About Me

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Mullavilly, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
A child of the early 60's. Married with three children, two of which are at Uni. I have been the rector of Mullavilly Parish since 1993. I enjoy travel and animals, and I look after three dogs, four cats, and a snake.

Friday, 5 November 2010

From Earth to Heaven 3rd Sunday before Advent. Luke 20:27-39

People can be very limited in their understanding! Its nothing to do with intelligence but rather in what information we have been given, or (more sinister) in what we want others to believe. We see it in politics when prejudices and myths are promulgated to ridicule te opposition or promote an attitude. For example - most benefit claims are fraudulent or the French are unreliable.
It was ever thus and therefore there's a social and historic background to this morning's gospel reading. The history of the Sadducees is a bit vague and may itself be coloured by the prejudices of those who passed on the information but it seems that they were a small group of Jews who focussed on a literal and basic interpretation of Scripture without any allowances. Also, for our purposes, they did not believe in immortality or resurrection. These two attitudes explain why they challenged Jesus in the way they did. It might have been a deliberate attempt to provoke ridicule or it might have been a genuine concern, rooted in their very literal approach to the teaching of the past. They simply couldn't handle anything that was new.
As they saw it, heaven, if it existed at all, was simply a continuation of this life and that the rules of this life would continue to apply.
The Sadducees may be gone, but the attitude still remains among us! Not in any malicious sense, but simply because we, as humans, have such great difficulty trying to understand what heaven will be like. Even the descriptions in Revelation are limited to things which we can understand – a city of gold, a river, a tree, a throne room, a large gathering. You might have in your mind heaven as a place in the country, or a cloud, or a place where you will have a mansion in which will live all your past generations – the great reunion. People get anxious about who or what will be there – the dog or cat? What about Roman Catholics, what about criminals, what about Sadducees. And it gets so confusing.
And it will continue thus for our little minds cannot, in this life, comprehend heaven.
At its very simplest and broadest, the words of a chorus come to mind:
Heaven is a wonderful place
Filled with glory and grace
I’m gonna see my Saviour's face
For heaven is a wonderful place
I wanna go there.

To the Sadducees, Jesus makes two points.
First, he says, remove your limitations. Set aside the regulation on marriage because it is a gift for this age – there is something greater. This doesn't do away with the hope of reunion but rather tells us that there is something even greater. My soul will meet with the souls of grandparents and more but the relationship will be even better, even deeper because we are children of the resurrection, God's children.
Second, Jesus tells the Sadducees, this is not actually a new teaching, the great fathers of our faith, Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are still alive under God. He is the god of the living, for to him all are alive.

This is a big encouragement to us this morning. And a big challenge. We are encouraged by the hope of resurrection but also challenged in our understanding of heaven. We don't always want to deal with such issues and this is something so great that writers, artists theologians cannot help us but maybe only increase our limitations of thought.
We can only catch a glimpse, through Scripture, through worship, through seeking the presence of God here with us now – a little bit of heaven breaking into earth. Setting aside our prejudices and misunderstandings and allowing the Holy Spirit to show us enough of what we need to know so that, despite the rubbish that we hear around us,we can truly rejoice and find comfort today in what is yet to come.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Liverpool Cathedral at Halloween

