On (not) knowing God. The importance of mystery on the pilgrim’s journey…

Having grown up within a robust evangelical Church I was taught to believe that…

In the person of Jesus,

God, could be fully known,

at all times and amidst all circumstances.

And, to this day I am fully convinced of this truth.

But, as I have got older, and as faith has been tested and stretched (indeed is tested and stretched) I am finding myself longing for space that allows for…

mystery.

Mystery…that God is both alongside my journey yet far beyond.

Mystery…that realizes that “not knowing” is part and parcel of everyday faith and experience. Life deepens somehow when we are opened up too and become vulnerable enough too receive “not knowing”.

Mystery…that recognizes and even seeks moments of awe, wonder and transcendence, laughter.

Mystery…that God is not on tap.

Mystery…that in God, my story, your story somehow matters.

I think, Mary Oliver’s poem “Mysteries, Yes”, magically captures the essence of “mystery”.

Enjoy and learn to practice…

“Mysteries. Yes”.

Mary Oliver.

Truly, we live with mysteries too marvelous
 to be understood.

How grass can be nourishing in the
mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream of rising.
How two hands touch and the bonds will
never be broken.
How people come, from delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Selah.

Picture courtesy of @savbrown

This Pentecost. Holy Spirit, takes us by the hand…

Introduction.

As human beings, touch conveys so, so much. We are tactile beings and when touch is used and offered appropriately, sympathetically and lovingly; touch builds us and others up.

The touch of a lover, the touch of a small child resting on a parent’s lap, the hearty handshake or slap on the back some folks give their mates, the touch of a steadying hand reaching out to a family member who is ill, the touch of bumping into fellow revelers at a gig, the tap on the shoulder by way of encouragement, the touch and warmth of acceptance when you hold hands with those you love; hug those you love.

No wonder, amidst the socially distancing required by Covid 19, many deeply felt the loss of touch and human contact, made, sadly, all too personal.

This week’s Gospel reading mentions the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers and the importance of the Spirit’s touch. in taking each of us “by the hand”.

Have a wee read…(highlight added)

The Gospel reading.

1-4 “I’ve told you these things to prepare you for rough times ahead. They are going to throw you out of the meeting places. There will even come a time when anyone who kills you will think he’s doing God a favor. They will do these things because they never really understood the Father. I’ve told you these things so that when the time comes and they start in on you, you’ll be well-warned and ready for them.

The Friend Will Come

4-7 “I didn’t tell you this earlier because I was with you every day. But now I am on my way to the One who sent me. Not one of you has asked, ‘Where are you going?’ Instead, the longer I’ve talked, the sadder you’ve become. So let me say it again, this truth: It’s better for you that I leave. If I don’t leave, the Friend won’t come. But if I go, I’ll send him to you.

8-11 “When he comes, he’ll expose the error of the godless world’s view of sin, righteousness, and judgment: He’ll show them that their refusal to believe in me is their basic sin; that righteousness comes from above, where I am with the Father, out of their sight and control; that judgment takes place as the ruler of this godless world is brought to trial and convicted.

12-15 “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said. He will honor me; he will take from me and deliver it to you. Everything the Father has is also mine. That is why I’ve said, ‘He takes from me and delivers to you.

(www.biblegateway.com)

Reflection.

I was struggling to make it up the last hill after a forty mile ride with the cycle club. The harder I tried, the more I seemed to go backwards. Until, I felt the touch of a friend’s hand on my shoulder as he with his strength and momentum pushed me over the crest.

I fondly remember sitting as a small boy on my grandfather George’s lap and pressing with my fingers into his finger tips and watching the imprint of my finger mark fade. I still recall him saying that as you get older your skin is not quite so, as he called it, “springy”.

Lurgan swimming pool. The Boys’ Brigade swimming gala. I was the last swimmer in the relay team (by no means the best swimmer, but why worry). We were in the lead and just before I dived in, my leader tapped me gently on the head and simply said “You’ve got this”. Turns out he was right.

Meeting a dear friend after many years apart to know by the sheer crush of his hug that we were still best friends.

