DCN. DEBBIE WESSELOO
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Pentecost 2014
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.
“As the Father sent me, so I send you.  Then He breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit”.
Today we celebrate the great and joyous feast of Pentecost.  In the past weeks we have travelled with Jesus to the cross, rejoiced in His resurrection, felt the excitement the disciples’ must have felt when seeing the risen Lord and their sadness as they watched Him return to His heavenly Father.  Now we have come together to remember the most precious gift of the Holy Spirit given to the disciples on that first Pentecost day.
When writing this sermon I tried to put myself in the locked room with the disciples and experience what they were going through.  Can you imagine the fear that they were feeling and their confusion over the events they had experienced with Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension?  Putting myself in their shoes I am sure I would have been feeling a certain amount of anger as well.  Here they were, living in times where the rulers had the power to put you to death if you went against the law of the day and your leader, your rabbi, has deserted you.  But did Jesus desert them?  The answer is NO.
Jesus is the epitome of love.  He understood the fear, sadness and confusion his disciples were experiencing.  Jesus loved them so much that He sent the Holy Spirit to help them have the courage to face the challenges of spreading the Good News to the world.  By sending them the Holy Spirit He enabled them to grow into the amazing evangelists that they were.
Today we are reminded that all of us are blessed with gifts from the Holy Spirit and we have a responsibility to use these gifts to promote the spread of the kingdom of God.  Each and every one of us is gifted in some way and we need to use our gifts.  We cannot allow our gifts to grow stale.  The Holy Spirit, sent to us by God at our baptism and our confirmation, allows us to bring about God’s glory in the world.  This is so important to remember – we are not meant to make ourselves greater in the eyes of others with the gifts of the spirit that we have been given.  Everything we do or say must be entirely for the Glory of God.
The feast of Pentecost is so joyous because we are once again reminded of God’s great love for us.  This may seem like an obvious statement.  We all “know” that God loves us but do we truly believe it?  It is so easy to believe that God has deserted us when we experience devastating events in our lives.  We turn on the TV and see such negativity in the world that it is easy to say “where is God?  Why has he left us?”  As Christians we are blessed because we know that He has not abandoned us.  His Holy Spirit is with us, guiding us in every situation, giving us the ability to cope with whatever comes our way.
The feast of Pentecost always reminds me of my own confirmation.  I was convinced that I would have an experience of the Holy Spirit similar to that of the disciples that first Pentecost day.  I was sure that I would feel the Holy Spirit surging through my body as the Bishop laid his hands on my head.  That didn’t happen.  What I have come to realise is that the Holy Spirit works quietly in our lives.  It is the Holy Spirit which gives us the strength to make good choices in life.  It is the Holy Spirit which guides us in the way of good and helps us discern what is right in the eyes of God.  It is the Holy Spirit which encourages us to use our God given gifts in such a way that God’s love is spread to all those whom we meet.  It is the Holy Spirit which helps us consider the needs of others and not just our own needs.  Jesus was the perfect example of this.  He lived, died and rose again so that we could be saved.  He humbled himself in the sight of God and in doing so, saved all of humanity.
So how does this relate to our lives?  How can we apply today’s message to our everyday lives?  For me the feast of Pentecost is the perfect opportunity to spend some time thinking about our lives.  What gifts of the Holy Spirit have we been blessed with and are we using them or letting them grow stale?  Are we using our gifts to their full extent or are we allowing the fear of failure or ridicule prevent us from becoming the people we are called to be?  Are we willing to take up the task given by Jesus to spread the Good News to all through our actions, words and gifts?  Just as in the time of the disciples, being a Christian in our modern world takes courage.  It is not always easy to stand up for our beliefs, to be God’s hands in the world. 
There are so many ways that we can use the gifts of the Spirit given to us, in our church community and in the community we live in.  All of us have some ability to make a difference in the lives of others. Yes our lives are busy but even a small act of kindness can make a difference in the life of another.  A smile can turn a person’s day around, a thoughtful gesture can mean the world to the person receiving it, a caring phone call can brighten the life of another.  All of us can make a difference in the world and bring God’s love to those around us through the help given to us by the Holy Spirit.
My prayer for us today is that we will be open to God’s blessings in our lives and that we will be open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance in using our God given gifts to His honour and glory.
To God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.