Every so often, the opportunity comes along to try out something new. The tag line for the Halloween event in Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral was "Night of the  Living Dead". The comments on the Facebook event suggested that it wasn't suitable for children and that we would be asked to stare face in the face in this Gothic space.
The event had already attracted some local radio publicity and the evangelical wing were already very suspicious that the cathedral was engaging in something pagan and nasty.
we arrived a half hour early and were quickly ushered to our seats. The cathedral interior was lit with green lasers, strange white lights, candles and lots of white ice. The sounds were suitably atmospheric. to my amusement, the cathedral staff, in their capes and gowns, looked as if there were part of the set!
The service started with the funeral march and a coffin was carried up the aisle and set in front of the communion table. Actors screamed out words of fear and terror. then Richard, the (genuine) priest, dressed in bright white alb, stepped out of the coffin. he introduced us to what was about to happen - a celebration of Holy Communion with the theme of overcoming our fears. There was a powerful and moving dramatic presentation of Peter stepping out of the boat towards Jesus - "walking over the waves, walking over his fears" , and then being distracted by those fears and sinking, with only Jesus able to save.
Richard then elaborated with a sermon appealing for people to abandon their zombie half-life for fullness of life in Jesus. this was succinct and well-delivered to a congregation sitting in silence as we thought about fear and weakness and the new life that Christ could offer.
The communion part of the worship was simple and straightforward. A beautiful highlight was the way a spotlight was used on some of the stone carvings of the last supper and crucifixion. We were invited to respond in any of three ways. we could take communion, we could initial the coffin as a symbol of putting to death our old self and we could sit for awhile in an area occupied by a large cross. This was one of those special moments as the congregation wandered from one area of the large cathedral to another, spending time in their response.
The whole was brought to a close by a powerful live solo rendition of Matt Redman's "You never let go"
This wasn't the usual celebration of light that Christians usually opt for at Halloween but it embraced the darkness and the fear and leads us through the valley of the shadow to the cross and to peace. it was a superb use of the space of the cathedral, of contemporary technology, of drama, of Scripture. it was a simple point well-made and it allowed all those present to to walk on their fears and reach out to Jesus. It was a privilege and a blessing to be there. 

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Sermon notes on Transfiguration Sunday (Feb 14th) 2010

I’m not sure whether to tell you the good news or the bad news first this morning. Actually, it’s the same piece of news; it just depends where you’re at.
Although the later congregation at the Family Service will be thinking about St Valentine’s Day, our allotted task in this act of worship is to focus on the Transfiguration – that event on the mountain top when Jesus visibly changed from being “just” Jesus to  someone, we assume, more obviously divine and glorious.
The good news (small initials intentional) is that Jesus is glorious. In the midst of our mundane ordinariness, we have the most glorious saviour. In the midst of tragedy and suffering and sorrow and humanity, our God is still awesome. In the midst of anxiety and worry born out of human concern, our Lord is the bringer of peace and comfort. Many regular worshippers tell me than their presence here on Sunday is what gives them the strength for week ahead. This is the mountaintop (or maybe a little hill) which is precious to them.  Others have a more frequent reminder in daily meditation and prayer and some less frequent.
This reflects the importance of regular and disciplined worship. You do not know when you will see something different. It could be when you least expect it, when you are feeling at your most human, your most cynical, your least believing. Peter and James were wrecked after climbing this mountain. They were possibly wondering why they had followed Jesus all the way there when they could have prayed just as effectively from the comfort of their beds. Yet it was on that mountain that they witnessed an event that would stay with them and be a pillar of their faith forever. In whatever situation they may find themselves, Jesus has the power to transform, to be the presence of the glory of God.

The bad news stems from the same event, the same realisation. Jesus is the Son of God, therefore the Son of God is Jesus! God became human and lived among us. He did not keep his distance from this awful world, he did not draw his followers out of this world, but he came to be with us in this world. We cannot hide away behind our worship in this place. We cannot separate ourselves from a suffering world. We are in it – in work, in family, in community – we live in a fallen world and God challenges us to be there, just as Jesus is there. Peter and James caught a glimpse, but they were not allowed to stay there. Jesus brought them down from the mountain, they faced the suffering that existed then, as now, and Jesus touched those broken lives.
I said this was bad news, it’s not really – it’s challenging news. It is bad news only to those who seek to use their faith as an excuse to hide away from the world.
We see in Jesus a glimpse of the Glory of God, we know that He is the Messiah, our Saviour, Emmanuel, God with us. This gives us hope in the midst of sorrow. It also turns us around to look at the world, to look at the suffering, the sin, the hopelessness. Indeed, not only to look, but to go back there and to carry with us the knowledge of the glory of God.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sermon for St Stephen's, Gateacre: extreme giving!