That first hand hold and kiss with a girlfriend. Electric being shared.

The touch of healing hands, a doctor checking me over. A nurse holding my hand prior to an operation.

The poke in the arm or gentle dig in the leg from my son on his return from Liverpool.

The firm slap on the back from a good neighbour as he pulls up a bar stool for a chat and a pint on a Friday night.

The firm grip of Mum’s hand on my collar as she hauled me back from the pavement edge whilst I was a child.

Of course touch can be misused. Touch can so easily violate, manipulate, crush. Trauma of multiple natures is always carried in the body and memory.

Petersen’s description, this Pentecost season that…

… when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is”.

… resonates deep within.

Not that I can claim to understand fully the majesty, wonder and sometimes, frankly confusing and challenging work of God’s Spirit in my life. Not by a long, long, way.

But I have known, the “touch” of God, taking my hand and guiding me (and you I trust you too) into “truth”. Of life, faith, the environment, friends, family, community, God’s word as in the Scriptures and above all God’s word as in the person of Christ. Occasional experiences of Christ’s gift, the Holy Spirit, amidst times of prayer, worship, communion, service.

I have no doubt that I have experienced the “touch” of God’s Holy Spirit way beyond my knowing.

Thanks be to God.

I do wonder, maybe, in our everyday experience of a “touch” and a person’s hand shaping our lives we see, feel and better understand the work of God’s Spirit throughout our lives. Maybe.

And getting each of us over that “hill”.

In letting us rest as a child in a grandparent’s arms,

In that experience through touch that someone has confidence in us.

In that bear hug that says, “It’s good to see you”.

In that genesis moment of love and a journey towards emotional and physical and relational intimacy,

In that act of everyday neighbourliness, (even a slap on the back).

In that grasp of authority, love and protection. (Thanks Mum!)

In the Spirit of God, taking each of us, by the hand and leading us deeper into the truth of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

I wonder…

When the water stirred. A personal reflection on healing.

Introduction.

On reading last week’s Gospel, where Christ encounters the poor soul living with a disability (of at least 38 years duration, most probably longer) awaiting healing at Bethesda; I must confess, I am uncomfortable.

And I find myself so very uncomfortable, because, like the invalid awaiting healing, I, too, await healing for a lifelong and chronic condition, in my case eczema.

I am my skin condition. My eczema, after 55 years is very, very much, well, me.

And after years of prayer, having hands laid on me for healing, knowing my family prays everyday for me, managing my condition from morning to night, on other days my condition managing me (and not in a good way) morning to night, feeling as if I have been through every form of treatment available (and about to embark on a new journey of treatment)…

I just want Jesus to say to me, once and for all,

“DB. Mate. Crack on. You are healed”.

Like the man living with his disability (although in a time when sickness and “difference” associated was hugely misunderstood) I too,today, long for…healing.

Quite possibly you too.

Here’s this week’s Gospel reading from John 5 v 1 to 11.

The Gospel reading.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda[a] and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. [4] [b] One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 10 and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

11 But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

(www.biblegateway.com)

Reflection.

The pool at Bethesda is as Petersen notes, a place where “the blind, the lame, the paralyzed…” (John 5 v 5) meet.

In the hope that when the “waters are stirred…” (John 5 v 7) (by an angel it was believed) the first into the waters would receive healing.

I guess, if I had been living in Jerusalem, in the year of our Lord 30 AD you might say, I too, with my skin condition, would have been looking for a miracle.

For the waters to stir.

Day in and day out.

In pain.

In hope.

And quite possibly I might have met you there.

Waiting…

One of the greatest challenges that faces those of Christian faith is suffering.

Pain, trauma, sickness, and of course death itself is our human condition.

And, in terms of understanding how much our human condition impacts the everyday and especially our mental health; it’s my view that the Church needs to become a whole lot more comfortable with helping believers find a way emotionally and mentally to accept their physical afflictions.

There is a need for the Church in my experience to better “normalise” that (whilst I trust for healing), dis-ease, illness, suffering, death and our deepest emotional and mental response is to be fully human.

Maybe is to be fully alive.

Waiting for the waters to stir.

