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February 2015


Lent Cross

Tomorrow morning (11am) in Fitzroy I will be leading us around the Lord's Table. Jonathan Abernethy-Barkley will be asking if we ever had an awkward guest at a dinner party  and showing us how Jesus gave the Pharisees a lecture on table etiquette. We will look at this teaching in conversation with Coldplay, Russell Brand, Kierkegaard & Duke Special and if we are actually up for the challenge of the call to be people of feast and story as we come to communion.

In the evening (7pm) we are thrilled to have a Christian Aid speaker, Graham Philpott from South Africa. Graham is living radical discipleship in his South African context and will be unpacking the parable of the Good Samaritan with us to challenge and inspire how we look at our suffering communities. Worship by Paul Bowman and Rachel Jackson! 



READ: LUKE 10: 29-37

29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[e] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

It would be easy to read this as a story that tells us to be nice to our neighbour. That would not be a wrong… BUT it would be missing a lot too. As I have read this parable afresh, during this Lenten journey through Luke, I have been struck by the difference between the RIGHT thing and the GOD thing.

As the Priest and Levite rush by, don’t let them out of your soul’s sight too quickly. Hold them in view long enough to see that they were maybe doing the right thing. If this beaten up guy is dead, or near to it, then getting too close will break the purity laws of the religiously committed. Don’t be too hard on these guys. They do the RIGHT thing! 

Jesus then adds his semtex moment to the story. He introduces a Samaritan. The Jewish religious leader Jesus was answering, in the telling of the parable, would be turned almost nauseous with sectarian hatred. Then… Jesus goes even further… the Samaritan stops with the beaten up man, binds his wounds and generously pays for his recovery. This is outrageous. The Samaritan’s kind act would not have been the RIGHT thing to do in his community. He had reached across his religious, race and political lines in an act of grace. Some might have called it betrayal. 

What I have been surmising this week, as I have read and reread this familiar parable, is that sometimes the RIGHT THING and the GOD thing are different. We need to get out from the cultural, political, religious RIGHT thing, to what Jesus was inspiring us to do. Time and time again Jesus dismissed doing the RIGHT thing to do the GOD thing. Religious purity, no matter how important that might be, was secondary to caring for a beaten up man. That was an act of grace modelling Christ’s grace towards broken humanity. Jesus died for people not principles.

PONDER: Are there principles we hold above people. Are there areas in our lives we put the right thing above the GOD thing?


Cross carriers

READ: Luke 9: 57-58 

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go." 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Jesus has just set his face towards Jerusalem, towards his cross and actually beyond that towards ascension. He meets a few people on the way who are interested in committing to follow him. In his reactions as recorded succinctly by Luke we learn something of what being a follower of Jesus is about.

In this first encounter the cost of following is laid out. Here is someone who is offering to follow. Jesus wants to make it clear that this is not something you should decide on a whim. It is going to be costly and you need to think through whether you are really up for it. 

Jesus did not ask disciples to pray a prayer, believe a few creedal statements, go to Church every week, sing new worships songs or wear a badge. He said “follow me.” This is a life commitment of sacrifice and discomfort. As Jesus told the disciples earlier in this very same chapter “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

PONDER: Giving up chocolate for Lent is easy compared to following Jesus. Where is our following feeling like denial and cross carrying?


Jack Heaslip

It was with sadness that I heard about the death of Anglican minister Jack Heaslip this past weekend. Jack was the Chaplain to rock band U2 and, though ever humble in the background (proven when trying to find his photo on Google), was a huge influence on the band down through four decades. 

Heaslip was a teacher in Mount Temple School when two things were forming in some of his teenage pupils; the desire to be the biggest rock band on the planet and a Christian faith. Heaslip it seems was the man who became a mentor to that faith development.

Heaslip left teaching and was ordained in the Anglican Church. He married Bono and Ali in 1983 and as well as being the vicar of a group of Churches in County Mayo he would have spent a lot of time not he road with the band. 

There was a recording of one of his prayers in the company of the entire road crew and the band at the beginning of the Vertigo Tour doing the rounds some years ago. It was beautifully pastoral prayer that also had a prophetic belief in what U2 could achieve spiritually in their concerts. From what writer Cathleen Fulsani, who knew Jack personally, would say Jack was indeed a pastor to that entire road crew.

In the sleeve notes of the new U2 record Song Of Innocence the first person thanked is Jack Heaslip with the words, “our North Star.” The band have recorded a song of that title and perhaps that will be their musical tribute to a man who they are all going to feel the loss of, Bono and Ali particularly keenly I think. 