2nd Sunday of Lent

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.  Amen.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the word, but to save the world through Him.”
Today we mark the 2nd Sunday of Lent.  Lent is a time to look at our lives with truth and the clarity that comes with truth.  But is this an easy task?  I believe that it isn’t.  It is so difficult to see ourselves truly for who we are but it is essential that we do so.  It is only through looking at ourselves with truth that we can truly understand who we are and what we are about.

In today’s readings the concept of “faith” is raised.  In Genesis we read about the faith that Abram had in God.  God asked him to follow Him and go to the land that he would be shown.  When writing this sermon I tried to put myself in Abram’s position.  Can you imagine the internal turmoil he must have felt in following the momentous request made by God on his life.  He showed an immense faith in God by following what he was asked to do.

I believe that today we are being challenged to look closely at our faith as we prepare for Easter.  We need to prepare for the fact that we have been saved by the sacrifice made for us by Jesus once upon the cross.  Faith is so important in our daily lives.  Faith is a quality that is difficult to define.  To me, faith is a belief that is held close to the heart.  Faith is a belief within our very souls that everything will work out according to God’s divine plan – even if we may not understand what that plan may be.

In the letter to the Romans we are reminded that it is through our faith that we are justified in the sight of God.  Abram did not follow what God asked because he had to, but because he had faith in God and believed that it was the right thing for him to do.  I believe that this is such an important lesson for all of us.  So often we will only do things because we believe that it is expected of us.  Perhaps we need to look at our actions and the way we live our lives and determine whether we are following a Christian lifestyle because it is expected of us or because we truly believe that it is the right thing to do.  Jesus, for me, is the perfect example of how to live.  He lived according to God’s love and treated everyone in the way that God would.  He did not judge others but accepted them for who they were.  He did not see himself as better than others in the ways that the Pharisees did, but humbled himself and treated all people with love and equality.  Jesus did not follow God’s will because he had to but because he believed that it was what He was meant to do.  He worked for the spread of God’s kingdom because of His faith in His heavenly Father.  His works and actions were justified by the faith that He showed.

So how do today’s readings relate to our modern lives?  Firstly I would like to focus on something which really worries me -  the fact that many people are being told that if they are not healed from a specific affliction or disease, that they do not have enough faith.  To me, this application of faith in life is destructive and damaging.  I believe that it is important to have faith in God during every aspect of our lives, especially the difficult times, but I do not believe that bad things in our lives are a result of a lack of faith on our behalf.  Having faith in God does not mean that our lives will be free of challenges and difficulties.  It means that we are able to see the work of God in our difficulties and how God helps us through the difficulties we may face.  It is through faith in God that we are able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Our faith is often what keeps us going when our bodies say that we cannot.  Faith is confidence and trust in God no matter how difficult the circumstance may be.  It is a belief that God is on our side no matter what and that He cares for and loves us no matter who we are or what we do or may have done.  Faith is a belief that God is there at all times, in our happiness’ and sadness’s and that He is embracing us in His ever-loving arms.
God never promised that life would be easy, but He has promised that He will be with us and guide us every step of the way.  We were never promised a life of ease but we have been promised a life supported by God’s love, guidance and comfort.  Jesus did not have an easy life but He had faith that what His father had planned for Him was for the greater good.  So often, when life is hard, we battle to see the plan that God has for our lives.  It is much easier to accept His plan when life is easy and going well.

During this Lenten period I believe that we need to look at the faith that we have in God in an honest manner.  This is not an easy task but perhaps we can use this time of preparation to develop our faith in God and in His plan for our lives.  We can use this Lenten period to deepen our relationship with our heavenly Father and through this deepening relationship, deepen our trust and faith in Him.  I would like to finish my sermon with the very popular poem “Footsteps in the Sand”.  I pray that you will have the faith to allow the Lord to walk with you in the good times and carry you when the times are difficult.

