Monday, July 28, 2014

prayer diary Monday 28 July 2014

‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed …. the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it ... becomes a tree.' 
Matthew 13.31,32

Reflection
God's kingdom is an unstoppable force. Allow it to touch your heart and it will transform your life.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

hope and warnings in some short parables

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

Over the past number of weeks our Gospel readings have been covering a short section from the 13th chapter of St Matthew comprised mostly of parables. Last Sunday and the Sunday before they were long parables: the parable of the Sower; and the parable of the wheat and the tares. Today we have a number of very short parables, some so brief that they are only one verse long. Each on its own has an important lesson for us; taken together, in the order the evangelist presents them to us, they act to reinforce each other and provide an even greater depth of meaning.

He begins with the parable of the mustard seed, one that is familiar to us all; with the context of hindsight it reminds us of how from seemingly tiny beginnings Christ's Church spread out over the whole world. The kingdom of God is a mighty and unstoppable force. Much the same message is contained in the first one verse parable that follows, of the yeast and the flour. Just as a little yeast causes a great amount of flour to rise, so Christ's good news will spread out and change all the world. 

The next two parables, about the treasure in the field and the pearl of great price, also only one verse long, explain why this is so: to be a part of God's kingdom is something beyond price or compare; it is worth any effort to attain, because whatever it costs us to enter in is as nothing compared to what we gain. We hear much the same message in our Old Testament reading from Genesis where Jacob works for seven years so that Rachel might be his bride 'and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.' When you consider that this was hard physical labour, tending flocks and herds during the cruel heat by day and harsh cold by night of that desert place, it was love indeed that seven years would seem like nothing as long as at the end of them he might win so great a prize. And it is exactly thus that all our labours for the kingdom should seem to us.

And lest we lose the run of ourselves, filled with warm, fuzzy notions about the kingdom being something inevitable and fantastic prize that all you have to do is wish for it, the final parable, the longest of the five, contains a grounding and sobering warning: not all will enter into the kingdom. On that great and terrible day when God's angels come, they will separate the evil from the righteous. Only the latter will enter into God's kingdom. The rest will be thrown 'into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

But that should not be cause for alarm. As the psalmist tells us: 'Blessed are all those who fear the Lord, and walk in his ways … it shall go well with you, and happy shall you be.' Those who faithfully follow Christ's teachings have nothing to fear. And there is more reason for us to hope, weak though we may be and prone to fail and fall prey to the temptations that the world, the flesh, and the devil daily present us with; for as St Paul tells us in our reading from his letter to the Romans 'It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.' The Son of God himself not only prays for us, but intercedes for us to the Father. Can mercy be withhold from those who truly repent and long for forgiveness if the Son himself is the one who asks for it? I think not, for as St Paul goes on to tell us 'I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.'

Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and the hope that gives us of God's mercy at the last. But that does not mean that it will all be easy. The parable of the pearl of great price, the parable of the treasure hidden in a field, and the story of how Jacob has striven for many years so that he might have Rachel as his bride, warn us that hard work and effort is required. We must put our hands to the plough and not look back if we are to be worthy of the kingdom of heaven. But the effort will not be too much for us. As St Paul tells us 'If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?' God will supply the grace to all who will accept it to overcome all difficulties, even those caused by our own weak wills, so that at the last we may find ourselves in the place he created us to be – with him in heaven. Something that I pray for all here.


To him who is the shepherd and guardian of our souls, by whose wounds we are healed and who is with us always until the end of the ages, be glory now and forever. Amen

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Examin Saturday 26 July 2014

Another way in which the desires harm the soul is by making it lukewarm and weak, so that it has no strength to follow after virtue and to persevere therein. For as the strength of the desire, when it is set upon various aims, is less than if it were set wholly on one thing alone, and as, the more are the aims whereon it is set, the less of it there is for each of them, for this cause philosophers say that virtue in union is stronger than if it be dispersed. Wherefore it is clear that, if the desire of the will be dispersed among other things than virtue, it must be weaker as regards virtue. And thus the soul whose will is set upon various trifles is like water, which, having a place below wherein to empty itself, never rises; and such a soul has no profit.

St John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel 1.X.1

Comment: seek virtue and flee from all else to avoid sin and attain life eternal

prayer diary Saturday 26 July 2014

'Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.' 
Matthew 13.30

Reflection:
It may sometimes seem that there are those who escape justice in this life. But life does not end with the grave and justice must at last be faced. And severe indeed is the judgement for those who have refused to serve the Lord.