Jack Heaslip was in his 70s, had suffered in recent years from motor neurone disease and died at his home in Howth, Co. Dublin. Our prayers go out to his family and to the members of U2.


Parades St Patricks

(In Fitzroy this Lenten Season we are studying as a Church community the chapters of Luke 9-19 that have been called the travel narratives. I am trying to blog thoughts as I read…)

READ Luke 9: 51-56

51 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53 but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” 55 But Jesus turned and rebuked them. 56 Then he and his disciples went to another village.

The Travel Narratives start here. This is a section of stories unique to Luke and it begins here at the end of Chapter 9 with Luke telling us that Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem. And as Desi Alexander pointed out to us in Fitzroy Jesus ascension is the end goal of Luke’s intentions - “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven.”

For me though in our Northern Irish context I was drawn to this desire of James and John to bring the judgement down. We are always so quick to condemn and throw damnation at others. In Northern Ireland evangelicalism I would describe it as epidemic. When someone thinks anything different than our “infallible” opinions we call them names and dismiss them in the most unChristian of ways. Deluded into thinking we are standing for truth, we smash the good news of Jesus grace. We take God's name in vain and ruin his reputation.

My friend Doug Gay, preaching in Fitzroy, suggested that this traditional route from Galilee to Jerusalem that Jesus was travelling,  and being met with opposition by those of another faith and political allegiance, might have resonance in Northern Ireland. When your songs of creed are met with opposition what do you do? Sing louder! Bring down judgement? Jesus just moves on.

Before we condemn James and John, let us search our own hearts for where we want to damn? Then let us see that James and John actually ask Jesus first. What a great idea? How many of our reactionary responses would be softened with grace if we asked first, “Lord do you want us to…?

PONDER: How do we respond to those who differ with us and don’t hold as dear what we believe? Let us begin to ask Jesus how we shook respond and find his grace in our reactions.



Cross on Bible

“Surrender don't come natural to me 

I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want 

Than to take what You give that I need 

And I've beat my head against so many walls 

Now I'm falling down, I'm falling on my knees 

And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn 

And Your grace rings out so deep 

It makes my resistance seem so thin 

I'm singing hold me Jesus, 'cause I'm shaking like a leaf 

You have been King of my glory 

Won't You be my Prince of Peace”

-      From Hold Me Jesus by Rich Mullins

It is Lent, a season when Christians consider self denial on the run up to Easter. Of course, self denial should not be for just 40 days. It is the call of Jesus by his grace to follow him; “anyone who comes after me must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” “Daily” he calls, not “annually”. Mind you if there has ever been a time in history where these words are difficult it is now. In a world where self gratification is instant in that we can message, bully, buy and sell instantaneously from our phones Jesus call really is counter intuitive. It breaks the defaults of the conditioning of our society.

Rich Mullins’ words here say it all - “Surrender don't come natural to me/I'd rather fight You for something I don't really want/Than to take what You give that I need." God doesn’t call us to self denial to spoil our fun. We fight God to hold onto what in eternity and even in the here and now we don’t need. We don’t take what God has to offer that would transform not only our own souls but the world we live in. Those who lack attachment are those who make the difference and live at peace. This Lent may Jesus' grace ring out deep and may it redeem us into what we were made for.


Fitzroy Front

Tomorrow in Fitzroy is another exciting Sunday!

In the morning (11am) we are delighted to welcome Doug Gay as the preacher. Doug is a minister in the Church of Scotland lectures in Theology at Glasgow University. Greenbelters will know him as a regular speaker,  writer of both books (Remixing the Church: Towards an Emerging Ecclesiology and Honey from the Lion: Christian Theology and the Ethics of Nationalism) and hymns and former mainman with the band Calvin's Dream as well as pioneer of alternative worship as apart of Glasgow's Late late Service. He has been in Belfast this last week as the key note speaker at the European World Communion of Reformed Churches Council 2015. He will be kicking off Fitzroy's journey in the Travel Narratives of Luke which we are following through Lent. We will also be baptising Sophie Ann Campbell withy the help of Fr Gerry Reynolds who will have with him the Clonard Unity Pilgrims. There will be some guitar strewn worship as well.

In the evening (7pm) our own lecturer, author and international speaker Desi Alexander will give us an overview of Luke's Travel Narratives, the chapters 9 through 19. A wonderful introduction!


Love Your Enemies 2

(In Fitzroy we are journeying through Lent in the Travel Narratives of Luke (Chapters 9 to 19). We begin that journey on Monday so in these first few days I am going to draw out some thoughts from the first 9 chapters.)