With very good reason, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah is shown a picture of his humanity when God tells him to visit a potter, molding and shaping clay (Jeremiah 18).

We are but clay.

And to the dust we will return.

We are but clay, fragile, yet wonderfully shaped by the touch of the Creator…

Through our bodies amidst their frality,

Through our circumstances though often beyond our control,

Through our psyche, as muddled as it might be.

Maybe, when all is said and done, it is not about “healing”.

Maybe when all is said and done for those who want to believe, long to believe; it is about hearing the voice of Christ.

Beside us.

Speaking to us.

Asking us to pick up each new day where we left off.

And follow.

Somehow. Follow.

Selah

Picture: Stained glass window from St. Mark’s Parish Church, Armagh. Co. Armagh.

Living as a Christian. The tension of the “everyday” and the hope of the “eternal”.

About a decade ago a “perfect storm” of professional issues and at the same time potentially life changing health matters presented themselves.

Causing myself and family some very real challenges and anxiety.

Nothing unusual in that.

Each and every one of us across our life span encounters seasons of change and discomfort. Loss indeed.

And it was during this period of real anxiety as to my physical health in particular, I came across N.T.Wright’s classic book on Christ’s death and resurrection and the “world to come” you might say; in his work “Surprised by Hope”.

Here’s some of his teaching on life, death and resurrection.

Which connects the “everyday” and the “eternal” and brings real hope.

As I found then.

And still do.

“The point of the resurrection…is that the present bodily life is not valueless just because it will die…What you do with your body in the present matters because God has a great future in store for it…What you do in the present—by painting, preaching, singing, sewing, praying, teaching, building hospitals, digging wells, campaigning for justice, writing poems, caring for the needy, loving your neighbor as yourself—will last into God’s future. These activities are not simply ways of making the present life a little less beastly, a little more bearable, until the day when we leave it behind altogether (as the hymn so mistakenly puts it…). They are part of what we may call building for God’s kingdom.”

For those facing unknowable change, wondering if their “everyday” counts anymore, can be (in some cases) endured anymore,

the answer of faith, is, somehow yes.

For those feeling forgotten or overlooked, wondering if their “everyday” counts anymore,

the answer of faith is, somehow, always, yes.

The everyday,

the endurance sometimes,

your story, energy, activity, passion, questions,

somehow in God’s great “levelling up” to come

eternally matters.

So. Keep the faith. In yourself and the One who calls you by name.

You are today, in your everyday, part of the eternal to come.

Thanks be to God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

When facing burnout in Christian ministry…

I wrote this piece almost about a year ago…mid pandemic.

And from conversations with many in both ordained and lay leadership over the past year the term and experience of “burnout” sadly, is becoming all too prevalent.

In some cases utter exhaustion, even a sense of bewilderment; that a “well being” conference just ain’t going to remedy.

So, humbly, I offer this reflection for a second time here at “Wee Pilgrim”. Knowing that I too have faced and do face fragility. My prayer is that this short piece allows some food for thought that nourishes the soul and helps you keep faith with your uniqueness and calling.

“Clip” man usually sits in my office and occasionally amidst a busy and stressful working day I will ask for some of his “superpower” in helping me to “Hold my *stuff* together”.

I joke of course, but who hasn’t wanted a “Clip” man or woman in their lives, truth be told.

Whilst wrestling with this week with a few ministry related tasks (and frankly drawing a blank) I was reminded of the words of the late Archbishop of San Salvador, Oscar Romero who summed up the task of Christian service and ministry amidst a broken world as being the following…

“It helps, now and then,

to step back and take the long view.
The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts,
it is beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of
the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work.
Nothing we do is complete,
which is another way of saying
that the kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith.
No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness.
No program accomplishes the church’s mission.
No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about:
We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted,
knowing that they hold future promise.
We lay foundations that will need further development.
We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything
and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.
This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.
It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,
an opportunity for God’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results,
but that is the difference between the
master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not yet our own.  Amen”

(www.thepastorsworkshop.com)

Powerful words. Unsettling words.

