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Preview: The Reverend Garibaldi McFlurry

The Reverend Garibaldi McFlurry

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

Updated: 2018-03-18T12:30:01.747+00:00


Sermon: Isaiah 49: 1-18 St Patrick's Call


We’re thinking today about St Patrick, but to get us thinking about him and Ireland, we’ve got a quiz to get us going:In which county is Ireland’s highest mountain? Carrauntoohil, County Kerry (1038m / 3406ft)In which county did St Patrick build his first church? Saul church, Co. Down.Which is the smallest county in Ireland? LouthHow many points did Ireland finish the 2018 Six Nations tournament with?How many seats are there in Stormont and Dail Eireann? Stormont - 90; Dail - 158 (as well as 60 seats in the Seanad)In which county can you kiss the Blarney stone? CorkWhat is the official colour of St Patrick and of Ireland? Blue, not green!Which other countries also have St Patrick as their patron saint? Nigeria, Montserrat, Puerto RicoThe world turned green for St Patrick's Day! For one day at least, everyone is Irish! All over the world, people drank green beer in honour of St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Yet, incredibly, Patrick wasn't even Irish! Born at Bannavem Taburniae, which is somewhere in either Wales or Scotland, Patrick came from a Christian family. His dad was a deacon, and his grandfather a priest/presbyter. But as he grew up, Patrick didn't believe. "We would not listen to our priests, who advised us about how we could be saved." (Conf 1).At the age of 16, Patrick was captured by Irish raiders, sold into slavery, and found himself tending sheep (traditionally thought to be at Slemish mountain outside Ballymena). It was here that Patrick came to faith. "More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same." (Conf 16).After about six years, he heard a voice in the night telling him to get up, "Look, your ship is ready." He walked for about two hundred miles to get to the boat which took him back to Britain. Initially, the captain didn't want to take him onboard, but Patrick prayed, and his mind was changed. When they landed on the mainland, they walked twenty-eight days without finding any food. The captain (a pagan) challenged Patrick: "What about this, Christian? You tell us that your God is great and all-powerful - why can't you pray for us, since we're in a bad state of hunger?" As Patrick prayed, a herd of pigs appeared before them, providing food for them all.Eventually, Patrick made it back home to his family. His family urged him to never leave them again, after all his tribulations. But Patrick had a dream, a vision of a man called Victoricus coming from Ireland with a pile of letters - 'the voice of the Irish'. As he began to read one of these letters in his dream, he heard the voices of the Irish people: "We beg you, holy boy, to come and walk again among us." (Conf 23). In their voice, he heard God's voice, calling him back to Ireland, to bring the good news of Jesus.This is what drove Patrick to come back to Ireland, the place of his slavery - he wanted the pagans to know the true God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Here's what he writes:"That is why I cannot be silent - nor would it be good to do so - about such great blessings and such a gift that the Lord so kindly bestowed in the land of my captivity. This is how we can repay such blessings, when our lives change and we come to know God, to praise and bear witness to his great wonders before every nation under heaven." (Conf 3)He describes Ireland as "the nations to whom the love of Christ brought me." (Conf 13).But more than that, throughout his Confession, he repeatedly mentions his desire to obey God's command to bring the good news to the ends of the earth, to every nation, and even to Ireland. We're so used to thinking of Ireland as the centre of our universe. We look at a map of the world, and we're fairly central. But to the Roman empire, and Patrick, Ireland was seen as the very edge of the world. Nothing beyond it, and nothing much in it. As Patrick says:"In this way I can imitate somewhat those whom the Lord foretold would announce his gospel in witness to all nations before th[...]

