and they will go into eternal punishment. Let’s delve into it a bit.

In NT times in the Holy Land, sheep and goats were kept in mixed flocks, as they still are.

But it was sometimes necessary to separate them into their kinds. At shearing time for instance. Or at the approach of hard weather – sheep are hardier than goats and can be left to graze over winter in the uplands, but goats must be brought down and folded in the shelter of the valley. Or to manage grazing – sheep eat only low growing herbs while goats will eat the leaves of bushes so that when forage of one kind is running out the appropriate animals must be moved to other grazing.

This image of separating sheep and goats would have been very familiar to those Jesus was talking to. He uses it as a metaphor for how people can be divided into two kinds. ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory’, says Jesus, ‘… he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left’.

Those that are righteous will be blessed by God and receive everlasting life, and those that are not will be accursed and receive eternal punishment. ‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”, and ‘he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”’.

The test for whether a person is righteous or not – to be blessed or accursed - is how he or she responds to the needs of those they encounter. The king tells those who are blessed, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me”. He tells those who are accursed that they did none of these things.

And when both kinds of people express surprise because they did not recognise him, the king tells them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”.

Jesus confronts those who hear him, then and now, with this great truth. To help those in need is to help him, the Son of Man. Not to help them is to deny him help.

And we can all do our bit to help them. Notice that the help Jesus talks about is not in great world-changing things, things that can only be done by those with great wealth and power. It is in little everyday things we are all capable of – feeding the hungry and thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the ill-clad, caring for the sick, visiting those who are lonely.

We know we are made in the image of God, our loving Father. And it is our duty to help our fellow human beings who are his children too, when they are in trouble, need, sickness or any other adversity. Why? Because, like us, they too are brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ the King, the Son of God.

There is also something else we should take away from this reading.

The promise of eternal life for the righteous is not reserved just for those of us who profess to be followers of Jesus Christ.

All the nations will be gathered before (the Son of Man), and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’, says Jesus. That includes not just Christians, but also Muslims and Jews, Sikhs and Hindus, people of other faiths, and people with no faith at all. All of them are subject to the same judgement. Have they tended to the needs of their fellow human beings, ‘the least of those who are members of (God’s) family?’.

Those that have, whatever their faith or lack of it, are blessed. They will inherit eternal life. We must recognise them for what they are, ‘people of good will’, with whom we must work to make this world more like the world God wants it to be. We must never see them as enemies.

And this should be a comfort to those of us with children, family and friends who do not profess our faith, but whom we love and know to be good, and caring people. They are just as likely to be judged worthy of eternal life as we are.

So, what of the question I began with? Am I like a sheep or am I like a goat?

I feel sure that I am a bit of both – we all are, I suggest. Sometimes, helped by the example of Jesus himself, I behave as I ought to behave and do my best to respond to the needs of others. But I know that on other occasions I miss the opportunities I am given to do so, I fail the test, and Jesus weeps.

But I trust in God’s fatherly lovingkindness. I believe that when I repent of my failures, he will forgive me, as Jesus promises. And I pray in the words of today’s Collect of the Word:

Eternal God,
you exalted Jesus Christ to rule over all things,
and have made us instruments of his kingdom:
by your Spirit empower us to love the unloved,
and to minister to all in need,
then at the last bring us to your eternal realm
where we may be welcomed into your everlasting joy
and may worship and adore you for ever:
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Tuesday 14 November 2023

A reflection on mortality (Wisdom 2:23-3:9)

Reflection for Morning Worship withn the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 14th November 2023

In this season of remembrance, we remember those who have died – the saints who have gone before us, and our loved ones departed. We also remember those who have suffered and died in cruel wars. This year we see again the hatred and cruelty of war, as generations of our ancestors did before us. We watch in horror the hideous death and destruction in Israel and Gaza, and the continuing ugly, grinding conflict in Ukraine.

But we are also prompted to reflect on our own death, which we know will come to us all.

The reading we have just heard from Wisdom (2:23-3:9) contrasts the world-view of the foolish – those who do not trust in God and his love for us – with the world-view of those of us who do. It is a reading recommended in our BCP for funerals, but I think rarely used.

For the foolish, death is a disaster. The dead are gone. They decompose. Their loves and their lives are meaningless. Their sufferings are worthless afflictions, leading to annihilation. Ultimately there is nothing for the foolish to look forward to.