READ LUKE 6: 27-36

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

For me, as a follower of Jesus, these are the most challenging words in the entire Gospels. For me, as a follower of Jesus who lives and ministers in Northern Ireland, they are the most relevant. 

IF we are listening, the section begins. Well if we are, then we will hear that this is not optional. These are not words for discussion. It is not deluxe discipleship. It is for all of us. We need to forgive our enemy. Whoever “the other” is in our world. 

In Northern Ireland we have been slow to love our enemies. Subjectively, it is difficult because we are wounded, with deep damage in our hearts and souls. Objectively, it is difficult because we have played theological gymnastics in our heads to lie to ourselves that we don’t need to forgive until “the other” repents on our terms and becomes like us.

That is not what we hear Jesus say, if we are listening. There are no pre conditions to loving our enemies. Indeed, Jesus stresses that there is no credit if we love those like us. The power of the life and death and resurrection of Christ will be revealed as a transcendent wonder of a thing when we do the opposite of our intuitive response. 

Why? Where’s the substance for such mad following and loving? In the last line, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” As God loves us unconditionally, so we love our enemies. Grace, mercy incarnate. We can preach grace all we like BUT loving our enemies will speak louder and prove the words. 

My friend Rev Dr Spiwo Xapile, who ministers in Guguletu on the Cape Flats of South Africa and knew the horrendous injustices of the apartheid era, once said to my students, “I get up every morning and thank God I am South African, black and a Christian… because every day I get the opportunity to love my enemies.” Wow! Now that is Christlike!

PONDER: This Lent, let us ask how we are following Jesus in forgiving those we are at enmity with. Also let us ask the Holy Spirit to search us deep down and uncover where we are playing gymnastics with God’s Word to avoid this uncomfortable obedience?



Prosititues 2

(In Fitzroy we are journeying through Lent in the Travel Narratives of Luke (Chapters 9 to 19). We begin that journey on Monday so in these first few days I am going to draw out some thoughts from the first 9 chapters.)

READ: LUKE 5: 27- 32

27After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.

29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”

31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

Here is a recurring theme in Luke’s account of Jesus life; Jesus reaching for the outsider and the religious unhappy at the fact.

I had three months living in Belfast city centre. I had no TV nor did I need one. From the window I could see the drug lift there, the prostitute rendezvous there. One morning I almost stepped over the night girls on my way to the Presbyterian Assembly Buildings. I moved quickly, no eyes connecting. And I thought that that was a good Presbyterian boy. 

Then I was quickly drawn back to the Gospels. Jesus would have sat down and chatted with the prostitutes. They would have been drawn to his grace. It was bad discipleship that sent me off to some ivory tower religious office with the inability to reach out to these women that God loves. So many Discipleship Conferences and books and no one spent a chapter on how to hang with the people Jesus hung around with.

Of course had I sat with these ladies and done the Jesus thing I would have been looked on with some suspicion. My reputation might have been a tarnished (or even more tarnished than it is!!!). The tax collectors like Levi were the social pariahs like drug dealers might be considered today. How far we have gone from following Jesus to following some middle class behavioural code that we erroneously call Christian?

Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

PONDER AND ACT: This Lent, let us ask who it is we are hanging out with and who would Jesus have us spend our time with. Who are our Levi?


Commit 2

(In Fitzroy we are journeying through Lent in the Travel Narratives of Luke (Chapters 9 to 19). We begin that journey on Monday so in these first few days I am going to draw out some thoughts from the first 9 chapters.)

READ: LUKE 5: 1-11

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret,[a] the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.

When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.

Bob Geldof is fond of sharing a quote by mountaineer WH Murray that says, “at the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt could have come his way.

The disciple Peter knew what Geldof and Murray were talking about. The circumstances around him were not good. A night’s fishing; nothing. He can’t have been the happiest fisherman and certainly thought he knew better than the local carpenter. What Peter did, while nothing looked hopeful, was to commit. Once he did… “a whole stream of events issues from the decision…” 

I have known the truth of this in my own life. A three week student trip to Cape Town turned my faith, mission and theology on its head over an entire decade of trips; a blog post on U2 led to a book and years of new friends and opportunities across America; and a coffee with a priest opened up the 4 Corners Festival and so many peacemaking opportunities that I am overwhelmed.

Lent is a time to reassess our commitments. What will we do, even when the scenarios don’t look hopeful. What first step, or first throw, or first coffee will lead to life changing, world changing situations. 

PONDER AND ACT: What might you commit to this Lent season?… Think big… act with a small first step.