Footsteps in the Sand

One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.  In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand.  Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.  This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish and sorrow, I could only see one set of footprints.  So I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always.  But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand.  Why, when I needed you most you have not been there for me?”  The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints in the sand, it is then when I carried you.”

To God be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.


Fourth Sunday after Pentecost Ė 16 June

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

True Love

Love can always conquer
Whatever discord brings
And love can also cover
A multitude of things

Don't you under estimate
What love can ever do,
For love is God eternal
And His love can renew

What is cold and lifeless,
Now lost all hope and died,
For love can breathe new meaning
And give it back new life

Please don't give up on love
When it seems that all is lost,
For there is always hope
If we're prepared to pay the cost

For love is always worth it
No matter how much the price,
For love will be much stronger
When we trust in Jesus Christ

So let God have full reign,
Let Him live within your heart
Then you will know true love,
For this He will impart
.

In todayís Gospel we see a very good example of the amazing love that Jesus had for all people.  I am always so in awe of Jesus when I read this Gospel reading from Luke.  Jesus loves with a pure heart.  He loves without expecting anything back.  He loves with a perfect love.  He accepts the repentance gift of foot washing from the woman without considering the beliefs of the day.  In the time of Jesus, women were seen as inferior to men.  Worse still, were women who, in the eyes of men, had sinned.  Jesus never judged people according to whether they were a man or a woman.  He loved people for who they were as people and the closeness that they sought with God.

Jesus was a perfect example of how to love.  I often used to wonder why Jesus came to Earth when He knew how he would be treated.  I have come to realise that he came to show us how to love.  For Jesus, love was something that was central to life.  When asked about the commandments he stated that we need to love God with all our hearts, soul and mind and love our neighbour as ourselves.  This is what Jesus lived every day of his life.  He loved those around him no matter who they were or what they had done in their lives.  He loved the sinful woman enough that he let her show how sorry she was for her sins.  He didnít focus on how her touching him could make him ritually unclean, but focused on how he could make her feel Godís love for her through the forgiveness of her sins.

Today I believe that we are being challenged to love.  I donít often watch the news on TV but I was shocked with the amount of negativity and hatred being reported when I looked at the News24 web site.  It made me ponder Ė Why?  Why is there so much hatred in the world and how can we change it?  I have come to the realisation that there is a lack of love in the world.  Modern people tend to focus on themselves and how they can better themselves, no matter the cost or who gets hurt in the process.  I teach Grade fours and we are learning about great leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.  What I have realised is that both of them promoted love and reconciliation.  Mandela himself said that if he carried hatred in his heart towards those who persecuted him, he would still be in prison even though he was free.  This is a profound statement.  Not only should we forgive for the love of the other person, but also because we need to love ourselves and protect our souls.  It is no wonder that out of faith, hope and love, love is the greatest.  Without love there is no faith and hope.  Love is the key to life.

With today being fatherís day and youth day, I think it is fitting that the theme of todayís mass is love.  It is in the family environment that love is grounded.   The children of today are exposed to so much peer pressure and negativity that it is essential that we, as a church family, care for our children.  We need to make them feel loved and accepted.  We need to show them, by our example, how to love and forgive.  Only then can we create a better world, a better South Africa.  Our children are our future and we have a great responsibility to them.  Jesus himself valued children so much that he said we need to be like them if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven. We have to honour our children and help them to grow into loving, good adults. 

My prayer for us this week is simple.  May you feel loved.  May you feel loved by God, by your family and by your church.  Each and every one of you is special and loved so much by God that He gave his only son so that you could be saved.  I also pray that you and I will share the love of God to our families and friends and to all whom we meet.

To Him be the glory forever and ever.  Amen.


Sixth Sunday of Easter 2013

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord.  Across the dark sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to him and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand. He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it. "Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me." The Lord replied "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints in the sand, it was then that I carried you."

