Monday, June 30, 2014

prayer diary Monday 30 June 2014

He saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him 'follow me.' And he got up and followed him.' 
Matthew 9.9

Reflection 
To the Jews of Jesus time tax-collectors were the worst of all sinners. And yet, being called, Matthew responded at once. Sometimes even those we think of as being the worst of all people only need the slightest nudge to jump at the chance of redemption. Who have you called lately?

Saturday, June 28, 2014

prayer diary Saturday 28 June 2014

The day will come when the bridegroom is taken from them, and then they will fast.' 
Matthew 9.15

Reflection 
Christ himself recommended fasting to his followers. Should not then we, who call ourselves his followers, follow his teaching in this just as we do in all other matters?

Friday, June 27, 2014

prayer diary Friday 27 June 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'For I have come to call not the righteous, but sinners.' 
Matthew 9. 13

Reflection 
Christ came to call all people to himself; for all indeed are sinners. Pray for those who think they are without sin that they may gain the humility they need to accept Christ's mercy and his promise of eternal life.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

prayer diary Thursday 26 June 2014

When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic 'take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.' 
Matthew 9. 2

Reflection 
Jesus told the man to take up his mat and walk, but he did so to display his authority to forgive sins; for he came to save us from our sins. Do not deceive yourself, and by doing so reject the salvation Christ offers, by believing you have no sins to be forgiven of.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 25 June 2014

Thomas answered him 'My Lord and my God.' 
John 20.28

Reflection
The phrase 'doubting Thomas' is widely used. Yet this is the man who was the first to recognise the divinity of Christ declare it unashamedly before others. We who follow after him should daily give thanks for his inspired witness to the truth of whom Christ is.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 24 June 2014

And Jesus said to them 'why are you afraid, you of little faith?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm.' 
Matthew 8. 26

Reflection 
Death comes to us all. But for those who put their faith in Christ, there is nothing to fear in this world.

Monday, June 23, 2014

prayer diary Monday 23 June 2014

Foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.' 
Matthew 8. 20

Reflection 
The material things of this world matter little. All that matters is following Christ.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Examin Sunday 22 June 2014

You shall have no other gods but me

You do not have to call something a god for it to have become like a god in your life. St Paul tells us, for example, that greed is idolatry. If anything has assumed such importance in your life – TV, the internet, sport, clothes, the appearance of your own body, particular relationships or friendships, sensual pleasure, hobbies, leisure activities, even work – so that it is as important, or more, than God to you, then it has become as a god to you. If you cannot reduce your attachment to it so that it assumes its proper place, then cut it from your life altogether, whatever the apparent cost. As our Lord tells us, it is better to enter into eternal life with only one eye than with two enter instead into perdition.

Examin Sunday 22 June 2014

God wants us to be happy in this life without losing sight of the fact that we are destined for eternal happiness in the next. But we must not distort his will that we be happy into a philosophy of life where we think we are entitled to be what we consider happy at all costs and without limits or boundaries. The kind of happiness that is dependent on having what God's teaching tells us we can not have is not true happiness at all. For happiness in this life can never come at the cost of eternal life in the next.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Prayer diary Saturday 21 June 2014

‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and Mammon.'
Matthew 6.24

Reflection
The things of this world exist to serve our needs while we live. If we instead become slaves to them we lose our way in this life and risk our life in the next.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Prayer diary Friday 20 June 2014 (day of discipline and self-denial)

'But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.' 
Matthew 6.20,21

Reflection
Honestly ask yourself if it is the things of this world that matter most to you. Then consider the fact that there is not a single one of them that you can take with you to the next life. Why love that which you can not keep and may even serve to deny you the one thing that truly matters?

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Prayer diary Thursday 19 June 2014

'And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.'Matthew 6.12

Reflection
The Christian way is hard. It is not easy to let go of the slights and wrongs we suffer. And yet, even as we hope that God will forgive us, so too must we forgive others.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Prayer diary Wednesday 18 June 2014

'Whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.'
Matthew 6.2

Reflection
We all must do all we can to help others. But consider carefully your reasons for doing so. Is it to gain glory in the eyes of the world? Or because they are your brother and sisters deserving your love and care?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

haiku: cat on the lawn

cat on the lawn
looking like road kill
~stunned by the sun

Prayer diary Tuesday 17 June 2014

'But I say to you, 'Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.'' 
Matthew 5.44

Reflection
Christ commands us to love our neighbour as ourselves. And as all are our neighbours, those who hate us as much as those who love us, so we must love and pray for all.

Monday, June 16, 2014

MEXICO: DISPLACED PROTESTANTS SEEK GOVERNMENT HELP ON ANNIVERSARY OF ATTEMPT TO RETURN HOME

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

One year after their attempt to return home was met with extreme violence, a group of forcibly displaced Protestant Christians continues to call on Mexican government officials to address their case. The group comprises 35 people, including small children, who have been living in limbo since they were forcibly expelled from the village of Los Llanos in January 2010.

In May 2014 in a visit facilitated by a representative of local activist group, the Coordination for Christian Organizations (COOC), Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) met with the community, which is currently housed in a small communal living space in very basic conditions on the grounds of a local church. Members of the displaced group told CSW of their disappointment at the failure of the government to take action to defend their rights. Since then, according to the COOC, government officials have communicated to the displaced group that it may take at least another eight months to address their request for relocation.