1 PETER 4:7-11
7The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. 8Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.10Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. 11If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

I’m going to go way out on a limb today and talk about something extreme. We have extreme sports, extreme fishing with Robson Green. Dangerous, exciting, total. Its the Bunjee Jump, the barefoot water ski, the sitting in a wheelie bin tied to the back of a mini on the M6.
So what is extreme in Christian living? £10 a week? Church once a month. Wearing a little badge? Or maybe extreme is being a big stadium evangelist – don’t believe it!
Extreme is making a life investment! Its a term a heard this week from one of our civil servants – head of synod services- as she was debating the stringent budget cuts needed. She was referring to those who had made an investment, not of their savings, but of their life, the standard parish clergy.
And it can be widened but not too much. You can invest your spare time, your talents, a good whack of your income. That might be where God is calling you – you work, so we don’t have to! Or perhaps its just a safe investment that you’re making? So far, but no farther. Let the clergy do it – so you don’t have to.
This happens so much. New person in church – tell the clergy. Someone ill – tell the clergy. No youth work – clergy fault, tower falling down – clergy fault. But I rant. I want to encourage. I want you to think about your investment in the kingdom of God. Wht will you put in. Look at the start of the passage – the end is near. The day of reckoning. Its time to get on board. (eg Ryanair).
There are so many people who miss their calling. Other things get in the way – reasons or excuses – some don’t know what they’re hearing (eg Samuel).
For me, it was through rejection in my first job application! 
 For others its a parishioner saying “You could do that”. 
A friend was once asked “Did you really hear a voice calling you?” He answered "No – it was much louder than that!"

I want to tell you that everything you do is a vocation. But I want to be cautious, because that is often used as an excuse. 
I’m a very wealthy banker helping to make the world go round and that is my vocation.” 

Certainly, if you are absolutely certain that what you are doing now or planning now is where God wants you to be, and wants you to be serving, then cherish that. It may be your life investment and the income from that may need to viewed as the gift that you must use in service. That might be very challenging for you.

When you give, you don’t know where your life will go. I’m here! 30 years ago I had no idea that having Sunday lunch with Jane would have this consequence! Or that my daughter would be in the same place and a son in South Africa . That I would be sitting a rural parish in Ireland. That I would be drawing very close to the hearts and souls of people and seeing Christ touch their hearts.
Whatever you have been given in grace (a gift undeserved) invest it wholly and totally in service to Christ so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. AMEN

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

If any of us ran our churches/charities/schools with such poor governance, we would be dismissed

As mentioned before, Ruby the Dachshund continues in poorliness. The vet suggested this morning that she may have a spinal lesion which is causing the paralysis. Sadly, there is eventually only one outcome. This is even more tragic because, even if the back half has failed, the front half continues to be as bright and alert as ever.

 Abraham Lincoln who said, "I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it." Someone else that I heard preaching said that if the farmer were Christian, every beast in his field should know it (I suspect he was plagiarising Mr Lincoln). 

By the same argument, shouldn't we, the inhabitants of Northern Ireland, be benefitting from the goodwill and generosity of spirit which stems from the religious convictions of our politicians? Not a hope! It strikes me that they are the most self-centred, petty and lazy bunch of time wasters! This issue of "Policing and Justice" has been up for discussion for a very long time - why wasn't it sorted earlier? If any of us ran our churches/charities/schools with such poor governance, we would be dismissed. Can you imagine having a school governors' meeting to discuss the new principal's appointment the day before the post was to be filled? And what precisely does the role of the Irish language and a "marching" issue that should have been resolved a decade ago have to do with the majority of items on the police agenda? Have they discussed how to deal with road safety, with the security of pensioners, with the protection of children and support of young people drawn into alcohol and drug abuse? Unlikely. But Irish language and Parades are more likely to encourage the electorate to vote - so it is actually my fault at the end of the day! 

