Sunday, October 28, 2007

Do Not Worry! A sermon from Dromore High School Harvest Thanksgiving on Monday 22 October 2007. Matthew 6:25-34

I wonder if you have any worries today? Anything you’re concerned about? I won’t ask you to put your hand up if you are worried about anything, because I’m sure it’s quite a few of us.

I don’t want to make you worry, but some of the things you might be worrying about could be: spots, boys or girls, your looks, your parents, your exams, whether your friends like you, your health…

Even Mr Wilkinson will be worried about a few things. Maybe not about his hairstyle these days, but he will be concerned about some things!

In the Bible reading we heard earlier, we hear what Jesus says about worry. Here’s what he said – ‘do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is life not more important than food, and the body than clothes?’ (6:25)

As we’ll see, Jesus says that you don’t have to worry about things that come up in our life. The reason not to worry is because of God, our Father. We don’t have to worry because God values us, and because God already knows what we need!

So let’s look at what Jesus says about how valuable we are. ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?’ (6:26)

Jesus is saying that God cares more about us than he does about the birds of the air, and because he cares, he will provide us with what we need. Did you ever see a bird sowing seed and growing its own food? Did you ever see a bird worrying about the price of things in Tesco?

So if God provides for the birds of the air without them doing anything to help themselves, then how much more will God care for us, and provide for our needs?

In Psalm 50, God reminds us that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills; (Psalm 50:10) and to expand that vision, Psalm 24 tells us that ‘the earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.’ (Psalm 24:1). Can you see that God rules over all, and that because God rules over all, then he can provide for your needs?

Jesus then goes on to talk about worrying about clothes. Who doesn’t worry about clothes? I’ll let you into a secret – this morning when I was getting ready I worried about my clothes – what would I wear today? Should I go for jeans, or for the suit? But as we’ll see, Jesus says that we don’t have to worry about our clothes.

‘And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?’ (Matt 6:28-30)

Do you know something? I really love harvest time, as the leaves change colour and start to drop off the trees. Down in Dublin last week I was like a big child kicking the leaves and hearing them crunch. Or just pause and look around you today. Look at the variety of colours and textures and even flavours (but don’t eat the apples!). In all these things, we see how much God provides for his creation.

In Genesis, we read of the beginnings of the world, and after every time that God creates something, it says this – ‘And God saw that it was good’ (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25), and then at the end of the creation, it says that ‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.’ (Gen 1:31)

Without worrying, without stressing, the flowers are clothed with amazing colours. They don’t have to do anything about it, they just have to be.

Who would you say is the most fashionable person in the world? If you had to pick someone who was the best dressed, who would it be? Maybe Victoria Beckham, or one of the supermodels? The example Jesus uses was King Solomon. Solomon had been king of Israel about 1000 years before, and had lived in luxury. We read in 2 Chronicles 9 that ‘King Solomon was greater in riches and wisdom than all the other kings of the earth.’ And elsewhere in 2 Chronicles that he made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem, and owned fourteen hundred chariots.

Yet, Jesus says that the lilies of the field are better dressed than Solomon, who must have spent thousands on his clothes. So if God makes sure the lilies are looking well, then how much more will he look after us and provide clothes for us?

So far we’ve heard what Jesus tells us not to do. He has told us not to worry, because God cares for us, and because God knows what we need. But at the end of the passage we read, Jesus turns it around, and tells us to do something else in its place.

What happens when you worry about something? If you’re anything like me, then you’ll think about something over and over again. You’ll try to solve the problem, and look at it lots of different ways. Your mind will be like a washing machine, turning it around and around. You might not even be able to sleep if you keep thinking about your worries.

When we worry, we make our problems bigger. It makes us think that we have to solve it all ourselves. [But you don’t have to solve it yourself. Talk to a friend, or someone else who can help you.]

Instead, Jesus calls us to trust in God. We don’t have to worry about things like boys or spots or clothes, if we have faith that God knows what we need, that he loves us and that he will provide for us. So what to do instead of worrying?

Jesus says that it’s a matter of getting our priorities right. Here’s what he says. ‘So do not worry, saying “What shall we eat?” or “what shall we drink?” or “what shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (6:31-33)

We don’t have to worry about food or clothes or anything else. Instead, we’re called to trust our Father – God knows what we need. Because he knows what we need, he can provide it for us. But what does it mean to seek first his kingdom?

Earlier we read from Psalm 24 that the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. God created the world, and is the king. The choice for us, then, is whether we will recognise him as king – as our king, or live in rebellion against him.