But for we who trust in the love of God, it is different. We perceive, as Wisdom has it, that ‘the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God and no torment will ever touch them’. Even as they suffer, ‘their hope is full of immortality’. Their trials, ‘like gold in the furnace’ will become a blessing. The good they have done in their lives, the love they have shown us, will reverberate after their deaths - ‘in the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble’. We understand the truth that at the end we will abide eternally with God, who will watch over us in his grace and mercy.

When the foolish mock us, saying, ‘How can you believe such ancient tosh in this age of science and technology?’, my answer is this: 

"We live our lives from birth to death in Einstein’s 4-dimensional space-time, on lifelines weaving around and touching each other for good and ill along the way. The God of love in whom I trust exists in a higher dimension. He sees you and me and all his creation as a whole, from start to finish. What pleases or displeases God is the quality of the love that I show to those I encounter in my life as our lifelines interact, and also to his good creation.

"God has made me to be an embodied soul, made in his own image, with a conscience through which I can distinguish good from evil, right from wrong, truth from lies, beauty from ugliness, as he does. I know from experience that while I would like to do right, I often do wrong. The good that I do throughout my life will propagate into the future, and so will the evil.

"But I trust in God’s Fatherly lovingkindness, so perfectly embodied in Jesus Christ. Though I may burn with shame for what I have done wrong, and for my failures to do what is right, this is surely no more than God refining me, like gold in a furnace. I trust in God’s grace and mercy, and my hope is to be found worthy when my time comes. I pray for forgiveness so that I may ‘abide with him in love’."



Sunday 15 October 2023

The Parable of the Wedding Feast

We all love a good wedding, don’t we!

It’s such a privilege to join the bride and groom and their families, to rejoice in their love for each other, and to wish them joy in their new life together. It’s such fun to join in their celebration feast and raise a glass to toast them. And it’s so rewarding to meet and get to know the other half of their family. I never turn down a wedding invitation if I can help it!

In today’s gospel reading Matthew (22:1-14) records Jesus comparing the kingdom of heaven to a sumptuous wedding reception prepared by a king for his son. But the guests the king planned to invite would not come. They were asked twice, but they ignored the invitation: some went on working on their farms and in their businesses; others went so far as to mistreat and even kill the king’s messengers. The king quite reasonably was enraged. He sent his army to destroy the murderers and their city. He declared those who had been invited unworthy of the celebration, and sent his servants out into the streets to gather all the people they could find, good and bad, to fill the wedding hall and feast in their place.

This is a parable, and parables used by Jesus always have multiple meanings: one will be the meaning understood by the people who first heard it; and there will also be at least one, probably many, deeper spiritual meanings, revealed by reflection to Christians over the ages and to ourselves. Let us tease out some of these meanings.

This is one of several parables that Jesus addresses to the chief priests and the elders of the people – in other words the Jewish elite of the time.

They understood his meaning very well: he was talking about them, the rude and unworthy guests. He was saying that they had ignored God’s invitation to the wedding banquet made first through the prophets, and later by John the Baptist and himself. He was promising the people that they, not the elite, would enjoy the kingdom of heaven. The elite wanted to arrest him to shut him up, but they were afraid of the crowds who followed him, we are told.

The early Christians interpreted it this way too, including Matthew who was writing probably half a century later between AD80 and 90. For them of course the king’s son was Jesus, God’s own Son. And they saw themselves, a mixed Jewish and gentile church, as the people chosen by God to replace the rotten Jewish elite at the banquet in the kingdom of heaven.

By this time Jerusalem and the 2nd temple had been destroyed by the Romans following the Jewish revolt around AD70. Did Matthew, with hindsight, add the passage about the king’s troops destroying the murderers and burning their city, in order to turn Jesus’s parable into a prophecy? Perhaps, or perhaps not; for Jesus elsewhere is recorded using strong violent images in his teaching to ram his point home.

But what is certain, shamefully certain, is that later on many Christians identified not the Jewish elite but all Jews, as a race and as a religious community, as the unworthy, the Christ-killers.

In a sermon on this parable, even the great reformer Luther could say that this is why ‘there is not now a poorer, a more miserable and forsaken people on the earth than the Jews. Such is the end of the despisers of God’s Word.