Friday, July 25, 2014

something old, something new ...

May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: + Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. Amen.

I'm sure you're all aware of the old tradition for weddings that the bride should wear something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue … and you can relax, Vivienne – I'm not going to quiz you from the pulpit as to whether you have kept up the tradition and if so in what manner. But I did think it might be interesting to try and incorporate something old, new, borrowed, and blue into my sermon today … if for no other reason than to keep everyone wondering until the end as to what my 'something blue' might be!

For my something Old, I chose our Old Testament reading for today from the Song of Solomon. To quote the from it: 'My beloved speaks and says to me: ‘Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.' Such beautiful words for a wedding day, speaking as they do of the mutual love between the couple. And it is that mutual love that is so important. Remember what God says in Genesis - ‘It is not good that the man should be alone' and so he creates the woman, of whom the man says - ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' with the text going on to say 'Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.' This two becoming one is a great and beautiful mystery of the world in which we live and a most wonderful gift from the God who created us … and soon today we will have the privilege of witnessing that mystery take place before our eyes as Richard and Vivienne are joined together in Holy Matrimony.

For my something new I look to our Gospel reading from the New Testament. Some of you may be thinking 'but the New Testament is hundreds of years old!' To which I can only reply that this is a sermon, not a wedding dress! Today's Gospel speaks of the importance of a house having a solid foundation. And in the context of a wedding, when the couple are forming a new family unit, their own house if you will, having a good, strong foundation to their marriage is important for the success of their relationship. But Christ is not speaking of marriage specifically in this text – instead he is speaking of life in general, and what is the necessary underpinning to a good and fruitful life. And he makes it very clear what he means by a solid foundation – to listen to his words and to act on them. Lip-service alone is not enough – we must incorporate the Gospel message into our lives and place it at the centre of every action we take … and very importantly allow it to guide as to which actions we should not take as well as those we should. And having such a sound foundation for every aspect of our lives will, quite naturally I think, result in having an equally strong foundation to all the relationships we enter into, especially such an important one as marriage.

For my something borrowed, I thought I'd turn to the world of science. It never ceases to amaze me how very often science ends up reinforcing things that the Church has taught all along. For example when it comes to what we may discretely refer to as the marital act, the Church has always taught that it belonged within marriage; and logically enough that a married person should remain faithful to their marriage vows. Some modern commentators would say that the Church was really just being a bit of a spoilsport and a control freak and there's no good non-theological reason why people should have to behave that way. But there is. Science teaches us that during the marital act the chemical Oxytocin is released by the brain – the same chemical released during childbirth and breastfeeding for the purpose of helping the mother bond with her child.

During the marital act it is released by both the man and the woman for a similar purpose, of helping them bond. I think we can all see the dangers of bonding with people with whom we have no wish to, or no possibility of, forming any kind of lasting relationship; and the damage it can do to the relationships that we are already in if we risk bonding with someone outside that relationship; not to mention the hurt we cause to those who have bonded with us in good faith when they discover that we have betrayed them. So the science supports what the Church has always taught – fidelity is vital; and because of the importance of stable relationships to society, that makes it important for us all to encourage and support fidelity within marriage.

And so I come to the last on the list, something blue. I confess I had to wrack my brains a little as to how I might work that in. The word 'blue' has many meanings, but the most obvious one regarding colour is a little difficult to work into a sermon unless I were to use some kind of a visual aid. Blue can also mean being a bit rude, such as a blue joke, or turning the air blue with profanity, but that didn't seem too appropriate to a sermon for a wedding, or indeed any other occasion. Then there is feeling blue, as in feeling sad, but I worried that might be a bit of a downer on such a happy day as this. So then I wondered if I might go with 'the blues' as in music … and don't worry, I'm not planning to sing … we'll leave that to the soloist up in the gallery. 

And of course blues music, being heavily influenced by Negro spirituals from the American South, often have a biblical or religious theme. Take for example the song 'John the Revelator' in the version sung by Son House in the 60's. It begins with the fall of Adam in the garden of Eden and ends with the Resurrection of Christ that first Easter morning. It essentially walks us in brief through salvation history, reminding us of something very important – that we were made to be with God in heaven. And in the context of why we are all here today, it reminds us that all married couples are called to help each other on this journey to heaven. 