Will you live for God, living the way he wants you to? The promise is there in Jesus’ words that when we live for God, then God provides for us – ‘all these things will be given to you as well.’

As we’ve seen today, Jesus calls us not to worry, because God knows what we need, and will provide for us. Later on in the Bible, Paul writes in Philippians these words: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.’ (Phil 4:6-7).

Jesus says – do not worry… but seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Back to School

Now that I'm back in Dublin, I've had a chance to reflect on my day - the day when I went back to my old school. Well, ok, not the school itself, but the school gathered in the cathedral for its harvest thanksgiving service. It is ten years since I left Dromore High School with a few GCSE's, and I was asked to speak at the harvest service today - this being their 50th anniversary year.

I wasn't sure how it would go, but looking back, I have to say I really enjoyed it! Despite there being a good turnover of teachers in the ten years of my absence, there were still quite a few that I remembered, and that remembered me! Teachers like Miss Uprichard, Miss Trimble, Mr Wright, Mr Todd and Mr Todd (science and computers both), Mr Cousins, Mr Hendron, Mrs Houston, Mrs McCalmont, Mrs Brown, Mrs Cooper, Mrs McKnight, Mr Currie, Mrs Storey and a few others as well! It was nice seeing them again, and catching up with them.

It was also great seeing Mr Wilkinson, the headmaster, or as he'll soon be known, 'uncle John'. This was the first time he'd heard me speak, so fair play to him for giving me the opportunity!

I've been trying to remember back to when I was at the school, to the annual services in the cathedral at Harvest and Christmas, and can only recall three of them - and always the carol services! The first, in my first year when I sang a solo, and got some of the 5th years into detention when they laughed at me (with the vice-principal sitting behind them!); in fourth year when I led the carol service; and fifth year when me, Gordon Bingham and (who was the other person? - I don't think it was Christopher Somerville) sang a trio. So I couldn't even remember how the harvest services had gone in the past.

Slightly scary, having over 500 people listening, all watching, but really good at the same time - a great opportunity to speak the word of God into their lives. I'll get the sermon text up tomorrow when I have some time.

One final thought. This morning when I was getting dressed, I went for my navy pin-stripe suit. The only shirt to go with it was my light blue shirt. The tie that went with it was a navy tie with lighter blue stripes. Whether subconsciously or what, I ended up virtually dressed in the High School uniform... talk about regressing to school days!

Harvest Time

Swiss Roll
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

On Saturday I was out at Tullylish with mum at the family graves, and noticed the swiss rolls in the next field. Harvest is here, once again God's promise has been kept, that seedtime and harvest will not fail.

This afternoon I'm preaching at the Dromore High School harvest thanksgiving service in the Cathedral, and to be honest, I'm slightly nervous. Ten years on, going back to my old school. Will let you know how it goes...

Saturday, October 20, 2007

New Prayer Letter

Dear friends, 16 October 2007

How quickly time flies! At the start of the holidays, it seemed that the four months would stretch forever, but here I am, sitting at my desk in Dublin again, into the fourth week of term!

The summer was a busy one for me – the Sundays in July and the start of August saw me travelling to various places to preach and take services. I really enjoyed being in Dundonald, Annalong, and the Dromores (both Tyrone and Down!). Then in August, I travelled out to Romania to work with the Smiles Foundation – a challenging and life-changing time. I’ll be sharing more about my time in Romania in Dromore Cathedral on Sunday 4th November.

We’re now back into the swing of things in Dublin, but already it seems like we’re counting down the days until we finish – the end is in sight! Particular challenges that lie ahead include the joys of cosmology and ecclesiology, as well as the writing of a 10,000-word dissertation. The main thing on the horizon, though, is the Curacy List.

Come the end of November, the House of Bishops will publish the list of vacancies for Curates, and then the interview and appointment process begins. I’m a bit nervous about the whole process, given that Lynsey has to apply for jobs at roughly the same time – and we would like to be working somewhere near each other! It’s a test of our faith, but we are confident that God knows what He is doing and it will all work out.

This year also contains another parish placement, working on Fridays and Sundays to combine the pastoral and preaching functions. I’ll be working in Drumgath and Drumgooland Parishes (Rathfriland and Ballyward), with David Somerville.

Please pray for the following concerns:

- For the new students in college, and for the returning ones as we settle into college life and build up the life of the community

- For Lynsey and me as we prepare for marriage despite being so far apart – that we will continue to deepen our relationship

- For the Curacy List and Lynsey’s job applications

- For the Smiles Foundation and Kevin Hoy, their leader, as they serve the people of Romania and reach out with the gospel

- For the people of Drumgath and Drumgooland and their rector, David as I come among them

- For freshness in devotions, and that I will stay close to God through the challenges of this year

Thank you for your prayers and support through the past year. Be assured that you are in my prayers, as you pray for me. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20).