The mainstream churches no longer preach this, though some fundamentalists still do. It is one of the roots of the anti-Semitism that led to the horror of the Holocaust. It is a false and wicked interpretation. By their fruits you shall know them, Jesus says of false prophets. We must always test our interpretation of scripture against the fruits it yields, and this interpretation has yielded evil fruit.

We should instead see the parable as good news for us all.

The OT prophets had imagined God as a stern judge loving only the righteous, with a special relationship with the children of Israel. 

Here Jesus reveals a different image of God to us, a king like a loving Father who invites every passer by on the street, Jew and gentile, to join him in a heavenly kingdom as joyful as any wedding feast. We do not even have to be particularly righteous, for both good and bad are invited to fill the wedding hall. 

We are all invited to rejoice with him: as Christians we are to be joyful, not gloomy and depressed! All we must do is to respond to the invitation, not behave like rude, unworthy guests!

But I have missed out the second half of the parable. What are we to make of the man without a wedding robe thrown into the outer darkness?

The first half teaches us that by God’s grace the door to the kingdom is open to all of us. Christians have traditionally seen the second half as teaching us that with that grace comes a responsibility to amend our lives.

We all know that we are by nature sinful creatures, inclined to do what we know is wrong, or not to do what we know is right. To share in the banquet, the stains of our sins must be washed from our garments to turn them into wedding robes. God will wash the stains away by forgiving us when we truly repent.

The man without a wedding robe could make no answer when God challenged him: he could not repent, so he could not be forgiven, and he was cast into the outer darkness and denied a part in the banquet.

Some people have seen the outer darkness as a terrible thing, eternal damnation, forever cut off from the joyful kingdom. But I can’t agree. That would not be the act of a loving Father. And the king starts by calling the man ‘Friend’. I prefer to see the outer darkness as the ‘naughty step’.

All parents know about the naughty step. When our children behave badly we tell them they must go and sit on the naughty step, or go to their room, until they are ready to say sorry and really mean it. It can be very difficult to bear a child’s wailing and gnashing of teeth, but this is the way a loving parent teaches children how to behave. When the children feel properly sorry we give them a kiss and let them rejoin the family.

In just this way, I think, God uses the outer darkness to teach us the self-discipline to recognise when we have done wrong and to repent. When we have finished wailing and gnashing our teeth, when we are truly contrite, he will forgive us, and he will allow us to return to the joy of the banquet.

So to conclude

·         Let us give thanks for God’s graceful generosity revealed by Jesus in this parable to all people.

·         Let us accept God’s invitation to the wedding banquet of the kingdom of heaven with joy.

·         And let us trust in God’s Fatherly goodness as he teaches us how we are to behave there.

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Martha, Mary & Jesus


Mary, Martha & Jesus, Jan Vermeer 1632 – 1675

A reflection for Morning Worship with the Community of Brendan the Navigator onTuesday 10th October 2023

Almost everyone remembers how Martha is always busy with the chores, while her sister Mary sits and listens to Jesus. I’m sure of this, because I sometimes say in joke ‘Every home should have a Martha’, and most people laugh at the reference. Particularly if they know my wife Marty was christened Martha…

I know I am a very lucky man, because my Martha does so much to make our home run smoothly, while I plan services and pen sermons in my office. She tells me she doesn’t resent me, as the other Martha resented her sister Mary. But I know I don’t tell her often enough how much I value all she does for me.

I like this story told by Luke (10:38-42) because it reminds us of the human side of Jesus. We often neglect Jesus’s humanity in favour of his divinity, I fear. Yet as Trinitarian Christians, we believe him to be both fully human and fully divine.

After a long journey, Jesus stops to rest and relax awhile with Martha and Mary, sisters who are close friends of his. What can be more human than to take a break from travelling and teaching to enjoy the company of friends? We can see just how close Martha and Mary are to Jesus, because John’s Gospel (John 11:1-44) tells us they send word for Jesus to come when their brother Lazarus is ill and dying. When Jesus arrives to find Lazarus has died, he weeps, he consoles them, and he calls Lazarus out from the tomb.

In this story, Martha seems flustered by the visit, making herself busy about the house, making it presentable for visitors, I suppose – we are told she is ‘distracted by her many tasks’. But Mary sits at Jesus’s feet and listens to what he has to say. Martha resents her sister leaving her to do all the work, and eventually she snaps. She asks Jesus to intervene, ‘(Jesus), do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me’.