 This poem entitled "footsteps in the sand" came to mind when I was preparing for this sermon. I tried to picture in my mind the scene in which Jesus spoke the words of today's Gospel. Even though we are hearing this reading on the sixth Sunday of Easter, the scene where it actually took place was before the crucifixion. Jesus had just had his last supper with the disciples and had now told them that he would be leaving them. Can you imagine the fear and sorrow that His words placed in the hearts of the disciples? Their friend and teacher, to whom they had dedicated their lives to, was leaving them and probably in their eyes, deserting them. Imagine yourself in their shoes. How would you feel if you we're hearing those words from Jesus? I think many of us can relate to the feelings that these disciples had. I am sure that all of us have experienced the loss of a loved one and the sadness that comes with that loss and how difficult it is to let that person go home to our Father and be happy for them. Jesus understood the feelings of his disciples and He understands our feelings.

 If we look into the deeper meaning of today's readings we can understand why Jesus was speaking to His disciples in this way. He wanted to help his disciples understand that his forth-coming death was not the end of the mission He had begun on Earth. He came to Earth to bring the good news to the world and He is now passing the banner onto his disciples. He is entrusting His mission to them. But at the same time He is providing encouragement to the disciples. He is ensuring that they understand that they will not be left alone in this mission of spreading the good news to the world. Yes, He would not be there in the physical realm but He would send the Holy Spirit to be their helper, guide and inspiration. The spirit would give them the ability to face and overcome the challenges of spreading the good news to all people.

 In today's gospel Jesus is also speaking to each and every one of us. We are all His disciples on earth and are called to spread the good news from God the Father, to all whom we meet. Many times, especially in this modern world of ours, we may feel that God has abandoned us in this mission, that we have been left bereft and alone in a time when we especially need guidance. We cannot talk face to face with Jesus in this physical world. But Jesus is reminding us today that even though He may not physically be with us, the Holy Spirit is sent to help us in living a good Christian life. You may ask, "Why do we need the Holy Spirit. We can't see it so why should we need it?" To me, the Holy Spirit is the voice that guides us when we don't know which way to turn. It is the voice inside us which encourages us to reach out to those in need. It is the voice which encourages us to do the right thing even though it is difficult. It is the voice which tells us to keep going even though all we want to do is give up. Jesus knew that He could not stay in this world forever. He needed to return home to His Heavenly Father but He loved His disciples, and He loves us so much, that He sent the Paraclete, the third member of the Godly Trinity, to them, and to us, to help us as we continue His mission on earth. This mission is essential because the earth and the new Jerusalem are still separate. In Revelations we read about the new Jerusalem which comes down to earth from Heaven. The author speaks of the glory of God being present in the city and therefore no temple is needed because God is living with His people. Until that time, we need to continue with the mission that Jesus began. We need to bring people to God and show the love of God to those around us. We also need to remember that we are not alone in this mission. God has sent His Holy Spirit to help each and every one of us.

My challenge for us this week is that we will focus on the influence that the Holy Spirit has on our lives.  I pray that we will make time to listen to that quiet voice inside us which guides and instructs.  I pray that, just as the author in the poem ďthe footstepsĒ we will realise that God carries us and helps us during every step that we take on this journey called life.  We do not walk alone and have not been deserted.  We are loved and cared for.  We can travel this journey in a spirit of peace, a peace which the world cannot give, a heavenly peace, an eternal peace.

To God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be all glory,might and power, forever and ever. 

 Amen.


THE GIFTS OF GOD

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our strength and Redeemer.

Todayís Gospel reading is one of the most famous readings known by all Ė the wedding at Cana.  Jesus performs his first miracle at the behest of his mother and turns water into wine.  I have always enjoyed reading about this first miracle because it reminds me about the humility with which Christ approached every part of His life.  Jesus did not throw himself upon others but stood up and fulfilled his God given calling when He needed to.  

When preparing for todayís sermon it struck me that the miracle of Cana can be an inspiration for our lives in 2013.  Just as Jesus felt that His time had not yet come to take up His role as the Messiah and healer so we often feel that we are not ready to take up our God given role in society.  We may feel inadequate, unworthy and perhaps even fearful to take up Godís call in our lives.  I like to think that perhaps Jesus felt the same feelings we feel when His mother asked him to help at the wedding at Cana.  He didnít automatically agree to her request.   But He accepted the role that He was destined for and showed himself as the Messiah.  He experienced the feelings that we feel, and therefore it is easy to identify with our wonderful saviour.