The Protestants were forcibly displaced in early 2010 after village authorities destroyed their church and issued an ultimatum to the Protestants to convert to Catholicism. In June 2013, after three and a half years living as internally displaced persons (IDPs) with no apparent government action on the case, the group attempted to return to their homes on their own. As the group approached Los Llanos, located in the municipality of San Cristábal de las Casas, they were met with roadblocks and a violent mob who took them captive. They were held against their will, beaten, doused with petro and threatened with being burnt alive.

State officials eventually intervened and negotiated the release of the group. However, no criminal charges were filed against those who had committed acts of violence, and as part of the negotiated agreement the victims were prohibited from pursuing legal action against those responsible for the violence.

The National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) investigated the original case and published its conclusions and recommendations in November 2011. The CNDH found that the rights, including the right to religious freedom, of the victims had been violated and recommended that they be allowed to return to their home. The Chiapas State Government never took any action to implement these recommendations. The group told CSW that after the events of June 2013 they do not believe it will be possible to return to their homes and have requested that the government relocate them in order to resolve their situation.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We continue to urge the Mexican government and in particular the Chiapas State government to take effective measures to address this case and others like it as a matter of urgency. It is unacceptable, not only that the government failed at every step to defend the religious freedom of the Los Llanos displaced community, but has allowed four and a half years to go by without seeking any resolution to the case. In the meantime, this group of 35 men, women and children live in precarious conditions without recourse to justice. We call on Governor Velasquez Coello to instruct members of his administration to prioritize this and other long term cases of forced displacement based on religious belief.'

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 Monday 16 June 2014

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer ... if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.' 
Matthew 5. 38,39

Reflection
The Christian does not seek vengeance for real or imagined wrongs. We must forgive – seven times seventy if needs be.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

a couple of things about the Trinity

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

'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.'

There is something particularly appropriate about my usual opening prayer this morning.  Today is Trinity Sunday and you may have heard me mention before that it is a day upon which many clergy face their weekly task of preaching with a certain degree of trepidation. Part of the reason for this is that it is such a complex subject. That is not surprising: it took the Church many centuries to tease out the doctrine of the Trinity – doing justice to the doctrine in so slight a thing as a Sunday homily would be a near impossible task. 

And a sermon must necessarily be a little thing: there is the practical reason that in most modern parishes clergy have more than one service in more than one church to take – a long sermon in one would mean arriving late at the next; also, most people have, in general, short attention spans – the preacher has some hope of getting across one or two points in eight or ten minutes, but trying to make 20 or 30 in the space of 50 minutes or an hour would not only be impossible, the result would no longer be a sermon, it would be a lecture … and a lecture is a thing where not only a person may take notes that they can go over afterwards and study, there is usually some time for questions and answers so that the hearers can clarify any issues that they had difficulty with, or ask the speaker to go in further depth on any particular point that they found to be of especial interest.

That is why complicated theological matters tend not to be dealt with in sermons. How could we deal adequately with such mysteries as how God became man, how baptism washes away our sins, the manner in which bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist, and many other such matters in a few minutes? The preacher may mention such things as these in their sermon, but in general they do so in a way that shows they expect the congregation already to have a good basic understanding from their time in Sunday School, Confirmation Class, and perhaps even personal reading and study groups.

Getting back to the Trinity, imagine if I were to attempt a sermon that dealt even briefly with all of the points raised concerning the doctrine in the Creed of St Athanasius, which we will be using later in this service as is traditional on this day. We would certainly be here much longer than usual and I seriously doubt anyone would emerge from the result much the wiser.

So what might I say, briefly, about the Trinity? Well the point I would like to make this morning is that I think of it as a great gift from God. In this doctrine God has shared with us an intimate knowledge of his nature that we could not have in any way other than by divine revelation. As St Paul tells, we need only look around us at the natural world to know that God exists; and philosophers through their thinking and pondering have come up with many convincing proofs – more than convincing, unassailable, despite what the militant atheist brigade like to assert – but there is something that neither observing the natural world for all eternity nor cramming an infinite number of philosophers together for an infinite amount of time so that they may ponder this question endlessly will come up with: and that is that God exists in Trinity, Father, Son, & Holy Spirit. This we can only know because God chooses to let us know. And I find it incredibly comforting to know that our creator loves us enough to share with us such information about himself. God has not created his children and then abandoned them; he speaks to us, calls us into relationship with him, and desires that we know more about him.

But that revelation also, I think, serves as a warning. It lets us know that God is so vastly beyond anything that we could imagine that we can not even imagine how great and wonderful he is. It is a warning also against that terrible modern heresy of thinking we are in some way equal with God, or in some kind of a position to judge not only his actions but his plans for us, to decide that we, small, blind, limited creatures that we are, know better than he when it comes to the other things he has revealed to us – the teaching that he gave us in his Son, the Word made Flesh, which he still gives us today through the Body of Christ, his Church. As Christ tells us in our Gospel reading, we are to obey everything that he commanded us, not just what we decide for ourselves to obey.