Jesus’s response is interesting. ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’. What Jesus needs of Martha just now is her company, not her busy service.

Martha and Mary in this story display two opposite poles of personality, I suggest: inclined to be active, or inclined to be contemplative – a bit like being extrovert or introvert. Martha’s instinctive response to Jesus is to make herself busy. Mary’s is to be still and listen. Jesus urges Martha to let go of all her busyness and be more like Mary, just to be present with him as his friend.

But on another occasion Mary is the doer. ‘Mary was the one who anointed Jesus with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair’, John tells us. When Jesus’s disciples object that the expensive perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor (Matthew 26:1-13), Jesus rebukes them, saying, ‘She (Mary) has performed a good service for me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. By pouring this ointment on my body she has prepared me for burial.’

All of us, I believe, are mixtures of Martha and Mary. Sometimes we need to act, and at other times to contemplate. Wisdom is to know when each behaviour is appropriate.

Sunday 8 October 2023

Wicked Tenants


Derelict vineyard, Wellow (photo David Martin CC BY-SA 2.0)

Address given at St Mary's Nenagh and Killodiernan on Sunday 8th October 2023, the 18th after Trinity

The chief priests and elders were absolutely furious when Jesus challenged their authority on their own ground, in the Temple.

After he told them the parable of the wicked tenants which we have just heard (Matthew 21:33-46), ‘They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, (who) regarded him as a prophet’, we are told.

To understand why they were so angry we must delve a bit.

In today’s OT reading, Isaiah (5:1-7) uses a vineyard as a metaphor for the Israelites as God’s people. God ‘dug (his vineyard) and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines’. God ‘built a watchtower … and a wine vat in it’. And God ‘expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes’. So, says Isaiah, God ‘will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns’.

It is a thundering prophecy designed to call the Israelite leaders in Isaiah’s time to repent for exploiting the Israelite people. 

Jesus begins his parable by referencing the opening lines of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The chief priests and elders would surely have understood that the landowner who plants the vineyard stands for God. The wicked tenants mistreat and beat and kill the vineyard owner’s slaves when they are sent to collect the harvest. And finally, when the owner sends his own son and heir, they kill him too, in the hope of inheriting the vineyard.

The author of Matthew’s Gospel, writing a generation later, believes that Jesus is the Son of God. He intends us to identify the son with Jesus. But notice that although Jesus often refers to God as his Father in heaven, he himself never publicly claims to be the Son of God. He leaves that identification for his disciples to make, and he swears them to secrecy. The chief priests and elders, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’s time, would never have suspected Jesus was claiming to be the Son of God, because he didn’t do so. This is not what angered them.

The chief priests and elders felt utterly secure in being good people, quite unlike those Isaiah prophesied against. Long after the days of Isaiah, Jerusalem was laid waste and the Israelites had been carried off as captives to Babylon. But the Jewish leaders traced their ancestry back to the faithful remnant of Israel that returned from exile to Jerusalem. They were utterly confident that they yielded good grapes, not wild grapes.

Jesus asks them, ‘When the owner returns, what will he do to those tenants?’, and they reply, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time’. Just as, they believed, God had returned Jerusalem to their ancestors.

Nothing Jesus has said so far would have upset them unduly.

But Jesus then goes on to quote from Psalm 118: 22-23.

‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’. And he addresses the chief priests and elders directly, ‘Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls’.

Jesus would have been speaking in Hebrew or Aramaic. Notice that in both, the word for son - ‘ben’- sounds like the word for stone – ‘eben’. With this pun Jesus identifies the Son of God with the Cornerstone, which will break and crush anyone on whom it falls.

Jesus is unmistakably telling the chief priests and the elders to their faces that their behaviour is unacceptable to God and that their place as leaders will be given to others – just as Isaiah had to their predecessors. And Jesus has tricked them into pronouncing their own sentence! No wonder they want to arrest him and shut him up…

Over the centuries many Christians have seen this parable as a story about Christianity supplanting Judaism.

In this story, the vineyard’s owner is God. The tenants are the Jewish people. The vineyard owner’s slaves are the prophets sent by God and so often rejected and killed. The Son who came last is none other than Jesus himself, whom the Jews kill. So God will rightly reject the Jews - all of them - and choose another people, Christians, the followers of Jesus. The Jews will be broken and crushed by Christ, the Cornerstone. It is a vivid story of the ultimate doom of the Jewish people. But it is a false and very dangerous interpretation.

