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Preview: The Reverend Garibaldi McFlurry

The Reverend Garibaldi McFlurry



Sermons, book reviews and randomness from the Reverend Garibaldi McFlurry.



Updated: 2018-01-16T12:00:19.089+00:00

 



Sermon: Psalm 90 Gaining a heart of wisdom

2018-01-08T12:30:05.146+00:00

So how has the first week of 2018 been for you? Have you got used to writing January 2018 yet? When I was preparing the service sheet for tonight I had to make doubly sure that I got the right year! We’ve already made it through one week of the new year - and in another 51 of those, it’ll be 2019 before we know it.Time seems to be flying. It seems to pass so quickly. And, as I’ve been told, the older you are, the quicker it seems to go. We might think that time is passing so quickly because of all the technological advances of the last century. Is the quick passing of time because we’re in the modern (or post-modern) era?Our Bible reading tonight, Psalm 90, shows us that it has always been the same. The superscription, the little title before the first verse, tells us that this is a Prayer of Moses, who lived about 1500 years BC. This Psalm is over 3500 years old, and yet in verse 10, speaking of a lifetime of seventy or eighty years, ‘for they quickly pass, as we fly away.’ (10).So this is a human experience, not just a modern experience. Moses says that time flies. So how do we respond to that fact? Some might go the ‘let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die appraoch.’ (Maybe we need to change that in the new year to let’s eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we diet...) Or perhaps you’ve heard someone say, I’m here for a good time, not a long time... As time passes, as our life whizzes by, as we begin this new year not knowing what will come of it, how should we respond?Moses, the man of God, wants us to get things in proper perspective. He wants us to see things the way God sees them. Because the meaning and purpose of life is vastly different depending on our perspective. And that’s brought out by a series of contrasts throughout the Psalm. In the opening six verses, we see the contrast between God’s eternity, and our mortality; God’s power, and our frailty.In our almost ten years of married life, we’re now into our third home. Hopefully we won’t need any more removers for a very long time. My family moved into the house I grew up in about a week after I was born, so it had been the only home I had known, but it was just built, so it was all new for my mum and dad. But sometimes, you hear of families that have lived in the same house not just for one person’s whole life, but for generation after generation. In Fermanagh they talked about the homeplace, the family homestead for many generations. Or to think of it another way, last September we celebrated 180 years of St Matthew’s. Just think of the generations who have worshipped here. The generations have come and gone, but St Matthew’s remains.Well that’s getting on to the idea of verses 1-2. ‘Lord, you have been our dwelling-place’ for how long? ‘throughout all generations.’ God has always been around. God is the eternal one, the one all generations have been able to dwell with. Moses expands that thought in verse 2: ‘Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.’Before the world existed. God was. God is eternal, from everlasting. And that is beyond our thinking. Beyond our comprehension. And to this everlasting God, time is nothing. If we think time is flying, to God, who is outside of time, well, ‘a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch of the night.’ Have you ever had one of those nights where you sit and think - where did that day go? It went by in a blink. That’s what it’s like with God - a thousand years just like a day, as Peter says in our second reading.It reminds me of the old story. Someone read this verse once and so they say to God, God, is it right that a thousand of our years are just like a second to you; and a million pounds would be to you like just a penny? And God says, yes. So the person says, God, would you give me a penny? And God says, yes, just a second...It’s just a joke, but it helps us to try to get our heads around God’s eternity, his power. [...]



Sermon: Luke 2: 41-52 Home but not alone

2018-01-07T12:30:01.050+00:00

Every family seems to have some sort of traditions and customs. So maybe when it’s someone’s birthday, they get to choose what’s for dinner, or where you go to celebrate. You might take the day after New Year’s Day to take down the tree and do a spring clean. Or you always take a certain week or fortnight on holiday, every year, without fail.Family traditions are usually seen at Christmas. Whether it’s who hosts the dinner, or there’s a pattern of which ‘side’ you go to on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, or when you open your presents - there’s a way you tend to do things. Family traditions that help make Christmas what it is. One of our family traditions (although, I’m realising we didn’t do it this year...) is that at some point in the run-up to Christmas, we’ll watch a movie. Not just any movie, though, the same movie, every year. Some of our friends watch It’s a Wonderful Life. Maybe for you it’s The Great Escape. In our house, almost every year since we’ve been married, we’ve watched Home Alone. Or else Home Alone 2: lost in New York.If you’ve never seen Home Alone, then perhaps the name helps you to grasp the idea. A little boy called Kevin is, well, home alone. Through a series of mishaps, Kevin gets left behind while his family head off on holiday. As the movie progresses, you follow Kevin overcoming his fears, enjoying having the house to himself, and finally defeating the wet bandits as they try to break in to steal from the house. While Kevin is having a great time, the camera keeps cutting back to his frantic parents as they try to get back home to find their son.In our Bible reading this morning, we find a situation a bit like the Home Alone story. Every year, Joseph and Mary went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. It’s one of the big Jewish festivals, recalling the escape from slavery in Egypt. It was a requirement for everyone who could to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival. And so this particular year, Jesus was twelve years old. When they’re travelling back to Nazareth, they were likely in a big group, everyone walking and talking together. But after a day’s travel, they discover that Jesus is not with them. He’s nowhere to be found. Now, imagine that you’re Mary. You’ve given birth to this special son, announced by an angel, witnessed to by more angels and visited by shepherds and wise men. And he has... disappeared. Aged 12. Imagine the agony, the sense of blame, the panic as you begin to search for him. Where is he? Where could he be? What’s going on?Before we discover where Jesus was, I’ve a question for you. Why are we told about this incident? This is the only record we have of Jesus between the visit of the wise men in Matthew 2 (when he was under 2), and the moment when Jesus begins his public ministry around the age of 30. This is the only detail we have of his childhood. Why?Back at the start of Luke’s gospel he tells us his purpose and method in writing this book. He talks about eyewitnesses and servants of the word. He talks about carefully investigating everything from the beginning. and he does that careful historical work ‘so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.’It seems that Luke has interviewed Mary, and got this story from her. Back on Christmas morning we looked at the unforgettable Christmas, as she ‘treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.’ So in v51 ‘his mother treasured all these things in her heart’ - even though she didn’t understand what Jesus said to her. (50). Time and again, she would return to this day, think about this day, run over the words her son said, trying to work it out.So we’re given this bonus DVD material only in Luke’s gospel, because he thinks it’s an important step along the journey. It adds something to the gospel, it helps us to see Jesus more clearly. So what does it show us about Jesus? We’ll see, as we return to Mary and Joseph in verse 45.They return to Jerusalem to look for him. The[...]



Watchnight Sermon: Lamentations 3: 19-33 New Year Mercies

2017-12-31T23:45:00.229+00:00

It seems to be the done thing at this time of year to look back on the events of the past twelve months and review what has gone before. It seems that most TV channels have been doing their own celebrity quiz of the year, and the newspapers have been reminding us of the big stories of 2017. It was the first year of President Trump; the year of elections - to Stormont (which doesn’t seem to have achieved much since March) and to Westminster in Theresa May’s snap election, after Brexit had been officially triggered. It’s been the year of revolution in Turkey, the independence referendum in Catalonia, and the end of Robert Mugabe’s rule in Zimbabwe. And that’s just a small sampling of what’s been going on.But what about you? How was 2017 for you? As you look back on the year, what will you focus on? Will it be thought of as a good year, or a bad year? I’m aware of so many people who found Christmas a difficult time this year because of the loss of a loved one, or some bad news concerning their health, or for a multitude of reasons. And as we face into 2018, we face the unknown. We simply don’t know and can’t know what the future holds. That might leave you apprehensive or fearful, but I trust that our reading from Scripture tonight will give us hope and comfort on this new year’s eve.Yet even as I say that, you might think to yourself, hope and comfort from a book called Lamentations? It doesn’t sound like a cheerful read! For the most part, it isn’t. Just as we remember a particular year because of some wonderful or terrible event, so it was for the people of Jerusalem. A few years ago, the Queen spoke of her annus horribilus, a year of horrors; Lamentations is the response to those horrors by the prophet Jeremiah.Jersualem has been conquered, captured and destroyed by the Babylonian armies led by King Nebuchadnezzar. The temple is no more, its treasures stolen and removed. Most of the people have been taken away into exile. And for the first three chapters of Lamentations, Jeremiah spells out the horror of what has happened. Just before our reading, he says this: ‘He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.”.’ (3:16-18).As he walks through the remains of the city - just imagine it as one of the TV news reports showing the aftermath of the California forest fires. Darkness, despair, sadness and suffering. He’s at the lowest he could possibly go. All hope seems to have vanished.It’s at that moment that he remembers something that brings him hope - something that even the darkest night can’t remove - something that strengthens him to continue: ‘Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.’ (3:21-23)Did you notice the timespan of the Lord’s love in that verse? The steadfast love of the Lord ceases when? Never! His mercies come to an end when? Never! His steadfast love never ceases - it is always with us, no matter what the date on the calendar is; no matter what we may be going through right now, or what the new year has in store for us. The Lord’s steadfast love will not cease tonight, or this year. His mercies will be new every morning, whether you wake early or lie on until lunchtime.This is something to hold on to as we get used to writing 2018. This is something to cling to when things don’t work out as we planned. This is something to hold us up when we are brought low - God is in control; and his love is still for us. That love was demonstrated on the ultimate day of horrors, as the sinless Saviour died for his enemies in order to welcome us as his friends and give us the sure and certain hope of life with him.God’s love has been displayed for all time on the cross. His love will never come to an end. It helps us to stand an[...]



Sermon: Luke 2: 21-40 Simeon's Bucket List

2017-12-31T12:30:13.723+00:00

What do all the following things have in common?Swim with dolphinsLearn a new languageSee the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)Throw a dart at a map and travel to wherever it landsGet a tattooAny ideas? They are among the most popular items on people’s bucket lists. So what’s on your bucket list? You may not know the term, but you might just have a bucket list.It’s not a list of the buckets you own (if indeed, you own more than one bucket, just in case, like Liza in the song, there’s a hole in your bucket...) It’s a list of things you want to do before you... kick the bucket. The things that you could say, ‘I’ve done that, now I can die happy.’So what would your bucket list include? What would you prioritise? As the new year dawns tomorrow, what would you like to have done by next new year’s eve? I’m not going to share my bucket list, because in my last church, I mentioned that I would love to make it to the top of Cuilcagh mountain, the highest point in Fermanagh (and Cavan). You might have seen the photos of the stairway to heaven, the wooden walkway and staircase built over the bog. Well, I foolishly mentioned that I wanted to climb it, and so before I left, one of our parishioners marched me to the top of the staircase, in the snow and ice, to say that I’d done it!So what would your bucket list include? What would you want to do so that you could die happy?This morning in our reading, we meet a man with just one item on his bucket list. And the one thing on his list might not seem like a big deal for us. His bucket list says: ‘See a baby.’ He lives in Jerusalem, he must see loads of babies, as their parents brought them to the temple for dedication, as the Old Testament commanded.But it’s not just any baby. It’s actually see ‘the’ baby. Simeon is described (25) as righteous and devout. He trusts in the Lord, he’s living by faith. But more than that, he is ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel.’Now, when do you need consoled? It’s when you’re in distress. When things aren’t going right. You need someone to console you, to provide comfort. I haven’t played any bowls here yet, but in my last parish I sometimes played. And at Christmas there was always a party night. Everyone played three games, with the teams drawn at random, and at the end of the night, the scores were added up. There were prizes for the top scoring men and women.I played as well as ever, and needed to be consoled, because I finished with the lowest score. But I was consoled - I for the booby prize, or the consolation prize. It made up for what was lacking. When I unwrapped my Terry’s Chocolate Orange, the pain of my terrible performance was forgotten!Simeon is waiting for the consolation of Israel. Israel was in a bad way. They seemed to be far from God. God hadn’t spoken to them for about 400 years. The Romans had conquered the land. Israel was occupied, ruled over by the Romans. Israel needed to be consoled.Look at v26: ‘It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.’ Another version puts it that Simeon wouldn’t SEE death until he had SEEN the Lord’s Christ. So Simeon knows that he won’t die until he has seen the Christ, the one through whom the consolation of Israel would come. So Simeon’s bucket list reads: ‘see the Christ.’Out of all the babies in the temple that day, Simeon is guided to the right one. He takes the baby Jesus in his arms, and breaks into song. ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’I can die happy, because I have seen your salvation. He may not know how the salvation will come, but he knows who will bring the salvation. And by the Holy Spirit, he seems to base his song on our first reading, the servant song of Isaia[...]



2017 Books

2017-12-29T10:23:45.499+00:00


I like to keep track of the books I've read each year, and then select my top five. We're coming towards the end of the year, so here are the 2017 books! I'm glad to see that my reading has picked up again, breaking into the 30s again after a run of three years in the 20s. Still, not as many as my 78 in 2007!

Here are the books I read in 2017:

1. The Doctrine of God - Gerald Bray
2. Devoted to God - Sinclair Ferguson
3. Nine Inches - Colin Bateman
4. God in my Everything - Ken Shigematsu
5. Growing Leaders - James Lawrence
6. In the Name of Jesus - Henri Nouwen
7. You Can Really Grow - John Hindley
8. You Are What You Love - James KA Smith
9. What Does The Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality? - Kevin DeYoung
10. To Be Told - Dan Allender

11. Overcoming the Dark Side of Leadership - Gary McIntosh & Samuel Rima
12. The Whistler - John Grisham
13. No Little Women - Aimee Byrd
14. Luther and the 9.5 Theses - Kenneth Brownell
15. Transgender - Vaughan Roberts
16. Convinced by Scripture - Andy Johnston
17. Assisted Dying - Vaughan Roberts
18. Is God anti-gay? - Sam Allberry
19. A Better Story - Glynn Harrison
20. Silence - Shushaku Endo

21. Us - David Nicholls
22. To Kill the President - Sam Bourne
23. Because of Bethlehem - Max Lucado
24. The Big Ego Trip - Glynn Harrison
25. The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne
26. Serving the Church, Reaching the World - Richard Cunningham (ed)
27. Katie Watson and the Painter's Plot - Mez Blume
28. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
29. The One True Gift - Tim Chester
30. Challenges of Christian Leadership - John Stott

31. Dark Matter - Tony Watkins


My top five of the year?
1. A Better Story - Glynn Harrison
2. Devoted to God - Sinclair Ferguson
3. No Little Women - Aimee Byrd
4. To Kill the President - Sam Bourne
5. Convinced by Scripture - Andy Johnston


Here are the links to previous years' book blogs: 2016 (23); 2015 (21); 2014 (26); 2013 (45); 2012 (49); 2011 (37); 2010 (52); 2009 (41); 2008 (23); 2007 (78).(image)



Sermon: Luke 2: 1-7 O little town of Bethlehem

2017-12-24T12:30:48.407+00:00

Well, ready or not, Christmas has arrived. And even though we know it’s coming, the date is the same every year, yet still we find ourselves running about, getting things sorted. And this year it seems strange that Christmas Eve is on a Sunday - giving us a pause before Christmas Day itself. This morning gives us an opportunity to look back to the very first Christmas, to see what really happened. And we’re in the hands of Dr Luke, the writer of this gospel, who tells us in the very first verses of the book that he has ‘carefully investigated everything from the beginning.’ (1:3). Dr Luke gives us the true story of the first Christmas.And in this morning’s seven verses, he tells us about the events of the first Christmas - the time, the place, and the circumstances of the birth of Jesus. So let’s look at each in turn, starting with the time of Jesus’ birth.V1: ‘In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.)’The focus at the very start of the passage is on the people in power. There’s Caesar Augustus, who is the Roman Emperor; and that hard-to-pronounce-at-carol-services name, Quirinius, the governor of Syria. Augustus was ruling over the entire Roman world - and one word from him impacted on lots of other people.It’s a bit like today. Our focus and attention can be on the few very powerful people who control the world. With us, it’s Teresa May leading the Brexit negotiations - whatever she decides (or, ok, agrees to with the EU), it will have an impact on all of us when we finally leave the European Union. Or think of Donald Trump. There are fears that he might decide to launch a nuclear missile - which will certainly impact lots of other people. Well, at this point in history, it was Augustus who was calling the shots.Whatever his reasons, Augustus decides to take a census. It may be that, as the King James Version puts it, everyone should be taxed. It was at least, some form of registration. So the word goes out from Augustus, and everyone is caught up in his demands. We see this in verse 3: ‘And everyone went to his own town to register.’Someone on Twitter the other day said this: ‘For too long I thought that it was awfully inconvenient for the King to call a census at Christmas time.’ (@ngorlly)They thought that it’s busy enough at Christmas, without having to deal with a census as well. but it’s not that the census was called at Christmas, but that Christmas called during the census.Caesar Augustus decided he would call a census, but behind the scenes, God was calling the shots. And God was working through the decisions and decrees of the powerful to bring about his purposes.The time of Jesus’ birth was the time of the census, but as we saw in Galatians 4: ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.’ (Gal 4:4-5).In the next verses, we see the place of Jesus’ birth. We’ve already sung about it this morning - O little town of Bethlehem. And in these verses we see how the decree of the Roman emperor impacts on one particular family. The focus shifts from the powerful and important, to the ordinary and (in the world’s eyes) unimportant.‘So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child.’ (4-5)Joseph is living in Nazareth, in the province of Galilee. But he can’t register there, as he’s not from there. At some stage he must have been a blow-in. And so he sets off, along with Mary his betrothed - his fiancee. A journey of about 70-80 miles - from here to either Londonderry or Du[...]



