Friday, May 31, 2013

Marcus Meets Peter

Somewhere a cock crowed in the dim light. The sound penetrated Marcus' dream. He chased the bird, but no matter what he did, he could not silence it. Suddenly he was awake, rubbing his eyes as he took in the confines of his small room. Shaking off the remnants of sleep with a jerk he flung himself out of bed and thrust himself into his tunic. He hurtled out of his room down the short corridor to the tiny kitchen where his mother was already preparing breakfast. He grabbed a beaker of water and drank it down with a gulp.

'No good morning kiss?' said his mother with a smile. He slammed the beaker back onto the table, threw his arms around her in a tight squeeze, gave her a peck on the cheek, snatched a piece of break from the pile on the table, and headed for the door.
'Where are you going?' cried his mother.
'Peter is coming today,' Marcus replied, his voice indistinct around his chewing. 'I thought I'd find Claudia and meet him in the square.'
'And isn't tomorrow soon enough,' said his mother, a worried look on her face, 'when he comes to the church?'
'No!' exclaimed the half-grown boy. 'How could I wait? He walked with the Christ by Galilee. I want to see him now!'
'Well, be careful out there. You know the soldiers have been grabbing Christians. Ever since that fire, they've been spreading strange stories about us.'
'Pah!' said the boy. 'I'm not afraid.' And he was gone. His mother sighed. He was nearly as tall as his father, she thought as she went back to cutting bread. But sometimes he seemed to have no more sense than on the day he was born.

***

Marcus hurried through the narrow streets, eating as he went. Though it was nearly full dark, they were already crowded. Rome never slept and the bustle of people going about their business was a constant background noise in the great city. Marcus squeezed his way through, ducking carts full of goods, avoiding rich men being carried on litters by their slaves, and jostling and being jostled by the stream of humanity going in all directions. Finally he was in the little square not far from his insula, the apartment block he lived in. The crowd was thinner there and he perched on the edge of a fountain, fed with cool, clean water by one of the many aqueducts supplying the vast amount of water needed by the Eternal City. Over a million people, thought Marcus. He couldn't imagine such a number, even though he was part of it. He splashed some water on his face and ran his wet hands threw his hair, finger combing it.

'It still looks like a bush,' said a voice from behind.
'Hello Claudia,' he said, not turning round, as he used the surface of one of the small basins that edged the fountain as a mirror. He didn't turn until he had his cap of short black curls in some semblance of order. He smiled at Claudia.
'You look nice,' he said. She was wearing what looked like her best dress and her hair was done up in the many-braided style that was the fashion of the moment. 'You must have been up for hours.'
'Thanks,' said Claudia. 'I didn't want to meet Peter looking like someone who lives under a bridge. Unlike some.'
'Hey!' protested Marcus. 'I washed my face.' Claudia laughed. Linking arms with him, she pulled him towards the other side of the square.
'I saw Timothy over there a few minutes ago,' she said. 'I'm sure that he's the one meeting Peter.' Marcus craned his neck. Sure enough, there was the tall, slightly stooped man he knew so well. He was slightly in awe of the serious faced man whose hair was shot with streaks of grey. He had been with Paul on many of his journeys throughout the Empire and he had met several of the Apostles. A cart pulled up before him. From the back a strongly built man hopped out lightly, for all that from his white hair he must have been at least sixty. Timothy took his hands, then they flung their arms around each other and embraced. 

Marcus and Claudia stopped short. They were silent. This was surely Peter, they thought. The man who had been chosen by Christ himself to be the first of all the Apostles and to be the leader of his Church after he was gone. They were so close they could have touched him, but they didn't dare. They didn't even know what to say. What could one say to man who had walked on water with Christ; who had seen him die on the cross and then return to life; who had seen him rise up to heaven to be with his Father?
From over Peter's shoulder Timothy spotted them standing there awkwardly. He smiled.
'Claudia; Marcus! Have you come to meet the great man?' he said, teasingly. Marcus reddened and stared at his feet. But Claudia said, gushingly:
'Oh, yes!' 
Timothy laughed heartily. So did Peter, who had turned to face them.
'Two of Christ's?' he said, in thickly accented Latin.
'Yes, Peter. They're part of the group you'll be laying hands on tomorrow.'
'But perhaps we could shake hands today?' he said with a twinkle in his eye. Claudia took the pro-offered hand eagerly and pumped it enthusiastically. Marcus took it slowly, mumbling something as he did so. It struck him that Peter's hand was large, hard, and very strong; a working-man's hand; a hand that still had the strength of a fisherman.

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity from the other side of the square. People were moving out of the way fast. Marcus heard the crash of metal on stone, the unique sound of nailed sandals striking the stone paving, the sound of approaching soldiers.
'There, there,' a man was shouting, pointing in their direction. 'He's the one you want.' Marcus recognised him. Gradaius, a fallen away brother. He had tried to take over the small group of Christians to which Marcus now belonged some years before, but no one would listen to him because he seemed to be making his teaching up largely out of his own head, rather than what Jesus had taught his Apostles. Another Judas, thought Marcus. 
'Go,' said Timothy urgently to the children. Claudia was pulling Marcus back into the crowd. The soldiers were closer now; he could hear the jangle as metal struck metal on their armour as they marched. Marcus turned panicked eyes back to Timothy and Peter. But they were gone, almost as if they had melted away into the stones of the building they had been standing in front of. Gradaius and the soldiers stopped. Gradaius looked about wildly.
'Where are they,' he cried out angrily. Someone in the crowd chuckled. Gradaius glared at him.
'Do you want to be arrested instead?' he said threateningly. The man laughed in his face.
'Don't be a fool. The soldiers are here for the Christians, not to dance to your tune. I know you, Gradaius – always trying to be a big man in whatever group you belong to. Why don't you arrest him, Centurion? He's one of the Christians himself – or used to be, until they kicked him out for trying to run the show!'
Everyone in the crowd laughed this time, even the soldiers. Gradaius glared at them all. Suddenly he spotted Marcus and Claudia almost at the edge of the square.
'Those two!' he shouted. They were with him – seize them!' Marcus and Claudia bolted into an alley. The crowd behind them exploded into shouting. A hand reached out and almost caught Marcus by the shoulder, but he twisted away. The mob surged forward, but the sudden push caused those at the front to stumble and fall, and a tangle of bodies blocked the entrance to the alley. Those precious moments gave the children a head-start and they were around a corner before anyone could begin to give chase.

As they ran, Marcus could hear the shouts and the sounds of running feet being channelled down the alley and he knew the mob was still coming. He and Claudia held hands as they ran. She was slower, her dress hampering her legs. He fought back the urge to leave her. He spotted the open door of an insula to his right.
'This way,' he hissed. He dragged Claudia through the door way and up the narrow stairs. A fat woman carrying a bundle of laundry was coming down. They pushed passed her. 
'Mind what you're doing, you little urchins,' she called after them angrily. Heedless, the two continued to pound upwards. As they rounded the bend to the third level, they heard shouting below. Marcus paused and looked down. Part of the mob had poured in after them. They tried to get past the woman, but she lost her balance as they shoved and the whole lot slid down the stairs in a tangle of limbs and laundry, the fat woman on top. 

