The April issue of the Methodist Newsletter is now available for collection,
The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Bill Mullally, has paid the following tribute to the life of Martin McGuinness:
‘It is with sadness that we heard this morning of the passing of Martin McGuinness following a short illness.
‘His commitment to peace and reconciliation was a journey of immense courage, determination and humility.
‘As talks on the restoration of power-sharing continue, let us honour Martin McGuinness’s legacy by redoubling our efforts to mend broken relationships by holding out hands of friendship and working out our differences with respect for each other so that we can move ever closer towards a tolerant, compassionate and peaceful future for all.
‘On behalf of the Methodist Church in Ireland, I offer our deepest sympathies to Martin’s wife Bernadette, his children, grandchildren and the wider circle of family and close friends in their time of loss and assure them of our thoughts and prayers.’
MWI All-Ireland President Linda McGuffin is pictured (front row, extreme left) with members of Cairnshill MWI with their branch president, Patricia Lamont (front row, right), following the Belfast church’s annual MWI service.
Linda spoke to both adults and children on her theme for her term of office – ‘God is Able’. She also thanked the ladies for their support of a recent all-Ireland fundraising drive to meet the sanitation and health education needs of women on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, saying that the sum raised had exceeded the initial target by some £6,000.
It is the tradition for many MWI groups to hold their annual service in the spring and the month of March will see Linda speaking at services in Fivemiletown, Lisburn, Portadown and Bangor.
The Lord Mayor of Belfast, Alderman Brian Kingston, is pictured following a reception which he hosted for retired members of the clergy at City Hall on the evening of Friday 3 February 2017. With the Lord Mayor are (L-R) the Rev Noel Agnew, the Rev Ken Doherty, Canon Barry Dodds, the Very Rev Dr Norman Hamilton OBE, the Rev Jim Rea and Jackie Redpath MBE. The Lord Mayor recently spoke with award-winning journalist Anne Hailes of his deep Christian faith in an interview which will appear in the March issue of the Methodist Newsletter.
Our President has taken as his theme this year The Renewed Mind, the Foundation for Christian Living. Matthew 5, which provides our Gospel readings for the first three Sundays of this month, spells out for us some of the attitudes that are to shape our thinking and living as Christians, and thus moves us on towards maturity. The readings from the Old Testament are chosen to offer background to the Gospel, which the epistles continue to take us through the first chapters of I Corinthians. The fourth Sunday in February prepares us, this year, for Lent and the Way of the Cross.
5th February: 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 58: 1-9a; Psalm 112: 1-9; I Corinthians 2: 1-12; Matthew 5: 13-20
The discussion on the radio this morning has, once again, been about the frustration that people in our part of the world are expressing. Frustration can affect the life of the Church also, when we sense that the message isn’t getting through. The frustration of a disappointed people lies behind our passage from Isaiah 58. ‘Why have we fasted and you have not seen it?’ they ask God. God’s response is that real religion is to care for the oppressed, to feed the hungry and give shelter to the homeless. It also involves living peaceably with one another. These are the essential elements of the work of God. One wonders how strongly they feature in our conversations about God’s work.
The passage from Isaiah acts as a commentary and expansion of Jesus’ words when he challenges his disciples to be salt and light. Both were precious commodities in the ancient world. Salt acted as preservative, but was also linked with Temple sacrifice and thus the need for purity. So Jesus is saying ‘if you want to be my disciple you have to have clean living, you have to live with integrity, and with all that makes for human wholeness and wellbeing’. Being light involves good deeds, precisely the deeds that Isaiah spells out. Nor can disciples of Jesus suggest that the challenges from God that come through the Hebrew Prophets no longer apply to them. Jesus is clear that he is fully in line with Law and Prophets. Thus faithful Kingdom living, the ‘righteousness’ that God requires is not simply about keeping on the right side of the Law, it’s about taking risks in order to reflect the character of God who cares, first and foremost for the vulnerable.