Of course they are; it would be a bit odd to say you love someone, and do all you can to make sure they have a happy life, but not to care one jot about their immortal soul. What kind of love would it be if it cared only for the body which we know will perish but worried not at all about the soul which lasts for all eternity? And so it falls to the spouse, to the one who thinks of the other as their beloved to whom they have become as one flesh, to help the other to live their life as God desires, doing nothing that would tempt their beloved into sin. To alter the words we heard earlier from the the song of Solomon, each should say to the other daily in the way they show their love: 'arise my love and come away from all that would harm you not only in this life but the next.'

And there we have it: something old, the mutual love the couple has for each other as they become one; something new, keeping that love on the sound foundation of Christ's teaching; something borrowed, remembering that his teaching is not just arbitrary rules, but 'real world' stuff backed up by science that will help keep a marriage strong; and something blue, a thought inspired from a blues song that the love the couple has for each other should not be limited to this life but spill over for concern for them in the next.


And so I end this sermon with a prayer, that as Richard and Vivienne begin their journey today, that their love will last them all their lives and through into eternity; and that all here will support them in that journey. Amen. 


prayer diary Friday 25 July 2014 (St James the Apostle, Martyr; day of discipline and self-denial)

'whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.' 
Matthew 20.27

Reflection:
The only glory in the Christian life is that of humble service. But what glory it is! For in so doing we serve not only God, but walk the path that leads to his kingdom.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

SUDAN: MERIAM IBRAHIM ARRIVES IN ITALY

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Meriam Ibrahim and her family have arrived safely in Italy after criminal charges against her and her husband were dismissed and they were permitted to leave the Sudan.

On 24 June, Mrs Ibrahim and her husband Daniel Wani were detained as they attempted to leave Sudan, and were later charged with forgery and provision of false information under article 123 and 97 of the 1991 Criminal Code, due to alleged irregularities with her travel documents. Sources have informed Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) that these charges have now been dismissed, clearing the way for the family to leave the country. They left at approximately 4am Sudanese time on an Italian government plane, accompanied by the Italian Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs. Meriam and her children travelled on passports issued by Sudanese authorities and CSW was informed the family will eventually travel to the US.

On 23 June, the Appeal Court overturned the decision of the Public Order Court in El Haj Yousif, Khartoum to sentence Mrs Ibrahim to death for apostasy and 100 lashes for adultery. The Appeal Court also recognised Mrs Ibrahim's marriage to Daniel Wani and ordered her immediate release. However, the following day Mrs Ibrahim and her husband were detained at Khartoum Airport by the National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS).

Mrs Ibrahim was born in western Sudan to a Sudanese Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. Her father left the family when she was six years old and she was subsequently brought up as a Christian by her mother. The case against Mrs Ibrahim began after her alleged family members made Sudanese authorities aware of her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian with joint Sudanese and American citizenship. Morning Star news reported that Mrs Ibrahim testified before the court on 4 March that she is a life-long Christian, producing her marriage certificate, where she is classified as Christian, as evidence. Three potential witnesses from western Sudan who went to court to testify of Mrs Ibrahim's lifelong adherence to Christianity were prevented from giving evidence.

Mrs Ibrahim's alleged family attempted to challenge the Appeal Court's decision to release her; however, CSW was informed this too has been dismissed. Her lawyers continue to face threats from extremists for working on her case. In a comment to CSW one lawyer said 'Now we are a target', adding that days earlier extremists had protested and reiterated they would kill Mrs Ibrahim and anyone who helped her. According to the lawyer, one of the people involved in this protest has been arrested.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We are delighted by the decision to drop the unwarranted cases against Mrs Ibrahim and her husband, and to allow the family to leave the country, and we commend the Italian government for its effective interventions on behalf of this family. However, the legal anomaly that allowed the prosecution and harassment of Mrs Ibrahim and her family continues still exists. In order to prevent further cases like Mrs Ibrahim's, we urge the Sudanese authorities to uphold the right to freedom of religion or belief for all of its citizens, as guaranteed in Sudan's Interim Constitution and in international statutes to which the nation is party. The Sudanese authorities must also ensure that human rights defenders are able to practice their profession without experiencing harassment and intimidation.'

For further information or to arrange interviews please contact Kiri Kankhwende, Press Officer at Christian Solidarity Worldwide on +44 (0)20 8329 0045 / +44 (0) 78 2332 9663, email kiri@csw.org.uk or visit www.csw.org.uk.

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is a Christian organisation working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.