Saturday, July 26, 2014

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.

prayer diary Thursday 24 July 2014

Jesus said: 'Truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.' 
Matthew 13.17

Reflection
We are among those blessed to see and hear what so many longed for. Do not waste so precious a gift by taking it for granted. Instead daily give thanks to the Lord and serve him with all your heart, strength, mind, and soul.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 23 July 2014

'Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.' 
Matthew 13.7

Reflection:
Jesus explained that the seeds that fell among thorns are those who lose faith in the face of the cares of the world. Take his warning, then, and do not lose eternal life for the sake of things that are passing.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 22 July 2014 (St Mary Magdalene)

Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord.’ 
John 20.18

Reflection
Privileged with the first post-resurrection appearance, Mary's immediate response was a declaration of faith. We also have the privilege of seeing the Lord, but through the eyes of faith. And like Mary we must publicly proclaim him as Lord.