Carol Service Epilogue: Luke 2:12 Christmas Unwrapped

2017-12-17T21:50:54.221+00:00

Richhill 17/12/17 pmLuke 2:12 Christmas UnwrappedAre you all set for Christmas? Have you all the presents wrapped and under the tree? It’s one of the most exciting parts of Christmas - seeing all the beautifully wrapped gifts with coloured paper and bows - and the best bit: the gift tag that says it’s a present for you!When we were growing up, dad had a rule that we weren’t allowed to open any presents until Christmas morning. Now that wasn’t too bad, except our great-aunt and uncle lived in Belfast, and always came to visit granny early in December, bringing presents with them. The mysterious presents (and they were always brilliant) sat under the tree for several weeks. We weren’t allowed to open them, but that didn’t stop us from poking and prodding them, trying to work out what was inside. You see, the wrappings were nice, but they’re not the most important part. Up until the big day, it’s the wrapping that holds the attention. But come Christmas Day, the wrapping paper is torn away, the gift inside is revealed, and the real enjoyment can begin. Whether the paper ends up in a plastic bag, carefully collected at the time, or the room looks like it’s been re-carpeted with fragments of wrapping paper, the wrapping is forgotten, and the presents are finally present.But sometimes, you hear of the child who takes more enjoyment from the box, rather than the expensive gift inside. The box becomes all sorts of things in the imagination, the toy itself is left abandoned. If it’s your child, you want to show them the real present, not just the wrappings. Otherwise, they’re missing the precious gift.We might laugh when it comes to a child, and yet sometimes we too can be so caught up in the tinsel and trappings, and yet miss the treasure. We come round to another Christmas time, and we think we’ve heard it all before. We know the story so well, we reckon it’s just for the kids. We get wrapped up in the wrappings of Christmas, that we miss the gift itself.You see Christmas is about more than cooking the perfect brussell sprouts and attending the parties and being visited by the jolly man in red and spending time together as a family. If we unwrap the Christmas package, what is it we find at the centre? What is the heart of Christmas? Our Bible readings tonight help us to discover Christmas unwrapped:Take away the tinsel and turkey and tree; pass on the parties and puddings and mince pies; strip away the shepherds and angels and wisemen; and gaze on the glorious gift - which is wrapped up, but not in paper and bows. Luke tells us that the gift is wrapped... in strips of cloth, and lying in a manger, where the animals feed. This is THE Christmas present: He is the Christmas gift: a tiny newborn baby.But this is no ordinary baby. Every parent knows that their baby is special, their child is amazing - but none can compare with the baby in the manger. We discover that this is the long-awaited king, the rescuer. As the angels told the shepherds: ‘Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.’ (Luke 2:11)Isaiah helps us remove the wrapping to see just who Jesus is: ‘He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ It’s the message of the most famous verse in the Bible: ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’You might be a present-poker; you might have sneaked a peek; or you might be waiting patiently to see what’s under the tree. But don’t get caught up in the wrapping paper and miss the real Christmas gift. The gift tag has your name on it. The gift is for you. God gives us his Son, the Saviour. Will you receive him this Christmas time?This sermon was preached at the Carols by Candlelight Service in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday 17th December 2017.[...]



Sermon: Galatians 6: 1-18 Freedom to do good

2017-12-10T12:30:44.907+00:00

We’re getting into that time of year when you start thinking about the year that is almost past, and you start thinking about the year that is coming up. It’s three weeks today until New Year’s Eve, and 2017 will be behind us, a new year will be opening up before us. And perhaps that makes you think of New Year’s Resolutions. Maybe you think back to 1st January this year, to see how you got on this year with those resolutions... if you kept them past January, or if you’ve still been keeping them up. So, with January coming, you think to yourself, next year, I’ll give it a go. Next year I’ll make a change. New Year, New Me, and all that. But you don’t have to wait for the new year to have a new you. You don’t need to have a new calendar or diary to make a change. You can do it today. As Paul closes his letter to the Galatians, he calls us to do good.But this isn’t the Santa Claus is coming to town kind of command to be good - you know, he’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice... he sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness’ sake!’ Be good or you won’t get anything. Now it seems it’s the elf on the shelf doing the same job of you better be good...But as we’ve seen throughout Galatians, we can’t be good without God - it’s only God who gives us the freedom to do good, because we are his.The Galatians were suffering from false teachers, who were promoting a kind of DIY religion - you can Do It Yourself, by obeying the law and earning your place by your own efforts. But the whole way through the letter, Paul has been showing us that we can’t do it by ourselves. We’ve all broken the law - it only condemns us. We can only be ransomed, freed through the death of Jesus for us, giving us his undeserved grace - received by faith alone in Jesus alone.But now that we ARE saved, we have the freedom to live by the Spirit. We saw that last week, as the Spirit wants to grow his fruit in us - that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that only he can bring. It’s as we keep in step with the Spirit that we become more like Jesus. And this morning’s reading shows us how this works out in a church community. How can we, together, live out our freedom by the power of the Spirit? How can we do good?Church should be the place where we bear one another’s burdens. V1: ‘Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.’Paul doesn’t say - if someone is caught in a sin, then go and tell everyone about it; gossip it far and wide. No, if (or when!) someone is caught in sin - then we are to restore them gently. Gossiping relentlessly, or gently restoring? And who is to do it? You who are spiritual - those who belong to the Spirit, the Christians. Not just the pastor or elders. We’re to be a community of caring Christians - bearing one another’s burdens - and watching out in case we are tempted in the same way.Is this a picture of what St Matthew’s is like; or something we need to grow into?The next verses (3-5) ask us to evaluate ourselves individually - to take a good hard look at ourselves. I was reading recently about Illusory Superiority. What it means is that people tend to think more highly of themselves. So, in an American survey, 93% of people thought they were an above average driver (but only 50% can be above the average...). This effect plays out all the time in surveys where people are asked to rate themselves.And Paul says it can happen with us as well, in the spiritual realm. ‘If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each sh[...]



Sermon: Luke 1: 39-56 A People Prepared (3) - Mary's Melody of Mercy

2017-12-04T09:30:34.974+00:00

We haven’t been to London recently, but whenever we’re there, we like to take in a show. And if you’ve been to London for the West End, or New York for Broadway, you’ll know that musical theatre is big business. Packed theatres, telling a story through song and dance. One of our friends regularly takes trips to London to make it to two or three shows per day, and then writes reviews of them.But musicals strike me as slightly strange, if you think about them logically. As you watch in the theatre, or maybe as you watch the Sound of Music on TV this Christmas - think of it this way. It’s a normal day, people going about their business, when suddenly, someone starts singing. They burst out into a song, and everyone else is able to join in! If you were walking down the street after church and you started into a song, people would wonder what you were doing! It just doesn’t happen in real life - this spontaneous singing... or does it?As Luke tells us about the preparations for the first Christmas, the things that God was doing to make a people prepared for the coming of Jesus, so far he has told us about the important missions of the angel Gabriel. Bringing news of two babies to be born in unlikely circumstances - John, to Zechariah and Elizabeth, the elderly parents; and Jesus to Mary the virgin. This week and next, we’ll hear the responses of Mary and Zechariah. And we’ll see that, just like musical theatre, they both break into song, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.We’re told that when Mary heard the angel’s news, she packed up, and went off to visit Elizabeth, where she stayed three months. When Mary arrives, Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit, and declares: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!... Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!’Elizabeth recognises the blessing God has given Mary - and even the baby in Elizabeth’s womb recognises the mother of his Lord - leaping for joy in her womb! And then Mary begins her salvation song; her melody of mercy.Now if you’ve been around the Church of Ireland long enough, you’ll recognise this song as the Magnificat, from the opening line in the prayer book, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord.’ Well our version here has ‘My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.’Whichever word you use - magnify or glorify, they both have the same idea. If you have a magnifying glass, it helps you to make something bigger, to make it easier to read the newspaper or your Bible. For Mary to magnify the Lord is to glorify him, to ‘big up’ his reputation; to rejoice in him.So why is she rejoicing? Her song seems to divide into two sections, each of which end with the theme of mercy. The words and phrases are Bible words and phrases - you might even notice links to Hannah’s song, sung when she gave birth to the great prophet Samuel. So why is Mary rejoicing?Mary rejoices because of 1. What God has done for Mary. ‘...for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.We’re nearly at the time of year when the next round of the Queen’s Honours will be announced, at the new year. All over the country, people will receive letters from the Queen, inviting them to receive an MBE or OBE for their community service, or charity work or whatever. Now, the Queen doesn’t sit down herself, going through the phonebook thinking, who will I honour this year? There’s a network of nominations, advisors, and yet it’s a great honour to go to Buckingham Palace to receive the award.Put yourself in Mary’s sandals. The God who is mighty, ruling over the universe, the all-powerful one - he has chosen and blessed Mary! That’s why all generations will call her blessed - she has been blessed by God, chosen to be the mother of the Messiah [...]



Sermon: Galatians 5: 16-26 Freedom to live by the Spirit

2017-12-03T12:30:02.379+00:00

Sermons can sometimes be lengthy affairs. A few years ago, the former rector of Lambeg preached a record-breaking sermon, which lasted for five hours and fifty minutes without a break. But the Guinness World Record for the longest speech was a sermon preached by Pastor Zach Zehnder from Florida, which lasted 53 hours and 18 minutes. Now, as Roy Castle would have said on his TV programme, dedication’s what you need if you want to be a record-breaker, so, if you’re sitting comfortably, let’s break some records!No, don’t worry, we’ll not try to beat five hours or fifty-three hours today. In fact, this could have been the shortest sermon ever. Could have been - not will be! You see, we can sum up the whole sermon in four words that Paul gives us in the first verse of our reading. Just four words. Do you see them there in verse 16? ‘Live by the Spirit.’ That’s what Paul wants to emphasise; it’s what God wants us to hear today; it’s the application right at the very start of the sermon.God says: Live by the Spirit. So go and do it.It might have been the shortest sermon, but I’m not sure it would be the most helpful sermon. So let’s take some time to unpack those four words, to understand what we’re being told to do - and then how to do it.You might have noticed that we’re near the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. And in quite a few of his letters, Paul arranges them into two parts. First up, the doctrine; and then the doing. He gives us the truth, and then shows us how to live it out. It’s a bit like doing your driving test - you do the theory first, and then the practical.So over the autumn term, we’ve worked our way through this letter. And we’ve seen that the Galatians were in danger of forgetting the free grace of God. They had started by believing, but now they were trying to earn their way by observing the Old Testament law, and by submitting to circumcision. So Paul has reminded them of the grace God has given us in the Lord Jesus - how he was crucified for us to redeem us, and so that we would receive the promise given to Abraham - the promise of the Holy Spirit. That’s the theory bit. As we trust in Jesus, we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Now comes the practical instructions. We have the Holy Spirit if we’re believers, but we need to live by the Spirit - not being like Walt Disney’s housekeeper whose story I told a few weeks ago. Remember? She was given these bits of paper for her birthday and Christmas, and put them away safely. She died a millionaire, and she didn’t even realise. She didn’t know the resources she had. So don’t be like her. Live by the Spirit.You see, God has given us his Holy Spirit in order to help us live out our Christian faith. We just can’t do it by ourselves. And yet many of us think that we CAN do it by ourselves. That’s what the Galatians were trying to do, as they tried to add what Jesus has done for us on the cross. Or, to think of Roy Castle again, we think that to live out the Christian life, to defeat the sin that so easily entangles us and the powerful sinful desires that rise within us, dedication’s what we need.But Paul tells us what we need to do. Look again at verse 16. ‘So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.’ Notice what he doesn’t say - he doesn’t say try really hard to resist your sinful desires, and then you’ll be able to live by the Spirit. He doesn’t even say, live by the Spirit and then try really hard... No, he says, live by the Spirit (by his power), and you WILL NOT gratify the desires of the sinful nature. Live in this way, by the power of the Spirit, and you will not gratify those desires. You see, there are two ways to live presented in these verses. We either live by the Spirit, or we live by the sin[...]



Sermon: Luke 1: 26-38 A People Prepared - Mary

2017-11-19T19:30:01.579+00:00

The angel Gabriel was having a busy time. Now, I’m not sure how angels normally put their time in, but as Luke begins to tell the story of Jesus, we hear of a couple of Gabriel’s special missions. Last week, you might remember, we saw him meeting Zechariah in the temple, delivering the message that the old priest and his wife would soon be having a baby boy. Zechariah didn’t believe it, and was quite literally rendered speechless, he was dumbstruck, until it all happened as he had been told.As we approach tonight’s reading, it looks as if it’s business as usual for Gabriel, as he brings the news of another baby. But really, last week’s mission was almost like a rehearsal for the real thing; the warm-up act before the star takes to the stage.Did you notice the contrasts between the two missions? Last time it was to the temple, but this time it’s in a home. He went to Jerusalem, the capital, previously, but now it’s the town of Nazareth in Galilee, in the far north of the country. He goes to a woman this time, not a man; and a young virgin, rather than an old priest.Mary is introduced in verses 26-27. She is a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. They’re engaged, but they’re not married yet. She’s just going about her business, it’s just an ordinary day, when something extraordinary happens. The angel appears to her, and gives her a strange greeting.‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ (28)We’re told that ‘Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.’ (29). It’s not every day you meet an angel, never mind one bringing words like these. And what words they are! Gabriel says that Mary is highly favoured - God has favoured her, chosen her, given her his undeserved grace. And not only that, but the Lord is with her.Out of all the people in Nazareth, and everyone in Israel, the Lord has chosen and favoured her. The Lord is with her. For us, we’re so used to talking about the Lord being with us, we even use that response ‘The Lord be with you...’ But for Mary, this was an incredibly amazing greeting.But the greeting was just the start. Gabriel has some news that will change Mary’s life forever, and will change the whole world. Let’s hear what he says about the baby Mary is going to have: ‘You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High...’ (31-32)The very first thing that Gabriel says about Jesus is that he will be... great. Now, I don’t know about you, but that word seems to have lost some of its impact. If you were out for dinner, the meal might be great. A movie you saw was great. You can even use the word as a kind of opposite, with the right tone of voice. So here’s what we’re going to do tomorrow, and you think ‘Great.’ So what does it mean when it says that Jesus will be great?Perhaps the Greek word can help us. Now, you might be thinking to yourself, I don’t know any Greek. But I’m fairly sure you’ll know this word - mega. So, when I was growing up, a new computer game console came out which, the makers claimed, was the best, fastest computer game console ever. And what was it called? The Sega Megadrive. Or think of the music shops that used to be around - the Virgin Megastore - it wasn’t just a shop, it was a mega store, a great shop.Now you might remember that John would be ‘great in the sight of the Lord’ (15). Jesus will be great. No other conditions. It’s as if Jesus is at the top of the league of greatness, in a league of his own, even. Why is he great? Well, as Gabriel continues, he is the Son of the Most High. This is no ordinary baby - this is God on earth, the Son[...]



Sermon: Luke 1: 1-25 A People Prepared (1) - Zechariah

2017-11-14T15:39:42.123+00:00

I asked this question the other night at Bible study, and everyone was in shock. So let’s see how the evening congregation gets on with it... Are you all set for Christmas?You know it’s getting closer when the Sundays are in the countdown before Advent; when the Christmas stuff is in the shops; and the reminder comes that it’s just 42 days to Christmas. And perhaps your mind starts racing about all the things you have to do to be ready for Christmas. buying presents, ordering the turkey, cleaning the house, putting up the tree, and so much more, before you’re prepared.On these Sunday nights leading up to Christmas, though, we’re going to get ready in an entirely different way. Forget the list you might be making, and checking it twice. Instead, we’re going to prepare for Christmas by revisiting the preparations for the very first Christmas. It’s not so much the house prepared, but (as we read in verse 17) a people prepared for the Lord.Luke will tell us about the shepherds and the angels and the stable, but before we get there, he starts his story a bit further back. He tells us of the things that happened in order to get to the manger in Bethlehem, as he begins his good news story.We all know how stories begin. ‘Once upon a time, there were...’ Or even ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’. But that’s not how Luke begins. You see, this is no fairy tale. This isn’t another part of the Star Wars story. Luke is writing history, having carefully researched what has happened. He writes ‘Since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus.’ (3-4)Theophilus (friend of God) is a Christian, and Luke has carefully studied what happened, met the eyewitnesses, and has written it down for him, and for us, so that we can be certain about the life, teaching and events of Jesus.Have you ever watched a film and enjoyed it, only to discover as the credits roll that it’s based on a true story? This is the true story of what happened - you see it in the details Luke includes: that Herod is the king of Judea (5), that Zechariah is a priest, married to Elizabeth, and details of which section of the priesthood he’s in. Luke is telling us the true story, something we can rely on and trust.It’s the true story of a special child - as we can see from the special circumstances of the birth.As we’ve said, Zechariah is a priest, and we’re taken with him to Jerusalem, to the temple. You see, there were 24 sections of priests, each taking their turn in serving at the temple. Zechariah and the rest of the priests of Abijah went up to Jerusalem for their week. While there, one of them would be selected by lot to go inside the holy place to offer a sacrifice of incense on the altar. It’s reckoned that this was a once-in-a-lifetime chance - some men never got the opportunity.He knew what he needed to do - go in, light the incense offering, and then return outside to bless the people waiting outside. Simple. Except when he went inside, things weren’t as he expected. There was an angel inside, waiting to see him! I wonder what you think of when you hear of angels - fluffy wings and white robes? Zechariah is terrified - the sight is awesome - fear overwhelms him.The angel Gabriel tells Zechariah that he is going to become a dad, that him and Elizabeth are going to have a child. No pregnancy testers here, nor 12 week scans. Just a heavenly messenger straight from God announcing the forthcoming birth. What a special child this is going to be. But that’s not all.Just think of the parents of this child. Back in verse 7, we were told that ‘they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were g[...]



Sermon: Galatians 5: 1-15 Freedom to love

2017-11-12T12:30:13.405+00:00

Today, we pause to remember - to remember those who gave their lives in the service of others, and the cause of freedom. Men from this village, and from every village, town and city, signed up to serve, and to stand against the forces of tyranny in Europe and around the world, to bring about the freedom we enjoy. We are free today, because of their dedication and sacrifice.And yet, as our Bible reading tells us today, there was an even greater sacrifice, which has brought about an even greater freedom. We’re told in Galatians 5:1 that ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.’ As we’ve been working our way through this letter over the last few weeks, we’ve seen how the death of Jesus on the cross brings freedom. Christ has set us free from sin, and the law, as we trust in him.That freedom is available to you today - the freedom from guilt and shame; the freedom from the burden of our sins; Paul describes it as being released from prison, and coming to the end of school. Freedom! But what does our freedom look like? Can we really do whatever we like?When I was becoming a teenager, one of the songs that played nonstop on the radio said this: ‘I’m free to be whatever I, whatever I choose and I’ll sing the blues if I want... I’m free to say whatever I, whatever I like if it’s wrong or right it’s alright... Whatever you do, whatever you say, yeah I know it’s alright... Whatever you do, whatever you say, yeah I know it’s alright.’ (Oasis)So when Jesus sets us free, is it for us to be whatever, say whatever, do whatever we want? Well, imagine that you had a goldfish in a bowl in your living room. And, if it could think for long enough (because it has its short term memory), and it decided that it was imprisoned in the water in the bowl. Goldie might decide that freedom for him is to jump out of the bowl, to be free of the water. But if Goldie does manage to jump out of the water, and free himself, is he really free? Well, no. He can’t survive outside the bowl! He’s only free in the water.In our reading today, Paul shows us what our freedom in Christ really looks like. In verse 1, we are free to not be slaves again. Jesus died to free us from the demands of the Old Testament law. We simply couldn’t obey them by ourselves. That was what Paul taught the Galatians when they became Christians. But now other teachers, false teachers had arrived, and they said that to be a real Christian, you needed to become a Jew. You needed to obey the Old Testament laws, in every detail. And it was as if they were coming to make the Galatians slaves all over again.But what the false teachers were doing was stopping the Galatians from being free. And Paul uses a couple of pictures of what they were doing in verses 7-8. So, imagine it’s sports day, and you’re running in one of the races. You’re doing really well, you might win a medal, and then someone gets in your way, trips you up, and puts you out of the race. The Galatians had been running a good race, but someone had cut in on them and kept them from obeying the truth.Or, imagine you’re baking some bread. You’re going to make some flatbread, but you accidentally add in some yeast. The yeast will work through the whole batch of dough, it will affect everything. And the false teaching in these churches was affecting everyone. So much so that, if they followed that teaching, they would be alienated from Christ, fallen from grace. So in Christ, we are free to not be slaves.In verse 13, we are free, but not to sin. Paul says: ‘You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.’We are free, but not to do whatever we want. You see, each of us has a sinful nature, we want to do [...]



BB Enrolment Sermon: Mark 1: 14-20 Attention! About Turn! Quick March!

2017-11-06T09:30:07.947+00:00

Now I’ve got a question for the members of the BB. What is so great about BB?And what kinds of things do you do at BB? Anchor Boys? Junior Section? Company Section?I know that there are lots of things you do at BB. But the one I want to focus on this evening is drill. So who is the best boy at drill? Come on up.Now, you’re going to take on one of the officers at drill. Who are you going to take on? Who will win?Drill competition - Stand at ease; attention; turn about - about turn; move to the left, left turn; move to the right, right turn.Well done!When you’re doing drill in the BB, you need to know who you’re listening to. So imagine, when the BB Battalion parade comes around, and you’re marching down the road towards the church, when someone from the crowd shouts out something. In the middle of the parade, this voice suddenly shouts out ‘squad will retire, about turn!’ Would you do what the voice told you?Hopefully not! Instead, you listen out for the officer who is giving you commands. You don’t just listen to some randomer on the street. You listen to your commanding officer, and do what they say.Well tonight, we’re listening in to something our commanding officer is saying - not James, or John, but the Lord Jesus himself. He is our great Captain and Saviour, so we want to listen to him. And the things he says in our reading from Mark’s gospel are illustrated by some of the drill moves.So first up, if you’re standing at ease, what’s the first command? Attention! And what does that look like?So when you hear the command - attention - you know that you’re to be listening, ready to obey. Some important commands are coming, so you need to be ready for them. And we see that in verse 15. Jesus says: ‘The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.’Jesus appears on the scene here at the start of Mark’s gospel. And he says - pay attention!I’ve got a question for you - whose alarm goes off the earliest in the morning? You’ve maybe been off school for a week, and tomorrow is back to school, but who gets up the earliest? What time does your alarm go off?... Any of the adults beat that for an early alarm?The alarm clock in the morning is saying - pay attention! It’s time to get up, the time has come for you to get up for school. And Jesus appears on the scene saying, pay attention - the time has come, I have arrived, I’m here.Jesus is the king, and so the kingdom of God is near (or has arrived). For thousands of years, the people had been waiting for God’s kingdom to come. For the last 400 years, there had been no prophets. No word from God. Then Jesus appears - the king is here. So pay attention. Listen up! Get ready for action!The next drill movement is this - about turn. So what happens in an about turn? You change direction. If you’re facing this way, you face that way. Or if you’re marching, then you move from going one direction to going the opposite direction. You turn around. Jesus the king says that we need to turn around. That’s what the next word in verse 15 means: repent.Jesus says that we all need to repent, to change direction, to turn around. We’ve been going our own way, we’ve been doing things that are wrong, and we need to turn back to him.If I decided to go to Portadown some day, so I go out onto the main road, but instead I’m heading towards Armagh, is it ok if I keep going the wrong way? Well, no, not if I want to get to Portadown! I need to realise I’m going the wrong way. I need to admit my mistake, and turn around and go the right way.Jesus the king says, repent, about turn. Stop going away from God (by your sin), and instead turn back to God.The last drill movement is this - quick march. What happens w[...]



Sermon: Galatians 4: 8-31 Freedom from slavery

2017-11-05T12:30:04.817+00:00

I wonder if you’ve heard of Stockholm Syndrome? It’s not where you start to shop in Ikea and develop a fondness for Abba music. The idea of Stockholm Syndrome was developed after a hostage situation in a bank in Stockholm, Sweden in 1973. Two men walked into the bank, and took four staff hostage. After six days, the four were released - but ended up siding with their captors. None of them would testify in court against their captors - indeed, they even raised money for their defence fund.That was the first time it had been analysed and identified, but now it’s a seemingly common problem in hostage or kidnapping situations. The person who was a slave is freed, but then decides to go back to the person who enslaved them.Or think of some who have been in prison, they’ve been released, but they just can’t cope with life on the outside, and so they reoffend, to be able to get back into prison. They can’t cope with freedom, they would rather be on the inside, prisoners again.Now perhaps those thoughts seem strange to you - the idea of Stockholm Syndrome, falling for your enslaver; or reoffending to re-enter the prison system. We like our freedom, we wonder why anyone wouldn’t want it. We would find it strange that someone, having been freed would want to become a slave again. And yet that’s exactly what Paul says the Galatian Christians were in danger of doing.And it could be that we are in the same danger. It seems as if our Galatians series has been significant for some of us; that we’ve been understanding the gospel of grace through Christ alone in a fresh way; that we’ve been enjoying the freedom of knowing that we are forgiven and welcomed into God’s family; that we have been saved, and we’re now sons of God. Now if that’s you, Paul has a warning - you’ve been freed, so don’t become a slave again!As we dive into the passage, we see that Paul is reminding them of how they were freed; as he warns them of the dangers of slavery. V8: ‘Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods. But now that you know God - or rather are known by God - how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again?’ Do you see what he says there? You used to be slaves - slaves to the pagan way of thinking, slaves to the demons. They were freed from being slaves, by knowing God (and being known by him) - isn’t that what we pray in one of the morning collects? ‘To know you is eternal life, and to serve you is perfect freedom...’But now, they’re turning back to the weak and miserable principles they knew before - in a different form, perhaps, but with the same basic idea. Do all this, and you’ll succeed. Observe these rules, do these things, keep these feast days, and you’ll make it by your own efforts. They’re in danger of being enslaved all over again.In verse 12, Paul makes his appeal to them. He’s pleading with them. (This is the first imperative, the first command, the first thing they should do in the letter). ‘I plead with you, brothers, become like me, for I became like you.’ He reminds them of how he became like them - how he lived among them, because of an episode of ill health. Now we’re not told what it was, but there’s a hint it might have been eye trouble of some sort. He says there in v15 that they would have torn out their eyes and given them to him.Whatever the exact problem, this was the reason Paul stopped in Galatia and preached the gospel to them. And even though his illness was a trial to them, they welcomed him with a great welcome - as if he was an angel, or even as if he was Christ J[...]



Sermon: 2 Timothy 3: 1-17 The God-Breathed Bible

2017-10-30T15:00:18.727+00:00

I want to ask you a question this evening. What is it the church needs to do in these changing times? There's no doubt about it that things are changing very rapidly all around us. The past century was one of amazing technology and development. Things are vastly different to when our grandparents were children themselves. Communications, working patterns, education - all are changing. One of my parishioners in Fermanagh turned 99 earlier this year. He would sit and chat about the changes he had seen in his lifetime. One of the biggest for him was moving from ploughing with horses to getting his first tractor. He would still rather have the horses, though.But think how much has changed even in the last few years. On the lectern sits a wee box, recording my words. Later this week, this sermon will be available to whoever wants to listen in, anywhere in the world. And as for Facebook, video calling, and so much more - it’s incredible. As a news report recently put it, the smartphone in your pocket is more powerful than the NASA computers that put man on the moon.With all these changes going on, let alone the social changes with proposed new definitions of marriage and relationships, we’re left wondering - should the church be changing its message to fit in with the times?Some in the emerging/emergent church are saying precisely that. Because things have changed so much, the church needs to change the message it once proclaimed, so that we can fit in better with a new society, enlightened, multicultural, influenced by reason and not superstition.This evening, though, on Bible Sunday, we come to the apostle Paul writing to a younger church leader, Timothy. Paul knows that he is near the end of his life; he's now in prison again, the time is short, and soon he will be killed for being a Christian. Timothy seems to be shy, fearful, so Paul is writing his last letter to Timothy to encourage him. Here, in chapter 3, he tells Timothy to know two things - know the times, and know the message.Know the timesBoy Dylan sang in 1964 ‘The times, they are a-changing,’ and yet there's a sense in which things are still the same as ever. We have increased mobility, wealth, possessions, education, and yet things are as they ever were. Sin continues unabated. Paul says that this is the way things are going to be.Verse 1: ‘But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.’ He then outlines a catalogue of sins, a litany of lawlessness. ‘People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God - having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.’It all sounds horrible, and yet, we realise that this is what our world is like. All these things are all around us. That’s because we’re in the last days. You see, sometimes we think that the last days are just the last couple of days before Jesus returns. But we are already in the last days. We have been since the resurrection of Jesus. The last days are every day between the first coming of Jesus and his second coming. So this is our world, these are our times.And alongside these worsening morals, we also have the threat of false teachers. We see them in verses 6-9. They worm their way into households, they gain control over weak-willed women, spreading their false teaching, leading people astray. Jannes and Jambres (8) aren’t named anywhere else in the Bible, but they’re thought to be the magicians [...]



Sermon: Galatians 3:15 - 4:7 Freedom in Christ

2017-10-29T12:30:09.734+00:00

A couple of weeks ago, an Australian court decided that an unsent draft text message was indeed a valid will. A man had died, and his widow had expected to keep everything, but this unsent text message was found on the man’s phone, leaving everything to his brother and nephew. After a long court case, the judge declared the will to be valid, because the man’s intentions were clear. This human covenant had been duly established, so it couldn’t be set aside or added to.I’m not sure that the law is the same here in Northern Ireland, so don’t be depending on a text message to serve as your last will and testament. So why am I talking about wills and such like? Isn’t it a bit morbid to talk about? Well, no, it’s better to have such things in place. But the reason I’m talking about wills is because that’s what Paul turns to in this part of Galatians.Last week we saw that Christians receive the Holy Spirit - not by obeying the law (because we can’t do that), but by faith in Jesus. Jesus obeyed the law for us, and redeemed us on the cross, so that we receive the promise given to Abraham, the promise of the Holy Spirit. And now Paul is continuing with his line of reasoning. And, as Jimmy Cricket would say, come here, there’s more... We’ll see that we’re not just justified and left like that - there is even more for us than that.So Paul introduces the idea of a will in verse 15. He does that to help explain the relationship between the promise given to Abraham and the law given to Moses. Just as a will isn’t set aside or added to once it comes into effect on the person’s death, so in the same way, God’s promise to Abraham isn’t changed or added to. The promise stands throughout the Old Testament period, and isn’t changed even though the law was given 430 years later.As we saw last week - verse 18 - the inheritance doesn’t depend on the law; it depends on the promise given to Abraham - by God’s grace. But straight away, Paul knows there’ll be some objections. He voices it in verse 19. ‘What, then, was the purpose of the law?’ Why did God bother to give the Old Testament law? What’s the point of it?He goes on to answer it in verse 19: ‘It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.’ The law was given because of sin - to highlight and flag up our sin. We can’t be saved by the law, but the law shows that we need a Saviour.We see that in verses 21-22. ‘Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.’The law shows us that we’re prisoners of sin. The law declares what sin is, and so when we do those very things, then it declares that we are sinners. The law only condemns - but it shows us that we need the Saviour, the Saviour we put our faith in.In verses 23-25, Paul gives us two pictures of what the law is. In verse 23, the law is a jailer, a prison guard. Perhaps you’ve been on a tour of a prison - Crumlin Road or at the Down County Museum in Downpatrick. You’re put in the cell, and the door is locked. That’s what the law did - it kept us as prisoners, ‘locked up until faith should be revealed.’ There was no other way out; only by believing in Jesus, trusting that his death has paid the sentence, and so we can go free.In verse 24, Paul says, ‘So the law was put in charge to lead us to Ch[...]



Sermon: Galatians 3: 1-14 Freedom from the Law

2017-10-22T12:30:10.750+01:00

In 1936, Dale Carnegie published one of the first self-help books. It contained a series of principles on how to handle and deal with people, how to get on in business and in the home. The title? ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ The promise is that if you follow these steps, then you’ll succeed by making friends, and influencing people to come round to your way of thinking.The very first principle is simply this: ‘Don’t criticise, condemn, or complain.’ That’s the first step to winning friends and influencing people. Well, as we open up to Galatians 3, it’s quite clear that Paul hadn’t read How to Win Friends and influence People. Don’t criticise, condemn or complain? ‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?’I’m fairly sure Carnegie wouldn’t advise calling the people you’re trying to influence - fools! But this is to show us how desperate Paul is to bring them back from the brink, to shock them out of their foolishness. If you’re jumping into Galatians for the first time, or if you’re fairly new around here, don’t worry, we’re not in the habit of calling people fools as directly as Paul does here. The reason he does it is because he’s so concerned for the Galatians. Paul had originally planted the church there, but now they were listening to false teachers, who were urging them to observe the law and be circumcised in order to be truly accepted by God.Paul has already showed them that listening to the false teachers would be dangerous and wrong, now he says that they’re being foolish. They haven’t thought things through. So he’s going to get them to think about their experience of becoming a Christian, and their experience of being a Christian. And so he sets a question before them in verse 2. Here’s what he wants to know: ‘Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?’In asking the question, he’s saying that they do have the Holy Spirit living and working in them. If you’ve been listening carefully, you’ll have noticed that this is the first time the Spirit is mentioned in Galatians. But it won’t be the last time we hear of the Spirit. In fact, the presence of the Spirit in the Christian is a big deal for Paul, and should be a big deal for us as well. The third person of the Trinity, living and dwelling in us, giving us power to live for God and become more like the Lord Jesus. Over the next few weeks we’ll see more of the Spirit’s work in our lives, but for now, the question is, how did they receive the Spirit? Was it by observing the law, or by believing what they heard? What do you think? (It’s like Who Wants to be a Millionaire - a 50:50 chance of getting it right, or 100% chance if you know what Paul has been saying).In verse 3, he asks them again are they foolish? After they began with the Spirit, were they now trying to finish off by their own efforts? As if the Holy Spirit is like jump leads when your car battery is flat - just get me going and I’ll be ok by myself after that. They had even suffered because they were Christians, because the Spirit was in them - was that all for nothing now that they were turning their back on the Spirit and trying to do it themselves?Again Paul asks in verse 5: ‘Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?’To help them answer the question, he points them to the Old Testament, and to Abraham. ‘Consider Abraham: He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’ Abraham (or Abram) was minding his own business,[...]