Marcus and Claudia fled and didn't pause until they reached the roof. They were blinded for a moment by the light. Then Marcus had his bearings. He grabbed Claudia's arm and rushed toward the edge. A plank formed a rickety bridge across the alley to the next building. They were across in a flash.

'Stop,' said Claudia. She paused, pulling at the board. Realising what she was doing, Marcus helped her pull the plank across after them. No one could follow them now. They fled onwards across the roofs, fearless of the dangers as they crossed from one roof to another – not only because the danger of being caught was worse than that of falling, but because they were children of the city and the roof-tops had been their playground almost since they were able to walk. When they were on their fourth roof, they heard shouting behind. They looked to see a group of men, shaking their fists angrily after them, but powerless to follow with the plank gone and too cowardly to attempt the jump.
The two children carried on across the roofs until the men were lost to view, and they they descended back to the street again and made their way to Marcus' home. His mother met them at the door.
'You're safe,' she said, grabbing him and nearly squeezing the breath out of him in a tight hug. 'And you also,' she said, seizing Claudia into her embrace. 'I was so worried. I told you to be careful!'
Over her shoulder, Marcus could see Timothy and Peter, sitting at the small table. That answered the question as to how she knew they had been in trouble. 
'We were worried also,' said Timothy, rising to his feet. 'Thank the Lord that you escaped.'
'It was Gradaius' fault,' said Claudia. 'He pointed us out to the soldiers.'
'I hope that Judas burns in hell for his sins,' cried out Marcus' mother. But Peter shook his head.
'Never hope for such a thing,' he said. 'Pray for him instead, that he turns from his error and is saved.' His mother blushed.
'I'm sorry,' she said. 'I know I shouldn't think such a thing.' Peter smiled.
'Your anger is understandable. The man tried to have your son killed. I felt the same way when Judas betrayed our Lord. It took me a long while to put the anger out of my heart.' He sighed. 'And sometimes it is still there. There are times when I wonder if it will ever fully be gone.'

The grown-ups fell to talking about forgiveness and how hard it was sometimes. Claudia, sitting quietly in a corner, listened, fascinated. Marcus slipped away to his little room. It was dark and cool and when the door was closed he began to cry. Hot tears of shame ran down his cheeks, seeming to burn his skin.
'What is wrong, my young friend?' Marcus jumped. He hadn't heard the door open. Standing there was Peter. 'Why the tears?'
Marcus gulped and wiped his face with his sleeve.
'I ran,' he said. Peter frowned.
'We all ran,' he said. 'Better to run from the soldiers than to stand and die. You can't spread the Good News when you are dead.'
'That's not why I ran. I ran because I was afraid. I ran because I didn't want to die.'
'But why would you wish to die?'
'I didn't run because I didn't want to die – well, yes, I did – but the real reason I ran is because I'm afraid to die. Because my faith isn't strong enough. I'm no better than that Judas Gradaius!'
'Aren't you?' Peter looked at him shrewdly. 'I bet a fit young man like you can run pretty fast. A lot faster than a girl like Claudia. But you didn't leave her behind, did you?'
'I thought about it,' said Marcus, hanging his head.
'But you didn't,' insisted Peter. 'And that's what counts.'
'I wish I could be brave like you!' blurted out Marcus. 'You showed no fear when the soldiers came. And you've been going all over the world ever since Jesus went back heaven, no matter what the risk. Nothing ever scares you!'
'Not true!' laughed Peter. 'Surely you've heard the stories? About how I ran away and abandoned the Lord when the soldiers came for him in the Garden? How I denied I even knew him, not once but three times, after he was arrested? How I hid and cowered in a room with the rest of the disciples even after we knew he was risen from the dead? Oh, young Marcus, I know what it means to be afraid for my life and to run away, of that I assure you!'

Marcus stared at him.
'You were afraid, even after you had seen the Lord risen from the dead?'
Peter nodded.
'Even after I had seen him rise up from the earth and return to heaven. I saw him raise the dead, cast out demons, walk on water, calm storms, look into men's hearts and know their very thoughts, take a few small pieces of bread and feed thousands … and still I was afraid. You have nothing to be ashamed of.'
'But what changed? You're not still afraid, are you?'
Peter shook his head.
'No. Oh don't get me wrong. I still worry about things, like anyone else. About where my next meal is coming from, about whether it's going to rain when I'm walking along a dusty road miles from anywhere, about how grey my beard is even though I still feel like a young man.' They both laughed. 'But fear, real fear? No. Jesus himself told me that I would die for the faith, by Galilee one day not long before he returned to heaven. And I'm getting on in years, so I suppose it can't before long before that day comes. And I worry about the pain and the suffering … but I worry more that I won't die strong in the faith … that I might lose hope at the last minute and deny the Christ as I denied him before … and not only lose what I've worked so hard for all these years but cause others to lose their hope by my lack of faith. Pray for me that when that day comes, I'll remain strong.'
Marcus nodded. 
'But you still haven't told me what changed things for you – why you stopped being afraid?'
Peter nodded.

'True. It was that day in Jerusalem, not long after Jesus left us. We were in the upper room, the same room where he had celebrated the Last Supper with us and commanded us to offer bread and wine that it might come his body and blood. I'm sure you've heard others talk of that day?'
Marcus nodded.
'Pentecost.'
'Aye, Pentecost. Our Lord had promised us that he would send his Holy Spirit after he was gone, but to be honest we had no idea what that meant. Why would we have? We didn't understand him when he said he had to suffer and die for our sins; we surely didn't understand him when he said he would rise from the dead – we were all completely amazed on Easter morning when the women came rushing back from the Empty Tomb! So we really had no idea what he was talking about when he said he would send us the Holy Spirit. So when it came … at first we thought it was an earthquake and were terrified! And then the room was filled with the noise of a rushing wind … and then it seemed like their were tongues of fire over everyone's heads … and then … well, then everything was different! We weren't afraid any more. We knew what we had to do, and we just went out there and did it! And we're still doing it all these years later. There's not many left from that room … most have been killed for the faith; but still we go on.'
Marcus swallowed.
'What happens when you're all gone? Will the Church be finished? Will Christ come back then, as he said he would?'
Peter smiled at him.
'We can't know when he'll come back. It could be tomorrow; it might not be for a thousand years … maybe not for ten thousand or even longer. There's no knowing. He said that no one could know the day or the hour … so don't you listen to anyone who says that they do! But his Church won't end with those alive today. He gave his Apostles his teaching and we've passed it on to others. And the power we received from the Holy Spirit that day, we pass on to others also … remember that laying on of hands that I'm here for?'
'Yes Peter.'
'Well when I, or any other apostle, or any one whom the Church has appointed, with God's guidance, to be next in line to the Apostles, lay hands on someone, then the Holy Spirit comes on them too. And so it will be until the end of time until Jesus does come again … whenever that is!'
'So after tomorrow I'll never be afraid again?' said Marcus eagerly. Peter shook his head.
'I didn't say that. That's not quite how it works. But it will begin something in you that if you allow it to grow will someday help you understand that we truly have nothing to fear from this life … that we may live in this world, but we are children of God and heaven is our real home. And now is time that we go back to the others.'

