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The Word on the Week

Familyside

We are all too familiar with the horrors of suicide but now another phenomenon has hit the Irish scene where a family dies together. The tragedy is compounded by the thought that they may not have been of one mind and the setting fire to the house, as occurred this weekend, may not successfully conceal what led to the disaster. No doubt many factors contributed to the event but the notion that they would be together forever may well have influenced the distraught mind.

It’s only two weeks ago since Nuala O’Faolain gave a memorable radio interview reflecting on her feelings when confronted with terminable cancer. She highlighted the world of difference between thinking about your death and knowing your departure date. For her, it was the sense of loneliness this information created that made the difference between merely reflecting upon death and her present situation.

Her chief regret was the waste of all her accumulated knowledge, leading to the conclusion that life was meaningless.

Her desire to say her goodbye’s and fade into the dark may well be shared by many. Death is the ultimate paradox. It seems so unjust, so wasteful and such an unwelcome intrusion into life. It is described in the Bible as the last enemy. It’s articulated in the often repeated plea to the Virgin Mary for her intercession “now and at the hour of our death”.

The desire that it might be made all right at the end suggests that we know it has not been all right! Making peace with God, even if you are not sure of his existence, has a near universal appeal.

Leaving getting right with God till the end presupposed that to do so earlier would somehow be restrictive. Whereas the elderly farmer’s cheerful answer to the hospital chaplain, “I thatched my roof in the summer” testifies to the wisdom of accepting God’s offer of forgiveness to prodigals who come to him in the prime of life.

The Bible never promises us tomorrow but it does offer us the opportunity to come to him today. In St Paul’s words, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.” Thatch your roof in the summer!

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The Word on the Week

A tale of two heads

It must have been perplexing for President Mugabe to read of the Taoiseach’s resignation so soon after he had won another five years in office.

In Zimbabwe the man in charge makes the rules and if they are found to limit his power he can change them. In Ireland the Leader pays lip service to upholding the rules while using everything in his power to get round them. What the heads of both countries have in common is the desire to retain their jobs whatever the circumstances they find themselves in.

Their motivation is simple. They believe it is good for their people that they remain at the helm. Of this they are quite certain. Their people may not be so sure! Any accumulation of assets that accrue to them in the course of their duties are understood to be to assist them in their task of governance – a modest recompense for their vision and enterprise.

The levers of power may be sharper in Zimbabwe with an army and police force on call. In Ireland the available resources are rather less potent consisting of the incumbent’s native wit and a bevy of lawyers.

Of course our Leaders are, to a greater or lesser extent, a reflection of ourselves. It is us who put them there. Our votes kept them in office. At election times there may have been some unorthodox methods used but we end up with a reflection of what we are like.

We want to control others while remaining outside such restraints ourselves. Laws are put in place to take into account these failings. Much human activity is taken up, not with complying but by looking for ways to avoid the law. We need a better moral compass.

One has been provided: For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. What St Paul is saying in his letter to the church at Rome is that through faith in Christ’s death for our sins we can do what no law can make us do – live a new life. This power to live as we ought is available to Mugabe, Ahern, you and me. And it starts with a simple prayer for forgiveness, a request to be changed and to have Jesus as my Leader for life.

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The Word on the Week

Martin Luther

This week sees the 40th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. The small town Baptist Pastor who found himself projected into the Civil Rights Movement and, recognising the grave injustices, set out to “redeem the soul of America”. His recognition that love, translated into non-violence, would win the day was inspirational and his speeches, quoting liberally from the Bible, heralded a new day. In the speech from the Lincoln Memorial Building in Washington he quoted Isaiah chapter 40, “Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together” bringing hope of a better future to millions. He said, in his descriptive language, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope” little did he think that he would be that stone. In his final address in Memphis he etched his vision in the memorable words, “I have been to the mountaintop, I have seen the promised land”. The next day he was to enter it, cut down at the age of 39 by an assassin’s bullet. His memory is perpetuated in an annual holiday while the place of his death, now a memorial, is largely ignored, visitors to Memphis preferring to visit the home of that other famous son, Elvis Presley. In many ways this reflects the treatment his Master, Jesus Christ received. He was the one of whom Isaiah spoke. Jesus’s death and resurrection opened up the way for sinners to be forgiven and enter into a new life. Jesus too has public holidays. The fickle crowd enjoy the holidays but largely ignore the life and teachings of the one commemorated. Are you one of that crowd? If so read and reflect on the “Two Ways to Live” elsewhere on this site and you may find that you too are part of the outworking of Isaiah’s prediction.

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The Word on the Week

He Has Risen

After years of trying to produce a secular state in Stalinist Russia there was a large political gathering one Easter. At a defining moment in the proceedings someone shouted the words, “He is Risen”. Out of the mouths of the thousands present came the Christian response, “He is Risen Indeed”! The life of God in the soul of man is not easily extinguished. Most civilisations have the view that the soul is immortal but, uniquely, Christianity claims that the body will arise too. Our identity will be with us in the next life. We will be known to one another just as Moses and Elijah, although they lived in different eras on earth, knew each other and spoke together on the Mount of transfiguration. Some may say, “Others have come back from the dead”. What makes Jesus so special? Was Jesus simply another Lazarus? But Lazarus and all the others eventually died had a funeral and a grave where their bones were laid. Only Jesus arose, never to die again. He is the first fruits of a new kind of human life, a life in which the body is made perfect, no longer subject to weakness, aging, or death, but able to live eternally. With such a glorious future you might think that no-one in their right senses would shun Christianity. The resurrection is the mega miracle that would clinch for everyone! Wrong! Jesus scotched that idea in his parable of the rich man in hell who thought his brothers on earth would repent if he was able to warn them of his fate. Jesus referred him to the scriptures, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ St Luke Chapter 16 verse 31. It is by believing what God has said in the scriptures that we are saved, not through witnessing miracle no matter how dramatic. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” St John Chapter 5 verse 24. Jesus resurrection is the first fruits – “He has Risen” will become “They have Risen” to the praise of His glorious Name.

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The Word on the Week

St Patrick the Protestant

It’s now official; the Rev Ian Paisley says that St Patrick was a Protestant!   He might as well claim him as everyone else seems to claim him too.

The more remote the culture gets from his beliefs the more enthusiastically the culture celebrates his day!    It would be hard to find any resemblance of the authentic Patrick in any of the multitude of parades that bear his name although there is no doubting the commercial and community value of these occasions.

Patrick’s first visit to Ireland was as a slave and during the six years before his escape he had an encounter with God.    This is how he described it in his ‘Confession’:-

“I was taken into captivity to Ireland with many thousands of people. We deserved this fate because we had turned away from God;…. This is where I am now, in all my insignificance, among strangers. The Lord there made me aware of my unbelief that I might at last recognise my sins and turn wholeheartedly to the Lord my God.

Patrick’s second visit to Ireland was as a missionary. As he said;

I cannot be silent then, nor indeed should I, about the great benefits and grace, which the Lord saw fit to confer on me in the land of my captivity.”

Patrick a Protestant? Perhaps it would be more accurate to simply call him a Christian as the concluding verses of his famous hymn make clear:-

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me! Christ below me, Christ above me. Christ at my right, Christ at my left! Christ in breadth, Christ in length, Christ in height!