By his sharing with us the fact that he exists in Trinity, God tells us that he loves us and wishes us to know him and love him also; but we must never forget that to love him means to be obedient to his will - and I pray all here will both love him and obey him, now and always. 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, June 14, 2014

Examin Saturday 14 June 2014

We are all called to be witnesses to the faith. The word for witness in the New Testament is martyr – the same word we now use for those who die for their faith in Christ. Only some are called to die. But all are called to witness to the faith by their total obedience to Christ's teaching and commands up to the moment of their death. And we do not know when that will be. Do not comfort yourself in your sin by thinking you will repent later. But rather keep the thought of bodily death always before you so that you may keep the faith and enter into eternal life.

prayer diary Saturday 14 June 2014

'But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool.' 
Matthew 5.34,35

Reflection
Of what use to you is an oath? If a person does not trust your word, will they believe you more because of your swearing? And if you speak a lie, why compound your sin by dishonouring God by your oath?

Friday, June 13, 2014

help protect the children of Meriam Ibrahim

I just received an email from Christian Solidarity Worldwide on behalf of Meriam Ibrahim, which I have posted below. Please take a few moments to read it and then sign the petition to help her children.

Dear friend,

You’ve already spoken up for Meriam – thank you for joining CSW’s work for religious freedom! As the court considers the appeal against her death sentence, please take action to ensure her children are safe. You’ve already spoken up for Meriam – thank you for joining CSW’s work for religious freedom! As the court considers the appeal against her death sentence, please take action to ensure her children are safe.

She’s currently being held with her toddler, Martin, and baby Maya, born in prison on 27 May. But when Martin turns two the situation will change, and unless he receives US citizenship he faces being brought up away from both his parents.

Ask the US to grant citizenship to Meriam’s children. Go to www.csw.org.uk/savemeriam

If Meriam’s sentence hasn’t been annulled and she is still in prison by the time Martin turns two, he won’t be allowed to remain there with her, and will be placed in a children’s home. Since the courts consider Meriam and Daniel’s marriage is invalid, only Meriam is recognised as Martin’s legal parent. This means that if he is taken away from Meriam, people who claim to be part of Meriam’s ‘family’ could make a claim for custody, and Daniel won’t be able to stop this from happening, despite being his father. So because Meriam and Daniel’s marriage is deemed invalid, Martin would not be brought up by his parents.

The alleged members of Meriam’s family have already threatened to kill her if she’s released, so Martin will be in an incredibly dangerous position if he is separated from both parents.

But if the US grants citizenship to Martin and his baby sister Maya (their father Daniel is already an American citizen), Daniel will be able to take legal action to prevent Martin from becoming a ward of the Sudanese state. Please don’t delay – every day counts. Go to www.csw.org.uk/savemeriam

Blessings

Emma
CSW Campaigns Team

P.S. Please continue praying for Meriam and the children’s immediate and unconditional release. Thank you again for taking action – have a look at our website - www.csw.org.uk to see what else we’re working on with the help of people like you. Read about the milestone we achieved recently for North Korea: http://dynamic.csw.org.uk/article.asp?t=response_article&id=419

Working for religious freedom through advocacy and human rights, in the pursuit of justice.
CSW. PO Box 99, New Malden, KT3 3YF

prayer diary Friday 13 June 2014

'But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.' 
Matthew 5 28

Reflection
Christians are called to a high standard of holiness indeed. We must strive not only not commit the sin, but to avoid the thought of it also. You risk as much by your fantasies as by your deeds. Pray daily for purity of life and heart.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

KENYA: CHAIRMAN OF THE COUNCIL OF IMAMS AND PREACHERS MURDERED IN MOMBASA

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release
Sheikh Mohammed Idris, chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers and previous leader of Mombasa's Sakina Mosque, was assassinated by unknown gunmen on his way to morning prayers on 10 June.

Sheik Idris was pronounced dead at 5am on 10 June at Pandaya Hospital, and was buried on the same day, following a service in the Sakina Mosque where he served as an imam for 35 years. His funeral was attended by thousands of mourners, including prominent political and religious leaders.

Sheikh Idris was a leading critic of religious extremism and the radicalisation of youth in Mombasa by certain religious leaders, and was respected nationally for promoting peace and understanding between different faiths. The Sheikh was forcibly removed as chairman of the Sakina Mosque after radicalised youths stormed evening prayers in November 2013, took over the service, and renamed it Mujahedeen mosque. According to Sheikh Ali Mwinyi, imam of the mosque Sheikh Idris was attending, his life was under threat and he had been changing locations in the Lakini area for some time.

Sheikh Idris' death follows a series of high profile assassinations of clerics in Mombasa. In August 2013, the controversial radical preacher Aboud Rogo Mohammed was killed by gunmen, while his equally hardline successor, Sheikh Ibrahim Isamil, was gunned down in a similar manner in October 2013. In April 2014, Abubakar Shariff Ahmed, another radical hard-liner who described the al Shabaab attack on Westgate Shopping mall in Nairobi as '100 percent justified', was also killed by unknown gunmen. On each occasion the killings lead to violent protests. However, Sheikh Idris was the first moderate cleric to be assassinated, indicating a shift and possible escalation in tactics by radical elements in the area.

In a tribute to Sheikh Idris, President Uhuru Kenyatta said he 'was at the forefront in the fight against the radicalisation of the youth and therefore his death is a big blow to the country's efforts to stop religious extremism.'