***

The next day Peter laid his hands on Marcus and Claudia and others from the small group of Christians. It was a lovely occasion, but as Peter said, he didn't feel much different. 

Not long after that, Peter was taken by the Romans, and as he had told Marcus he would be, he was killed for the faith. Marcus thought about that, down through the years, as he himself lived his life according to the faith and passed it on to others. He remembered that Peter had said to him that the time would come when he understood that there was nothing in this world for him to fear. 

Many years later, he heard the crash of iron-shod sandals in the street outside his house, just as he had heard in the square that day when he was a boy. When the soldiers began pounding on his door, his heart jumped. It was his time - they had come for him. But then he realised something strange, something wonderful: it was as Peter had promised him … he wasn't afraid. He wasn't afraid of anything.










prayer diary Friday 31 May 2013 (The visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

Elizabeth exclaimed: 'Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me that the Mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting the child in my womb leaped for joy.' 
Luke 1. 42-44

Reflection
From the very moment of his conception Jesus was Lord; this Lordship was acknowledged by St John, also still in the womb. The  humility of God's incarnation was not limited to his humble birth in a stable, but encompassed also the utter vulnerability of being that tiny spark of life which is the common beginning of us all.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

prayer diary Thursday 30th May 2013

Jesus said to Bartimaeus: 'Go; your faith has made you well.' Immediately he regained his sight and followed Jesus on the way.'
 Mark 10. 52

Reflection
To have faith in Christ is to truly see. And having the clear vision that comes with faith, we see that the only path we can follow is the one Christ sets before us. This we take joyfully and immediately, for it is the path that leads to eternal life.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

prayer diary Wednesday 29th May 2013

Jesus said: 'whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant; and whoever wishes to be first must be slave to all.' 
Mark 10. 43

Reflection: 
The life of service all Christians are called to begins first with conforming yourself to God's will through obedience to his teaching. For how can you be obedient to his call to serve his children if you are not first obedient to him?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Saruman can't sing!


Bless him, 90+ year old actor Christopher Lee (Saruman to this generation, Dracula to those a little older) has released a heavy-metal album. The clip above has samples. I know singing ability is considered something of an optional extra when it comes to metal music, but I think it not unfair comment to suggest that Mr Lee's efforts are closer to a beautifully intoned spoken word piece than singing ... rap that you can understand the words to perhaps? Still, fair-play to the man ... full marks for being down with the (somewhat aging at this point) young people!

prayer diary Tuesday 28th May 2013

Jesus said: 'Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left ... (all) ... for my sake and the sake of the good news who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age … and in the age to come eternal life.'   
Mark 10. 29-30

Reflection
Following Christ is rewarded in this life with the joy that comes from drawing ever nearer to God & knowing you do his will in all things; and in the next by being welcomed into the kingdom of heaven.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Prayer diary Monday 27th May 2013

Jesus said: 'You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' 
Mark 10. 21

Reflection
We are not all called to surrender all our possessions and live a life of poverty; but we are called to always remember that we must never place material things before God in our lives. And we must also never forget that what we call 'ours' is actually God's and must be shared with those of his children who are in need.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday: the creed of St Athanasius

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

I always begin my sermons with that prayer, but it seems of particular relevance that I do so today, Trinity Sunday. I have been told by some of my brother priests that they approach this Sunday with a certain amount of trepidation … the doctrine of the Trinity is no easy one to do justice to, especially in the limited amount of words available to a preacher in a sermon. Why should it be otherwise? The formulation of that doctrine took place over many centuries & it is no easy task to squeeze it into a few sentences  And even more challenging is the worry of saying something that will set someone off on the wrong track …

So I thought it no bad thing to turn to the experts on this, and look at our third creed this Sunday … and I'm sure that all of you are aware that we as a Church have three creeds: the Apostles', which we read at services such as the Daily Offices; the Nicene, which we use during celebrations of the Holy Eucharist; and the Creed of St Athanasius which is to be found on page 771 of your prayer books.

Now St Athanasius probably didn't write this creed himself; but it was given his name to honour his tireless championing of orthodox doctrine in this matter, particularly in fighting against the Arian heresy which denied the full divinity of Christ. It was a time of itching ears, when many were not willing to listen to sound doctrine, and for a time it seemed as if all were against him. For this reason, he is sometimes known as Athanasius Contra Mundum – Athanasius against the world. But the truth will not be suppressed; the heresy was beaten back, for which reason Athanasius was called by St. Gregory of Nazianzus the 'Pillar of the Church'; and why he is also known as the Father of Orthodoxy and is counted as one of the four great doctors of the Eastern Church.

As I said, the Creed attributed to him was almost certainly not written by him, but his name was attached because it was seen as the perfect expression of the Trinitarian doctrine he devoted his life to defending. And as such, I think it no bad thing to read it on this Trinity Sunday. The language may be difficult; the mysteries it seeks to express certainly are. But there is probably no better short expression of the Trinitarian faith which is at the heart of what it is that we believe. God has chosen to reveal himself to us in Trinity; and though we struggle to understand it, it is a struggle we must continue with, as we seek to draw ever closer to he who created us. And the Creed of St Athanasius is certainly a wonderful way of continuing that struggle.


the creed of St Athanasius 
Whosoever will be saved, 
before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

And the catholic faith is this: 

That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; 
Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence. 
For there is one Person of the Father; another of the Son; 
and another of the Holy Ghost. 
But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, is all one; 
the Glory equal, the Majesty coeternal. 
Such as the Father is; such is the Son; and such is the Holy Ghost. The Father uncreated; the Son uncreated; and the Holy Ghost uncreated. 
The Father unlimited; the Son unlimited; and the Holy Ghost unlimited. 
The Father eternal; the Son eternal; and the Holy Ghost eternal. And yet they are not three eternals; but one eternal. 
As also there are not three uncreated; nor three infinites, but one uncreated; and one infinite. 
So likewise the Father is Almighty; the Son Almighty; and the Holy Ghost Almighty. 
And yet they are not three Almighties; but one Almighty. 
So the Father is God; the Son is God; and the Holy Ghost is God. And yet they are not three Gods; but one God. 
So likewise the Father is Lord; the Son Lord; and the Holy Ghost Lord. 
And yet not three Lords; but one Lord. 
For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity; 
to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord; 
So are we forbidden by the catholic religion; 
to say, There are three Gods, or three Lords. 
The Father is made of none; neither created, nor begotten. 
The Son is of the Father alone; not made, nor created; 
but begotten. 
The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son; neither made, nor created, nor begotten; but proceeding. 
So there is one Father, not three Fathers;
one Son, not three Sons; 
one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts. 
And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; 
none is greater, or less than another. 
But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal. 
So that in all things, as aforesaid; 
the Unity in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity, is to be worshipped. He therefore that will be saved, let him thus think of the Trinity.

Furthermore it is necessary to everlasting salvation; 
that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ. 
For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; 
that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; 
God, of the Essence of the Father; 
begotten before the worlds; 
and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. 
Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. 
Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; 
and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. 
Who although he is God and Man; 
yet he is not two, but one Christ. 
One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; 
but by assumption of the Manhood by God. 
One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; 
but by unity of Person. 
For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; 
so God and Man is one Christ; 
Who suffered for our salvation; descended into hell; 
rose again the third day from the dead. 
He ascended into heaven, he sitteth on the right hand of the God the Father Almighty, 
from whence he will come to judge the quick and the dead. 
At whose coming all men will rise again with their bodies; 
And shall give account for their own works. 
And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting; 
and they that have done evil, into everlasting fire. 

