Ecumenical Sunday - Potterswood Methodist Church

Today was a real privilege for me. I want to thank the parish of Potterswood for allowing me to preach at and lead their service. I had a wonderful time,Thank You.

Below is the typed version of the homily. I went off script often so while this is roughly the homily given it's not exact by a long way.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20 
Psalm 95
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
Mark 1:21-28  

It is a real privilege to be invited here today to preach. I think it's a wonderful thing our communities are doing, swapping preachers, swapping ideas, sharing our worship. I am sure God would be proud of us all. Although, I have to admit I am more than a little intimidated about today, I don't want to let you down or disappoint anyone. I have been well guided by Neil & Elly in what normally happens here and I have tried to roughly follow that. However, I have also taken several elements from the Roman Catholic services that are happening across the world today. The opening blessing and the readings are taken from the Roman Missal and every church will hear those same readings. The prayer I used in the children’s blessing is a famous one from Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The prayers of intercession that we will say in a few minutes are based on the ones prayed last night at the first Mass I attended this Sunday. The Hymns we have sung are Hymns I sing regularly and love.

I hope nothing we have done this morning or will do this morning is new to you. It's Christian worship, catholic worship in it's true meaning of universal, all encompassing, every church, every Christian.

In some ways all our journeys began with the story told in today’s Gospel. These events that Mark described are right at the start of his Gospel. In the few verses that preceded what we heard today, we were told about John the Baptist, the Baptism of Jesus and Jesus calling his disciples. Today we see the start of Jesus' ministry. We are told of his first teaching and his first healing.

It starts with a simple line, “When the Sabbath came, Jesus went to the Synagogue and began to teach.” But His teaching was different and to understand why Jesus' teaching was different we need to understand a little about what normally happened in a synagogue.

Synagogues were established to teach. Every Jewish settlement would have had a synagogue, in fact the law said where you had ten Jewish families you must have a synagogue. But synagogues were not run by a permanent preacher, vicar or priest. There were roles in the synagogue, there were the distributers of alms who took up collections for the poor, the Chazzan who looked after the scroll and there was a ruler who performed the administration and opened the service and invited people to preach. These people could and would be anyone from the community but often these teachers would be scribes. Scribes were important people, they studied the Torah, the first five books of our old Testament. The Torah contained everything, every instruction needed to live according to Gods will. The scribes over generation had built the rules of the Jewish people on the Torah, the Law. They taught from tradition, quoted other scribes and rules. They were good men I am sure but legalistic and it was from their knowledge of tradition and law that they taught.

Christ was different. Christ taught with Authority, his authority. He didn't site rules and precedents. He spoke from the heart, the same heart that had given Moses the Law centuries before. Christ with words alone was amazing people. He was telling them what they needed to hear in a way no man had done before.

To add to this amazement they witness the exchange between Christ and a man possessed by an evil spirit. The spirit, through the man, start heckling, and Jesus sternly commands the spirit “Be Quiet. Come out of him.” and the spirit does so immediately.

There is some archaeological evidence that suggests the cure for possession by an evil spirit or demon was to have a small hole drilled into the top of your head to let the spirit out, a technique called trepanning. The bone removed was then worn as a necklace. In one excavated cemetery of around 2000 years ago 6 out of 120 bodies were found with trepanned holes in the skulls.

Christ's command, a simple phrase, compared to this surgical procedure again shocked and amazed the people. So what we read today describes how our church started. The first Christian preaching, the first Christian healing. Jesus was a man who could preach something new and preach it with Authority. He was a man who could command demons. He was a man to be talked about because no understood who or what he was.

It's sad that 2000 years on many in our world still don't understand who Christ is. But there is also great hope, sure and certain hope, because many in our world do know Christ. We are here today because we know or want to know Christ. And we are challenged by today's gospel to carry on Christ's teaching, and to carry it on with his authority.

When you trust in him, he will give you the words. When you live with him he will guide your actions. The lives you live and the conversations you have will influence those around you.

We spoke to the Children a few minutes ago about starting things with prayer, about inviting God in to there lives. To share the fun, the important and even the normal everyday things like meals. I challenge you to do the same in everything you do. Invite God to be a part of it. Allow him to express his authority in this world through you.

Let take a couple of minutes silent reflection now, and maybe use the time to consider what we will do this week and how we will share it with God.