Christian Solidarity Worldwide's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'Our sincere condolences go out to Sheikh Idris' family and colleagues at the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya. The targeting of this influential and moderate religious leader is a loss not only to Mombasa, but to the nation as a whole. We urge the Government of Kenya to ensure his killers are brought to justice and to address robustly the root causes of the religious violence which threatens to undermine national security and rule of law, so as to ensure the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief for all citizens.'

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.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

prayer diary Wednesday 11 June 2014 (St Barnabas)

'No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.' 
John 15.13

Reflection
Christian love is no sentimental thing. It is about denying the pleasures of this world so that the example of your life may testify to your faith, and, if need be, facing death itself for the sake of Christ.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

prayer diary Tuesday 10 June 2014

'In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.' 
Matthew 5.16

Reflection
Do not ever think that how you live affects no one but yourself. The example of your life is important – faithful living for good, unfaithful for ill. And woe unto you if you lead others astray.

Monday, June 9, 2014

IRAN: PASTOR IRANI BEATEN IN PRISON AND TAKEN TO UNKNOWN LOCATION

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has learned that Pastor Behnam Irani, who was sentenced in 2011 to six years imprisonment on political charges, was beaten in prison and transferred to an unknown location in the early hours of 7 June.

Pastor Irani was summoned by Judge Mohammad Yari, Chief of the Sixth Chamber of the Revolutionary Tribunal at 6:30 am on 7 June. As the summons appeared irregular and contrary to judicial process, Pastor Irani rejected it and wrote a letter of protest. However, at 9 am, VEVAK intelligence agents entered his prison cell and proceeded to beat him before he was taken to see Mohammad Yari. He was subsequently transferred to an unknown location.

The assault on Pastor Irani is the latest of several reports in recent weeks of Iranian authorities using excessive violence against prisoners of conscience.

Pastor Irani is the leader of the Church of Iran congregation in Karaj. He was initially arrested in December 2006, and was sentenced in 2011 to six years imprisonment on charges of 'action against the state' and 'action against the order.'

Two weeks ago, Pastor Irani's Bible and other Christian literature was confiscated by authorities. Recent events have given rise to concerns that the authorities may be planning to add charges to his existing sentence.

During the first few months of his imprisonment in Ghezal Hesar, Pastor Irani was held incommunicado in a small cell, where guards repeatedly woke him from sleep as a form of psychological torture. He was moved to a cramped room where inmates could not lie down to sleep, before being transferred to a crowded, filthy cell, which he shares with 40 criminals, many of whom are violent. He has been subjected to physical and psychological pressure, and has suffered regular beatings from cell mates and prison authorities, as well as death threats.

In February 2014, Pastor Irani successfully underwent surgery to treat stomach and colon complications.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'We are deeply concerned to hear of the assault on Pastor Irani and his enforced disappearance, especially given his medical complications. We cannot begin to imagine the distress this news must be causing his family and friends. CSW urges the authorities to make Pastor Irani's whereabouts known and to provide him with any medical treatment he may need following his beating at the hands of VEVAK security agents. Furthermore, we continue to call for his release, since in reality he is in prison on account of his faith and in contravention of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is party. We also urge the Iranian authorities to end assaults on prisoners, as they violate the nation's obligations under article 10 of the ICCPR, which states that prisoners should be treated with humanity and with respect for their inherent human dignity.'

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.

haiku: long grass

long grass in the river
~in the shadow
  a heron

prayer diary Monday 9 June 2014

Jesus said: 'Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' 
John 12.25

Reflection
The pleasures and comforts of this life come at infinite cost, for to set them above obeying Christ's commandments is to forfeit the hope we have of heaven.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Pentecost - courage from above

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

The topic of martyrdom has been on my mind of late. Just so we are all clear as to what a martyr is, they are someone who actually suffers physical death, their death is inflicted out of a hatred for the Christian faith, and the death is voluntarily accepted. I got that out of my handy-dandy, big book of moral theology, a work I recommend that all clergy have on their desks. The reason I have been thinking about martyrdom is the truly appalling case of Meriam Ibrahim taking place in the Sudan at the moment. You may have read or heard her story reported in the media, or indeed noticed her name mentioned in prayers in this church recently.

To give a brief overview of her story: Meriam was born in the Sudan about 27 years ago. Her father, a Muslim, abandoned the family while she was a little girl and she was raised by her Orthodox Christian mother only, in that faith. Meriam proved to be an incredibly bright young woman, going on to qualify as a medical doctor, no mean achievement in any culture, but particularly remarkable in the Sudan. She met a young man, Dani, also a Christian, whom she married, and they soon had a child, a little boy, and she soon became pregnant with their second.

This idyllic sounding life was quickly shattered. Meriam was arrested and charged with adultery. Why? Because under Shari'a law a Muslim woman may not marry a Christian man. The court invalidated her marriage and sentenced her to 100 lashes for adultery – by which they mean any sexual relationship outside of marriage. Now, hang on a minute, you may be thinking; but Meriam is a Christian, not a Muslim. Which is exactly what she told the court. At which point things took a turn for the worse, if you can imagine that being possible. 'What?' said the court 'but your father was a Muslim. That makes you a Muslim. If you're a Christian that means you have committed the crime of apostasy, of turning from Islam, and for that the penalty is death!' And no amount of protesting that Meriam had been a Christian all her life could change their thinking. The court did suggest that if she renounced her Christian faith and 'returned' to Islam that her life would be spared. But she refused and the court confirmed its sentence that she would die by hanging. She was sent to prison, along with her 20-month old child, where she gave birth a few weeks later to her second child, a baby girl.