St Paul in his letter to the Corinthians tells us that we are all blessed by God in certain ways in order to be of service.  Each and every one of us has a gift to be used to further the kingdom of God.  This is a God given gift.  What St Paul emphasises is that each and every one of us make up a part of the body of Christ.  Each personís gift comes from the same spirit of God and is just as important as another personís gift.  Each and every one of us is important in the eyes of God and no single personís gift is more important than anotherís.

Our modern society focuses a lot on oneís abilities and places immense emphasis on greatness.  Greatness in sport, academics and finance.  Perhaps todayís readings are encouraging us to shift our focus in life. I believe we are being called to rejoice in the gifts that each and every one of us has been given by God.  Perhaps we are being called to stop and focus on what God has called us to do no matter how big or small that task may be. 

I would like to share the following story that I received via email.  It really reminded me that all of us have a special, God given role in this life and that no matter how small and insignificant it may seem, it can mean the world to another and bring the love of God to others.

We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly eating and talking.

Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, "Hi there."

He pounded his fat baby hands on the highchair tray. His eyes were wide with excitement and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin. He wriggled and giggled with merriment. I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man with a tattered rag of a coat; dirty, greasy and worn. His pants were baggy with a zipper at half-mast and his toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard, and his nose was so varicose it looked like a road map. We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled.

His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists. "Hi there, baby; hi there, big boy. I see ya, buster," the man said to Erik.

My husband and I exchanged looks, "What do we do?"

Erik continued to laugh and answer, "Hi, hi there." Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby.

Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, "Do ya know patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo."

Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence; all except for Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring skid-row bum, who, in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments.

We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot.

The old man sat poised between the door and me. "Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik," I prayed.

As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back trying to sidestep him and avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby's "pick-me-up" position. Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man's. Suddenly, a very old, smelly man and a very young baby consummated their love relationship. Erik, in an act of total trust, love, and submission laid his tiny head upon the man's ragged shoulder. The man's eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labor -- gently, so gently, cradled my baby's bottom and stroked his back. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time.

I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Erik in his arms for a moment, and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine.

He said in a firm commanding voice, "You take care of this baby."

Somehow I managed, "I will," from a throat that contained a stone.

He pried Erik from his chest - unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain.

I received my baby, and the man said, "God bless you, ma'am, you've given me my Christmas gift."

I said nothing more than muttered thanks. With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car.

My husband was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly, and why I was saying, "My God, my God, forgive me."

I had just witnessed Christ's love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment, a child who saw a soul, and a mother who saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind, holding a child who was not.

I felt it was God asking - "Are you willing to share your son for a moment?" - when He shared His for all eternity. The ragged old man, unwittingly, had reminded me, "To enter the Kingdom of God, we must become as little children."

My prayer is that we will be willing to share Godís love with others, just like little Erik.  That we will realise that we are all special, no matter who we are or what we do in life.  I pray that we will see the gifts that our children give us and the lessons they teach us about God as they are often the ones who feel no inhibition in acting the way that God meant them to.  I pray that we will use our God given gifts with the same enthusiasm as a child, giving every part of ourselves to the gift we were given to share.

To God be the glory forever and ever.

Amen.


RECONCILIATION
 

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be always acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.

Our Lenten series is well underway and we have focused on topics such as love, peace and forgiveness. Today our focus is on reconciliation. Reconciliation is a word that we hear so often in our country, but do we really know what it means? Do we put it into practice in our own lives? Last week we heard about the importance of forgiving others when they have wronged us and forgiving ourselves for the wrong that we have caused others. Forgiveness and reconciliation go hand in hand. In the reading from Hosea we hear how God instructed Hosea to reconcile with his wife. St Paul emphasises that we have been reconciled to God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are once again in a covenant relationship with God our Father. Jesus himself teaches the concept of reconciliation through the parable of the Lost Son. Jesus makes us aware through the parable that after forgiveness it is possible to be reconciled. The Father of the son held no ill will against his son and welcomed him back into his home.