Reminding each of us in Christian ministry that “we” are not the be all and end all…words. “Clip” man or woman words in that ultimately it’s not up to us to hold things together words. Words and a Gospel truth to live by, as Archbishop Romero was to be martyred in his stand for the poor against a right wing military dictatorship.

If you have been (like me) amidst the Covid pandemic, seeking to find ways to hold onto Christian ministry and indeed re-imagine many aspects of Christian ministry, Romero’s prayer offers insight, wisdom and assurance…

“The Kingdom of God is not only beyond our efforts; it is beyond our vision”. Thanks be to God.

“…the kingdom lies beyond us”. Thanks be to God.

“We plant seeds that will one day grow.” Thanks be to God.

“We lay foundations that will need further development”. Thanks be to God.

“We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.” Thanks be to God.

And maybe, just maybe, amidst the ongoing chaos of a global pandemic (and after effects) and its toll on countless numbers and its toll on each of us when we can no longer hold our *stuff* together…

there is a call to continue to work as hard, yes but in the knowledge that we might rest…

In planting.

In watering.

In laying foundations.

In being a worker.

and not the Messiah.

That responsibility lies elsewhere. Thanks be to God.

Thanks and thanks again to God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Go gently…

On being lost amidst a world gone mad…a reflection on the son…who returned.

Introduction.

The Gospel reading from a few weeks ago really struck home for me. The story of what used to be commonly called “The Prodigal Son””. Lost in his own very personal “lost-ness” and thankfully winding up in the “found-ness” of the Father’s arms. (Excuse the terminology, please).

Lost and found…

Like a sheep that goes wandering.

Like a coin of real worth both in sentimental and monetary value.

Like a son who asks a father for his share of his inheritance. “Now. If you please, Dad.”

Like a father who (maybe momentarily, gets lost) and grants his son’s request.

To another son who seems to lose perspective.

For me, the whole of Luke’s Chapter 15…covering the lost and found of life goes to the very, very, heart of the Gospel message.

In essence, God reaching out.

To those lost. Those bewildered. Those at the end of their tether. Those who have a story of brokenness.

Which includes each and every one of us me thinks.

The Gospel reading.

15 1-3 By this time a lot of men and women of questionable reputation were hanging around Jesus, listening intently. The Pharisees and religion scholars were not pleased, not at all pleased. They growled, “He takes in sinners and eats meals with them, treating them like old friends.” Their grumbling triggered this story.

4-7 “Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.

The Story of the Lost Coin

8-10 “Or imagine a woman who has ten coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and scour the house, looking in every nook and cranny until she finds it? And when she finds it you can be sure she’ll call her friends and neighbors: ‘Celebrate with me! I found my lost coin!’ Count on it—that’s the kind of party God’s angels throw every time one lost soul turns to God.”

The Story of the Lost Son

11-12 Then he said, “There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me.’

12-16 “So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country. There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to feel it. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corn-cobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

17-20 “That brought him to his senses. He said, ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

20-21 “When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

22-24 “But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a prize-winning heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

25-27 “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

28-30 “The older brother stomped off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

31-32 “His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

Reflection.

I must confess. I have an atrocious sense of direction. Atrocious.

Years ago whilst leading a group of young people across London towards our accommodation I turned right coming out of a Tube station and not left which I should have. An hour later (as opposed to 10 minutes later) we arrived (amidst some grumbling it has to be said).

In my ministry, I find myself attending local Parish churches, meetings and events across rural Armagh, Tyrone and Louth. Even with Google maps, I have to give myself at least 30 minutes extra travel time in particular when I am travelling somewhere I have not been to before.

And yes. You have guessed it. I am hopeless at orienteering!

In a sense we can all live with the experience of losing our way…when it comes to travelling. No real harm done. Hopefully.

Yet in the range of stories Jesus tells those accusing Him of hanging out with “men and women of questionable reputation” (Luke 15 v 1 to 3), being lost, or losing something important causes real worry, hurt and distress.

The (prodigal) son literally blew his inheritance and ended up lost. To his father, brother, culture. Home. Maybe, above all, lost as to who he was.

