"You're now in the Kingdom of Kerry!", Rev Jim Stephens announced with a broad smile as we skimmed along the N21 en route to Tralee, crossing the River Feale. With the sun splitting the skies and green fields stretching away to distant Killarney mountains, it was easy to see why Jim was so proud.
I was on my way from the Diocesan Synod in Limerick last month, with a sermon to preach the next day at St John the Evangelist, Tralee. Rev Jim had asked me to come and speak about Mission in Kajiado Diocese, Kenya as two of his flock (David Tough and Robert Hoffman) were preparing to go there as part of a four-person CMSI Team. (Read the team's blog posts).
In the Gospel reading I was speaking on (Matthew 11), John the Baptist sent messengers to Jesus asking if he really was the Messiah - his faith was clearly wavering after being imprisoned for criticising King Herod. Jesus' answer was confident and clear - tell him what you see! The blind can see, the deaf can hear, the lame can walk, people with leprosy are healed, the dead are raised back to life, and the Good News is preached to the poor....or as he put it in chapter 10, "The Kingdom of heaven is near!"
Like John the Baptist, I can sometimes catch myself thinking, is this Jesus I keep preaching about really the Chosen One? Is the Mission we are all involved with really transforming the world through love? Sometimes personal circumstances or the flaws and failings of our all-too-human churches make me doubt.
But this weekend was to be a faith-refresher! From the welcome I received at the Tough's that evening (thanks Jackie and David, and daughter Hazel) to the sunny walk in Tralee Rose Park early next morning, to the multinational fellowship in worship in church later on (I met folk from Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, El Salvador, Syria and Holland), it really did feel like I'd experienced Heaven in the Kingdom of Kerry!