With God’s richest blessings

Friday, October 12, 2007

In the Presence of Royalty

Blue Lights
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

On Tuesday when Carmen and myself went down into Trinity, we noticed there were a lot of TCD security guards about the place, with an area of the quadrangle cordoned off. In fact, in that area, there was a wee man hoovering the leaves off the cobblestones.

The tricolour was flying from the top of Regent House - the main building - and the Belgian flag was flying at one side of it. After a few enquiries, we discovered that the King and Queen of Belgium were going to be visiting Trinity College Dublin later in the day. So we hung about for a while before the lecture, but time defeated us, and into New Testament we went.

During the class, I heard a few sirens going off and thought that they had come and gone. But when we left the class, lo and behold, they hadn't yet visited! So we waited about to see what would happen. We got the best afternoon's craic watching what happened.

From the TCD security guards moving their barriers every few minutes, to them being unable to give clear instructions on the diversion around the post-grad library, to the small group of students organised to give a welcome to the guests - the students being dressed in black, yellow and red, and standing in the appropriate order!

After about 40 minutes, we saw the 6 Garda outriders, and the 8 or 10 big black cars of their convoy sped through the main square at Trinity and up to the doors of the Old Library, where the King and Queen were to see the Book of Kells.

The photo I got of their car has been uploaded to Flickr, but you can't actually see them, so I used the above photo instead! But it made me think. Us plebs, the ordinary people, were kept back by Garda (the police) and by security guards, while the high ranking people got to have a few minutes with the royals.

What a contrast to the King of Kings, who was known as the 'friend of sinners', who came to serve, not to be served, who took the time to answer the needs of Bartimaeus!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Conker Showing

Conker Showing
Originally uploaded by Gary McMurray.

Spotted this conker lying in the grounds of Drumbo Presbyterian Church last weekend. Now we know that the autumn is here. Might just come in handy for a children's talk on Sunday morning in Ballyward!

Harry Potter

Well, I've eventually finished reading the final Harry Potter book - Harry and the Deathly Hallows. Not going to say too much about it as I wouldn't want to ruin it for anyone else. Contrary to some of the popular opinion about it, I think I quite liked it, and didn't predict how it would end up. There were a few deaths, but not as many as I had thought. Such a pity!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Spiritual Blogging

I've been asked (like Robert) to talk about blogging in class tomorrow. The class title is Spirituality for Today, and I'll be looking at the similarities and differences between blogging and journalling. At the moment I'm not entirely sure how spiritual an activity blogging is - especially some of the stuff I write about - but I'm having a think about it and will share my findings later on!

Friday, October 05, 2007

Glasses of Grace: Judges 6:1-18

I have a lot of sympathy with Gideon. He had a down to earth, grounded in reality view of himself. God shows up and says "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour" and Gideon's reaction is who, me?

I've been reading through the book of Judges, and have come to the time of Gideon. The Midianites have swamped the country, destroying crops and lives, and the people of Israel have taken to living in caves. Into the midst of the problem, the angel of the LORD appears to Gideon, greeting him with those words - "The LORD is with you, O mighty man of valour."

Gideon, however, launches into a historical, political, theological diatribe. What are you talking about - how can God be with us if the Midianites have taken over? He has heard the stories of how God acted in the past to rescue Israel from Egypt, but where is God now?

The answer? Right in front of you, Gideon! So again, the angel of the LORD sends him. "Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?"

Gideon still knows his own weakness and says in effect: Don't you realise that I'm the lowest and the least - in terms of tribe and clan and family? If our tribe were picking teams in the playground, my family would be last picked.

The amazing thing is that while Gideon trembles, God looks on him through the eyes of grace, seeing what he will be. Not so much rose-tinted spectacles, but maybe 'glasses of grace'. By God's great grace, he will be the mighty man of valour. When the call is given, it's as if the battle has already been won. He just has to go in God's power.

Do you know what? Just as God saw Gideon through the 'glasses of grace', so he also sees us already perfected in Christ, through his grace. This is the heart of our justification - counted righteous in Christ, as God looks on us and sees Christ.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

10,000 not out!

Just a quick note to observe that my photo site at Flickr has now exceeded 10,000 views. Incredible! I've only properly been using it since January, and currently have over 2000 photos on display. Check it out if you haven't seen them before, or even if you have.