This story is false because Jesus - a Jew himself - focusses his criticism on the Jewish leaders in the Jerusalem of his own time, not on the Jewish people. In fact, the Jewish people’s belief that Jesus was a prophet prevented the leaders from arresting him there and then. The Jewish leaders will indeed be broken and crushed, and the Temple destroyed, a generation later, not by Christians, but by the might of pagan Rome when they rise up in revolt. The Jewish people will survive as a diaspora. As the Acts of the Apostles tells us, though the earliest church was a Jewish church, it soon received gentiles into membership through the insights of St Peter and St Paul – both themselves Jews. It is this mixed Jewish and gentile church that Matthew was writing for.

This story is dangerous because over nearly 2 millennia it has been used to justify Christian persecution of the Jews, culminating in the Shoah, the Nazi genocide of European Jews. By their fruits you shall know them, says Jesus of false prophets. And the fruits of those who speak like this is the murder of millions of men and women each made in the image of God. It is an evil blasphemy!

It is better, surely, to reflect on what Jesus’s parable tells us about the nature of God.

It tells us of God’s generosity. The owner provided the tenants with all they could wish for in a productive vineyard. In the same way, God by his grace has given us this wonderful living planet to tend and care for.

It tells us about God’s trust in us as human beings. The owner of the vineyard did not supervise his tenants like a slave driver. He went away and left them with their task. In the same way God entrusts us with his work, and he gives us the freedom to do it however we think best.

It tells us of God’s patience and mercy. The owner did not respond with sudden vengeance when his first messengers are attacked, he sent others. He gave the tenants every chance to respond, even sending his son and heir. In the same way God bears with all our sinning and will forgive us, if we will only repent. We Christians are assured of this by Jesus, God’s only Son, the corner stone once rejected by the builders.

It tells us of God’s judgement. When the tenants carried out their deliberate policy of rebellion and disobedience, God eventually took the vineyard away and gave it to others. In the same way if we continue to refuse God’s forgiveness and fail to repent, we become useless to God. In the end God’s stern judgement on us will be to give the job he made for us to someone else, and we will die of shame. Perish the thought!

I shall finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word:

Almighty God,
your Son Jesus was the stone rejected by the builders,
and, by your doing, he has been made the chief cornerstone:
grant that, by the power of his Spirit working in us,
we may become living stones built up into your dwelling place,
a temple holy and acceptable to you;
through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Tuesday 12 September 2023

Little children, love one another

The tomb of St John at Ephesus (photo Patrick Commerford)

Reflection at Morning Worship for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 12th September 2023

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another”, so says St Paul to the Romans (13:8-14), echoing Jesus’s words in St John’s Gospel (13:34), “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

This reminds me of a lovely story bequeathed to us by St Jerome, who is best remembered as the man who first translated the whole Bible into Latin in around 400AD. Known as the Vulgate, his translation was considered authoritative by the undivided Western Church.

Jerome tells the story that St John, the beloved disciple, continued to preach in Ephesus well into his 90s, even when he was so enfeebled with old age that he had to be carried into the Church on a stretcher. When he was no longer able to deliver a long discourse, his custom was to lean up on one elbow on each occasion and to say simply: “Little children, love one another.” This continued even when he was on his deathbed.

Then he would lie back, and his friends would carry him out. Every week in Ephesus, the same thing happened, again and again. And every week it was the same short sermon, exactly the same message: “Little children, love one another.”

One day, the story goes, someone asked him about it: “John, why is it that every week you say exactly the same thing, ‘Little children, love one another’?” And John replied: “Because it is enough.”

If you want to know the basics of living as a Christian, there it is in a nutshell. All you need to know is this: “Little children, love one another.”

After John’s death in the year 100AD when he was about 94 years old, he was buried on a hillside above the city of Ephesus. Later a great basilica was erected over the reputed site of his tomb. It has long been ruined, and was deserted when I visited it many years ago, but someone had left a fresh posy of wildflowers on the plaque marking the site of John’s last resting place.

St Paul goes on to urge the Roman Christians to wake up: ‘For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light’.

Paul does not only speak to the Romans - he speaks to each one of us, I suggest. As an older person, I feel this ever more strongly, as I realise the days left to me to earn my salvation are ever fewer. But I know that I will not go far wrong if I follow the way of Christ, loving God and loving my neighbour as myself.