Paul’s explanation of his ministry among the Corinthians also acts as a commentary for Jesus’ teaching. He writes of a contrast between human wisdom and God’s wisdom. It’s possibly best to understand ‘eloquence’ and ‘human wisdom’ as being closely identified. The Corinthians were used to judging their spiritual leaders on the basis of their skill in speaking and their entertainment value. Paul stresses that his approach was different because God’s ways are different. God’s ways are seen in Jesus, who lived the life of self-denying love. Demonstration of the Spirit’s power today will involve Christians showing that the Spirit is present in their gatherings, and also taking seriously the Spirit who spoke through the prophets. This, suggests Paul, is God’s way of getting the message through.
12th February: 6th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20; Psalm 119: 1-8; I Corinthians 3: 1-9; Matthew 5: 21-37
Christianity has often been misunderstood to be a matter of keeping rules, observing customs and not straying too far beyond the boundaries of what the community expects. Unsurprisingly such an approach is frequently rejected by young people as they come of age. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus makes it clear that true discipleship goes far deeper than this and is to be measured first and foremost by the attitudes found in our hearts.
The Commandments in the Old Testament are themselves not simply arbitrary rules. Rather they have been graciously by God in order to help human beings to understand his and thus relate to him. Jesus’ reinforcement of them takes us further into their true purpose. Thus, for instance, it is not really possible to worship God while we harbour prejudice or bitterness against another. Nor may we entertain attitudes of the heart that in any way undermine the bonds of faithful human relationships.
Jesus’ teaching on divorce may seem particularly draconian. It certainly underlines God’s desire for faithful, life-long commitment, reflecting God’s faithful commitment to us. When marriages, including those between Christians, break down, there is always a sense of regret and failure. But these verses also need to be read alongside the whole of Scripture which centres on forgiveness, grace and the opportunity of a second chance.
Renewed hearts are a sign of the working of God’s Spirit in our lives but, as our Old Testament passage points out, they are also a matter of choice. It is we who decide whether our hearts are going to be turned in God’s direction, or whether they are going to be distracted or perverted. Thus faithful discipleship doesn’t just happen. We must want it.
Our epistle today takes us further in 1 Corinthians, and in so doing illustrates the Gospel theme. Rivalry, jealousy and a partisan spirit have no place in the Church of Jesus Christ, and only serve to inhibit our growth as disciples. If we have chosen to set our hearts on God’s will and kingdom, we will then begin to see his servants as partners for the Gospel, and reconciliation will be our chief desire.
19th February: 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Leviticus 19: 1-2, 9-18; Psalm 119: 33-40; I Corinthians 3: 10-11, 16-23; Matthew 5: 38-48
‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.’ The opening words from our Old Testament passage set the scene for today’s readings. But what does such holiness look like? The passage from Leviticus goes on to spell out some details. In part, it echoes the ten commandments, but it goes further. Just as God has a concern for the poor and the foreigner so his people are to demonstrate such care by the way in which they harvest the land. Just as God does not take advantage of the vulnerable but protects them, so must his people. Just as God judges justly so his people are to act with fairness. Just as God’s love reaches to all so his people are also called to love.
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 is based on this foundation but goes further, for Jesus addresses the question of how a people under pressure from their enemies are to respond. At one level, his teaching about not resisting an evil person seems unduly passive. It is true that the Christian is not to be aggressive in insisting on her/his rights, but are we just to submit to evil? However, there is another way of reading these verses that moves them away from simply being a doormat-like response.
Each of the three examples involves a person being humiliated and shamed, and this in a culture that was balanced on the fulcrum of honour and shame. In the time of Jesus an individual wanted to be perceived by all as a person of dignity, worthy of respect. One sought to avoid humiliation at all costs. It’s possible to interpret each of these three examples as turning the tables of humiliation and gaining the upper hand by taking control of the situation in a non-violent way.
In the second part of today’s gospel we see Jesus going further than our passage in Leviticus by exhorting us to love not only our neighbours but also our enemies. We may wonder how, with the best will in the world, we can begin to do so. The place to start is in our prayers, as we hold before the God of justice and mercy those who do us down. Jesus’ final encouragement, to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect, may sound impossible. However, his words rather refer to a God-given wholeness in our attitudes to others which reflects the way in which God sees them.