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

I'm afraid we are moving into that very difficult area of deciding a suitable "care plan" for poor wee Ruby. (miniature wire dachshund, 10yr 4 mth) She has been troubled with ill health for a few months but this week her back legs have collapsed and she can't get out of bed. However, her front end is as bright as ever! She's the sort of dog that you could attach a roller skate to, but that won't help the bladder and bowel. The tests and x-ray have revealed nothing apart from a hole in the bank balance.
On a brighter note, Elizabeth has arrived home for a few days to celebrate Samuel's 16th birthday (tomorrow). Samuel was born in South Tyrone Hospital at 11am. We left Mullavilly that day about 9:30am. Jonathan had gone to school and we had to wait for the in-laws to arrive to look after Elizabeth.
Elizabeth and I leave again Saturday as I'm preaching in Liverpool on Sunday.
Also, Jonathan has got a South African mobile number and will hopefully get internet tomorrow. He's been playing beach rugby today and starts classes properly next week. What a life!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Sermon Outline for Sunday Evening (Epiphany 3)

Mark 1:21-28 (New International Version)

Jesus Drives Out an Evil Spirit
 21They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an evil[a] spirit cried out, 24"What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!"
 25"Be quiet!" said Jesus sternly. "Come out of him!" 26The evil spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
 27The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, "What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to evil spirits and they obey him." 28News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.

Authority is not a particularly positive word. It is generally associated with over-powering leaders, dictators, and stern teachers. It is a word that is associated with military discipline, law enforcement and punishment. It is a word that can be used as an excuse for inaction – “I don’t have the authority to do that”, or as a means of denying responsibility for our deeds “I was under authority”.

In this age, we do not welcome hierarchy – everything should be democratic and achieved with consensus. Everyone should be free to do whatever they like, follow their own rules and bow down to no-one. “I’m the boss of me”, is the independent cry.
And yet authority is much needed. In Haiti, we see chaos when no-one takes authority or responsibility.  A teacher would achieve little if she had no authority in the classroom and our society would collapse into a free-for-all anarchy if we did not submit to the authorities.

In the synagogue at Capernaum, I suspect, from reading between the lines, there was an absence of authority. Teachers would come and go and say their piece. They might be harangued for their new ideas, they might receive abuse. Those who taught the law were possibly not well-respected – perhaps they were obviously hypocritical or were running up large expense accounts!

Into this melee, came Jesus. Jesus, we read, taught as one who had authority and people were amazed. As well, a man with an evil spirit named him as the Holy One of God, challenging his authority. But Jesus had control of the situation and showed his authority. His was not just a new teaching, another made up story that had no substance, like so much of the nonsense that I mentioned last week. He had authority.

People have since misused the authority of Jesus to justify their own behaviour. It has been misused to justify liberal behaviour and misused to justify narrow attitudes. We have been slow, or afraid, to accept the authority of Jesus in our own lives, governing our attitudes and behaviour. We have recognised Jesus as the Holy One of God, the Messiah, but we have not knelt down under his authority. We can quote his instructions to love God, love our neighbour, to repent, to be thankful, to be humble, to be childlike, but yet we qualify his words and adapt his teaching to suit ourselves. “Judge not” is a clever phrase to use when we feel others are judging us, but conveniently ignored when we make a judgement on others.

In our worship, in our prayers, we do not tell God what to do.  We do not tell him who he is, or who he should be. God is not made in our image, but we in his. Our worship, our prayers, are about acknowledging his authority in our lives – Thy will be done – and taking up the responsibilities that come with that.

For the confirmation candidates, that may mean considering service and vocation in their career choices; for others it may mean righting wrong relationships, abandoning wrong attitudes, releasing love and generosity, giving up old grudges.