This is the catholic faith; 
which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved.

Amen.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Prayer diary Saturday 25 May 2013

Jesus said: 'Truly I tell you, anyone who does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.' 
Mark 10.15

Reflection
Simplicity of heart and obedience to Christ's teaching are key to gaining eternal life. It is very easy to change that teaching to what you want it to be and then claim your are a faithful follower of Christ. But instead we must submit to the true and unadulterated teaching we have received and make the changes to the way that we live that it demands.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Prayer diary Friday 24 May 2013 (day of discipline and self-denial)

Jesus said: 'Therefore the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. What God has joined together, let no one separate.' 
Mark 10. 9

Reflection
One of the hardest teachings spoken by Christ. It was difficult for people to hear in his day; it is no easier now. But it remains his teaching. And his teaching is something that no one, especially not his Church, has the authority to change.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Prayer diary Thursday 23 May 2013

Jesus said: 'If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.' 
Mark 9. 42

Reflection
Strong words from our Saviour, reminding us that he was far more than the 'meek and mild' image that has become so popular.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Prayer diary Wednesday 22 May 2013

Jesus said: 'Whoever gives you a cup of water because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.' 
Mark 9.41

Reflection
There are many who are more sympathetic to the Christian message than even they suspect. Very often they will express hostility to the Church and religion, but will help the work of individual Christians. Accept their help; pray for their conversion; and walk gently along side them in their journey.

un-pack that ...

For those who sometimes wonder how relevant the Old Testament is:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today. Drill them into your children. Speak of them at home and abroad, whether you are busy or at rest.

Deuteronomy 6:4-7

Work your way through those words slowly ... meditate on them ... I'm going to pick out a few phrases ... read them ... close your eyes and reflect on them  ... dim the lights, light a candle and spend a few minutes on each ...

1. The Lord is our God, the Lord alone

2. you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart

3.you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your soul

4. you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your strength

5. Take to heart these words

6. Drill them into your children

7. Speak of them at home and abroad

8. Speak of them whether you are busy or at rest

Still have any doubts as to the relevance of the Old Testament?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

dead records

It occurs to me that I owe my predecessor in the parish a debt of gratitude. I arrived to find that all the records - burials, marriages, & the like - that ere more than ten years old had been sent off to Dublin to the Church of Ireland's library. At first I was rather doubtful about the idea ... it is nice to be able to look through them and learn about the history of the parish. But over the course of the last year I've come to appreciate the wisdom of his decision. Every time someone calls to the door or phones or emails looking to track down an ancestor from 150 years ago or so I can put my hand on my heart and answer with all honesty that I can't help them & refer them on to the library.

That might sound a bit unhelpful. But truth be told I put in a lot of hours over the years doing that kind of work. You can put in a lot of hours going through dusty registers in cold, damp vestries trying to track down someone's dead relative ... especially when it turns out that they weren't buried in your graveyard in the first place! I learned quickly to ask why they thought their ancestor might be buried in one of our parish churchyards ... you wouldn't believe the amount of times that they had no reason whatsoever to think so ... they were just calling all the churches in the area, trying to cover all the bases ... and even if their family member was Catholic, calling the Church of Ireland clergy 'to be sure to be sure!' I don't mind helping ... I'm not as keen on wild goose chasing.

And  it is amazing the amount of people who show up on your door step from the other side of the world & knock on my door. They've spent months planning their trip to the 'auld sod' ... but it never occurred to them that it might be advisable to call in advance to see if the clergy might be able or available to help them out. I remember  one day when I had someone visiting from Australia, who was staying in Dublin, drive down to see me without calling first. 'What a pity,' I said 'All the records are in Dublin ...' I found out later they could have saved themselves the trip. Their ancestor wasn't in my churchyard. Hadn't even ever lived in the parish ...

Nope. Far better that the records are somewhere central. This genealogical stuff is too tangled for amateurs. Best leave it to the professionals. 

Prayer diary Tuesday 21 May 2013

Jesus said: 'Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.' 
Mark 9.35

Reflection
Are these words that any want to hear in an age that thinks of everything in terms of rights and individual liberties? Yet our Lord spoke these words. We must not only hear them, but live them.

Monday, May 20, 2013

prayers for Pentecost

Let us pray: Heavenly Father, 
you promised through your Son 
to hear the prayers 
of those who ask in faith: 

At this time of Pentecost, 
we give thanks for the wondrous gift 
of Your Holy Spirit
that you gave your Church; 
open our hearts 
that we may be inspired 
to continue the work 
of bringing the faith to all the world; 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer
At this time of Pentecost, 
we thank you for sharing your Holy Spirit with us; 
may we also share with others, 
not only of your Word, 
but from all you give us to provide for our daily needs; Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

At this time of Pentecost, 
we remember how the disciples 
went out to share your Good News 
and how their small community grew as a result; 
help us to share our faith 
in word and example 
with all we meet 
that our communities may daily grow. 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

At this time of Pentecost, 
we ask your blessing on all 
who have answered the call of your Spirit 
into the ministries of the Church; 
We pray for our bishops, priests, and deacons
and all who work in lay ministry. 
Strengthen us, and all your Church, 
to be One, as your Son prayed we should be One. 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

At this time of Pentecost, 
we thank you for those 
who having been strong in the faith in this life 
have entered into their reward in the next; 
we ask your comfort for all who mourn; 
your strength for those who are ill and dying 
& for those who care for them; 
we pray for all who struggle financially 
at this difficult time; 
and we pray for all who struggle in their relationships, 
with others or with you. Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

And at this time of Pentecost, 
we ask that you hear also the the prayers 
of our own hearts, 
for ourselves 
and for those we know 
to be in need of our prayers 
(pause for silent prayer) Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer
 
Merciful Father
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Prayer diary Monday 20 May 2013

Immediately the father of the boy cried out 'I believe; help my unbelief!' 
Mk 9.24

Reflection
We all face doubts and uncertainties. Do not be discouraged by them. Instead, cry out to God to help you through those difficult times.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

the power of Pentecost

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

For the last several Sundays our readings, as well as those for our mid-week services, have referenced the Holy Spirit either directly or indirectly. This has been, of course, in preparation for Pentecost, the day when we remember that first dramatic coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church as promised by Christ. Today we arrive at our destination; Pentecost is here … and perhaps, like anything to which there is a big build up, there is a bit of a sense of an anti-climax, a bit of a wondering what all the fuss has been about …

Maybe because that's because it's a little bit hard to get our heads around the idea of what it meant for the early Church to have the Holy Spirit descend at Pentecost. Christ promised it; it came. What's the big deal? Christ always keeps his promises. But any lack of wonder we may have comes from looking at the event down a 2000 year long microscope, so to speak; and from our end, with all the results of what flowed from the coming of the Holy Spirit not only in place, but long, long established, it can all seem a touch inevitable, static even … so perhaps we should do a bit of 'compare and contrast' as the dreaded phrase had it on exam papers … which were, for some of us at least, long, long ago!

The thing to do, I think, is to look at what was happening with the disciples before Pentecost and then after.

Well, before, there wasn't all that much going on, was there? As far as we can make out they spent most of their time hiding out in that upper room in Jerusalem. They did, obedient to Christ's command, travel to Galilee to witness the Ascension, but other than that, timidity seems to have ruled. They certainly seem to have been filled with joy at the news of Christ's resurrection, and at having witnessed the Risen Lord, but that joy doesn't seem to have translated itself into any kind of confidence. They were still afraid of what the Jews might do to them, that they might be arrested, tortured, and executed just as Christ was. The fact that Christ rose from the dead doesn't seem to have taken that fear away … 

Perhaps they felt that it was one thing for the Son of God to come back from the dead, but they were ordinary people and once they were dead they were dead, especially once Jesus had returned to heaven and there was no chance of his doing a 'Lazarus' on them! Look at how the disciples decided to chose a successor to Judas – they didn't even have the confidence to make a decision themselves; but instead made their choice by casting lots.

What was the future for such a Church? Well I doubt we would be sitting here today in one of the world's literally hundreds of thousands of churches that provides sacred spaces for over two billion Christians. At best they might have struggled on for a few years, perhaps earning themselves a foot-note in the history books that none but the most dedicated scholars would have heard of. Sitting behind locked doors shivering doesn't often translate itself into a force that changes the world.

But see how things changed after Pentecost. Peter – who had been ready to hang up the 'gone fishing' sign and head back to Galilee and stay there only a few days earlier - is now bursting out onto the streets like a roaring lion. All the disciples who had been cowering behind closed doors come running out with him. The people who had been making themselves as small and quiet as possible 'for fear of the Jews' are now boldly proclaiming the message of Christ crucified for our sins to all those passing on the street … people from every corner of the world!

All timidity was gone. Scared peasants were now courageous soldiers of Christ, willing to die for the faith. In fact, we know that many of them did die … of the 12 apostles, all bar John was to die a martyrs death. But even being picked off one by one didn't discourage them … the transformation that took place in that room was a permanent one … and its permanency was not limited to those inside the room that day of Pentecost … with leaps and bounds Christianity grew and grew … within a few decades the Church was bigger than Judaism … within a couple of centuries it was the biggest single religion in the Roman Empire … and a couple of centuries after that it was pretty much the only religion in the Roman Empire … from there it has spread out throughout all the world, reaching places unheard of and un-imagined on the day of Pentecost so that today there are, as I said, over two billion Christians world wide …

And it achieved that because the power of Pentecost was not limited to that room on that day … it continues to pour out into the world and into the Church and into our lives … and it is a power that we should welcome into our lives daily … because the work of Pentecost, fueled by the never ending power of the Holy Spirit, is not over … two billion down leaves four billion more to go in terms of evangelisation … and of that two billion, how many need to be re-evangelised? But we need not fear … just as those in the upper room that day discovered they need not fear … the power Pentecost continues … and I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit into your lives, this day and into the future, so that you may do your share of God's work, just as those disciples did so long ago on the first feast of Pentecost. Amen.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Good luck Ireland!


The powers that be in the Eurovsion have chosen to place Ireland's entry, Only Love Survives sung by Ryan Dolan, as the final number in the competition's running order. It can't hurt our chances to be the last song ringing in people's ears before they hit the phone lines to vote!

The only question is, do the powers that be in Ireland really want the cost and headache of hosting the contest next year ...

Prayer diary 18 May 2013 (day of prayer & preparation)

There are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. 
John. 21.25

Reflection
The evangelist reminds us that there is more to Christ than can be contained in any number of books. Christ himself promised that he would send his Holy Spirit that would guide us, his Church, into all Truth.

Friday, May 17, 2013

not quite the same thing ...

Funny how the media reports some stories. Read this article & it seems like scientists have figured out how to create embryonic stem cells in a dish by cloning them. Wow - all the ethical issues involved in messing around with human embryos are gone! 

But dig a little deeper (here & here) and it becomes clear that what they have actually done is figured out how to create human embryos asexually which they then destroy in the process of harvesting their stem cells. Not quite the same thing. I guess those messy ethical issues are still around ...  


Prayer diary 17 May 2013 (day of prayer & preparation)

Jesus said this to Peter to indicate to him the kind of death by which he would glorify God. After this he said to him: 'Follow me.' 
John 21.1`9

Reflection
Christ made demands of his disciples & knew that some would pay the ultimate price. And yet he called them to follow him: why? Because he knew the cost of not following him was far greater than any cost this world might impose on us for heeding his call.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Referer madness: blog owners beware!

My blog stats went through the roof the other day. Cool, thinks I. I noticed that most of the new traffic was coming from one site, whose name made it look like one of those blog-digest sites. You probably know the kind I mean: they pick up stories they like and give them a link; readers simply follow that site and trust them as a source of good articles. When a blog post get picked up by one of them, the blogger gets a spike in their stats.

I made the mistake of clicking on the link on my stats page to see who it was that so kindly was sending me all the extra traffic. Doh! I played right into their hands. I was the victim of referer spam. Don't ask me how it works. No one is actually reading the blog as a result, but apparently it makes it look as if the money-earning referring blog is generating lots of referals, for which they get paid. My head is spinning trying to figure out how they could possibly work this. But the absolute sure way of making it worse is to click on the link ... I got an eye-full of some sad-looking naked ladies for my trouble ... and the next day my stats spike had soared even higher ... I guess I'll just have to wait the storm out ... but in the meantime, bloggers beware: just ignore those referring sites unless you already know who they are!

Prayer diary 16 May 2013 (day of prayer & preparation)

Jesus said: 'The glory you have given me I have given them so that they may be one as we are one.' 
John 17.22

Reflection
Perhaps one of the hardest commandments that Christ gives to us is that we should be one Church, one body, in Christ. Yet we must always work for that one-ness, for to do otherwise is to disobey Christ.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Prayer diary 15 May 2013 (day of prayer & preparation)

Jesus said: 'I have given them your Word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.' 
John 17.14

Reflection
Again Christ warns us that to walk in his way is to incur the wrath of the world. But he has given us his Word; more he has joined us to him through baptism. Those who walk in his way walk in the way of salvation and have nothing to fear from what they may suffer in this world as a result of their obedience to Christ.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

St Matthias and mothers

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

I have to begin with something of an apology. Because today is the feast day of St Mathias, I had hoped that I would be able to find something by way of a very cool tie-in between St Mathias and mothers to make it more relevant to a Mother's Union service, but nothing could I find … I couldn't even find a vague connection between him and mothering or even something connecting him with women in some significant way.

The truth is that we know very little about St Mathias. That's true of most of the Apostles, but it in incredibly so of Mathias. He's not mentioned in the Gospels; the first time we hear of him is the Acts of the Apostles, when the Eleven decide it is time to get the number back up to twelve and replace Judas. There we are told he is someone who had been with them from the beginning; from which we can infer that he was an early follower of Jesus, perhaps even one of the 70 that he sent out two by two in the Gospels. That he was chosen, along with Joseph Justus, as one of the two possible replacements for Judas indicates that he must have been seen as a man of great personal holiness and ability. But other than that, we can say nothing with certainty. 

Unlike the other apostles, the traditions telling us of his life outside the pages of scripture are comparatively recent ... by which I mean 4th or 5th century rather than 1st or 2nd! We honour him as a martyr of the Church – hence the liturgical colour red that we use today – but not all the traditions we have concerning him say he was martyred … although, as that was the fate of all his brother Apostles bar one, St John, the balance of probabilities would certainly be that he was martyred. Any time there was a persecution, it was the tendency of the Roman authorities to execute the leaders, thinking that this would act to deter people from being Christians; little knowing that their brutal acts would have the precise opposite, and inspire people to want to know more about this faith that people were willing to give their lives for.

People sometimes wonder why, if St Matthias was chosen by lot to replace Judas, why it is that we hear no more of that method of choosing leaders either in scripture of tradition. The reason is that he was chosen prior to Pentecost, prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit; Peter and the remaining apostles did not feel the confidence that comes with such divine guidance, and so they rather left the final decision as to who would replace Judas not so much to chance but as to divine intervention, feeling that it would be God's hand rather than man's who would decide. After the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would as Christ promised lead his Church into all truth, there was no longer a need for such methods.

But all this gives us no link between St Matthias and mothers. Unless we are to make the obvious statement that Matthias had, like all men, a mother. But that is perhaps too slender a connection … or is it? Something that I notice frequently in the histories of the great saints is that so many times it is mentioned how pious their mothers were … often their fathers also … but especially it is remarked what good and holy women their mothers were, and how carefully they had brought them up in the faith, teaching them to pray, encouraging them to draw ever closer to God day by day. One of the most famous examples of such a mother is, of course, St Monica, who spent years trying to convert her son to Christianity … her years of work finally paid off, and her son not only converted, but became a priest and a bishop … we know him today as St Augustine.

Given the importance of mother's in the formation of their children, not just physically but morally, it is surely not too much to suggest that St Matthias must have had such a mother, one that was pious and good and holy and who taught her son to live according to the example of her life and encouraged him to continue in that holy living once he was a grown man … the power of a woman to influence for the good a man whom she has raised as her son should never, I think, be underestimated … my mother's opinion was something I valued for as long as she lived … and there are few decisions I make, even now that she is gone, without wondering what she would think of them.

So I think it is reasonable as we give thanks for the faithful witness of St Matthias today, to also give thanks for his mother, and for all she must have done to make him the man that he became, a man who walked shoulder to shoulder with Christ, who was selected by the Apostles to be included in their number, and was faithful to the message that Christ brought us unto death. A powerful testimony to the power of mothers … and a reminder to us all to the good work that the Mother's Union has done and can do in the future … which is why that I pray, on the feast day of St Matthias, that their work will continue. Amen.

Prayer diary Tuesday 14th May 2013 (Day of Prayer & Preparation; Feast of St Matthias)

Jesus said:'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves!' 
Matthew 7.15

Reflection: 
Many who are 'friends of the world' will try to lead the faithful astray, saying the message of the world is the same as the message of Christ. As our Saviour warns us: beware.

Monday, May 13, 2013

May God's love be with you!


This has to be the coolest music video ever! Commander Chris Hadfield plays Space Oddity, by David Bowie, on the Space Station. Wow!

Prayer diary Monday 13th May 2013 (Day of Prayer & Preparation)

Jesus said: 'In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!' 
John 16.33

Reflection
Jesus warned his disciples that there was a cost to discipleship; a reminder to us that we can be his friend or the world's friend but not both.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Precious Life

Anne, a follower of this blog, has asked:  'Can we please remember today that the 40 Days of Prayer and Penance (Fasting) begins which is organised by Precious Life.'

You can find a post on this at Anne's blog here;
and the website of Precious Life, the organiser of this event, here.

Prayers Sunday 12 May 2013 (7h of Easter)

let us pray: Heavenly Father, 
you promised through your Son 
to hear the prayers of those 
who ask in faith;

In these days of prayer & preparation, 
we pray that we, your Church, 
will always have hearts open to the Spirit of Truth; 
& the courage to bring that Truth to all the world,
whatever the cost. 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

In these days of prayer & preparation, 
we pray that we will be ever mindful 
of the needs of others 
so that all may receive what they need 
from what you give us. Lord in your mercy 

In these days of prayer & preparation, 
may our example of Holy living 
make ready our communities 
for the Spirit that you send to all. Lord in your mercy:  hear our prayer 

In these days of prayer & preparation, 
we thank you for all who work to make your truth known; 
we pray for Michael our bishop 
and all who minister in our diocese; 
we ask for unity with those to whom 
we are united by our common baptism, 
yet divided by our own stubborn refusal 
to obey Christ’s prayer that we should be One; 
and we pray that, strong in the faith 
as passed down by the Apostles 
and brought to this land by St Patrick, 
that the Church of Ireland 
and the Anglican Communion may continue in unity. 
Lord in your mercy:  hear our prayer 

In these days of prayer & preparation, 
we thank you for those 
who having been faithful witnesses 
to your Truth in this life 
have entered into their reward in the next; 
we pray that all who mourn will be comforted; 
that the sick and dying will know your care; 
and those who struggle in their relationships, 
with others or with you, will know your peace. 
Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

And in these days of prayer & preparation, 
we ask that you hear also 
the the prayers of our own hearts, 
for ourselves 
and for those we know to be in need 
of our prayers 
(pause for silent prayer) 
Lord in your mercy:  hear our prayer 

Merciful Father
accept these our prayers
for the sake of your Son
our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Amen.

the days of the Cenacle

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

Because of the Bishop's pastoral letter, this will be more of a short reflection than a sermon. A small group of us gathered to celebrate the Ascension on Thursday. Because of the weather we had to it indoors instead of outside on the mountain top as usual. The wind howled and battered at the building, reminding me of the upper room on the day of Pentecost. And the thought struck me that we are now in the days of the Cenacle. 

What is the Cenacle? The Cenacle is that upper-room in Jerusalem, cena being the Latin for room. It was in the Cenacle that the long discourses from Jesus that we hear in St John's Gospel were spoken. In these Jesus spoke, among other things, of sending his disciples the Holy Spirit after he was gone. It was there also that the Last Supper is set, making it the place from which not only the Dominical command to celebrate the Sacrament of the Eucharist was issued, but also the place where the Apostles were ordained as the first bishops and priests of his church. 

Tradition holds that it was the place where the disciples hid after Christ was arrested and later crucified; and it is therefore the place where some of the earliest post- resurrection appearances took place, most famously the one where St Thomas was the first to recognise the divinity of Christ with his declaration: My Lord and my God. It was there he gave his Apostles the authority to forgive sins. 

It is the place they returned to after witnessing the taking up into heaven of our crucified and resurrected Lord at the Ascension. And it was there they were hiding for fear of the Jews when, nine days later, the Holy Spirit came upon them like a rushing wind and tongues of fire on the day of Pentecost. This Thursday past we celebrated the Ascension Day; and next Sunday we celebrate the feast of Pentecost; and now we are in that nine day period that our church calendar calls 'days of prayer and preparation' leading up to the time when we will celebrate what we call the birth of the Church, Pentecost. 