Holiness is also a major theme in today’s epistle. Paul is still encouraging the Corinthians away from their support of rival leaders, but now he does so by helping them to see that God’s spirit dwells in their community as in a temple and so their whole life together is to be marked, not by destructive attitudes but by the very character of God.
26th February: Sunday before Lent
Exodus 24: 12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1: 16-21; Matthew 17: 1-9
We’re almost in the season of Lent. Wednesday will be Ash Wednesday, when we begin to go with Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. We know that Jesus will face many challenges and will then be betrayed, arrested, physically beaten and finally crucified. Of course, that is not the end of the story, but the journey of Lent and Passiontide can raise for us the question, as it certainly did for Jesus’ first followers: ‘Is this man from Nazareth really God’s chosen one?’ Indeed when (Matthew 16: 21 and following verses) Jesus seeks to describe to his disciples that he, as Messiah, must go the way of the Cross, he is roundly challenged by Peter. Today’s Gospel, therefore, takes us up the mountain of Transfiguration to offer us a glimpse of God’s glory as it is seen in Christ.
Our passage from Exodus reminds us of the significance of a mountain-top experience. God reveals his gracious ways to Moses, but the cloud also reminds us of the distance between God and mortals. Even when summoned, one does not draw near to the Almighty with anything other than a sense of awe.
If at this point we turn to our epistle we find that the transfiguration of Jesus is used to encourage the readers are to be faithful, ‘until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts’, that is until the end times. Thus, when the early Church thought about the Transfiguration, the message which they drew from it was one of hope centred in Jesus.
The details we’re given in the Gospel account highlight this. There is evidence that Moses and Elijah, the change in Jesus’ clothing and the very presence of the cloud were also understood in Jesus day as signs of God’s final coming. The offer to make three shelters may also be significant The Jewish festival of tabernacles (or shelters) had become one of the most joyous Jewish festivals. It recalled the exodus experience – a commemoration of Israel’s wilderness wanderings. Perhaps of even greater interest is Zechariah’s hope (14: 16-19) that, in the new age, the nations that have survived the judgement will come to Jerusalem to observe this festival. Are we therefore to read Peter’s offer as a recognition that the last days have arrived and that it is time to settle down and enjoy them? If so, Peter, like all Christians since, needed to learn that the only way to God’s glory is the way of the Cross.
Ricky, background photo: Mount Tabor (Mount of Transfiguration). All boxes white, except last one – green heading
An all-age audience filled the church hall at St Colmcille’s, Ballyhackamore, on Saturday evening to watch ‘Derek and Dave – In Search of a Bench’, a one act play written and performed by the drama company ‘Play it by Ear’.
Devised especially for this year’s Four Corners Festival, the fast-moving drama gave familiar stories from the gospels a contemporary spin, setting them in the Botanic Gardens in south Belfast. The three actors – Lesley Donaldson, Ross Jonas and Chris Neilands – portrayed a host of characters. There were moments of humour, moments of pathos, moments of choice, moments of change – all pointing to Christ’s impact on ordinary people’s lives.
This was the fourth event in a wide-ranging programme on the theme, ‘Our wounded and wonderful city’, which began on Friday morning when 80 Year Ten pupils visited the Ulster University’s Belfast Campus on York Street.
Designed to ‘inspire people across Belfast to transform the city for the peace and prosperity of all’, the programme offers a further ten events including an evening of ‘Harmony and Healing’ in Belfast Central Mission’s Grosvenor Hall on Tuesday 7 February, bringing together people of different faiths.
The festival will end on Sunday 12 February with an event in the Skainos Centre in East Belfast Mission when festival-goers will be challenged, inspired and encouraged to live lives of healing.
The photograph shows, from left, Chris (aka Derek) Lesley and Ross (aka Dave) on the bench in front of two of the festival’s organising committee, the Rev David Campton (left) and Fr Martin Magill.