Sermon: Leviticus 16: 1-34 Scripture Fulfilled - Atonement


When you come along to a Church of Ireland service, you have a fair idea of the way things are going to happen. And that’s particularly true if you’ve been a member of the Church of Ireland for a long time. You know how things work. You’re familiar with the different types of services we have. There’s Holy Communion, and Morning and Evening Prayer, and then the Service of the Word which we’re using tonight - which follows a pattern from the Book of Common Prayer (page 165).I imagine that we’re not just as familiar with the type of ceremony described in our reading tonight from Leviticus 16. And, in fact, it might even make you a bit uneasy, if you’re vegetarian; or even uncomfortable, if you’re a bit squeamish about blood. And you might think - that’s in the Bible? Or what’s that all about?Tonight we’re looking at this ceremony, the Day of Atonement, as we continue to see how the cross of Jesus fulfils the prophecies of the Old Testament. And hopefully we’ll see that, through the blood and guts and gore of this chapter, we see another aspect of the cross, and what Jesus has done for us as he died on the cross for us. But in order to see Jesus, we need to take in some of the details of this seemingly strange ceremony.We find ourselves tonight in the book called Leviticus. And this book is mostly instructions for the priests of the tribe of Levi (hence the name Leviticus). So, in a sense, this is like a handbook for the priests to know how to do the various different types of sacrifices. Maybe even a bit like the BCP.I said it’s mostly about instructions, because there’s just one piece of narrative, just one action story among all the commands. Now, it happens in ch 10, but it’s referenced here in 16:1 - ‘The LORD spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the LORD.’Back in 10:1, we’re told that Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, offered ‘unauthorised fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.’ They died instantly, when fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them. They had gone about things their own way, disregarding God’s commands. And they died for their misdeeds.So here, in the instructions for the Day of Atonement, we’re reminded straight away that we’re meant to do things the way God wants, not whatever way we want. We see it in verse 2: ‘Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.’So Aaron can’t just get up one day and think ‘I’ll pop in behind the curtain today.’ No, he can only come when God tells him to. Now, straight away, you might be thinking to yourself - what’s all this about the Most Holy Place, and the curtain, and the atonement cover, and the ark...?We find ourselves at the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, right at the centre of the Israelite camp. Last week, we saw how the people were rescued from slavery in Egypt through the Passover Lamb. Now, they’re still in the wilderness, having crossed the Red Sea. At the centre of the camp is the Tent of Meeting. Outside the tent is the altar for sacrifices. Inside the tent is the Holy Place (where the Lampstand and the Table for bread are); but behind a curtain is the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies). Inside it, you find the Ark of the Covenant, the top of which is called the atonement cover. Or at least, you would find it inside if you were allowed to go in. But you weren’t to go in. No one was, except only Aaron; and not at any time of his choosing, but only on one day of the year. The Day of Atonement, or as is was known sometimes, The Day.In verses 3-5, we see the preparations Aaron has to undergo for the day. There’s quite a shopping list of animals - the young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering (3), as well as the two male goats for a sin offering and another ram for a burnt offering. There are also spe[...]

Sermon: Exodus 2: 1-10 The First Moses Basket


This morning I’ve brought along something to show you. Does anyone know what this is?It’s a Moses basket. And what is it for?The Moses basket is to put a baby in, a safe place for the baby to sleep.This morning, we’re going to hear about the very first Moses basket. And to do that, we’re going back to Exodus chapter 2, to the land of Egypt.Has anyone ever been to Egypt? Maybe you’ve been there on holiday. Or maybe you’ll plan to go some day, to see the pyramids...Well back at the start of Exodus, the people of Israel are in Egypt. But they’re not there on holiday. They were slaves in the land. At the end of Genesis, the people of Israel went into Egypt through the dreams of Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. There were 70 (or 75) people, just one extended family.By the start of Exodus, there are more than 1 million Israelites. And the Egyptians were afraid of the Israelites. They were scared in case the Israelites would turn around and help Egypt’s enemies. And so they made the Israelites slaves. They forced them to work long hours, making bricks and building cities. All day every day, that was all they did. Can you imagine living as a slave? Now that was bad enough. But what came next was even worse. Pharaoh the king of Egypt decided that he wanted to get rid of the Israelites. So he said that any baby boys that were born should be killed. Girls could live, but not boys.And eventually, he told all his people that if they found a baby boy born to the Israelites (the Hebrews), they were to throw him into the river Nile.In our reading today, we hear the story of one mother who had faith in God. She had a baby boy, and she decided that she wasn’t going to throw him into the Nile. V2 says that the baby boy was ‘a fine child’. So she decided to hide her baby.Now, boys and girls. Do you think it would be easy or hard to hide a baby? Who thinks easy? Who thinks hard?It would be really hard, wouldn’t it? Why? Because babies cry! They make a lot of noise! And so for three months, she hid her baby. Every time he cried, his mother was there to try to settle him quickly, to make no noise, to not let on that he was in the house.And she managed to do it for three months. But then, she knew she had to do something else. She couldn’t hide him any longer. So she decided to do what Pharaoh commanded. She was going to take her son to the river.Imagine that! She hid him for three months, and then she was going to take him to the river, like all the other baby boys. Except, she had a plan. She took a basket, and covered it with tar and pitch. She made it watertight, so that it would float. She then placed her baby into the basket, and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile.Moses was in the river, like all the rest, except he was safe. Now, I’m not very good at Hebrew, but people smarter than me have written books that help to explain the Bible. And the word that says basket here is found in another Old Testament story. Another story involving water, and people being safe inside. Noah’s ark is the same word here - now Noah’s ark was massive, and saved 8 people and all the animals that were inside. Moses’ basket, his ark, was only big enough for one baby, but it was big enough to save him.Or, at least, we hope so. In verse 4, it’s as if we’re standing with Moses’ sister, waiting to see what would happen to him.Now, of all the people in Egypt, who should come along next? Pharaoh’s daughter! Her dad wants to kill all the baby boys, and now here she comes. She’s coming for a dip, to bathe in the river, and she spots the basket among the reeds. She sends one of the slaves to get it.When she opens it, what does she find inside? The baby! Moses! And, no wonder, he was crying. Now, what would she do? Would she tip him out of the basket into the water?Thankfully not! She felt sorry for him. She didn’t want to do him any harm. Instead, Pharaoh’s daughter decides that she’s going to keep him. But remember, he’s still only thr[...]

Sermon: Exodus 12: 1-42 Scripture Fulfilled: The Passover


Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the feast. Those words opened our service tonight. They’re words that were spoken this morning at our Communion service. But what does it mean? What’s the Passover, and how is Christ our Passover?On these Sunday nights leading up to Easter, we’re going to dig into the Old Testament. We’re going to see how the cross of Jesus fulfils some of the Old Testament promises and prophecies. And tonight we begin with the Passover. So what is it all about?In our (very) long reading, we heard of all the instructions for the very first Passover meal. Now, I don’t know whether in your house you have certain days for certain meals. Maybe Monday night is pasta night; or Friday night is a chippy tea. For this first Passover, there was only one dish on the menu, in every Israelite home. Roasted lamb, bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. What’s for dinner tonight? It was going to be lamb, by divine decree.As we’ve landed into the middle of a Bible book, we need to get our bearings. We’re in Exodus, the 2nd book of the Bible, and watching as the story continues. You see, Genesis, the first book, is all about beginnings - the creation, the fall, the flood, and then the story of Abraham and his family line. By the end of Genesis there are 75 (or 70) Israelites in the land of Egypt (brought there by Joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat).When Exodus begins, there are a whole lot more Israelites - so many in fact, that Pharaoh is afraid of them. He begins to enslave them, tries to kill off their babies, but one of those babies is rescued from the Nile by Pharaoh’s daughter. That baby, now grown up, is called by the LORD (capital letters, covenant name of God) to lead his people out of slavery and into the promised land. But when Moses went to the new Pharaoh, and asked him to ‘let my people go’, Pharaoh said no. Then no. Then no. Time and time again.The LORD sent a series of plagues on Egypt, to demonstrate his power (and also to ridicule the Egyptian small g gods), but Pharaoh just kept hardening his heart. We heard them in Psalm 78 - the water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, plague on livestock, boils, hail, locusts, and darkness. But still Pharaoh said no.And so the LORD prepared to send his last plague. A plague even worse than the previous nine combined. The plague to end all plagues - the death of the firstborn. God said that there would be a death in every house, that the firstborn would die. Then Pharaoh and the Egyptians would know that the LORD is God. Then the Israelites would be saved and rescued.Death was coming to every house on the same night. But for the Israelites, there was a way for the death of their firstborn to be avoided. It involved the Passover Lamb. And we find the details in chapter 12.The man was to choose a lamb for his household - a year-old male without defect, big enough to feed his family. Over several days they were to care for it, look after it, until the fourteenth day of the month. At twilight, just as evening is coming in, the lamb was to be slaughtered. Before they cook the meal, though, the blood of the lamb had to be painted on the sides and top of the door frame of the house.They even have cooking instructions - roasted over the fire (not raw or cooked in water). And they have table instructions - with your coat on, cloak tucked into your belt, sandals on feet, staff in hand, ready to move. This isn’t going to be a leisurely meal to take all night and chat into the morning. This is a meal eaten quickly, in haste, waiting to move out.So how did the Passover work? Well, we’re told in verses 12-13. Let’s focus in on these verses. ‘On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn - both men and animals - and I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. N[...]

Sermon: Mark 2: 1-12 Who does he think he is?