There has been international outrage at her treatment. Not only is this a blatant violation of her human rights – the Convention on human rights guarantees that not only may a person hold and practice whatever faith they choose, but they may also change faith should they wish – but it is also illegal under the laws of Sudan, which is not governed by Shari'a law but by a constitution which guarantees the right to religious freedom. The reaction from around the world has caused the government in Sudan to back-pedal a little. They have promised to release her, but they have not said when. It is to be hoped that they are not simply saying this while the full glare of the world's media spotlight is upon them and they are actualy waiting for the all attention to die down before they carry out the execution.

But, of course, Meriam could have avoided all this by just giving them what they want, by renouncing her faith and becoming a Muslim. It would have cost her her marriage, but it would have saved her life. But she did not do so. Why not? Where did her courage come from? What made a young woman, pregnant, and the mother of a small child, brave enough to stand before a court full of men willing to kill her for her faith and say 'do your worst – I will not deny Christ'? Indeed, what gives anyone the courage to be a martyr – whether as one of those witnesses of the early Church who died at the hands of the Romans; those who died down through the centuries on missionary journeys trying to bring the faith to others; or those thousands upon thousands who still die every year around the world, ignored by the media, all but forgotten by their brothers and sisters in the Western World, murdered for their faith in Christ, a faith they refuse to give up even in the face of death?

Does an answer lie in our reading today, the account of the descent of theHoly Spirit at Pentecost? Certainly we see a remarkable change in the disciples after that event. The people who ran when Christ was taken, and hid even after he was risen, and thought about going back to their old lives - St Peter for example going back to fishing - are changed. The cowering apostles and disciples rush out into the street, preaching the word, sharing the good news. And their new-found courage was not the thing of a moment, for we know that most of them went on to die a martyr's death.

Could we be like Meriam? Could we be like St Peter? Could we be like all those who died for the faith in between? St Colmcille, that great Irish saint and missionary, when he was drawing up his rule for hermits, said they should have 'a mind prepared for martyrdom.' Few in the western world are asked to go so far. But they are asked to witness to the faith, not by their deaths but by their lives; by living out the faith; and defending it when challenged themselves or when they see it challenged in the world. I pray that all here will, in the power of the Holy Spirit, have the courage to follow the example of Meriam to that extent at least; even as I ask that you pray for her safe release.


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, June 7, 2014

Examin Saturday 7 June 2014

Christians are in the world, but not of the world. Our home is in heaven; here we are but exiles for a time. Therefore we must get along with the world but not go along with it. Consider your life. Consider the manner in which you live and what it tells you of where your true allegiance lies. If yours is a faithful, godly life, give thanks to God and be careful of letting down your guard; if it is not, there is always time turn from the world to Christ while you still remain in this life. But do not delay, for we know not the day nor the hour when the Saviour will return or when we ourselves will be called to give an account of our lives.

prayer diary Thursday 12 June 2014

'For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.' 
Matthew 5. 20

Reflection
Do not think of the worst person you have heard of and think as long as you are better than they you will see heaven. Instead, think of the holiest one and strive to be even holier than they. And pray always for God's grace to resist the temptations that surround you.

prayer diary Saturday 7 June 2014

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

Reflection
No amount of books could contain the entirety of the Word made Flesh. But, inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Gospels contain enough for us to know Christ and trust in the Church he gave us.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The witness