My First Homily - John 1:35-42

It was the 4th Jan 2008 and a very terrified John stood in front of the other students, legs and hands shaking. We had just heard the gospel that we heard today, and I was about to give the homily. I really like this homily, I put weeks of work into but please remember as you read it it was my first and written over four years before my ordination. The personal stories here are very real, and I owe a great deal to all of my friends for their prayer and guidance.

So first of all here is the Gospel and then the homily, I hope it inspires you to pass on the wonderful Good News of Christ.

John 1:35-42
The next day as John stood there again with two of his disciples, Jesus went past, and John looked towards him and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God.’ And the two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Jesus turned round, saw them following and said, ‘What do you want?’ They answered, ‘Rabbi’ – which means Teacher – ‘where do you live?’ He replied, ‘Come and see’; so they went and saw where he lived, and stayed with him that day. It was about the tenth hour. One of these two who became followers of Jesus after hearing what John had said was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother and say to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ – which means the Christ – and he took Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John; you are to be called Cephas’ – which means Rock.

We have just heard how the first disciples met Jesus. So I would like to share a little story with you, about how a few friends of mine helped me find Jesus, but I’ll change their names so none of them get embarrassed. It begins, a few years ago, as I started college. Andreas was doing the same course as me and we became good friends, in fact when we left college we got jobs at the same company so our lives were closely linked for a good few years. When I think back to those days, a few good times stand out:
  • A badly played and embarrassing game of charades with his church friends
  • Many Christmas Eve’s spent playing computer games before heading off to midnight mass
  • And, a lot of evenings spent trying to solve the mysteries of life the universe and everything. Andreas was a Christian and me well I probably pictured myself more as a Jedi Knight, so these were always interesting discussions.
A few years and a couple of jobs later I met Andy, we worked for the same company and instantly got on. I got to know him and his wife Drew really well. I often slept on there sofa on Saturday nights after enjoying a good meal and a little bit too much wine. Sunday mornings they would dash out to church and sometime I would even go with them. One evening Drew suggested that maybe I should look into attending an Alpha course. I took that advice and a year later I was spending my Thursday evenings at a local church. I still didn’t believe but I had an open mind, and the one thing I had worked out was that Andreas, Andy and Drew all had something I didn’t have and I wanted to find out what it was.

Over the next few months as the course went on and different presenters explained and justified Christianity, my logical head took it all in then dismissed most of it. However, my heart noticed that Andrea, one of the Christians on the course, she had the same something, the same peace, my friends seamed to have. Slowly I realised, what my friends had wasn’t something they were hording but something they were trying to give. Eventually, I found Jesus in the smiles of my friends, Andreas, Andy, Drew & Andrea.

We can learn four powerful lessons in today’s gospel, about how to live as Christians, in today’s world.
  • First, Be humble Second,
  • Go when called Third,
  • Meet people where they are And Forth,
  • Tell people what you have found.

Our first lesson… Be Humble. John was humble when he pointed out Jesus, to his disciples. He new they would leave him, but it wasn’t his fame that was important to him… It’s all to easy to get caught up on yourself, I do it all the time, but I know, we all know that others come first and so does God.

Our second lesson… Go when Called. The two disciples took their opportunity, they heard what John said and followed Jesus. They didn’t wait till the last possible moment or find some excuse not to go, they just followed. I am a great one for putting things off, homework or reports are always done the night before. But remember, there are something’s that you may only be given a few moments to do, smiling and dropping a few coins into the beggars hat or stopping to help a broken down motorist. You never know, God may intend for them to notice the cross around your neck.

Our Third Lesson… Meet people where they are. When Jesus was asked ‘Where do you live?’ he just said ‘Come and see’. This was a very different response than ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Which he gave a couple of years later when a man said that he would follow him wherever he went. Why the difference? Jesus’ message was going to be new to the two disciples, so he went somewhere quiet and spent the day talking to them. He started with love and friendship, demonstrating to them what he was about to start teaching them.

Our forth lesson… Tell people what you have found, was demonstrated be Andrew. The first thing Andrew did after meeting Jesus was to introduce his brother to Jesus. Andrew does this a lot in the gospels, check next time you see his name, I’m sure you’ll find he has just introduced someone to Jesus. We all have it in us, to bring people to God, not by shouting the bible from street corners, but by the way we live our lives and treat our friends.

Whether you work in a school, prison, hotel, an office or your home, you’ll meet strangers and friends everyday. Be humble, Go when they call, meet them where they are and tell them what you have found. Our challenge from today’s gospel is to be a little more like Andrew… or Andreas or Andy or Drew or Andrea.

The Ministry of Reader

Across our community of parishes we have some very active and capable ministers across all of the ministries. We want to encourage and form our minister, improving as a group our capability and enhancing our worship for everyone. In December we held a session for readers, and we are planning to hold a second session soon to give some practical training on reading and using microphones.

The notes for the first session are available for download here, FormativeCourseforReaders.pdf

The following is an image of well formed Reader.

It was late Tuesday evening, Dave had just finished replying to a couple of work emails. The kids were in bed, and because there had been swimming tonight they might actually be asleep. Walking into the kitchen Dave took a glass down from the cupboard and poured a glass of wine. Then picking up his missal he walked into the lounge and sat down for the first quite time he had had all day.
Dave wasn't rota'ed to read this Sunday, but he had got into the habit of going through the Sunday readings anyway. He thought to himself, you never know when someone is going to be away and you are going to be asked to step in. Dave also liked this quite time, his time with God. He didn't pray well by himself, his mind always wanders off onto work, kids, football or something else. But he liked to read and think about the message, and it was interesting. He also liked to think, what could these readings mean for me.
Taking a sip of his wine, Dave checked last Sunday's bulletin for the correct readings for this Sunday, the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. Then opening the missal he read through the first reading, psalm, second reading and the gospel. The message was clear to him, love God and love your neighbour. He was however a little puzzled by one word from exodus. Dave had no idea how to pronounce Usurer (U-Sure-er) or even what it meant. It must be something to do with leading money and probably charging interest. As Dave scribbled "Usurer" in this diary, he heard the front door open. He put the missal down and shouted "Hi Love, would you like a cup of tea or glass of wine.
A couple of days later Dave typed the words "usurer pronounced" into google and found out it means to lend money at high rates of interest. He also listened to a recording of an english lady saying the word. You learn something new everyday he thought to himself. He also felt good about himself
remembering that when he had lent his brother in law £4000 so he could buy a bigger car for the family, he had insisted on not taking any interest.
Sunday morning, quarter to nine, right in the middle of the chaos that always happened when they were trying to get the kids moving and into the car, the phone rang. "Dave, sorry to drop this on you last minute, but we are away this weekend and my phone has just bleeped at me saying I'm first reading today. You couldn't do my reading today could you."
"No problem" , said Dave.
Just under an hour later, Dave walked confidently to the Ambo, took a deep breath, look out into the congregation, smiled, and started to read. Being a good or great reader at church starts with preparation. It's all about your relationship with God and taking the opportunities to spend just a little time with him preparing for each Sunday.

Top Christian Apps for iPhone and iPad

A year ago, on the Clifton Diaconal Formation Blog, I published a list of my favourite Christian iPhone apps. I figured a year on it was time to revisit that post and update it. I have added a couple of new apps and commented on some of the new functionality particularly functionality for the iPad.

Confession: A Roman Catholic App
Catholic Calendar
Free Candle

As I am known in my Christian circles as a geek and my geek circles as a Christian, I am often being asked about Christain Apps. In fact last year even Radio Bristol asked me to come in to talk about the new Confessions App that was in the news a lot, so that's where I will start.

A Confessions App, it's called Confession: A Roman Catholic App.

It's one of several confessions apps available I it's one of the better ones I think. It is very easy to use both in preparation for confession and if you choose to in the confessional with the Priest. I typically use this app on my train journeys from Bristol to Leeds, which I have to make every 3-4 weeks for work. I can spend a quiet hour using the app to help me examine my conscience and plan what I want and need to talk about in confession. The app contains a list of questions against each of the 10 commandments that really help me examine my conscience. For example “Do I not give God time every day in prayer?” When I read this question I instantly think of the times I have missed, skipped or if I am really honest avoided morning & evening prayer. Then it also makes me consider the times I did pray but didn't give the time to God, when I just ran through the prayers.

There is a tick box next to each question and if you check it, it will appear in the next set of screen that you can use when confessing. There is also an option for adding your own items that aren't included but you want to talk about in confession.

The second part of the app allows you to use the iphone to help and prompt you in confession, It really helps me use concentrate on confessing before God and the Priest what I have done wrong and the things that I regret rather than worrying about remembering or getting confused by what I should say and when I should say it. It starts by prompting you with phrase like “Father it has been 3 weeks since my last confession”, it cleverly knows when you last used the app for confession and works out the number of weeks for you. On the next screen it list all the question you checked and on the last it has the text for an act of contrition. It works really easily and for me has been a real help.

The app allows multiple users if you share iTunes accounts, but each user is password protected so your sins and still between you, the priest and God.

The App is also usable properly on the iPad and makes full use of the extra screen size. However for me it much more useable on the phone, just because of where I choose to use it. If I prepared for confession at home more ofter rather than on trains, the iPad size would make things easier. But even then it would be a bigger device to take with you to confession.
Having spoken to a few people about this app, many people have jumped to the wrong conculsion about it. It isn't an app to replace confession, allowing you to confess to the phone. It isn't an app to let you publish your sins on facebook and twitter, someone actually tweeted “The official Catholic Confession app costs $2 and I can't even post my sins directly to Twitter or Facebook.” It isn't an app to automat confession, you can't phone in your confession.
What it is, is a great little app that help you prepare for and enjoy the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

My most used app year ago was Universalis, and it still is. In the last year it has made many improvements, including being fully updated with the new translation. This is the an amazing App for those wanting quick and easy access to prayers of the divine office and the missal.

It contains the full breviary for the divine office and now full missal. It is very quick and easy allowing you to read and pray the office. It also contains the readings for the day at Mass and a brief but illuminating biography of the saint or saints of the day. For anyone wanting to pray the divine office this is a must have, and by far the best of the small number of divine office apps there are on the apple app store.

The extra space on the iPad makes that a joy to use when preparing for reading at Church or in my case prepareing homilies. It is also very easy to lead prayer direct from the screen. Anyone who has sight problems will appreaciate being able to zoom in on the text with a simple apple pinch of the screen.

There are two versions one which is free (and called Catholic Calendar) and one for about £15. The free version requires a data connections either via wifi or over the mobile network. For your £15 pounds you get everything downloaded on the phone so it can be used anywhere, you also get to use some addition translations most importantly for me the Grail psalms. As an added bonus for your £15 you can also download and use the Web and PC versions which are very useful if you are preparing to lead prayer for a group and need booklets printed out.

Third on my list is iRosary, it's a lovely rosary application that from my techy perspective is absolutely beautiful. The screen can be configure to show meditative artwork, or the words of the rosary, or both. The beads are shown down the right of left of the screen depending on if your right or left handed. A small stroke of the screen will move the beads on just as if you were praying with beads, and there is a small vibration of the phone each time the beads move on so you can pray easily with your eyes closed. Again this is a train favourite of mine, everyone else in rush hour has there laptop out or the paper open and I am quietly praying the rosary. It's a wonderful way to spend time between Bristol and Paddington.

This app also uses the iPad screen well, with more space for pictures allowing your eyes to guide yor reflection on the mysteries. For me though the iPhone is much more similar to beads as it sits in the hand and would therefore be my prefered way of using it.

The last on my list right now is PocketSword. I have been using this in various forms for years. There are versions for the PC and most smart phones. In it's simplest form it allows you to carry a bible around with you, but that's only a small part of this app. It's links to sites that allow you to download many different translations as well as commentaries and bible dictionaries. For anyone wanting to study the bibles this is great. When I am preparing homilies or lectures this is always used. I use it most though on a Thursday evening, when I sometime teach at church. If I get asked an awkward question I have an opportunity to look up the answer while everyone else is having a cup of tea in the break. Great app and Free.

The iPad version of this is great. Much more room on the screen and it now becomes a real study tool when you want to spend time with scripture. When I am preparing homilies and courses you will find my typing on my laptop but using books and the iPad as resources. Pocketsword is one of the best.

A new and really simple app is Free Candle. All it does is show a candle on the screen and while it's a long way short of a real candle for prayer or meditation, it is usable in a car or office where you wouldn't be able to light candles. It has a few different types of candles depending on your mood, and because the iPhone has a microphone it detects when you blow the candle out.

When leading the stations of the Cross last Lent I used the StationsoftheCross app for one of the sessions. It has lovely artwork and a simple scripture reading and prayer for each station. This app is ideal for both personal and group devotions.
The app isn't iPad enabled but is useable as an iPhone app on the iPad. It's a shame really as the picture are wonderful and it would be nice to be able to show then off on the iPad screen.
The app is only £0.69 and is very similary to the many £1.99 little books you can buy at the back of churchs, so good value in my opinion.

I am really interested to know what you think of the iPhone apps and which ones you like using. please drop me an email with your favourites