The father, I wonder, really wonder…did his experience of being asked by his son for an inheritance; so confuse the father that he (briefly) lost himself? And agreed to the younger son’s request?

And, as for the older brother…eyeing up his inheritance to come, watching the father “mourn” for the younger son. Was he too, lost? Resentful of the duties he had to carry, the honour he had to give to his father? Feeling that he and his Dad (in taking each other for granted possibly) had lost relationship?

And that’s the crux, potentially of Christ’s “lost” stories. The loss of relationship.

And somehow the “found” of relationship.

A son coming to his senses.

A father living with open arms.

And loss. Yes. But hope, restoration, renewal. Found.

There is much to be “lost” about at the moment. The utter depravity of war in Ukraine. A world still rocked by a global pandemic. A local economy here in Northern Ireland, squeezed by ideologically imposed austerity. Not to mention climate change.

But may each of us, all who call upon the name of Christ, in our darkest moment, in the world’s dark season,

this Easter season….

look for the open arms of the Son of God and of the Father

through the Cross.

That brings hope, renewal, restoration.

Selah.

Hating rules. Loving rules. And the greatest commandment.

Introduction.

Rules.

Hate them or love them, both spoken and unspoken, rules govern every area of our lives don’t they?

What speed to drive at. Where to park the car. Where not to park the car as (after 37 years of driving) I recently received my first parking ticket…still fuming at my stupidity and hence the “sweary” emoji!

Rules in terms of the still on-going Covid pandemic. Rules (in my opinion) that tried to keep the majority safe but man, were they at times confusing and some might say draconian.

Rules that govern sport. Rules that mean you cannot avoid the tax man, even in death. Rules that govern how organisations work or do not work. Un-spoken rules that you only pick up upon if you are on the inside.

Rules. Commandments you might say. Bringing structure and safety out of potential chaos it could be said but equally rules that bring sanction when knowingly or unknowingly “broken”.

Here’s Christ’s response to someone asking Him what He considered the most important rule or commandment in terms of what a life well lived to God might look like…

The Gospel reading.

28 One of the religion scholars came up. Hearing the lively exchanges of question and answer and seeing how sharp Jesus was in his answers, he put in his question: “Which is most important of all the commandments?”

29-31 Jesus said, “The first in importance is, ‘Listen, Israel: The Lord your God is one; so love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy.’ And here is the second: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There is no other commandment that ranks with these.”

32-33 The religion scholar said, “A wonderful answer, Teacher! So clear-cut and accurate—that God is one and there is no other. And loving him with all passion and intelligence and energy, and loving others as well as you love yourself. Why, that’s better than all offerings and sacrifices put together!”

34 When Jesus realized how insightful he was, he said, “You’re almost there, right on the border of God’s kingdom.”

After that, no one else dared ask a question.

http://www.thebiblegateway.com

Reflection.

For the observant Jew, there were (according to http://www.patrickcomerford.com) up to 613 laws or commandments that he or she had to abide by in terms of being a faithful Jew. Laws that covered what could be done, what could not be done across all areas of life , including worship.

And when the Scribe (whose role was to ensure the faithful copying and teaching of the Hebrew Bible from generation to generation) asked Christ this leading question…“Which is most important of all the commandments?”, there was a lot, potentially, Christ could have got tripped up on.

And Christ it seems to me lovingly replies that, it’s not following the 10 commandments or indeed the 613 rules that govern life that matters but rather what matters, what counts is more of, well, an attitude.

An attitude…that focusses on Love.

A way of life based on the experience of Love and that puts the need for a tick box approach to life, well, in the shade that the light of Love brings.

Not that rules are unimportant. Far from it.

But Christ in His reply makes deeply personal our need to respond daily to His challenge

To love with all we have (and don’t have) God the Creator.

To find ways to have love for others.

Because we are beginning to love ourselves and learning to understand ourselves in that we have received, in the Messiah; Love.

Selah.

What’s in a name? Well quite a lot actually…

I had the honour and privilege a number of years ago in being able to travel to Israel and visit parts of the West Bank. As part of the ten day learning experience, the group had three days living with Palestinian Christian families in Bethlehem. I found those three days deeply humbling seeing a Christian family navigate life in a predominately Muslim city which itself was surrounded by an Israeli security wall that brought (and still does) economic hardship for all…in the birth place of Christ.

Those three days were life changing. The Bethlehem scene on Christmas cards (and in my naïve imagination) was very different from the Bethlehem I witnessed, albeit for three days. The family we stayed with showed my colleague and I tremendous hospitality and despite their improvised state, Saliba (the husband and father) spared nothing in showing us his home town and birthplace.

On our last night together the family gathered and hosted a BBQ and over the most wonderful lamb, my colleague asked Saliba as to the meaning of his name. “The Cross” he replied. My name means “the Cross”.

And like a hammer blow, sharp and clean, Geoff and I realized that this Palestinian Christian man’s name, identified for all he encountered, who he was and who he belonged too.

Two thousand years of history, faith and struggle in Saliba’s name.

What’s in a name? Well quite a lot it seems.

When we introduce ourselves to someone new, it is our name that acts as our first spoken reference point (and visa versa).

Families often have pet names for their loved ones. My grandmother throughout her life was known as “Dot”. A family nickname the story goes, because once when lying asleep in her pram a neighbour peered in at her and exclaimed “Ach! Would you look at the wee dot!”

Of course, not all names bestowed are welcome. Children and teens can be “cutting” to say the least. I went to school with a guy simply known as “Toothpaste”. Due to his prominent front teeth. I dread to think what nicknames I acquired at school…

We can “lose our name” or have our name “diminished” or “tarnished”… oh so easily in this age of invidious social media coverage.

Names as slurs used against “the other”. Names used to knock down. Names used to signify identity and belonging. Names that carry on a family tradition. Getting a “name for yourself” can have both positive and negative connotations.

Names matter.

And the Gospel reading from a few weeks ago when the infant Jesus is brought to the Temple for circumcision and to receive His name is worth reading and reflecting on the names who appear at His naming ceremony.

Here’s the reading…

21 When the eighth day arrived, the day of circumcision, the child was named Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived.

22-24 Then when the days stipulated by Moses for purification were complete, they took him up to Jerusalem to offer him to God as commanded in God’s Law: “Every male who opens the womb shall be a holy offering to God,” and also to sacrifice the “pair of doves or two young pigeons” prescribed in God’s Law.

25-32 In Jerusalem at the time, there was a man, Simeon by name, a good man, a man who lived in the prayerful expectancy of help for Israel. And the Holy Spirit was on him. The Holy Spirit had shown him that he would see the Messiah of God before he died. Led by the Spirit, he entered the Temple. As the parents of the child Jesus brought him in to carry out the rituals of the Law, Simeon took him into his arms and blessed God:

God, you can now release your servant;
    release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
    it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
    and of glory for your people Israel.

33-35 Jesus’ father and mother were speechless with surprise at these words. Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,

This child marks both the failure and
    the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
    the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
    as God reveals who they really are.

36-38 Anna the prophetess was also there, a daughter of Phanuel from the tribe of Asher. She was by now a very old woman. She had been married seven years and a widow for eighty-four. She never left the Temple area, worshiping night and day with her fastings and prayers. At the very time Simeon was praying, she showed up, broke into an anthem of praise to God, and talked about the child to all who were waiting expectantly for the freeing of Jerusalem.

39-40 When they finished everything required by God in the Law, they returned to Galilee and their own town, Nazareth. There the child grew strong in body and wise in spirit. And the grace of God was on him.

http://www.Biblegateway.com

Jesus. “God saves”.

Jesus. “God’s salvation”.

I guess, as a follower of the same Jesus, there is no other name more vital. Jesus, “God saves”.

Names.

Matter.

Praise God.

Selah.

Christ’s manifesto. Our “epiphany”. Bringing out the “God colours in the world”

Introduction.

Maybe, (as I have known occasionally), there have been moments in your life when you have had an “awakening”, an “experience” that has led to real insight. An “incident”, a “conversation” where a new revelation has been opened up for you. In short an “epiphany”.