Bowlers' Service Sermon: Philippians 3: 4-14 Paul's Aim

2017-10-15T19:30:14.209+01:00

Tonight, we gather to give thanks to God for sport, and particularly for the friendship and fellowship we enjoy through the Bowling Club. While I haven’t thrown any bowls here yet, I was first introduced to bowls at the age of 8, when my great-aunt Rebecca brought me along to the Cathedral club in Dromore. I played for about 12 years or so, then took it up again when we moved to Fermanagh, playing for the Aghavea church team. Hopefully I’ll get an opportunity to play in the near future.As I was preparing for this evening, and thinking about playing bowls, our Bible reading from Philippians came to mind. When you’re playing bowls, you count up, or you keep the score; there is the only thing that counts - being close to the Jack; and there’s the way you aim for it. Score, what counts, and aiming. And those three elements of bowling are the things that the apostle Paul talks about in relation to his life.So first, let’s think about the score. In a friendly match, or when you’re having a practice night, it doesn’t really matter what the score is. But, this week as the tournament has been progressing, and especially tomorrow night when the finals are being held, the score is very important. It’s how you know who’s winning, who’s succeeding.And in terms of life, Paul outlines in verses 4-6 the points he has scored, the reasons he had confidence in the flesh. He lists his religious achievements - the things that showed how successful he was. He was circumcised according to the Old Testament law; he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, his parents were Israelites from the tribe of Benjamin. Those things were given to him, but the next ones he chose to pursue - he became a Pharisee, a strict follower of the law; in terms of his zeal, he persecuted the church, because he thought they were false teachers; and as for legalistic righteousness, doing what he could do to obey the law, he was regarded as faultless. For a religious person, this was a high score. We might also try to score ourselves highly, even if we use different categories - the charity work we do; the help we give to people; our paying in to church; or whatever it is that we might think - that’s in my good book. That's to my credit. A few months ago, the team I was part of won our section of the Fermanagh Churches League. Section D, mind you, the lowest section on the league - and it wasn’t because of anything I had done. We made it to the playoffs. As our team was playing, I was keeping an eye on the scores on the other mats. And over on the far mat, their scoreboard was ticking over nicely. I was thinking to myself - our rink over there is doing well, that’ll help our overall score. And then I happened to be watching as an end finished, and I realised that it was the other team scoring all those points! The high score I thought we had was actually against us.And that’s what Paul realised about putting his confidence in the flesh, what he could achieve: ‘But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.’ And on over in verse 8 he says that he considers them ‘rubbish’ - or dung. The things he prized, his high score, he now realises it’s useless, something to be rid of.And he says that, because he now knows the one thing that counts above everything else; the only thing that matters. On a bowling mat, the only thing that matters is being close to the Jack. Well, the apostle Paul says that the only thing that matters in life is being close to the Lord Jesus. ‘What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatnes[...]



Sermon: Galatians 2: 11-22 Freedom by faith

2017-10-08T12:30:01.596+01:00

Have you ever noticed that before a football match, the two captains come into the centre with the referee. They’ll toss a coin to see who kicks off. They shake hands, but once the whistle goes, it really does kick off. For a moment they were friendly, but now they are sworn enemies, out to beat the other team. As the bowling club tournament runs in the hall this week, you’ll see the same idea - a polite handshake one minute, then opposed the next.As you listened to this morning’s Bible reading from Galatians, you might have wondered if the same sort of thing was going on. Glance back to verse 9 in Galatians 2 and you might remember from last time (before the harvest) that Paul and Barnabas shared the right hand of fellowship with James, Peter and John. They shook hands to show that they were in agreement, they were on the same team.But was that just a formality? Was it all for nothing? Did it mean absolutely nothing, when you read verse 11, just two verses later, and discover that suddenly Paul is opposing Peter to his face, calling him out in public! What is going on? Why were they friends and brothers one minute, and then the next are at each other’s throats?And when you see why Paul was opposing Peter, you might think, was it a storm in a tea cup? The row arose over something as small as eating arrangements - who sits with who, and what that says. Now, maybe you’ve planned (or are planning) a wedding reception, and you have all the names on bits of paper, seeing who can sit with who, and which people need to be kept apart for everyone’s sake. That gets us so far in thinking about the importance of sitting and eating together. But the actual issue is there in verse 12. Peter was visiting Antioch - a city in modern day Turkey. The church was made up of Gentile believers. Peter would gladly share in fellowship with them - sharing meals with them, sitting at the table together, with no problems. But all that changed when some people came from Jerusalem - members of the circumcision party. They were those who insisted that Gentiles had to be circumcised in order to be real Christians. And when they arrived, Peter withdrew from the Gentile Christians, wouldn’t sit and eat with them as he had before, and would only eat with Jews. When Peter did this, he influenced all the other Jewish believers to also draw back from the Gentiles, in effect making a distinction between Jews and Gentiles.It was as if Peter was saying there are Premier League Christians - those who are Jews; and there are second division Christians - the Gentiles. Or imagine that as you arrived for church today, the churchwardens asked which football team you supported, and you only sat with people who support the same team - and then insisted that Man United supporting Christians are the real deal, while the Liverpool supporting Christians are at best, second rate.Paul gets to the heart of what Peter is up to in verse 13. ‘The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy.’ None of us wants to be a hypocrite - saying one thing but doing another. But that’s what Peter was doing - he was saying that all Christians are the same, but then by his actions he was showing that some were more important than others. That to eat together, you Gentiles would have to be circumcised. Without it, you would miss out.But as Paul says, in verse 11, he was clearly in the wrong. Peter was in the wrong because, verse 14 ‘they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel.’ Peter was a bit like a picture hanging on the wall that isn’t level. May[...]



Harvest Sermon: Luke 12: 22-34 Consider the lilies

2017-10-01T12:30:14.007+01:00

This morning we’re celebrating God’s goodness to us. We can see it all around us. We can smell it, but just don’t taste it! Our school used to go to my church for our harvest service, and if there were apples along the window sills, people would take a bite out of the apples and then turn them around... Don’t be doing that today!But even as we’re surrounded by God’s goodness, it might be that some of us are feeling like the man on the screen. How do you think he feels? Is he happy? Don’t think so. How does he feel? He’s worried. And you might be worried about something today. Health, money, school, family, work, or not having work - lots of things we might be worried about. But Jesus tells us that we don’t need to be worried.Here’s what he says: Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.Jesus is speaking about two particular worries - food and clothes - but as he does so, he helps us deal with all our worries.Sometimes I bring along something to look at, but today the harvest decorations are a great reminder of the truth that Jesus teaches. Because Jesus also told people to look at things, and think about things, to help them see what he was saying. In today’s reading, he says look up, and then look down.So here’s his first picture, looking up. Does anyone know what this is? It’s a raven. In Matthew’s gospel he talks about the birds of the air. Now think about the birds. When was the last time you saw a raven driving one of these - a John Deere tractor? Never! Or when was the last time you saw a robin driving a combine harvester? I’m fairly sure you haven’t - unless the farmer’s name was Robin, but that’s different!The ravens and the other birds don’t have to plan and prepare. They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom nor barn. So how are they fed?Yet God feeds them. God the Father cares for them and feeds them. You don’t see the birds worrying about food, they get enough to do them, fed by God.Now Jesus isn’t calling us to start eating like the birds, as if we’re Bear Grylls eating all the bugs. He’s not urging you to change from eating spaghetti to eating worms. Here’s the point: ‘And how much more valuable you are than birds!’You are more precious, more valuable to God than the birds. If he cares for them, he will care for you as well. If he feeds them, he’ll feed you. We can depend on God.And we have to depend on God, because our worrying won’t actually make a difference. Does anyone know who this is?The man on the right is the world’s tallest man living - Sultan Kosen from Turkey, at a height of 251cm or 8ft 2.8inches. And to the left, maybe you haven’t spotted him, is Chandra Bahadur Dangi, the shortest man in the world, at just 1ft 9.5inches.Here’s a short video of them meeting in London in 2015.VIDEOWould anyone like to be a little taller? Or maybe a lot taller? So we’re going to try an experiment. I want you to worry about your height, and try to make yourself grow taller. Ok, go! ... So how did that work out? Jesus tells us how that will work out: Who of you by worryingcan add a single cubit to his height?Worry won’t help us. So why worry about anything?Having looked up, Jesus now gets us to look down. Does anyone know what these are? They’re lilies. And Jesus tells us to consider them, how they grow. Just look at the variety of colours and shapes in the flowers that are here. Or [...]



Harvest Sermon: Luke 12: 13-21 The Foolish Farmer

2017-09-30T11:23:11.883+01:00

Here are some famous sayings, let’s see if you can finish them off: Look before you... leap. Too many cooks... spoil the broth. A stitch in time... saves nine. And the last one: Where there’s a will... You might think it’s ‘there’s a way’, but it seems that where there’s a will, there’s a lawyer.And if not a lawyer, then certainly some kind of dispute. It’s what causes this man to interrupt Jesus as he is teaching the crowd. His dispute is brought to Jesus in verse 13. ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’He obviously didn’t like the fact that his brother had inherited something, and he hadn’t. And so he comes to Jesus, wanting Jesus to get involved, wanting him to go and sort out his brother. Now, you might have thought that Jesus would go and sort it all out, but that’s not what happens. Instead, Jesus gives a surprising answer.‘Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?’ It wasn’t that the two brothers came together, wanting to get things sorted out, asking Jesus for his help. This was just the one brother, wanting Jesus to force his brother to give him something. So Jesus says no. It’s nothing to do with me.Jesus then speaks to the crowd, but he’s also speaking to this man in particular. And he issues a warning. ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’If you’ve ever been to Buckingham Palace, you’ll have seen the Guardsmen - they look about 8 feet tall, standing very straight and still in their red jackets and huge bearskin hats. It might look as if they’re just there for the tourists to watch and take photos, but they are there guarding the palace. If anyone jumped over the fence, they would spring into action to protect the Queen.We’re told to be on our guard - against all kinds of greed. We’re to watch out for greed trying to control us. Jesus sees that this was what was going on in this man’s heart - he wanted a share of the inheritance out of greed. And so Jesus gives the warning. ‘A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’At 8am on Tuesday the 30th May, the removals team arrived at the Rectory at Lurganbrae, Brookeborough. In a couple of hours, everything we owned was packed into the back of two lorries. Our whole life was in those lorries - and then I remembered the words of Jesus: ‘A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ How easily I was believing the lie that all that stuff was the sum total of our life. How quickly greed was trying to sneak in unnoticed. We need to be on our guard against greed.To help us grasp his point, Jesus then tells a parable - an ordinary, everyday story that teaches us something about heaven. We’re introduced to a rich farmer. It’s harvest time, and he’s been busy in the fields, gathering it all in. Things have been good this year - the weather has been perfect, so there’s a good crop. And yet, he’s faced with a problem.His land has produced so much, his barns simply aren’t big enough. So he thinks to himself: ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ As he thinks about it, he comes up with the answer in verse 18: ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be [...]