Let us rejoice in God’s wisdom, the image of God’s goodness in the holy soul of St John, and say with him, ‘Little children, love one another’ – because it is enough.


Sunday 3 September 2023

Finding life by losing it

Address given at Templederry & St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 3rd September 2023, the 13th after Trinity

‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block for me!’

What a shock it must have been for Peter to hear Jesus address him in these cutting words, as recorded by Matthew (16:21-28) in the reading we have just heard.

Peter had been the first to say, ‘You are the Messiah’, when Jesus had asked ‘Who do you say that I am?’ But now, ‘Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem … and be killed. Peter is shocked by Jesus’ words. Like most Jews of his day, he expected the promised Messiah to come as a great conqueror to destroy the gentiles – including the hated Romans - and to rule over a revived Kingdom of Israel. The Messiah would vanquish his foes, not be killed by them! So Peter remonstrates with Jesus: ‘Look here, Jesus, that can’t be right!’ he says - or words to that effect. Then Jesus turns on Peter and likens him to Satan.

Why was Jesus so hard on Peter, his great friend and disciple? Jesus knew that God’s way was not the way of violent earthly conquest, but the way of self-sacrificing love. He needed to teach Peter and the other disciples to change their thinking. I feel sure Jesus didn’t want to die a painful death, but he must have realised this was the inevitable outcome of what God called him to do. He was determined to face it bravely. But Peter tries to argue him out of it, in an echo of Satan’s tempting in the wilderness.

Isn’t this often the way it is? When we’ve made up our minds what is the right thing to do, even at a cost to ourselves, our friends and loved ones may try to talk us out of it. The tempter can be the very person dearest to us! Yet we must not allow even the pleading voice of love to stop us from doing God’s will. This surely is what Jesus felt that day – no wonder he responded as he did.

Jesus immediately seized the moment to show the disciples his way, the way of the cross, how to find life by losing it. It is worth reflecting on his words, which go to the very heart of our Christian faith.

 If any want to become my followers’, says Jesus, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

Jesus’s honesty is startling, isn’t it? No one can ever say Jesus lures his disciples to follow him on false pretences! He does not offer them – he does not offer us - an easy life or a comfortable way to God. Like other great leaders, he calls us as Churchill did to ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’. But again like a real leader, he does not call us to do anything more than he was prepared to do himself.

First Jesus calls us to ‘deny ourselves’, to say no to our own selfish instincts. We must do God’s will, not our own will, to the best of our ability, in all things.

But more than simply practicing self-denial, Jesus tells us we must be prepared to take real risks – even to risk our very lives – if that is what God, through our conscience, tells us is right.

For those who want to save their life will lose it’, says Jesus, ‘and those who lose their life for my sake, will find it.

Jesus focuses our attention with this great paradox: to save life is to lose it, and vice-versa.

The very essence of life is in risking it and spending it, not in saving it and hoarding it. If we live selfishly, always thinking first of our own security, profit and comfort, not of others, then we are losing life all the time. But if we spend life for others, if we follow Jesus’s way of loving self-sacrifice, we are winning life all the time.

The truth is that the only way we can find a life that matters is by losing it in the love of God and the love of our neighbours. That is the way of Jesus, that is the way of God, and that is the way of happiness too.

For what will it profit them’, says Jesus, ‘if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

I’m sure you, like me, can think of people who are outwardly hugely successful, but who in another sense are living a life that is not worth living. In business, they may have sacrificed honour for profit. In politics, they may have sacrificed principle for popularity. In their personal lives, they may have sacrificed their deepest relationships for their own ambitions or desires. Whatever the reason, such people are usually not comfortable inside their own skin. They often regret their bad choices.

It is a matter of values really - Jesus is asking us where our values lie. As he says elsewhere, you should store up your treasures in heaven, not on earth, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Our values should be God’s values, as Jesus reveals them to us, not the false values of worldly success.

‘For the Son of Man’, says Jesus, is to come with his angels in the glory of the Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done.

Jesus knows that many people do not like what he says and how he behaves. He stands up for the poor, the despised, the rejected, and he befriends sinners. And the scribes and the Pharisees – the pious and the respectable - attack him for it. With these words Jesus warns his disciples that they will be judged for their actions.