Astrides hands were still smarting as he neared home. His tutor, Maximus, had been in a foul humour and had been very free with the rod whenever one of his pupils got a question wrong or was too slow to answer. In Astrides case it didn't help that the tutor suspected that he was the one responsible for his nickname of 'Minimus.' He was a short man and didn't like being reminded of the fact. So whenever Astrides missed a question he brought the rod down with extra vigour. The boy thought it very unfair. He had, as it happened, been the one to first call the man Minimus, but the tutor had no proof of that; and he thought it most unjust that his teacher should be extra severe with him without some evidence.
'Astrides.'
Lost in thought, the boy jumped at the voice that hissed out his name from the alley yards from his home. He peered into its gloom. A girl was standing there, beckoning to him. He recognised her. It was Juliana. They had been friends until a few years ago, when his father decided that her family was unsuitable and had forbidden them to play together any more.
'What do you want?'
'Come closer.'
'Why? You know I'm not supposed to talk to you.'
'Please, Astrides. It's important.'
With a sigh, he walked over the the mouth of the alley. He saw he had something in her hands covered with a cloth. He guessed what it was and what she wanted.
'I need you to do something for me, Astrides.'
'Sorry, Juliana. My father would thrash me just for talking to you. Have you any idea what he'd do to me if he caught me helping you out?'
'Its important, Astrides.'
'Not more important than my backside!'
'But you don't even know what I want.'
'Of course I do. You've got a basket of food under that cloth. I'm the jailer's son. You want me to sneak some food to one of the prisoners. And I can guess which one. And you know the way my father feels about you lot. There's no way I'm getting involved with this.'
'But he's an old man and he hasn't had anything in three days.'
'So? In another day or two he'll be out or dead. Whichever way, it won't matter. But my bruises will still be sore.'
'Please, Astrides. We used to be friends.'
'Used to be, Juliana. But that was a long time ago. I've no reason to risk a beating for either you or your friend.'
'I can pay.'
Astrides looked at her with narrowed eyes. Taking a risk for free was one thing; for money was something else. And his father was always happy to take a bribe for doing small favours for his prisoners.
'How much?' he said.
Juliana held up a small silver coin, a denarius. It was what a man would earn in a day working in the fields or in a workshop. It wasn't a fortune, but it was a lot of money for him.
He thought about it for a few moments.
'All right,' he said. 'I'll try. That's the best I can do. If I can sneak it to the old man, I will. But if I think I’m going to get caught, I'll dump the food. And no refunds. That's the deal. Take it or leave it.'
'Thank you, Astrides,' said the girl. There was a tear in her eye. She pressed the food and the coin into his hands and started away down the alley. After a few steps she stopped and looked back at him.
'I was always sorry that your father wouldn't let us play together any more,' she said. Then she was gone.
Astrides felt a little guilty as he walked the remaining few yards to the prison gate. If a denarius was a lot to him, it was more to Juliana. She came from a poor family. The coin probably represented months of savings for her. He felt bad about taking it from her. Especially as he had no intention of doing what she asked.
The guards let him through with a nod. He went straight to the jailer's private quarters. He father was sitting at the table in the small kitchen, drinking a beaker of wine, a dish of olives in front of him. Astrides put the basket and the coin on the table.
'What's this?' said his father.
'Someone gave them to me in the street. They wanted me to give them to Cyprian.'
His father grinned.
'But you knew better, didn't you boy?
Astrides shrugged.
'They'll probably get you to cut his head off in the next day or two. No reason to get in any trouble for him. It's not like I could expect to get a regular stream of bribes out of this.'
His father roared with laughter.
'Smart boy. I knew there was a reason I was paying Maximus all that money to educate you. There's a brain in that thick skull of yours after all.' He picked up the coin and started to put it into the pouch on his belt. Then he stopped and put it back on the table. He slid it towards his son with one finger.
'Here, keep it. You've earned it. You can put the food in the pantry.'
As Astrides was emptying the basket, he stood up.
'I've got to go out. The governor wants to see me. He's going to talk to Cyprian tomorrow and there are arrangements to be made.'
'Arrangements?' said Astrides. He paused in what he was doing. 'What kind of arrangements?'
'Well, if he won't make the sacrifices as the law demands, there'll be an execution. And it'll have to be a public one, to discourage anyone else who might be thinking of disrespecting the gods. '
'And do you think he'll refuse?'
'Most likely. A sensible man would do as he was told. What's a little sacrifice compared to having your head sliced off? But these Christians aren't sensible. They'll stick to their Jesus whatever the cost. Madness if you ask me. That or no brains. Not like you. Not like my clever boy.' He rubbed his son's head and went out.
Astrides went back to putting the food in the small cupboard that was their pantry. When he was done he turned around and saw the small coin still sitting on the table. Suddenly he felt dirty, as if he hadn't washed in a week. He picked the coin up and slipped it into his own belt pouch. Then he turned to the pantry and took out an apple and a small barley loaf about the same size. He shoved them under his tunic and headed down to the cells.

He passed guards at places along the way, but they said nothing. There were used to the boy coming and going. Deep in the lowest level of the prison he stopped before a small door. It had an opening high up set with thick bars. Standing before, he was conscious of how dark it was in the corridor, and how damp and chilled the air was. The smell of the place was bad: it smelled of unwashed bodies, and rotting food, and human waste. There was another smell as well, that he couldn't identify. He wondered if it was the odour of pain and fear. It wouldn't be surprising if it was. The prison was a place where pain and fear lived and thrived.
He tapped on the door.
'Cyprian,' he said in a whisper, standing close. In the darkness something moved. An old man came to the bars. He smiled at the boy.
'Astrides, isn't it?' he said. 'The jailer's son? Juliana mentioned you to me.'
'She did? Why?'
'The loss of your friendship was part of the cost she had to pay for following her faith. She thought it a very high price.'
'Did she? Why did she pay it then?'
'You'd have to ask her. But I am sorry that her decision hurt you. If it helps, she misses you.'
'Poor Juliana. She misses a lot of people. She misses you too. She paid me to bring you some food. ' He gave a quick look left and right.' Here,' he shoved the bread and fruit through the bars. 'She gave me more. A lot more. But that's all I'm going to risk bringing you.'
'I understand,' the old man said, taking the food. 'I know how your father feels about me. About us. You are very brave to bring even this.'
'Brave?' said Astrides. 'Foolish more like. I could have just kept the money and done nothing.'
'True. And I thank you for what you have done.'
'Don't thank me. Thank Juliana. If you ever see her again. She's the one who paid me.' He started to go, but turned back.
'Will you do it?' he asked.
'Do what?'
'What the governor wants? Make the sacrifice.'
'I think you already know the answer to that question.'
'But why? It's just a pinch of incense thrown onto some hot coals and a few prayers. You don't even have to mean it. No one would know.'
'I would. And God would.'
'Your god you mean.'
'There is only one God, Astrides.'
'It's talk like that's going to get your head cut off. Probably tomorrow.'
'Killing me won't change the truth.'
'But how do you know it's true? This Jesus lived a long time ago. You never saw him or any of the things he did. How can you know if any of it is true?'
'That is a good question. And it deserves a good answer. But I doubt if there is time for me to give it. But perhaps this will do. Those who knew him were willing to die because they knew what they had seen and heard was true. And because of their witness to that truth, those who knew them were also willing to die. And so on, down to this day. When people are willing to die for something, it is hard not to believe that it is true.'
'And now it is your turn to die? You are going to be the next witness to Christ to prove to others that what he said was true.'
'If I die, others will know I believe. And if I make the sacrifice, many would think that I do not, and perhaps lose faith themselves. And if they lose faith, they will lose the eternal life that Christ promises us. That is not something I wish to be responsible for.'
'So you'll die so they'll keep believing?'
'I'll die to help them, yes. But I'll also die to help myself.'
'You lost me there.'
'If by my death I give witness to the truth of Christ, then eternal life is mine. But if I deny him to save my own life, then I sacrifice eternal life for a few short years in this life. That is the sacrifice I chose to make, over the one that the governor asks of me.'
Astrides shook his head.
'My father is right. You people must be mad. Dying to save your life? How can you expect any one to believe something like that.'
He started walking away. Cyprian's whispered voice came down the dark corridor after him.
'And yet many do. And more do every day. That is why they want to kill us. To stop us. But it won't work. The witness of our faith in the face of death will only call more and more to Christ. Perhaps it will call you, Astrides. I will pray that it does.'
But the boy kept walking and said nothing in return.