Sermon: Galatians 2: 1-10 Freedom in fellowship

2017-09-24T12:30:20.560+01:00

Has anyone ever ran a marathon? Just in case you’re wondering, I haven’t either. I might be able to run the 0.22 miles, it would just be the other 26 miles that would give me bother. But imagine that you had done all the training, you ran the race, and then discovered that it was all pointless, that it wouldn’t count, that you were disqualified. That’s what’s happened to the 5000 participants in the Marathon of the North in Sunderland in May 2013. It turns out that along the way, they followed the wrong directions of the marshals, and the course they ran was 264 metres short of a full marathon (288 yards). One runner went the right route, but all the rest went the wrong way. They hadn’t run a marathon; they didn’t get a finishing medal; they had run their race in vain.Imagine how they felt when they heard it was all for nothing. All their efforts wasted. Well, that’s the same fear the apostle Paul had - as he says at the end of verse 2. ‘For fear that I was running or had run my race in vain.’ But it wasn’t a messed up marathon that caused this fear. He wanted to make sure that he really did have the true gospel - he wanted to be sure that he hadn’t wasted the last fourteen years of his life, running in vain, by preaching the wrong thing.If you’re jumping into Galatians this morning for the first time, it might be good to help you catch up. Paul is writing this letter to the churches in Galatia to call them back to the gospel of God’s free grace, the gospel that he had preached to them. But since he had been with them, false teachers had arrived in the churches, insisting that to be a real Christian, you first had to become a Jew - by observing the law, and particularly by being circumcised. Paul has been saying that circumcision isn’t needed, that it’s not part of the gospel of grace, received by faith.Last time we saw how Paul had received his gospel directly from Jesus. But the false teachers seem to have been saying that Paul’s gospel was different to the other apostles’ gospel. That Paul was missing something important. So Paul tells us about a visit to Jerusalem, where he just wanted to make absolutely sure that he was in the right. In verse 1, he tells us who he brought with him - Barnabas and Titus. And in verse 2 he tells us what he did to be sure that he was right.Notice that he went to Jerusalem because of a revelation. We find this in Acts 11:28 - where Agabus predicts a severe famine, and so Barnabas and Saul (Paul) were sent to Jerusalem with a gift for famine relief for the Christians in Judea. It wasn’t that he had been summoned by the apostles, like being sent for by the headmaster. He was there for one reason, but while he was there, he ‘set before them [the apostles] the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles.’It would be a bit like checking your homework on the school bus - not copying, but just making sure that you had the same answers as someone else. Just to make sure that you weren’t barking up the wrong tree, that you hadn’t run your race in vain.So what was the result of Paul’s visit to Jerusalem? He has confirmation that he is preaching the one true gospel. We see this in a couple of ways. The first is there in verse 3. ‘Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek.’Titus, was a Greek, and therefore a Gentile, and therefore uncircumcised. But the apostles didn’t say, hold on, we’ll get a knife out.[...]



Sermon: Revelation 19: 1-10 Church is the bride of Christ

2017-09-17T19:30:19.903+01:00

I seem to have a knack of having important life moments the same day as moments of national significance. My Institution here, as you might remember, was on the day of the General Election. As it turned out, my 30th birthday also fell on a nationally significant day - the Royal Wedding. As I was saying farewell to my 20s and lamenting the fact that I was an old man of 30, Prince William and Catherine Middleton were getting married.If you can remember back those 6 years, or maybe even 36 years to Charles and Diana’s wedding day, you’ll know that the wedding was the big thing in all the newspapers and the TV news. All day long, the TV was filled with every detail of the wedding. It’s not every day that a royal wedding comes along, and so (it seemed like) everyone was watching this royal wedding.Some friends travelled over to London, wanting to be there for the day, even sleeping on the footpath to get a good spot, to catch a glimpse of the bride and groom, the Prince and his new Princess. They were caught up in the excitement of the royal wedding.As some people said at the time, it was like a fairy tale come true. The Prince had his bride, and they lived happily ever after. Now, normally in a fairy tale, there are some dangers to be faced, an enemy to be overcome, and some excitement along the way. But, when you think of it, even fairy tales point us to the real true story. A prince overcomes his enemies, slays the dragon, and rescues the girl, who becomes his princess. A fairy tale? Maybe, but it’s also the true story of the Bible - what God is doing in the world through Jesus.And the Bible is moving towards the true fairy tale ending - the real royal wedding, which we hear of in our reading from Revelation. In Rev 19:7 we read these words: ‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give him the glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.’All of history is moving towards this royal wedding. The groom is obvious enough - he’s the Lamb. All through Revelation, the Lamb is the Lord Jesus, the one who was slain, the one who has conquered, the one who is getting married. But who is his bride? Who is he getting married to?Verse 8 gives us a peek of the bridal gown. ‘Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear. (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)’ Notice that the linen, the righteous acts, was given to her to wear. She didn’t make her own dress, it was given to her. Later in chapter 21 we are given an invitation to see the bride again: ‘Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.’ (21:9) And the description there is of a city, the Holy City, (new) Jerusalem. A cube of a city, as high as it is wide and long; with twelve gates, twelve foundations, a city which is pure, and bright, and clean; dazzling in its beauty, with the precious stones and the streets of gold and the pearly gates.And you might be thinking - is Jesus marrying a city? But this is picture language - Revelation is like a picture book, as it teaches us truth in vivid imagery. You see, we talk about going to heaven, or meeting in the new Jerusalem, but the truth is - we are that new Jerusalem. The church is the bride of Christ, the wife of the Lamb.To see that, we need to turn back to Ephesians 5, and what can sometimes be a controversial passage these days. (page 1176). And maybe even before you turn to it, you know which passage it is. It’s the one in wh[...]



Sermon: 1 Peter 2: 4-10 Church is the temple of God

2017-09-12T09:30:23.616+01:00

This evening we gather to celebrate the 180th birthday of St Matthew’s. We give thanks to God for his faithfulness, and his steadfast love to this congregation over many generations, with this parish church in the heart of the village being at the centre of peoples’ lives through all those years. The celebrations of Baptisms, the joy of weddings, the grief of funerals; and the regular, weekly gathering of God’s people around his word and his table, bringing prayers and praises.For 180 years, St Matthew’s has held out the gospel to Richhill and beyond. These stones have echoed with our Saviour’s praise. But if you’re in the main aisle this evening, then these old stones have stood far longer than just the 180 years we’re celebrating tonight. Back in 1752, what is now the main aisle was built as the market house for the village, by the Richardsons of the castle.When the market ended, it was decided to convert the market house into the parish church for the new parish of Richhill, in 1837. In our first reading, we heard how the Lord Jesus lamented that the temple in Jerusalem, the place of prayer, had become a marketplace, with traders crowding in. Well here in Richhill, we went the other way, with the marketplace becoming a place of prayer.Tonight we rejoice in God’s goodness in the past; and give thanks to him for all that he has done in and through St Matthew’s over the past 180 years. But we can’t stop at that. We must also consider what God is still doing, and what God will do in the future in and through St Matthew’s. And our second reading, from 1 Peter, shows us that God is in the business of church building.We’re given a glimpse of the plans, we’re brought onto the building site, in order to see how God is building his church. And it all begins in verse 4: ‘As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him...’ Now if you go onto a building site, you might see plenty of stones, but you won’t see any living stones (unless the builder’s name is Livingstone!). Stones are just stones. But this living Stone is described in greater detail by Peter: rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him. He’s talking about the Lord Jesus - who was rejected by men. Do you remember before the crucifixion, the crowd were offered a choice - Jesus or Barabbas? They chose to free Barabbas, and to crucify Jesus. Isaiah 53 says of Jesus, ‘he was despised and rejected by men...’ (Is 53:3). Everyone may have rejected him, but he was chosen by God and precious to him. God showed he was chosen and precious, because he raised him from death, gave him life - made him the living Stone.Jesus is the living Stone. And Peter remembers a verse of Scripture, from Isaiah, which promises that Jesus would come. ‘See, I lay in Zion a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’Jesus is this chosen and precious cornerstone. Now, what is a cornerstone? It’s the most important stone in the whole building. It’s the one set at the bottom corner, from which everything else is built up - it’s the one that keeps the whole building straight, like a foundation stone. So what do you do with a cornerstone? You build on it, of course! But it’s not with bricks and mortar. It’s not with stones. Rather, what is the building material? It’s us. ‘As you come to him... you also, [...]