It is a simple truth: we cannot expect to share with Jesus the joy of shaping the world into the place God means it to be, if we are not prepared to act on Jesus’s message of loving self-sacrifice.

So, to sum up, when I reflect on these words recorded by Matthew, I hear Jesus’s voice calling me. Calling me down through the ages:

  • to be ready to take risks to do God’s will, rather than my own;
  • to find true life and happiness by losing my life in the service of God and others;
  • to live my life by God’s values, not the false values of worldly success.
  • to follow joyfully Jesus’s way of loving self-sacrifice.

Let us pray for the grace to respond to Jesus’s voice:

O God,
whose Son has shown the way of the cross
to be the way of life:
transform and renew our minds
that we may not be conformed to this world
but may offer ourselves wholly to you
as a living sacrifice
through Jesus Christ our Saviour;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen


Tuesday 8 August 2023


 A reflection at Morning Worship for the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 8th August 2023.

A 'Brocken Spectre' captured on Croagh Patrick.
The spectre is the shadow of a climber cast onto a mist below,
wrapped in a glory formed by sun light scattered
from water droplets in the mist.

A reflection on Luke’s account of the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36), Peter, James and John’s intense spiritual and emotional experience, set for last Sunday, the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Jesus has brought the three disciples with him high on a mountain to pray. There they see Jesus transfigured, in dazzling white clothing, his face changed, and alongside him Elijah and Moses. As cloud envelopes them they hear a voice saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him’. The same story is also told by Matthew and Mark.

Luke gives us a clue as to what the disciples saw, I think. They are high on a mountain, with cloud around. These are just the circumstances where we may see an optical effect called a ‘Glory’. In this effect sunlight is scattered back from water droplets in a mist, as a glowing halo. The technical term for this is Mie scattering.

Historically, the most famous example is the ‘Brocken Spectre’, seen by climbers on the Brocken, the highest peak of the Harz Mountains in Germany. This appears when a low sun is behind a climber who is looking downwards into mist from a ridge or peak. The spectre is the shadow of the observer projected onto the mist, and it is surrounded by the glowing halo of a glory. You may be lucky enough to see one yourself, as I did when I looked down from a plane at the shadow it cast on a cloud. The shadow was surrounded with a halo of light – this was the glory.

I imagine Peter and James and John close together on the mountain, with Jesus praying a little bit away, as the clouds swirl around them. Where Jesus had stood, they each suddenly see a glowing figure – it’s their own shadow cast on a cloud, wrapped in a glory - and two other shadows beside it, those of their companions.

This physical explanation takes nothing away from the transfiguration story for me. Rather it helps me believe in the reality of the Transfiguration, that it was not invented by the Gospel writers to serve their own artistic or theological purposes. I believe that God is present in and works through the laws of the universe he created. Peter, James and John accurately reported what they saw, even if they could not understand the physics. What matters surely is what this revealed to them about the nature of Jesus and his relationship with God.

They are awed by what they see. They identify the three figures with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Peter, always the impulsive one, calls out to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’. Peter didn’t want this emotional moment to end – such a human response!

Then the cloud closes in around them. All three are terrified, and they hear a voice as if from heaven, saying ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

This rings very true to me. When people suddenly understand something truly important, something which changes everything, they often talk of having a ‘flash of inspiration’ or ‘hearing a voice’. We may not have had such a religious experience ourselves, but we may have felt something like it. For instance, in the moment we realise that this very person I am with now is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with.

I believe the Transfiguration was the moment on their long road when Peter, James and John understood their complete commitment to Jesus and his teaching. Starting from the call in Galilee, this road led them ultimately to Jerusalem, to the Cross, to the Resurrection, to the Ascension, and on to Pentecost, the birth of the Church. They told no one about it at the time, but they never forgot this moment of insight, for they passed the story on to Matthew, Mark and Luke, and so to ourselves.

We too, in faith, can hear the voice of God say to us from the cloud, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

Sunday 23 July 2023

Parable of the weeds

Burning the tares

Address given at St Cronan's Church, Tuamgraney on Sunday 23 July 2023, the 7th after Trinity

Have you heard the old joke about the hell-fire preacher?

As he reaches the climax of his sermon about the day of judgement, in ringing tones he declares the fate of those who fail to meet the standards of God’s Kingdom: ‘They will be thrown into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’. At which point an old woman puts up her hand and says, “But Rector, I have no teeth”; to which the hell-fire preacher replies, “Madam, teeth will be provided”.

