Minister`s Blog November - December 2023

 "The Church of the Warm Heart and the Open Mind"


 

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MINISTER`S BLOG ALL SAINTS SUNDAY NOVEMBER 5TH


This Sunday we will be marking All Saints.

The reflection below is by the South African pastor and writer, Peter Woods.


“I suppose it is somehow significant that since my sublime school days I have seemed a sucker for alliteration. What is it in the way those similar sounding consonants cascade that makes them most memorable? It also seems an easy way to get people to remember things.

I will often be asked, “What was the third “P” in your sermon last Sunday?” So forgive me if in my digging over of the text of the gospel for All Saints, I was intrigued by the alliteration in the Greek text of the Beatitudes.


According to the classic Matthew five text, Jesus says to the disciples who come to him when he has sat down on some raised ground,

“Blessed are the…

Ptochoi (poor),

Penthountes (grieving),

Praeis (meek/humble),

Peinontes (hungry)


More modern translators suggestMakarioinot be translated “Blessed” but rather that “Congratulations!” would be more in order. Who knows perhaps in the spoken moment it might have been “Mazeltov” that came from the Rabbi’s mouth?

The Jesus 2000 Seminar decided that the most authentic core of this teaching is probably “Congratulations, you poor!… Congratulations, you hungry!… Congratulations, you who weep now!…” Congratulations? Blessedness?

You must be joking!


These are the very conditions that evoke commiserations.

To congratulate poor, hungry, grieving people is surely only to mock them? It is an affront to all that is decent and polite.

Yet that seems to be what Jesus says. What could he possibly know that we can’t see, which makes him say something so counter intuitive?
Is it possible that Jesus knows what Buddhists have also observed? That acknowledging suffering can lead to a place where suffering can end. In the life of the Gautama Buddha he experienced old age, sickness and death as what he later named,“the heavenly messengers“.


Those confrontations with the less than perfect events of life which, if skilfully understood and held, may in fact lead to a perfection far greater than the false perfection that we focus on so obsessively in trying to avoid suffering at all costs.


Congratulations! Mazeltov! You who are experiencing the anguish of humanity stand at the doorway of God’s domain. Step inside your frailty and you will find a greater freedom and perfection than any avoidance behaviour can promise.

Ptochoi, Penthountes, Praeis, Peinontes


Why, that might just be perfectly liberating!
All the Saints I have ever known or read about knew this secret. Now you do too.”



MINISTER`S BLOG REMEMBRANCE SUNDAY NOVEMBER 12TH




Remembrance Sunday is always a very moving act of worship as it triggers memories for many people of loved ones and friends who gave their lives in the service of their country. For most people those memories are of the Second World War.


When I was growing up, I always remember one of the elders in my home church carrying the wreath on Remembrance Sunday, chosen because he was a veteran of the First World War. That generation has largely passed and as time moves on, the same will be said of those who served in World War Two.


For others of us, our memories are of what are described in Remembrance liturgies as "subsequent conflicts". For me, that includes Northern Ireland and the period known as The Troubles. I remember having to agree to disagree with a fellow student at college in Manchester when I was training for the ministry, when she declared Remembrance to be irrelevant.

Because events of that time are still fresh in my memory, Remembrance is always relevant and poignant.


The challenges that our nation faces today are different from that of a few decades ago and the same can be said for the wider world but the same vigilance is needed. The Manchester Arena bombing and more recent unspeakable terrorist massacres serve to remind us that the threat, at least at home, no longer comes from Irish republicanism but from radical Islam. The same commitment to freedom and justice is needed as was evident in the lives of all those who have served in our armed forces down through the years.

As someone once said,

" The price of liberty is eternal vigilance."


"They are the race - they are the race immortal,
Whose beams make broad the common light of day!
Though Time may dim, though Death has barred their portal,
These we salute, which nameless passed away."


Quoted by President Kennedy at Arlington Cemetery on Veterans Day



MINISTER`S BLOG SUNDAY NOVEMBER 19TH


The Gospel this week is from Matthew  25 vs. 14-30.                  Below is a reflection on the passage by Karoline Lewis, Professor and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair of Biblical Preaching, Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.


“It is really rather simple.

What are you doing with what you have been given?


The rub of the parable of course, is to determine with what you have been given. And, moreover, to determine if whether or not the exercising of your gifts is for the sake of your own gain or for the sake of the nearing of the Kingdom of Heaven.


To be honest, sorting out the minutia of the meaning of talents in this parable is less interesting to me homiletically than the fact that Jesus calls out our squandering of that which has been entrusted to us — and then imagining our response to said truth-telling.                                                                        And lest we think that such trust is solely individual affirmation of our dedicated contributions to the Kingdom of Heaven, the Sermon on the Mount should once again come to mind.

That is, what you do with what you have been given is never, ever, for your benefit alone, but for the sake of the poor in spirit, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, so that we might actually embody the promise of Immanuel — being the salt of the earth and the light of the world.                                                                                                                                        So, what will I do with what I have been given?


I will continue to insist that the Gospel is indeed political.


I will continue to persist in calling out any and all theology that attempts to sanction discrimination.


I will continue to resist so-called Biblical interpretations that have so coopted and corrupted Scripture that God’s intention to love, to free the oppressed, to care for the rejected, to uplift the marginalized, to regard the overlooked, to empower the powerless is overlooked at best, ignored and dismissed at worst.


I will continue to call out claims about God that are simply feigned and veiled attempts to perpetuate personal authority, and to idolatrize the individual.


I will continue to speak out against sexism and racism, to speak up for LGBTQIA persons, and speak into those places and spaces, those systems and organizations (including the church), those moments and events where the righteousness of God is supplanted by self-righteous justification.


At the end of the day, judgment in this parable means an acute awareness of God.

An awareness of God’s presence.

An awareness of God’s promise to God’s creation.

An awareness of God’s justice.

An awareness of God’s insistence that a commitment to being the salt of the earth and the light of the world really, really matters.


It means believing that God meant it when God called you.


Entrustment is the very gift itself.”



MINISTER`S BLOG SUNDAY NOVEMBER 26TH


The Gospel this week is Matthew  25 vs 31 to the end

and the reflection is by Reverend TJ Tetzlaff, Assistant Priest at St. Philip’s Episcopal Church in Southport, North Carolina. 


“I am not always proud of who I am or about the things I’ve done, but there are times when I’m guilty of telling myself “Well, at least I’m not like him.” When I am honest with myself, in my heart I know there are times when my only thought about someone is: “Thank heaven that’s not me,” or “I am such a better Christian than they are.”


When these thoughts cross my mind, I hope I am subtle about it. I hope I don’t let it show.                                                      There are times I need to remind myself I’m not the one who separates the sheep from the goats. Judgment comes from a place of vulnerability inside each of us. It comes from our need for self-assurance. It’s a misguided way of convincing ourselves that we have God’s favour because someone else does not.


There are many reasons we judge others.

Sometimes we judge because it simplifies a complicated world by putting people in boxes of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’

Most of us grew up watching TV shows and reading stories where it was obvious what side a character was on.

A child reading The Lord of the Rings knows that the Orcs and Goblins are the bad guys and the Elves and Hobbits are good.

In old Western movies you could distinguish good and bad by the colour of someone’s hat.

But in the real world people don’t fit into simple visual narratives, although it would make life much easier.

People are ambiguous; saints can be sinful and the wicked can be redeemed. We see only a small snippet of each other’s stories.

Even after spending a lifetime with someone,

at the end we will have only understood a fragment of who they are in the eyes of God.

It is God who alone sees us in our entirety

and decides where we ultimately belong.                                                                   

Judging is not the same as having an opinion.

Being non-judgmental does not mean anything goes or that we should accept unacceptable behaviour.

What someone says and does communicates who they are and influences how we will relate to them, so of course we will have opinions about others (it would be naive to think otherwise).

The difference is that opinion is something open that can be changed; a person can reform and relationships can mend.

But a judgment is something final, something we don’t revisit once it’s been made.

Once we’ve judged someone then we have dropped a curtain on them and refuse to pull back up.

That’s something we don’t get to do.

That is something up to God alone.     

                                     

It is not our job to separate the sheep from the goats.

The kingdom of heaven is not a club with us handing out entry tickets. We are more like promoters, not bouncers; we help send the invitations but who gets admitted isn’t up to us.


Our job is not to be the gatekeepers but to care for everyone as long as we’re out here in the field. What happens after that is up to God, and until then we are called to love without reserve or distinction. 


We have all sinned in the eyes of God.

It is not that one person is more worthy to receive God than another, but that God continues to love us all

regardless of our past.”



MINISTER`S BLOG SUNDAY DECEMBER 3RD


This Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent.

Below is part of a reflection by Karoline Lewis, Professor and the Marbury E. Anderson Chair of Biblical Preaching Luther Seminary, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA.


“I have always found it interesting that the new church year begins roughly a month before the new calendar year.

Much rides on the turning from December 31 to January 1 — new resolutions, new starts, new beginnings.

I suspect there is less consideration given to the move from Pentecost to Advent.


But perhaps this is the year to make a change. If we take these liturgical seasons seriously, these seasons of the church that mark our time as believers, they should, on many levels, shape how we view time, how we choose to live time, how we make sense of time.                                                                          We can recall plenty of quotable quotes about time, in which we want to believe but are often not born out in reality: “time heals all wounds;” “all in good time;” “time will tell;” “stand the test of time;” “time is of the essence.” All of which appear to be attempts to make our mark on time or to regulate time to our benefit.                                                                                  I think this first Sunday of Advent is a reminder that our time is not our own. We like to pretend that it is; that we can manage it efficiently, plan accordingly. That by our sheer determination we can will it to bend to our needs and desires. We strive to turn it back, and for so many reasons.

To re-experience time with someone we love.

To relive time with someone we’ve lost.

To recreate a moment in time we want to remember again or that we wish we had handled differently.

We wonder if we can alter time in some way,

change the course of time.


The charge to keep awake during this Advent season is not just about waiting and anticipation.

It is not just about getting ready or being ready because can you ever be ready for Christ’s coming?

Can we ever be ready for God entering into humanity,

into our sinfulness and brokenness, into our pain and loss,

into our joy, into our love, into our longing?                             


The answer is no, and Advent will never be long enough.

That’s the point.

God arrives, regardless of our readiness.

God shows up, despite our determination toward manifesting our own destiny.

God will come, no matter what kind of stipulations, conditions, or provisions we make to persuade God of our timeliness.


Our time is oriented by God’s time — always has been and always will be. God entered into our time, forever changing it. God lived time with us, forever altering what time really means. Ultimately, God’s entering into time disrupts time, displaces time, disorients time.

Not always comfortably.

Not always helpfully.

Not always desirably.

And never how or when expected.

Why? Because divinity took on mortality, eternity entered temporality, and love eliminated death.

This is the meaning of Advent time.”



MINISTER`S BLOG SUNDAY DECEMBER 10TH

 

This Sunday is the Second in Advent, when we think about the ministry of John the Baptist. This week`s reflection is by David Lose, Senior Pastor at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church Minneapolis, Minn. USA.


“If you were to spend a moment daydreaming about your idea for a perfect Christmas, what images would you conjure?        Pews filled to bursting with the faithful?

Gorgeous music and candlelight?

A deserved and blessed rest with family and friends after the Christmas Eve services?

A family gathering unattended by quarrels and permeated instead by a sense of Christmas good cheer?

Healing for a loved one who is ill?

Time with someone you miss?

What?                  

I ask this question because it struck me as I was reading this week’s Gospel text how difficult it is to hear John’s proclamation of repentance during Advent.

While Advent was devised as a season during which to prepare for the arrival of the Christ child in earnest repentance and humility, those days are mostly over.

Today, Advent is a time of preparing a Christmas celebration that is about Christ’s birth, of course, but also is dominated by feasts, presents, family gatherings, and all the rest.

Which is, of course, part of the challenge.


What if, instead of having less of the traditional preparations and celebration, we have more — more peace, more joy, more grace, more … Christmas?

What if we were to dream bigger dreams and hope grander hopes?  

What I am thinking about will take three steps.                                                                                                     

First, make a quick “to do” list for Advent. Maybe it’s shopping for gifts, attending the kids’ school Christmas concert, or getting ready for the holiday feast or noting the times of the Christmas Eve services or making end-of-the-year charitable contributions.                                            


Second, daydream about what you hope Christmas will be like. What kind of day do you want to have? What kind of relationships do you want to be a part of? Even more, what kind of world do you want to live in this Christmas and beyond?