Reconciliation, just like forgiveness, does not mean that we condone the wrongful actions of another. Reconciliation means that we acknowledge the action, accept the apology and move forward in our relationship with the person who has wronged us. But is this always possible? In our South African context, where so many people have been wronged in terrible ways, can one reconcile with someone who may have caused immense pain and suffering. I believe that it is possible. Perhaps reconciliation in this sort of situation takes place within ourselves if not with the actual person. I believe that this is what Archbishop Desmond Tutuís aim was when he chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. When people are able to express their anger and hurt and are able to receive an apology from the person who has hurt them, they can reconcile themselves to the fact that life can continue and the past can be put to rest.

Today we are also celebrating Mothering Sunday. Mothering Sunday originated in Europe to honour the Virgin Mary who is seen as the mother of the church and therefore our mother. It was a time when whole families were reunited in the act of worship. This was a very significant event because in those times families were often separated for months on end because of work commitments and the fact that travel was not as easy as it is today. This Sunday was also called Simnel Sunday because Simnel cakes were baked and shared with family members on this day. This Sunday was a day of celebration within the confines of Lenten fasting and people enjoyed and celebrated being in each otherís company.

I feel that it is very significant that Mothering Sunday falls on the day when we are focusing on reconciliation. Families are often the place where people experience most of their hurts. Fights occur and members of the family separate themselves or are ostracised from the rest. I believe that we can learn a lot form the parable of the lost son. Jesus is trying to show us that no matter what we have done wrong or what others have done wrong, reconciliation can take place. If we are able to bury our pride and communicate our feelings, relationships can be healed and restored. It takes effort and commitment. It takes love and a willingness to communicate. It is not easy but it is possible. Life is short and I believe that we need to act quickly to restore our relationships with others. We never know how long we have to make things right with another person.

My challenge for us today is that we look carefully at our lives and work at reconciling with those who have hurt us or who we have hurt. If we do this we are living in a way that Jesus wants us to live. We are living a Christian life. A Godly life. We are all the sons and daughters of God, may we always look to our Father for the strength and guidance we need in the process of reconciling with others. Amen
 


HERE I AM LORD - SEND ME

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.

Todayís Gospel reading from John is a passage with which, I am sure, we are all very familiar. Once again we are reminded of the events that followed the glorious resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning. We, today, are truly blessed because we are sure of the fact that Jesus our saviour and redeemer is truly risen. We can move from the great feast of Easter with renewed joy and great hope for the future. However, it seems that this was not true for the disciples present at that first Easter. John recounts the fact that they were locked away in a room for fear of what the Jews would do to them. They were filled with fear and uncertainty. They knew that Jesus had risen from the dead because Mary had seen him, but they still probably had a lot of doubt in their minds. It is at this time of fear and uncertainty that Jesus appears to them in the locked room, greeting them with the phrase "Peace be with you!". He allowed them to see his hands and his side, proving to them that he truly was risen from the dead, that he was the fulfilment of the prophecies and truly the Messiah promised from of old. Can you just imagine the immense feeling of joy that they experienced at that momen!. All their doubts vanished and their faith in Jesus was renewed.

John continues his story by recounting the story of Thomas, known famously to many of us as "Doubting Thomas". Thomas was not in the room with the other disciples when Jesus appeared. He did not believe the other disciples, stating that he would only believe that Jesus had truly risen from the dead if he could touch Jesusí hands and put his hand into his side. At first read I often find myself thinking that Thomas was a fool. How could he doubt that Jesus was risen? But I think it is important to look at Thomas in a different light. Can you blame him for doubting? Would we not have done the same in his situation? I think that if we look at ourselves honestly, we probably would do the same. Thomas cared so much about Jesus and the message that he proclaimed that he didnít want to believe the other disciples just on blind faith. I think that he believed that the resurrection was such an important event that he had to be sure that Jesus truly had risen from the dead.

Jesus does appear to Thomas 8 days later and shows great compassion towards him. He doesnít admonish him for doubting but allows him to touch his hands and his side. Jesus was not angry with Thomas but realised that Thomas needed proof. Thomas then makes one of the great confessions of faith that can be found in the Bible "My Lord and my God". Through this confession he doubts no longer but truly accepts the resurrection and the fact that Jesus is the long awaited for Messiah.