Returning to their quarters he found his father waiting.
'Where have you been?'
Instinct warned Astrides that his father already knew the answer to his question; one of the guards had probably told him he had gone to the cells. So he didn't try to hide the truth.
'I went down to talk to Cyprian.'
'And why would you do that? His father's face looked grim.
'Because of what you said. To see if he was really crazy enough to die for this faith of his.'
'And what did you find out?'
'That you were right. They must be mad. Nothing he said made any sense. Not to me anyway.'
'And what exactly did he say?'
'A lot of stuff about his death being a witness to the truth of what Jesus taught; and that dying for his faith would encourage others to keep strong and persuade others to believe.'
'And what did you think of that?'
'As you said, crazy. What else could it be?'
His father said nothing for a long time. The silence in the room seemed to squeeze the boy. He wondered if he was in for a beating anyway. When his father spoke at last, it was far worse.
'You shouldn't have spoken to him. That's why I told you to keep away from Juliana. That's how their kind work. You listen to them and at first you think what they have to say is beyond belief. Then before you know it, it all seems real and you're one of them. And the next thing you know, soldiers are knocking at your door and you're down in the cells waiting for someone like me to come and finish you off. If you're lucky, that is. If you're not, its the wild beasts in the arena. I want you to see for yourself where this leads. Tomorrow, when we take the old man to the governor you're coming with me. We'll see what he has to say when he faces the governor. And if he doesn't see reason, then you'll see what happens to those who won't.'
Astrides was appalled. The thought of watching a man being executed made his stomach churn.
'Father,' he began, but his father cut him off.'
'It's the only way to be sure. This thing is like an infection. All this talk of dying for the faith can seem like a romantic and noble thing. Nothing like hearing a few screams and seeing some blood to bring someone back to reality. You heard all his fine talk. Now you can see for yourself where it leads to. I'm not loosing you to this madness. I've already lost …' He stopped. 'Just you be ready in the morning.' He walked out of the room.
Astrides' mind whirled. Just thinking about what he was to witness the next day brought the taste of bile into his mouth. And what had his father meant? What had he lost? For the first time he realised he never really knew what had happened to his mother. All his father had ever told him was that she had died when he was young.
As he got up from the table to go to his room, he realised that he was crying.

