Judgment as both necessary and good

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My ‘Musings’ column was titled ‘Facebook, Judgment and Easter’ and is below. It came from reading this article in the Irish Times

‘This is what my job has taught me. People are largely awful and I’m there behind my desk doing my best to save the world.’

These are the words of an Irish ex-Facebook moderator who is taking legal action against the company for psychological trauma experienced as a result of his work.

Reading about his job makes you think alright. Every day moderators like him review a never-ending stream of images reported by users from all over the world. These range from the foolish (petty arguments) to indecent (nudity) to potential hate speech, to illegal trade in animals, all the way to child abuse and videos of groups of terrified people being executed somewhere in the Middle East (and this is only reported content remember).

Apparently Facebook provides detailed lists of rules to moderators for making judgments. These document are tens of thousands of words long and keep expanding in length and complexity. The moderator is faced with between 100 and 250 possible decisions on any given piece of content. Such is the volume there is limited time for evaluation and the moderators are expected to meet a target of 98% accuracy in their decision making. No wonder they are stressed; I don’t envy them their (unfortunately necessary) job.

There was a popular illustration used in evangelistic talks when I was younger. The speaker invited you to imagine a video of your life – all your secret thoughts and sins – being shown publicly to everyone you knew. The point was to bring home how none of us live up to our own standards let alone God’s. We would be ashamed if others really knew what we were like. The idea was to make listeners aware of their need for God’s grace and forgiveness.

I haven’t heard that illustration in a long time (and I’m not saying it’s necessarily a good one). But my impression is that Christians don’t talk too much about shame, sin and guilt these days. Maybe it’s because they seem to be outdated and repressive ideas, especially given recent Irish history. So we rightly emphasise the limitless nature of God’s love, but quietly downplay how much the Bible talks of his wrath and judgment. Today, to be ‘judgmental’ is socially unacceptable and smacks of intolerance – and who wants to be thought of as intolerant?

But the story of the Facebook moderator shows us that, when we think about it, judgment is actually both necessary and good.

Judgment as Necessary

It’s necessary because while the moderator isn’t a pastor or theologian, he looked into the ‘heart of darkness’ and concluded that ‘people are largely awful’. This echoes Paul in Ephesians saying that we are ‘by nature deserving of wrath’ (2:3). The moderator was doing his ‘best to save the world’ by trying to discern between good and evil. Out of compassion and a sense of justice he tried to put things right. But of course he couldn’t – none of us can. The depth of sin and the power of evil are too strong and the moderator, a mere man, was nearly destroyed in the process.

Judgment as Good

Judgment is good because the moderator’s experience shows the importance of naming and resisting evil.

This brings us to Easter and to another saviour and judge. The wonder of the cross is that ‘because of his great love for us’ (Eph 2:4) God freely chose to take his own judgment upon himself in Jesus Christ so that all in him share in Jesus’ resurrection victory over the power of death and sin.

While those destructive forces still stalk our world and God’s people are to battle against them, we can look forward to the goodness of God’s final judgment. We can thank God that there is no impunity for all the innumerable horrors humans perpetrate on each other and over our despoliation of God’s creation.

On that day justice will be done and this broken world will be put right for good. That’s why Christians today can say with the first believers

Maranatha. Come, O Lord!” (1 Cor 16:22).

Easter Sunday Reflection: Christus ist auferstanden!

And here is my reflection for this Easter Sunday to finish a series written during Lent by members of our church in Maynooth. Easter greetings to one and all.

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Christus ist auferstanden!

If we were physically in church this morning, retired German teacher Ian Stanton, with a mischievous smile on his face, would likely come my way and say “Christus ist auferstanden!” (Christ is risen!). I say ‘mischievous’ because he knows I will be panicking trying to remember the few words of German that he expects me to know one day a year. For the record they are “Er ist wahrhaftig auferstanden!” (He is risen indeed!).

These are days of deep uncertainty and loss. Walking around Maynooth it’s heart-breaking to read sign after sign of businesses closed. Behind those notices are stories of lost jobs, debt and fear for the future. One talks honestly about the owner’s ‘trepidation’ over the ‘big and scary’ decision to shut. I find myself praying for her and make a promise that, hopefully, when that café reopens, I’ll go and give her some business.