Which is why I say that we are in the days of the Cenacle. Because the early disciples were in that upper room during those days; they were preparing themselves for what Christ had promised to send them. Though, of course, like so many times before, they hardly understood what it was that Christ was speaking of. And yet they returned to Jerusalem as he commanded, despite their fears, and waited and, no doubt, prayed. How much more should we, who know full well what was to come on that first day of Pentecost, should spend our own days of the Cenacle in a time of prayer and preparation, readying ourselves for the wondrous event that is to come? Amen.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Kenny, the college, & the cardinal

Why is anyone surprised that Cardinal Sean O’Malley is refusing to attend Boston College's graduation ceremony if Enda Kenny is present? The Irish bishops have made it clear where they stand on his proposed abortion legislation. Why would any reasonable person expect the cardinal to undermine them by being present at a ceremony at which Mr Kenny is to be not only the keynote speaker, but also be awarded an honorary degree? The more reasonable reaction would surely be to wonder that a Catholic college invited Mr Kenny in the first place, particularly at this time. 

prayer diary Saturday 11th May 2013

Jesus said: Very truly, I tell you, if you ask anything of the Father in my name, he will give it to you … ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.' 
John 16. 23-24

Reflection
For the one who is totally aligned to the will of God no prayer can be refused; for such a one will never ask for anything other than what is already the will of God.

Friday, May 10, 2013

St Paul in Phillipi



The sun blazed down into the courtyard on the small group of men working with canvas and rope. The heat was stifling. One, the youngest, groaned. One of the others, also young, but a little older, laughed.
'Too hot for you, Luke?' he asked. Luke grunted. 
'It's too hot for anyone, Silas!' he complained. 
'Get some water, then.' 

There was a large stone jar standing in the shade of one wall. Luke went over and filled the cup balanced on its brim. The water was cool and welcome, as was the shade. Luke took his time, drinking the water slowly. The other man, older than the others looked up. 

'Come along,' he said sharply. 'These people are paying us. Standing there idle is cheating them.' Luke put the cup back and went unwillingly back into the sun and his work. As he knelt back down and picked up some canvas and an awl he muttered something under his breath. 
'What was that?' said the older man. 
'I said, I don't know why we're here anyway, Paul,' said the young man. 'I thought we had come here to tell people about Jesus. But we seem to be spending all our time making tents and awnings!' 
Paul shrugged. 
'If we don't work, we don't eat,' he said simply. 
'But spreading the Good News is work. And doesn't the ox deserve its share of the grain it threshes?' he added, quoting the old Hebrew proverb. 
Paul smiled. 
'Right you are. But until there is fruit from our labour, there is no share for us. When there are enough new brothers and sisters to the faith here, then those who teach them the Lord's Way won't need to do other work.' 
'Yes, but we'll move on to another city when that happens,' said Luke, with a hint of impatience in his voice. 
'That's true,' said Paul gently. 'It's our task to go to a city, begin the work, and then when enough has been done for the faith to grow, to go elsewhere to do the same for others. It is what the Lord calls us to do. If we did not, then those others would not hear the Lord's word. Would you want that?' 
'No, Paul,' said Luke, ashamed. 'But I do wish we could stay somewhere long enough to relax and not spend all our days in the hot sun!' 
Paul smiled at him. 
'And that you could perhaps spend more time at your medical studies?' he suggested. 'I know how you feel; I sometimes wish I was back in my cool, quiet room in Jerusalem, studying scripture peacefully with the other rabbis, and not living like a vagabond travelling round the Empire, never knowing where I'll be from one week to the next. But I'd rather that I was hot and tired than someone else miss out on the chance of salvation. Anyway, it's time for a break.' 

They wrapped up their tools carefully and put them in their bags. The tools were their livelihood; without them, they couldn't work. And without work, they couldn't preach. They left the courtyard and entered into the bustle of the narrow streets of Phillipi, heading towards the synagogue for the afternoon prayers before eating. The cobbles were hard under their feet, but Luke didn't mind. The high houses created shade below, which Luke welcomed after the heat of the open courtyard.

Suddenly, someone started shouting.

‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ Luke looked to where the voice was coming from. It was a young girl, a slave if her rough tunic was anything to judge by. She was pointing her finger at Paul, Silas, and Luke. She shouted out her words again, still pointing. And then again. Luke found it unnerving.
'How does she know about us?' he said to Silas, uneasily. 'Has someone told her about us?' 
'I don't think so,' said Silas. 'How could they? We haven't been here long. Hardly anyone knows us.' 
'She has a demon,' said Paul grimly. 
'What?' said Silas and Luke together, startled. 
'Aye, the poor girl is possessed.' 
'Yes,' said a passing man, who looked amused at the reaction the strangers were giving the girl. 'The slave is well known in this part of the city. She has a spirit of divination in her; and her masters earn good coin from her fortune telling!' 
'Come away,' said Paul. He walked on down the street, with companions following. But the girl followed too, still shouting again and again: ‘These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.’ 
'Why does she do that?' said Luke to Paul. 'She's telling everyone about us? That's good for what we're doing here, isn't it? If she has a demon, why would it help us?' 
'It isn't helping us,' said Paul, a hard edge in his voice, as he walked on through the crowd not looking back at the girl. 'Demons try to gain power over you by naming you. It's naming us as God's servants in the hope of controlling us. And following us around shouting like she's doing isn't going to help us in the least. We'll become known as the ones the slave girls chases around, pointing and yelling. We'll be a laughing stock.' 
'So why not cast the demon out?' said Silas. 'Jesus could. He gave his apostles the authority to do so also. And didn't they give us that same authority when they laid hands on us and sent us out to tell the world the good news?' 
'Indeed,' said Paul. 'But it was no accident that that man told us she was a slave earning money for her owners because of this demon: the demon wanted us to know. Cast it out and they won't be pleased with us; and that might interfere with our work here.' 
'But the girl,' said Luke. 'Isn't it wrong to leave the demon in her? Demons are evil!' 
'Yes,' said Paul, stroking his thin beard thoughtfully. 'But everything we do must be to advance our mission. Jesus didn't run around healing everyone and chasing down demons. When he healed, and he healed a lot of people, it was with a purpose. And that purpose was so that people could understand who he was: God's Son. Right now, I don't know that casting out that girl's demon would help us in our work. But I could be wrong. It is something for us to pray about. And, as it happens, here we are at the synagogue. So let us pray!' 

The girl followed Paul and the others for many days. When they were at work, in the relative privacy of the courtyard, she left them alone. But every time they emerged, whether to go to the synagogue for prayers, or to eat, or simply to walk to their lodgings in the evening, there she was, shouting her message which the three men found increasingly tiresome. And as Paul had predicted, it was causing them to become something of a joke in the city: people would point and jeer as the three walked by followed by the shouting girl.
'You'd think her owners would make her stop,' moaned Silas, on the third day. 'After all, where's the profit for them in letting the girl torment us?' 
Paul snorted. 
'They know that the demon is in control. And if this is what it wants then they have to let it do as it pleases. They'd earn nothing from it if they to make it do something else.' 
'But what are we going to do? We're bringing the faith to no one this way!' said Luke. 'And the girl is giving me a headache.' 
'And I really hate the way people are staring at us all the time,' said Silas. 'People are following us just so they can laugh at us.' 