The story of Thomas, I believe, is very close to our modern day experience of faith. We are faced with the dilemma that we do not see Jesus in the flesh in the same way in which the disciples were able to see and experience Jesus. We have to have faith that Jesus rose from the dead without physically seeing his wounds in his hands and his side. This type of faith is something that grows within us from the time of our baptism, strengthened at our confirmation and built up every time we read the scriptures, spend time in prayer or quiet contemplation and attend mass. This type of faith is seeing our resurrected Lord and God through the eyes of our hearts and not our physical eyes. This faith transcends the need for physical proof. This faith is one that Jesus loves as he states "happy are those who have not seen and yet believe".

But does this mean that we are never allowed to have times of doubt. Often when we face times of great sadness, trial and difficulty, our faith can waver. Like Thomas we doubt that God is truly there caring for us. We want proof that God cares, that he is there for us. I believe that this is part of who we are as human beings. We are not perfect and Jesus understands this. He does not judge our doubt. He accepts us and loves us just the way we are. He envelops us during our times of doubt and helps us rebuild our faith through those around us. He may not physically appear to us in order to take away our doubts. Instead he shows himself through ordinary, everyday people who though Godís grace, brings us into a closer relationship with Him. It is often through times of doubt that our faith, like Thomasís is made that much stronger.

There was a story I heard that I believe embodies how Jesus rebuilds our faith during times of great difficulty.

There was an old shoemaker who lived in the city of New York. He had been a shoemaker all his adult life and worked in a basement below the streets of New York. He was not wealthy and worked long hours in order to make a living. His only company was that of his wife of many years, the shoes he fixed and the view of the people passing by his shop window. As his shop was below the street, the window in his shop only allowed him to see the shoes of those who passed by. One cold winter his wife died and the man, who used to be close to God, went into a depression. He was angry with God and doubted Godís love for him. He kept asking God for a sign that he was not alone in his suffering. He waited and waited but nothing happened. One night while sitting in his chair he heard a voice saying that he would be getting a visitor the next day. When he asked who would be visiting, the voice said, "Jesus". The man was so excited that he spent the whole of that night preparing a beautiful meal for Jesus. The next day he stood by the window and gazed out at those passing by, looking for the feet of his saviour standing at his door. That afternoon a beggar stood in front of his window and remained there until nightfall. The shoemaker was furious because he could not see if Jesus was there or not. Time went by and the evening got colder. Snow began to fall. The shoemaker looked out and saw that the beggar was still there. His shoes were full of holes and he began to feel sorry for the poor man standing out in the cold. He decided to invite the him in. He fed him the food he had made for Jesus, provided him with warm clothes and new shoes and allowed him to spend the night by the warm fire. The shoemaker was glad that he had helped the beggar but was sad that his faith in Jesus coming to visit him had been dashed. After the beggar had left the next day the shoemaker once again heard the voice of Jesus speaking to him. He was angry and asked Jesus why he had not visited as promised. Jesus replied "I did visit you. You fed me, clothed me and cared for me. Thank you". It was then that the shoemaker fell to his knees, knowing that God loved him and that Jesus had shown himself through the presence of the beggar.

We may not see Jesus but we have the opportunity to be touched by him and experience him through those around us. We just have to be willing to open the eyes of our hearts and have faith in our Lord. It is then that we can also exclaim with great joy "My Lord and my God!".

Just as we can have our faith renewed by Jesus through those around us, it is important that we, too, allow Jesus to work through us. Just as Thomas and the disciples used their renewed faith to spread the love of God and the Good News to others throughout the world, so we as Christians are expected to spread our faith in Jesus Christ to others, to bring his love to those in need and to those whose faith has wavered. We must help those facing immense hardship, to those rejected by society. This does not mean that we have to go and join a missionary society and travel the world. All it means is that we have to see the world through the eyes of faith, the eyes of Jesus - to see where he needs us to work for him and have the faith that he will help us carry out his work - to have the faith that, unworthy though we may feel, Jesus calls us to be his hands in the world. This faith and experience will be, as Peter tells us, our great joy as we are able to share Christís salvation and love with those around us.