Walking along the canal parallel to the railway, empty trains go past. I wonder how long this is going to go on, aware there is no easy fix and multiple lockdowns could come and go for over a year or more. I think of health-care workers in MCC like Andy and Susanne on the front-line. I think of friends who have suddenly no work and no income. I wonder how many in MCC are in a similar situation. I think of other friends at high risk and pray they can stay free of infection. I think of my dad in his 90s and living at home alone and find myself strangely grateful that my mother died over a year ago and is not now stuck in a nursing home, confused, with no-one able to visit her. And if I’m honest, I also wonder about my own job.

And yet, as I enjoy the Spring air and blue sky, I know I’m deeply privileged. I have health, family, a home to live in, access to technology and food to eat. I wonder if this pandemic has caused such angst because it has hit the rich West. It has shown us to be far less safe and in control than we thought. It has made us face the possibility of sudden death. Yet millions of people in the world are only all too familiar with disease, famine and war. In Sub-Saharan Africa alone there are over 400,000 deaths annually of malaria and over 2 million new infections.

And so I think of countless Christians in the past and today who have never known the safety nets of stable employment, fair pay, a home, access to health care, physical security, food and clean water or the expectation of a long life.

And I start to wonder if this pandemic, awful as it is, is bringing more sharply into focus just how relevant and important it is that Christus ist auferstanden.

For if Christ is raised, then we can trust that our futures are in the hands of the risen Lord.

If Christ is raised, then, those in Christ through faith already have resurrection life.

If Christ is raised, then God has already won the victory over death and evil powers and that therefore Christians can rest assured that

“… neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).

And if Christ is raised, we can have a sure and certain hope that, regardless of when we die, we will share one day in Christ’s resurrection to a new life within a renewed world – one that will be gloriously free of viruses, disease and death itself.

Lenten Reflection – Alison King

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth.

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1 Corinithians 13:12 and Unmet Expectations

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

I love this verse. It’s an often go to verse of mine. Why? Because it reminds me that because I don’t have God’s “whole picture” perspective, there are always going to be things this side of heaven I simply won’t understand. However, honestly, within my not understanding I can all too easily get caught in an endless cycle of over thinking, especially when expectations are not met.

I wonder this Lent what might be some of your unmet expectations? Perhaps you expected to be married by now, or have a better job, even any job, or you didn’t expect to be walking in and through so many hard spaces, or perhaps like me you’ve been given a medical diagnosis which you didn’t expect? And within those unmet expectation places I am certain that people, including family and friends, haven’t always behaved as you expected them to. You thought others would understand better, be more supportive, spend more time listening to your side of the story, and so you end up feeling let down.

And what has all this got to do with Lent you might ask? Well it’s simply this: as I think of Jesus being tempted, I’ve come to believe, that these unmet expectations can be a destructive tool of Satan as he tempts me with his insidious whispers: “If they really cared, or if you “did” enough, or if only you had more faith?”

What then do we do with these feelings? Firstly, recognise them for what they are, just that, feelings, which our sometimes muddied thinking minds, often don’t allow space, or indeed grace, for the whole picture to be considered. Then I need to bring my hurts firstly and fore-mostly to God, and to then try to leave them there. The Psalms are full of laments. However, as you read them you will find that most often they are written from the perspective of being spoken to God rather than other people. Philip in a sermon to his class recently wrote of how when the cloud descends over us, when we can’t see God in our situation, (when expectations are un-met) that is the very time we most need to lean into Him to ask Him to transform us. I both like and am challenged by the idea of allowing God to mould me in ways I may not understand. I also need to remember, that God as El-Roi sees and knows the whole, including the finish of our stories! And therein surely lies our very hope during this waiting for Easter Sunday season.

Having read this now I invite you to perhaps firstly to pause and be real with God about some of your unmet expectations. Then I’d ask you to see Him coming alongside you and hear Him say to you, “child of my heart all that is not known or understood by you, is seen and fully known by me and I can assure you that I’m going nowhere, until, together we cross the finish line.”

Amen. 

 

 

 

Tenebrae Service Maynooth Community Church

Tenebrae is Latin for ‘darkness’. Each year our church holds a Tenebrae service. It is simple in form – a mixture of Bible readings, songs, and poetry. There is no sermon. After each reading a candle is extingushed and the service ends in total darkness. People leave in silence. It is a service of lament and reflection on the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.

This year’s service was ‘held’ on You Tube. Thanks to the readers, singers and tech-person who worked out the candles. It lasts about 40 minutes and I found it profoundly moving.

Lenten Reflection – Sinead Hussey

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. This one by Sinead Hussey is well suited to this Good Friday – ‘Hope in the Darkness’.