Joking aside, it is always worth pondering the parables Jesus uses to teach his followers. The parable of the weeds of the field in today’s reading from Matthew’s Gospel (13:24-30, 36-43) is no exception. So let’s look at it a little more closely.

The images Jesus uses in his parable would have been very vivid and familiar to a Galilean audience.

Weeds were one of the curses against which a farmer had to labour before the discovery of weed-killers. In this parable the weed is no doubt bearded darnel, a kind of rye-grass. In its early stages darnel is indistinguishable from wheat. Only when they both produce seed-heads can they be told apart. But by then their roots are so intertwined that the darnel can’t be weeded out without damaging the roots of the wheat. Weeding would only reduce the yield.

The wheat and darnel can’t be safely separated while they are growing, but in the end they must be, because the grain of the darnel is slightly poisonous. In quantity it causes dizziness and sickness. So the master in the parable gets the reapers to separate them at harvest time. The darnel will be bundled up and burned, while the wheat will be threshed and gathered into the barn.

The idea of an enemy deliberately sowing weeds in someone else’s field would also have struck a chord. It was a crime forbidden in Roman law, which prescribed a punishment for it, so we can be sure it happened.

Jesus tells the crowd that the parable is about the kingdom of heaven, and Matthew records him later explaining it to his disciples, to help them – and us – understand what he meant by it. It is one of several parables recorded by Matthew in which Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to different things – others are a mustard seed and yeast. Jesus is teaching by analogy, and I feel sure we should not take it too literally, but rather look for the underlying messages.

It is the devil, says Jesus, who sows the weeds, the children of the evil one, in the field which is the world.

We all know instinctively, don’t we, what is right and what is wrong. We have been created as souls with consciences - in the image of God, to use the imagery of the Book of Genesis. But we all also experience insistent little voices within us which tempt us to do what our God-given conscience tells us is not right. Theologians call it original sin, and Jesus personifies it as the work of the devil. But in our culture it may be easier to think of it as the bad part of ourselves, that part of own psyche which allows and encourages us to damage ourselves and others.

An example of this is the way many advertising campaigns play on our innate greed by whispering, ‘Because you’re worth it’. They tell women that they will look younger and more beautiful if they buy this or that cosmetic product containing plastic microbeads which are not biodegradable and pollute waterways and oceans. They tell men that they will be more powerful and live more exciting lives if they buy a new car which will pollute the air in cities and damage health. It is the thin end of a very fat wedge. Further down that wedge we find unscrupulous interests that seek to persuade us that we and our communities cannot afford to take the steps needed to prevent catastrophic climate change.

As Christians we must resist the insistent little voices that urge us to do wrong, to sin. For as St Paul recognises (Romans 8:12-25), we have been given the Spirit of God to help us resist them. ‘When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ’.

Jesus warns us against pulling the weeds in case we uproot the wheat.

He is teaching us not to be too quick in our judgements of others. We are all too liable to classify and label people as good or bad without knowing all the facts. And people can change. We can be redeemed from sin by the grace of God, and equally we can disfigure a good life by a sudden collapse into sin. As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘Let he that is without sin cast the first stone’.

We are not entitled to make a final judgement about the righteousness of any other person – only God has that right. It is God alone who can discern the good and the bad. It is God alone who sees all of an individual and all of a person’s life.

Of course we can’t help forming opinions of others, using our reason which is also God-given. And it is surely right that we should let such opinions guide our actions when appropriate. But we must never forget we may be mistaken. And we would do well to remember the Quaker maxim – ‘There is something of God in every person’ – and try to find it.

We must leave judgement of others to God. But God will judge each one of us eventually.

‘Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

When Jesus talks about the ‘end of the age’, I don’t think we should take it literally as the end of time. Rather I think we should see it as a time which will come to us all – as certain as our own death – in which we see ourselves as God sees us, in one piece from our conception to our death, how we have touched those we have met, all the good in us, and all the bad too.

At this time we shall see clearly. We will burn in the torment of shame for our sins and the evil we have done in our lives. We will weep and gnash our teeth. But for the good we have done, we ‘will shine like the sun in the kingdom of the Father’.

I shall finish with the Collect of the Word for today

Saving God,
in Jesus Christ you opened for us
a new and living way into your presence:
give us pure and constant wills
to worship you in spirit and in truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen