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.

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.