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Hope in the Darkness

The terrifying term “pandemic” has been headline news now for weeks.  You cannot turn on the TV, radio, or social media without hearing the statistics about the Coronavirus.

We are living in a world where everyone is facing some level of increased anxiety, stress and fear. Some of us fear catching the virus or losing a loved one, while others fear losing their jobs and what this virus will do to the economy. Fear is a natural reaction to danger, uncertainty and death. Fear, however, can be crippling and can drag us down into despair and hopelessness. Fear can distract us from our relationship with God and the truth that He is in control and “Lord of Heaven and earth” (Matt 11:25).

So what should we do with our fear?

During this lockdown I have been making a list of what the Bible says about who God is.  Writing the list has helped me focus more on who He is and has helped me with the stress this virus has inflicted. I find reading Scripture helps alleviate my stress. It comforts me to know that God is in control, that He is Sovereign and that He has a plan, whether I know his plan or not. By turning my attention to God my worries ease a little.

To remember that God is gracious and compassionate (Ps 145:8-9), merciful (Lk 6:36),  trustworthy, faithful (2 Tim 2:13), good (lk 18;19), kind, (Eph 2:7), wise (Job 9:4), unchanging (Deut 7:9), just (Dan 9:14), holy (Ps 77:13), loving and forgiving (Ps 86:5) helps refocus my thoughts on Him and I feel reassured that we are in this together.  Knowing that He is our refuge and our hope (Ps 46:1), and that He has promised that he will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6) comforts me during these unprecedented times.

Turning my attention to God lifts the stress and anxiety that I feel during this pandemic.

Remembering the truths of who He is, and what he has done, brings me a sense of peace and calm. This peace alongside our future hope moves me/us to respond to this crisis.

So, how do we respond to anxiety, stress and fear during this crisis?

By redirecting our minds to God we can become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. By focusing on who He is we can be released from fear. We need to remind ourselves that He has a plan and He will protect us.

We respond by offering prayer to others, by keeping in touch with those who are alone, by calling on our elderly neighbour, by doing some shopping for someone who needs it, and by going to the post office for those who are cocooned.

Prayer is an amazing tool we have as Christians. I recently prayed with an elderly woman who has parkinsons. When I opened my eyes after the prayer, she was still, her jerking movement had stopped momentarily. She looked up at me, smiled and thanked me for bringing her so much comfort and peace. This is our privilege as Christians.

Technology is a wonderful tool also and we can use it to stay connected with the more vulnerable.

We can overcome fear and respond to this crises with courage and compassion in knowing we are not alone and that we are part of God’s plan. Hear God say to you today, “Do Not Fear”. Germany Kent says

“Let your life reflect the faith you have in God. Fear nothing and pray about everything. Be strong, trust God’s word, and trust the process.”

Let us join in prayer together and ask God to be merciful and stop the spread of this virus. We ask God to look after the elderly in our nursing homes and to give our healthcare staff the strength and energy to keep doing their job.  We pray that we do not panic. And we pray that  the peace that passes all understanding guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen

Lenten Reflections – Tony Keane

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. Some are written pre-COVID-19.

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Diadem of Thorns

The story of Job is one of the most frustrating and dissatisfying books, for many, in the Bible. It revolves around the age old question of human suffering, among other themes.

It opens in wondrous Jewish story telling style, with events taking place outside of the main protagonist’s realm of existence. In the heavenlies no less, with the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Eph 6:12) coming to mind, about powers and principalities in heavenly places.

Throughout the story, as it unfolds, Job protests his integrity and uprightness before his judgemental friends, while seeking a fair hearing from his Creator. Job’s pain, grief, loss and sorrow are palpable, being compounded by his so-called ‘Comforters’ attitude to his plight, even his wife doesn’t seem to help (Job 2:9)!

When Job does finally get his audience with his Maker, the whole conversation and outcome leaves me with a rather metallic taste in my mouth, of God, integrity and justice. Gloucester’s refrain, from Shakespeare’s King Lear, aptly echoes through my mind:

“As flies to wanton boys,

We are to the Gods.

They kill us for their sport.” (King Lear, Act 4 SC i)

Especially so, in relation to Job’s children.

But there is a quote from Job’s own lips, which calls out to me. It reminds me of the age-old adage about the Old and New Testaments, part of which states; ‘The New is in the Old concealed’ (Augustine of Hippo).

25 I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see him
with my own eyes – I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!

Job 19:25-27 (NIVUK)

‘How my heart yearns within me’. How indeed, and this spoken by a man, long before Abraham answered his son Isaac in Moriah, with the words:

‘God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.’