My challenge for us today is that we will take the time to see Christ in others and that we will allow Jesus to increase our faith so that we can be his instruments of faith and love in the world.

To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.


CHRIST WITH US

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in Thy sight O Lord our strength and our Redeemer.

"I am the Lordís servant ÖÖÖ. May it be to me as you have said". With these words, uttered by Mary, our salvation began. Todayís readings and Gospel focus on the prophecies on the coming of the Son of God and the future fulfilment of those prophecies through Maryís acceptance of Godís will for her life.

Todayís Gospel, I feel, is such a powerful piece of scripture. When we read this Gospel passage I sometimes feel that we donít focus enough on how important Mary was in helping to bring about the fulfilment of the prophecies. Her acceptance of Godís call to be the mother of Jesus put into action Godís plan for our salvation. So letís stop a bit and focus on exactly what Mary did when she accepted Godís call.

Mary, as we heard during the lighting of the Advent candle, was a young girl living in Nazareth. History of Jewish customs suggests that she was between the age of 12 and 16 years. Mary was betrothed to Joseph, a young Jewish man descended from King David. I like to think that Mary was probably about her daily chores when the Angel Gabriel, sent by God, approached her to proclaim Godís will for her life. The Gospel of Luke tells us that she was troubled by his words. As a child I always wondered why she would be troubled by the words of an Angel? Now that I am older, it is very clear to me why she would be troubled. Imagine if you or I were in her position. I honestly believe that I would think that I was going mad or dreaming! Being visited by an angel is not an everyday occurrence today or in the time of Mary. The fear she must have experienced must have been overwhelming for someone so young.

The angel Gabriel goes on to tell her that she has found favour with God and has been chosen to bring Jesus, the Son of the Most High, into the world. She is told that He will be given the throne of His father David and reign over the house of Jacob forever. Essentially Mary is being told that she will bring the long awaited for Messiah into the world. The immensity of the angelís words would have weighed heavily on Mary as all Jewish people were well versed in the prophecies of old contained in the Old Testament. She knew that the Messiah would come to save Godís people from tyranny and oppression and now she would bring Him into the world. This must have been daunting for her.

Another difficulty Mary would have faced was the fact that she was betrothed to Joseph. Betrothal in those times was a lot more serious than today. Many people today see engagement as a time to decide whether to get married or not get married. In Maryís time betrothal meant that you were promised to each other. A breaking of that betrothal would have brought shame on Mary and her family. The fact that Mary would be pregnant before she married Joseph would have been considered an immense shame for her family. Imagine the turmoil she would have suffered hearing the angelís message.

Even with all the turmoil and fear Mary was facing, she said to the angel, "I am the Lordís servantÖÖ May it be to me as you have said." Mary accepted whole Ė heartedly the will of God for her life. She didnít tell Gabriel that God was asking too much of her, that she was busy or that it would be too hard a task for her to face. She stepped into the future in faith knowing that God would give her the strength she needed. She had no guarantees, just a steadfast faith in God her father and our father.

To me, Mary is a wonderful example of how we, as Christians, should live our lives. She was an ordinary person just like us and she accepted Godís call. God calls us in so many ways every day. How many times have we turned God down because of fear, inconvenience or because we do not feel worthy of His call? Maryís example shows us that accepting Godís call may be difficult but the outcome is life changing. There is a Jewish saying that whoever saves one life saves the world entire. Maryís acceptance of Godís call led to the salvation of all humanity. May our acceptance of Godís call could save just one life, change one life and bring Godís love to all. Godís love is powerful and we are called to spread that love to all whom we meet. My prayer is that we will take up Godís call, just as Mary did, with faith love and conviction. It is so easy to ignore Godís call with all the festivities of Christmas. But todayís Gospel reminds us of the immensity of Christís birth and the importance of focusing on the TRUE meaning of Christmas. We need to spend time in this last week of Advent, praising God for the precious gift of His Son and for the courage and faith of His mother, Mary. Then we will be truly prepared for Christís birth this Christmas.

To Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

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