Our hopes, after all, surely aren’t limited to our immediate wants and needs but reach out to include our larger families, communities, and world.                                                                                                                                                        Third, once you have a picture of your “Christmas hope” in mind,  “work backwards” by reviewing the “to-do” list you made and circling those tasks that contribute directly to your own deep hopes and longings about your lives and world.

There may be many things on the list that are important in the short run but don’t contribute to their larger vision and hope. And perhaps Advent can be a time to put things in perspective, to channel our energy and resources to those things that matter most … to us, to our families and communities, and to God.


This isn’t about less but about more, about exploring the kinds

of hopes, dreams, and even adventures that the God of the Bible promises all those who are willing to leave their familiar and well-trod paths and venture down another way.


Each time we do so — each time we hold up our acquired habits and practices and comparing them with our deepest hopes and dreams — we experience the joy of Advent repentance, a time still marked by our preparation to receive and share the grace and glory of God represented in the babe of Bethlehem, the Word made flesh, our Emanuel.”



MINISTER`S BLOG SUNDAY DECEMBER 17TH


This Sunday is the Third in Advent and traditionally is a time to focus on the witness of John the Baptist. Below is a reflection on the theme of this Sunday by Jan Richardson, who also wrote the poem overleaf. These words were written following the death of Jan`s husband Gary.

 

“He came as a witness to testify to the light,
so that all might believe through him. John 1.7

In Belfast there is a woman who lights candles for Gary and me. She has a gift for finding thin places: an eleventh-century stone sanctuary; a whitewashed church in the mountains of Wales; a chapel crypt on the Yorkshire moors that holds the bones of Saint Cedd.                                                                             


In those places, on an altar or in the chink of a wall, Jenny lights a candle and she prays, not merely in memory of what was, but in hope and in blessing for love that endures and life that persists on both sides of the veil.


Here on my broken-hearted side of the veil, the light comes as solace and unexpected grace. In this dark time, when there is no one who can walk this road for me or lessen what has been lost with Gary’s death, the light comes as a vivid reminder that we have, at the least, the power to help illuminate the path for each other.


It matters that we hold the light for one another.

It matters that we bear witness to the Light that holds us all, that we testify to this Light that shines its infinite love and mercy on us across oceans, across borders, across time.


Who holds the light for you?

In this season, who might need you to hold the light for them in acts of love and grace?”

 

Blessed Are You Who Bear the Light

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.


Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes—
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.


Jan Richardson



MINISTER`S BLOG CHRISTMAS AND NEW YEAR`S EVE


By the time you read this blog, I shall be back home in Northern Ireland visiting family and friends. I hope that you too will have a happy time with family this Christmas.


I recognise that not everyone will be able to do so for a variety of reasons but I hope that you will at least be in touch by phone or Zoom and that neighbours will greet you warmly.


This yearly celebration of the Nativity is a timely reminder, coming as it does in the dark and cold of Winter, that God is not only interested in each one of us, He is invested in each one of us by the coming of the Christ Child to be born among us and live as one of us – Emmanuel – God with us.


When the darkness of the world with all its violence and fear dims the brightness of God`s presence,

may that message enlighten your mind.                                                       

When the winds of adversity leave you cold,

may that message warm your heart.                          


And may the words of the hymnwriter be your prayer;


“Thou didst leave Thy throne                                                      and Thy kingly crown,                                                              When Thou camest to earth for me,                                          But in Bethlehem`s home                                                        was there found no room                                                          for Thy holy nativity:                                                                O come to my heart, Lord Jesus,                                              There is room in my heart for thee.”


The readings for Christmas and New Year`s Eve are as follows;


Christmas


Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Titus 2:11-14, Luke 2:1-14                                                                                         

New Year`s Eve


Isaiah 63:7-16, Job 14:1-15, Luke 12:32-40, Matthew 25:31-46


Do take time to read and reflect on these passages

over the festive season

and may the blessings of the Christ Child be with you all!

 






Minister ~ Rev Alan Kennedy 07733153203 01612703296 alanrk1690@gmail.com