If we claim that Jesus teaches with authority and speaks with authority, then we must also let that authority speak into our hearts. Words like “My peace I give you”, “Fear not”,  “do unto others what you would have them do unto you”, take on greater urgency and weight when we saturate them with the authority of Jesus rather than see them as mere quotations.

Let Christ, the Holy One of God, rule in your heart.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Twenty - no, I cannot tell a lie - thirty one years ago I was revising for my A level mock exams. As a wise pupil of Limavady Grammar School, I worked hard for the mocks and did very little for the real thing. Anyway, I wonder how I might have reacted back then if a prophet had wandered into the school library with a message for me. Something like "Brian, in 31 years you will be married a lovely girl from Portadown."

 "You know - that suburb of the new city of Craigavon that you're learning about for your A level Geography. Also, you will be the Church of Ireland rector of a wee country church just outside that city. Your wife will be a school librarian the same as Mrs Larmour in a school in the wonderful new city. You will have three children. The first will have landed this day in the town of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, (I cast a quick glance at the map on the wall), the second is sitting an exam in Liverpool, probably in the same exam room that you will be sitting in in 1980, and the third will be revising for his mock GCSE (a what?) in Geography, learning about how not to design a new city. As for you, with your religious prejudice, you will, on this day in thirty-one years, be having morning coffee with the Cardinal. When the day is done, you'll type it all into a TV screen and people in America will read about it."

That would have been quite a daydream!

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

up, up and away

Over this past year, I've paid many visits to Belfast City Dump Airport. It started with Elizabeth's open days and interviews at Liverpool and Newcastle, then both Elizabeth and Jonathan going to Burundi and Kenya, then lots of visits via Ryanair to see Elizabeth in Liverpool (today she signed for her apartment  for next year). This afternoon, we took Jonathan to begin his three-flight journey to Port Elizabeth , South Africa. Thankfully, due to my wisdom and discipline in suitcase packing, he avoided any excess charges - he was only allowed 20K for 5 months! After paying the extortionate car park fee at the airport, we watched his British Midland flight to Heathrow pass the window of the Ikea Restaurant as we indulged in Swedish meatballs and then, for comfort, bought a few nice things, including two packets of those delicious Punschrolls.
Although departures like that are sad, the world is certainly a much smaller place than before. SMS, Skype etc mean that we can travel far and yet be never far away.

There are many skills (other than how to pack), that children will never learn until they start to travel and grasp every opportunity. Like Elizabeth, I went to Liverpool when I was 18. I hitch-hiked across Europe when I was 20 (not recommended today). I spent 4 weeks in Jerusalem and 5 weeks roughing it (in beach-houses) in Brazil. Those were good and worthwhile experiences. All our children were camping in France before their first birthday and we've managed to take them all to North America on three occasions. We taught them to be adventurers and thus they go adventuring.


I'm afraid I can't quite see where the fun is in blogging! To begin with, other people have to be interested in what you're doing or what your opinions are. However, as a clergyman, most of the interesting bits of what I do are not for public consumption. Nor are many of my opinions! I can't tell you that, in my opinion, the lady in the third row looks as if she's had cosmetic surgery. I can't really tell you my political opinions or make light of things that others may take very seriously.
I could write about family life in the rectory, but that's quite private too. I could tell you that Ruby the daschund has an hormonal imbalance that causes unusual bowel behaviour, hair loss and depression, but that's probably not very interesting. you may enjoy the soap opera relationships of the cats - that Dyna is the demon, that Abercrombie and Fitch are the newcomers who have upset the tranquility of the pride and that Furbie is a complete pain with his constant bossiness - but that makes us sound like oddballs!
However, the family is now about to be scattered further round the globe. Elizabeth is in Liverpool studying for a nursing degree and Jonathan heads for South Africa tomorrow to complete his 3rd year of teacher training. The learning outcome for tonight (how to travel with a 20K luggage allowance) may or may not have been achieved.
Thus, blogging will help us and any other readers who have little else to do, stay in touch with other. Watch my space and be amazed!! Not.