Genesis 22:8 (NIVUK)

In my mind’s eye I am at another time, in that mountainous region of Moriah. In a place they call ‘the skull’. At that moment they are killing the unblemished Passover lambs in Jerusalem. But before me, His arms outstretched and nailed to a rugged beam, is a human ‘lamb’. Yeshua, the incarnate word, God’s own Son. His royal diadem a crown of thorns. At the foot of His throne both wrath and mercy have met.

A drop of blood from His thorny crown falls upon my cheek and mingles on my lips. It tastes metallic, an iron-willed love with sorrow mixed.

John the Baptist’s voice carries on the wind and darkening sky:

‘Hineh, Seh HaElohim’ (behold, the lamb of God…)

 

Lenten Reflections – Helen Lane

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. Some are written pre-COVID-19. This one by Helen Lane has proved to be particulary prophetic in asking

This Lent, perhaps we are invited into a sort of wilderness, away from the distractions, incessant entertainment and our anesthetised existence …

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An invitation by God to the wilderness, to a desert place is one most of us feel reluctant to accept. But I am reminded that in the wilderness I am more able to hear the Father speaking core truths to me.

As a student, I grappled with what it meant to be a young woman. What was my role in God’s mission, in the church? I didn’t connect with typical notions of the good Christian woman and felt deeply angry and hurt by some Christians’ perceptions of womanhood. I wanted adventure, to be part of the battle. Part of me resented my femaleness; it seemed second best. It was in this wilderness time that God spoke to me very specifically one evening, affirming me as his daughter and stripping away the warped proclamations of identity I’d heard. I was being invited to throw off everything that hinders and “run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12).

Wilderness times and learning about identity seem to be frequent bed-fellows.

The Israelites spent 40 years in the wilderness and no doubt it was a time of laying themselves bare, raw emotions, despair and resentfulness, but there were also seemingly times of oasis and revelation and a reawakening from the numbness their slavery in Egypt had brought. In the desert they discovered their identity as God’s chosen people, his “treasured possession” and their calling to be a blessing to all nations.

Conversely, before Jesus was led into the wilderness, God the Father affirmed his identity as God’s “beloved Son”. It’s hard to imagine Jesus withstanding the Devil’s temptations of power and authority without being absolutely sure of his identity and relationship with the Father.

This Lent, perhaps we are invited into a sort of wilderness, away from the distractions, incessant entertainment and our anesthetised existence so that we can discover afresh our true identity as sons and daughters of the King and be released to participate with God in His mission.

Lenten Reflection – Paul Burke

This week coming up to Easter I am posting with permission some Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. Some were written pre COVID-19.

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As I write this, Storm Jorge has arrived, the fire is lit, ‘Agus anois an Aimsear’ plays in the background and I sit. The crackle of the fire is echoed outside by the rain on the pavement and the green tarpaulin that flaps and slaps the table it covers.

One could be forgiven for thinking otherwise, but Spring has arrived. Since the solstice, and ever so slowly, the sun rises higher over the horizon and we emerge from the dark days of winter once more. The clay pots outside my door display nature’s capacity to begin again; snow drops hang like pearl earrings, a pale yellow crocus opens itself as if in worship, the first cherry blossoms are born on bare branches and much is yet to come.

It is in this changing of the seasons, the movement from darkness into light that I consider my own shadow, the ways in which I miss the mark, the ways in which I don’t reflect the light and love of the Divine. The hatred I sometimes feel towards those who make my life difficult. The anger that simmers just below the surface and then is misdirected at those I care most for. The empty places I seek comfort from the pain of living in a broken and often dark world.

In these moments I take comfort in a God of change, a God of renewal.

Forget the former things: do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” (Isaiah 43:18-19).

Jesus invites us to change when he says ‘repent and believe the good news’(Mark 1v15). The word repent refers to a changing of attitude or mind; to turn in a new direction and to go a different way.

Padraig O Tuama writes on repentance in his book In the Shelter.

To be open to the possibility of repentance is a sign of the goodness of humanity. To consider one self immune from the need for such changing of tune, of mind, of direction or idea is to alienate oneself from the argument of being human. Hello to the gift of being wrong. Hello to the gift of repentance. Hello to change.

Change is often like an unwanted visitor; I’d rather just be left alone. Change requires humility and humility is hard. Change is also slow.