One “epiphany” of sorts I experienced a number of years ago was witnessing my then 12 year old son whizz past me down a French ski slope and shout “Hurry up Dad! You are too slow!”

And I had a moment of real clarity.

He was correct. I was getting older (slower) and in so many ways this wee fella shooting past me on his ski’s, who had overtaken me on a French mountain; in many ways would continue to overtake me.

It’s not that we always seek to have an epiphany. The truth can hurt sometimes. A new realization calls for change and that can be uncomfortable.

As you read this Sunday’s Gospel reading however and picture Christ in His home Synagogue reading from the book of Isaiah, what insight, what truth was this epiphany revealing?

And to whom?

The Gospel reading.

To Set the Burdened Free

14-15 Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone’s acclaim and pleasure.

16-21 He came to Nazareth where he had been raised. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s time to shine!”

He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”

(www.biblegateway.com)

Reflection.

I will be very, very honest. If one of my school friends from Primary school and Secondary school, who I had known from many many encounters in my home village, a friend, someone with whom many memories of growing up were shared…I am not at all sure how well I might have reacted to them speaking publicly…

That it was their mission, their job as such…

“..to preach the Message of Good news”,

“…to the poor”.

To, “pardon the prisoners”, to help the blind “recover sight”.

To set the “burdened and the battered free”. And.

To tell us that now, this year, was the time to get on with this work.

I, for one would have a number of questions to ask. What you? Really? Is your “head cut?”

Its no wonder that those watching Christ read from the Scriptures and hear Him proclaim “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” are less than impressed.

Who is this guy? Is he not Joseph’s son? (Luke 4 v 22).

Yet.

Christ’s deliberate choosing of these readings from the book of Isaiah was entirely His revelation of God made flesh. His revelation, our “Epiphany”.

Epiphany. An awakening. A sudden awareness. A light going on and not just a light bulb moment.

Epiphany. A light going on that makes those experiencing it uncomfortable. Truth being revealed. Change and a response required.

Epiphany. A light going on that sets the prisoner free and tackles the causes facing those in poverty. That heals the blind. That lifts burdens and protects those battered.

Epiphany. For humanity, we Christians understand in the carpenter’s son announcing His manifesto to a needy world.

Epiphany. That in Christ, through our own moments of insight and awareness and change…His grace and love becomes real.

Selah.

God of miracles and the very, very “everyday”. A reflection on the wedding at Cana.

Introduction.

Being seen to be rather “ordinary” and indeed “everyday”, might just might, have its place in the Kingdom of God.

Which is vital in a world hell bent it seems, on often describing “success” in terms of always needing to (or feeling the pressure to) be “extraordinary”.

To be anything but “everyday”.

Here is this week’s Gospel reading where Christ on the prompting of His mother, turns water into wine. And maybe a story, now that a new year is fully underway that for those who follow Christ, our “ordinariness”, our “everyday-ness” is what matters.

The Gospel reading.

From Water to Wine

1-3 Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”

Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”

She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”

6-7 Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.

“Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.

9-10 When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”

11 This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

The Gospel of John. Chapter 2 v 1 to 11.

(www.biblegateway.com)

Reflection.

In so ,so many ways the Gospel message of Christ is “counter cultural”. And whilst woven into this Gospel passage are many messages of hope and renewal, what has caught my attention for this short reflection is the mention of “six stoneware water pots” (John 2 v 6).

Six stone water pots. Everyday. Essential for storing of the village’s water supply. Taken for granted. Maybe overlooked. Functional at best but no indication in and of themselves that they were “extraordinary”.

Six stone water pots. How very ordinary. Mundane. Inert.

Six stone water pots. That played a small part in the unfolding of God’s Kingdom and the salvation of humanity.

Six stone water pots. Holding enough water that was extraordinarily turned into the finest of wine, that blessed a wedding, a village, a local community and ushered in physically (you might say) the over abundant love of God to each of us in the person of Christ.

Six stone water pots.

Response.

This week, amidst your “ordinary”, your “everyday”, the filling up of your stone water pot; what is it that Christ alone can bless?

And share with a world in need?

Selah.