It was true. A small crowd had started to follow them every time they appeared with the girl, so they could joke and sneer at they way the girl made the men so uncomfortable.

Suddenly, Paul stopped.

'Enough of this,' he said. 'Letting this continue hinders what God sent us here to do. And he can not want that. And it breaks my heart to see what this demon does to this poor child. God can not want us to allow it to continue. I'm sure this will mean trouble for us. But perhaps God's purpose will also be served.'
He turned to the girl. She stopped in her tracks. Suddenly, for the first time in days while she was close to them she was silent. There was a strange look on her face. To Luke's amazement, it almost seemed as if she had two faces, one over the other. The face of the girl looked at them pleadingly, as if begging them to help her; but the other face looked at them with hatred and fear, a twisted mask that seemed to hang over the girl's true face like mist or smoke. Luke shuddered. 
'Do you see that?' he whispered to Silas. His friend only nodded. Paul raised his hand high in the air with his palm toward the girl and spoke. 

‘I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ 

The girl shrieked and fell to the ground. She rolled back and forth for a few moments and then stopped. 

'It's gone,' she said, sitting up. 'I'm free. I'm free!'
A gasp of amazement went through the crowd. They couldn't understand what they were seeing. But at least one understood all too well. 
'Oh, no, you're not free,' cried a rough voice. A tall, bearded man emerged from the crowd. 'You're a slave; my slave, mine and my partners. And these fools have cost us money, because if the spirit of divination is gone out of you, then so is the way that you earn us gold!' 
Someone in the crowd chuckled. The man turned on him angrily. 
'Find it funny do you? Well, you wouldn't be laughing if it was your income that had dried up, would you? Why should these foreigners be allowed to come here and interfere with the business of honest Macedonians? And if they can do it to me, what's to stop them from doing it to you next? If they keep this up, pretty soon we'll all be out of work.' 
There was a murmur of agreement from the crowd. A moment later someone shouted: 
'Seize them!' and another 
'Take them to the magistrates!' 

The mob surged forward. Luke was pushed back, away from the others. His head banged against the wall and he slid down, seeing stars. Before he knew it he crowd was gone, and his two friends with them. All that remained was the slave girl, standing over him. 

'Let me help you up,' she said, holding out a hand. He took it and got up, still trying to shake the pain and the fuzziness out of his head.
'My friends!' he gasped. 
'They've taken them to the market place,' she said, pointing down the street. 
'I must go there,' said Luke, starting to walk in the direction she indicated. But as soon as he tried to walk, he stumbled and had to grab at the wall to stay standing. 
'You're in no state to go anywhere,' said the girl. 'You need to lie down and rest. Sleep until you feel better' 
'Sleeping isn't good if you've hit your head,' said Luke. The girl smiled at him. 
'What are you, a doctor?' 
'No, but I've studied medicine a little. I hope to do some more, some day when …' 
'When you've had some rest, stopped chasing demons, and aren't so busy running around the world saving souls,' she said with a laugh. 
She helped him back to their lodgings, and settled him on his mat, leaving a cool pitcher of water beside him. 
'Don't worry about your friends,' she said. 'I'll go see what happened them. Try not to sleep!' And she was gone. 

She didn't come back. Luke didn't blame her. She was a slave, after all. Her owners must have found her and sent her off to do whatever new work she would be doing for them now that the demon was gone. And in spite of himself, Luke did sleep. When he woke it was daylight and quite late, almost noon. Paul and Silas were there, smiling at him.

'We were worried,' said Paul. That's an ugly bruise on your forehead.' 

'Not too worried,' said Silas. 'We knew you could look after yourself. After all, you're almost a doctor!' 
'Not quite,' said Luke, sitting up. 
'Anyway,' said Paul, starting to move around the room, gathering things. 'As you're awake, we need to get going.' 
'Back to work?' said Luke, with a groan. Paul shook his head. 
'Time to move on. We've had quite a night. After the mob grabbed us, they took us to the judges. They had us beaten – we'll need you to look at our cuts and bruises later, my not quite a doctor friend - and then cast us into prison. But as we were lying there in chains, the Lord sent an earthquake and burst the doors open! The jailer thought we had escaped and was going to kill himself …' 
'Why?' interrupted Luke. 
'Oh, he'd be in serious trouble if his prisoners escaped. Quite a few of the others were murderers and bandits who'd been sentenced to be crucified. If they escape, he's liable to take their place. He thought a quick death by the sword was better than days hanging on the cross in the hot sun dying slowly. But the Lord inspired me to know what he was thinking and I called out to him to stop. That and all that he'd already heard about us was enough to make him realise that he should listen to us. Before you know it, not only he, but his whole household, children, servants, and slaves were asking to be baptised!' 
'But if you didn't escape, then how did you get out?' asked Luke. Paul shrugged. 
'They were going to let us go anyway. It's not like there are laws against casting out demons! But our work here is done. After our night in prison, there are enough new followers of Christ to keep things going here. And anyway, I think the girl's owners are the kind of men who'll hold a grudge; they'd keep interfering and stirring people up against us. For now, our being here would damage the spreading of the message. Time for us to move on to the next city and let others continue the work here.' 
'Just like I said,' sighed Luke. 
'Just like you said,' laughed Silas. 

After they had gone through the city gates, Luke looked back. There, framed in the light of the gate, stood someone waving. Luke squinted, but he couldn't make out who it was. Paul, seeing what he was doing, looked back also.
'It's that slave girl,' he said. Realising who it was, Luke waved back. 
'I'm sorry I didn't a chance to say goodbye,' he said. 'She helped me after you two were dragged off.' 
'I'm sure she understands,' said Paul gently. Luke shrugged. 
'And I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to talk to her about Jesus. I would have liked for her to know about him.' Paul stopped. 
'I think she already does know. She spent days following us around, hearing what the demon had to say about us. And she knows I cast the demon out, in the power of Christ's name. She knows Jesus in a way that few can ever know him. She'll have a hunger for him now, a hunger to know more. And as the jailer and his families and the others we left behind begin to do their part of the work, she'll hear about them and go to them and be baptised also. And then she'll tell others about what Jesus did for her and be a powerful witness for bringing other souls to Christ.' 
'Do you really think so?' said Luke, joyfully. 
'Oh, yes,' said Paul confidently. 'How could others not come to Christ having heard her story. In fact, we must be sure to tell others about it ourselves.' 
'Yes,' said Luke thoughtfully. He began to rummage around in his bag. Silas looked at him curiously. 
'What are you doing?' 
'Looking for a scrap of papyrus and a bit of charcoal I have.' 
'Why?' 
'To make notes. If we're going to tell others stories like this, we need to take careful notes, so we don't get any of the details wrong.' 
Paul smiled. 
'A good idea, my young doctor,' he said. 'Remind me to tell you some of my other adventures. You can take notes about those too.' 
Luke groaned. 
'What?' grinned Silas. 
'I think I've just taken on something that's going to be more work than making tents and awnings – writing down everything that happens.' 

And laughing, they walked on towards their next city.