But what if, as I lay to rest the attitudes and actions that are unreflective of the God of Love, something else was born? What if out of the darkness something life giving emerged? What if from beneath the dead and decaying leaves on the forest floor pushed primroses, snowdrops, bluebells, trilliums, anemones and erythroniums? A woodland in spring is a beautiful thing, a tapestry of colours and textures a long time in the making.

We have a God who since ancient times has been weaving threads of love, grace and beauty into the fabric of this world and into the fabric of our lives. Hello to the God of resurrection and hello to the God who is making all things new!

Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace:
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not
so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

 

Lenten Reflection – Lorraine Neill

This week leading up to Easter I am posting with permission a series of Lenten Reflections written by members of our church in Maynooth. Some are written pre-COVID-19.

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Where are you?

“Adam? Eve? Where are you?”

I wonder what it felt like to hear God ask that?  Probably less like the excited anticipation of being discovered in a game of hide and seek and more like the dreaded anticipation of someone walking in on your thoughts.  They were hiding.  Hiding among the many trees that the Lord had made for them to enjoy.  Trees that were ‘pleasing to the eye and good for food’.  Hiding because even though they were given more than they needed and free to eat of any tree but one, they couldn’t resist the one.

“You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’

Knowledge here means to experience.  God wanted to protect us from experiencing evil, but then evil stood there and looked so good…
And so she ate.
And so he ate.
And so we ate.

And when they ate their eyes were opened.  They saw. They saw what they wished they hadn’t seen. And that seeing ‘brought loss and a darkness that none of us could hold’. They had unleashed evil into creation.  Hell was set loose.  And they couldn’t put the genie back in the bottle.  And so they do what we all do, when we’ve done as we shouldn’t have done… we hide.  Hoping not to be found, and yet part of us knowing that being found is our only hope.

Even when we are found by God we still squirm trying to justify and defend ourselves “…he made me, she made me, it’s my enneagram number…!”

But eventually, like Adam and Eve, we are faced with our mistrust, faced with our desire to be our own God.  Reminded that He alone is the source of all life and we are his creations.  We are reminded that ‘we are dust and to dust we will return’. Fleming Rutledge writes

“in a mysterious way, the saying that we are dust points us to the good news, because it re-orients us to our proper relationship with the creator God, who formed us out of the earth.”

Where are you?  He asks us as we hide. How gracious of him to ask, how gracious of Him to come looking for us even after we’ve mistrusted and disobeyed him. How gracious of him to come looking for us when we thought we didn’t want to be found.  How kind.  How loving. How hopeful.

“This is the God who comes to man and woman when we can no longer come to him, when we can only run away and hide.”

God is always searching for us. God’s first response to this catastrophic event is to search for us in our fall, to invite us out of hiding and most astoundingly to clothe and protect us.

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them…”

This Lent, as everyday, there is an invitation for us to remember that we are dust so that we may again fall on the knowledge that He made us, that He knows us better than we know ourselves, that He knows what we need and that He desires abundant life for us.

This Lent there is an invitation to hear him calling our name and asking “where are you?”  There is an invitation to come out of hiding and there is an invitation to be clothed by Him.

[Refs: The Undoing of Death by Fleming Rutledge and poem by David Whyte ‘No one told me’.

Christ is Risen!

Greetings this Easter Sunday, a day to celebrate the victory of God in Christ, the Risen Lord.

Rutledge_Understanding the Death of JC_wrk03_c.inddAfter our Lenten series, what could be more appropriate than some words from the marvellous writer and theologian, Fleming Rutledge on the theme of Christus Victor.

The Christus Victor theme in the New Testament … speaks with new force and relevance for today because it grants evil its due. The theme emphasizes the infernal intelligence, the annihilating force, the lethal fury of the demonic Powers. In the contemporary world we know too much of this kind of evil. Anyone following the news as the twenty-first century continues to unfold must know the feeling that our globe is inhabited by truly unbearable wickedness, and that this wickedness is out of control. (392)

It is in to this reality that Easter speaks – of the crucifixion and apparent defeat of good by evil, and of the Risen Lord, triumphant over Sin, death and the powers of evil.

Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus

… the Christian life does not go on as if the world had remained unchanged. The church is not a redeemed boat floating in an unredeemed sea. It is not as if the only thing that has changed is that our sins are forgiven and we, person by person, come to believe in Jesus. Rather, there has been a transfer of aeons, an exchange of one kosmos for another. The Powers and the principalities may not know it but their foundations have been undermined and cannot last. The creation itself has been and is being invaded by the new world, the age to come. (393, my emphasis)

Romans 8:20-21

20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.