They started out at dawn the next day. Even so a crowd had gathered. From their murmuring of support for Cyprian they were clearly fellow Christians. His father had the prisoner surrounded by a large group of guards. But there was no need; the crowd made no attempt to interfere.
Cyprian had smiled when he saw Astrides; but it turned to a frown when he realised the boy was accompanying them to the court, to be held in the governor's palace, the Villa Sexti. They had no opportunity to speak.
In silence the group marched the short distance to the court, surrounded by the whispered words of encouragement to Cyprian from his friends, which hung on the cold morning air as if they were part of the the slight mist that the weak dawn light had yet to burn away.
The governor's palace was a building no larger than the prison, with carefully kept gardens to the front, and tall pillars before it. The governor, Galerius, was waiting for them in the great hall where he held court. He sat on a carved wooden chair, wearing a white toga, surrounded by other men similarly dressed. Astrides guessed they were other government officials. Galerius began as soon as the prisoner stood before him.
"Are you Cyprian?"
"Yes, I am."
"And are you the leader of this sect which opposes the gods of Rome and our religious practices?'
"I am."
"The most holy emperors bid you to sacrifice."
"I will not do it."
"Consider your position. You know the penalty if you do not."
"Do what you must. When one's cause is just there is nothing to think about.'
The governor sighed. He had a brief word with his advisers who stood near. The he spoke. Astrides thought his eyes looked sad.
'So be it. You have conspired with others against the religion of Rome and the lawful commands of the emperors. You will be made an example of to keep others from such crimes. By your blood will the law be confirmed.' Then he said in a loud voice: ' By the sword Cyprian will die!'
'Thanks be to God,' said Cyprian.
Astrides was startled by his words. The old man's friends began to cry out: 'We are also Christians; we should be killed with him,' but the governor and the guards ignored them. Cyprian was led back out into the palace garden and led to a small paved area before the steps. With a sickening lurch of his stomach, Astrides realised that this was the place of execution. His friends helped the old man remove his outer garments and then to kneel on the stone flags, which they had already covered with white cloths. Then Astrides' father stepped forward, unsheathing his short sword.
'Wait,' called out Cyprian. Astrides drew in a breath. Was the old man going beg for a second chance to make the sacrifices when faced with the sword? But instead he gestured to his followers:
'This man deserves payment for his work. Give him 25 gold pieces.' Astrides gasped. Twenty-five gold pieces was a fortune, more than his father was paid in a year.
'I don't need your money,' his father said with a sneer. But when the small bag of coins was held out to him, he took it nonetheless. Some of the women and girls in the crowd began to weep. Astrides saw that Juliana was one of them.
'Do not cry,' Cyprian called out to them. 'I die as a witness to Christ and all that he has done for us. And I go to be with him now.' Astrides realised that the old man was looking straight at him as he spoke. He gave the boy a slight smile and a little nod. Then Astides' father raised the arm that held his sword. The boy closed his eyes. The soft gasp of the crowd and the quiet weeping of some hid all other sound. After some moments he opened his eyes again. But there was nothing to see. The body had been borne away and the cloths taken up from the ground. There wasn't even a trace of blood to show that a man had died there moments before. The crowd was streaming away in the direction of the town square. Astrides supposed that was where they were taking what remained of the old man. The boy stood alone with his father.
'Well?' said the man. Astrides looked at the ground. He said nothing. A strange sound came into the silence. It was from the crowd. They were singing. The boy couldn't make out the words. But it sounded like a happy song.
'Well?' said his father again. 'Have you nothing to say?'
This time his son answered him.
'What kind of people sing a joyful song when someone they love is killed before their eyes?' he said. His father looked at him through slitted eyes.
'Who cares what they do. They're all mad. But what about you? Have you nothing to say about what you saw here today?' Astrides thought for a moment.
'The governor said that Cyprian was to die to make an example of him. And that he certainly did. I thank you for bringing me here today, father.'
'You thank me?'
'Yes. I have learned an important lesson. One that I think could not have been taught in any other way.'
His father threw his arms around him.
'Thank the gods … I was afraid that I might lose you like … well, that I might lose you to this crowd of fools.'
Together they walked back to the prison. They separated at the gates.
'I'll see you later, son.'
'Yes, father.'
'Have a good day at school. Don't get into trouble with your teacher. You really shouldn't call him Minimus, you know. He doesn't like it.' He gave a laugh and hugged his son again. Letting go, he went through the prison gates.
Astrides walked slowly away. But he didn't go toward his school. Instead he went to the town square where the crowd still stood singing. He scanned the crowd, looking for Juliana. When he spotted her, standing with a group of women near the back he went over.
'Juliana,' he called. She looked up. She was smiling even though her face was streaked with tears.
'Astrides,' she said, 'aren't you supposed to be in school?'
'I need to talk to you.' The girl came closer.
'I need you to do something for me?'
'Yes?'
'I need you to tell me more about what it is to be a Christian.' And still smiling the girl threw her arms around him.

(c) Fr Levi/Patrick G Burke 2013








Thursday, June 5, 2014

call to ban religious conversions in Nepal

a Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) press release

Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) is concerned by reports that Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, the Vice Chairman of the Indian Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has called for a total legal ban on conversions from one faith to another in meetings with senior politicians from Nepal.

According to local press reports, while on an unofficial visit to Nepal from 30 May to 1 June, Mr Koshiyari met with senior leaders from the main political parties in Nepal, including Prime Minister Sushil Koirala and the Chairman of the Maoist party, Pushpa Kamal Dahal. He reportedly asserted that religious conversion is an illegal and criminal offence, which should be stopped immediately; and that Western countries are assisting Nepal to convert Hindus to Christianity.

The BJP claimed a decisive victory in the recent Indian General Election, securing more than 50% of seats in the Lok Sabha (lower house of parliament). The party has close ties to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a Hindu nationalist group which views India as a Hindu nation in which Christian and Muslim minorities are considered as outsiders who threaten national integrity.

Nepal was the only official Hindu state in the world until 2006, when the parliament declared the nation to be a secular republic. The Constituent Assembly is at present involved in drafting the new constitution, incorporating the human rights essential for a fully democratic state. The framing of the constitution is governed by Nepal's Treaties Act of 1991, which requires the nation's laws to conform to the principles and precepts of the International Treaties it has signed and ratified. However, there is pressure from some political parties to restore the Hindu monarchy.

CSW's Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas said, 'Mr Koshiyari's comments are of concern given that they appear to be an attempt to persuade Nepali leaders and political parties not to include freedom of religion or belief in the new constitution and laws of Nepal. The freedom to choose and change one's faith is guaranteed in Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nepal has signed and ratified, and the right to change one's religion or faith must be upheld as an essential part of any constitution which adheres to international human rights principles. CSW continues to urge all political and religious leaders in Nepal to ensure that the new Constitution and Penal Code guarantee all citizens the right to express and share their beliefs, the right to choose and change their religion or belief, as well as the right not to believe in any religion.'

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.