When were you last surprised by something you read in the Bible? For many of us, who have grown up through Sunday School and church, we think we know all about it. We’ve heard it all before. So maybe, as you heard our Bible readings this morning, you thought to yourself, oh aye, this is the one about the wee man coming down through the roof and Jesus heals him. I know that one. If that’s you, then I hope you’ll find at least one surprise in our reading today. You see, they come thick and fast in this story from Mark’s Gospel. Normally, I might give a wee hint of where we’re going, but I want the surprise to really surprise you, so stick with me, and we’ll see what jumps out at us.Last week we saw how Jesus was willing and able to help the man with leprosy. Jesus was filled with compassion, as he reached out to touch the unclean leper and heal him. And we saw that the man completely disregarded Jesus’ words to him - Jesus had told him to tell no one apart from the priest. But the man had told just about everyone apart from the priest!The end result was that Jesus couldn’t enter towns any more. He stayed out in lonely places. And even there, people kept coming to him. In verse 1, it’s a few days later, and Jesus is back in Capernaum. Remember, this is where it all began (1:21). It was here that Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law and then everyone else. It was here that Jesus had moved on from, in order to preach in other villages (1:38).Now he’s back home, and everyone comes to see him. There are so many (2) that there’s no room left inside or out. But Jesus isn’t healing this time. ‘He preached the word to them.’ Jesus is proclaiming the good news. Perhaps that’s a surprise - the repeated focus on preaching which Mark has in these opening chapters. Jesus was a preacher. Now we’re not told how long he spoke for, or the details of what he said, but he preached the word. God’s word. The good news he came to share.In verse 3, we’re introduced to the four men bringing their friend, the paralytic. The man can’t walk by himself, and so they bring him to Jesus. Except, there’s a problem. They can’t get near Jesus. The crowd is so great that they haven’t a hope of getting in to see Jesus themselves, let alone bringing their friend with them. At least, not through the front door.Now, you know the story, and you know what happens next. Mark tells us in verse 4: ‘Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralysed man was lying on.’They couldn’t get through the door, so they went via the roof. The houses of the time would have been single storey with a clay roof, so they could dig through it. But isn’t this a surprise? Imagine being inside the house that day. You’re listening to Jesus, when suddenly, there’s some dust and dirt falling from the ceiling, then daylight, then a stretcher being let down above your head! What a surprise! (Especially for the owner of the house!)The big surprise of the story comes in verse 5. Look at it with me. We’re told what Jesus sees, and what he says. What does he see? ‘When Jesus saw their faith...’ He sees their faith. Now, whether this is the four stretcher bearers, or the five of them, we’re not told. But as one writer puts it, ‘It seems more likely that the ill man also had faith, bearing in mind all that he went through simply in order to be where he was!’ (English, p.66, BST) Jesus sees their faith - faith expressed in their actions.And in response to what he sees, we’re told what he says. Now, if you’ve ever watched A Question of Sport (or even You’ve Been Framed), you’ll know the question ‘What happens next?’ They show a part of a video clip, pause it, and ask what happens next. So, don’t look, and tell me, what would you expect to happen next?The man is paralysed. Mark has told us that in v[...]

Sermon: Ruth 4: 1-22 Redeemed!


‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.’ Those were the words of Naomi to Ruth at the end of chapter 3. And they were words to us as well, as we wait to see what will happen in the story of Ruth. When I did a Bible study in Ruth in my last parish, I told them not to read ahead each week - imagine a minister telling people to not read the Bible! (They could read any other part of it, just not the chapters in Ruth...) I wonder how you’ve coped with the suspense of waiting to hear what happens...If chapter 3 was a cliffhanger, then it’s just what we’ve seen the whole way through the book. Back in chapter 1, after Naomi’s family had fled to the land of Moab because of a famine, her husband, and later her two sons all died. She urged her daughters-in-law to return to their own families - Orpah did, but Ruth committed herself to Naomi her mother-in-law. Where you go, I will go... Naomi complained of being bitter and empty, but the barley harvest was just beginning. What would happen when the harvest was being gathered?In chapter 2, we saw how Ruth took the initiative to go out gleaning, gathering up the scraps to feed herself and her mother-in-law. And in the just-so-happened-to-be-there field of Boaz, she found favour (grace). He was abundantly kind to her. And, the big cliffhanger was that Boaz was one of their kinsman-redeemers (whatever that was...).Chapter 3 showed us how Naomi sought to provide ‘rest’ for Ruth, by sending her to Boaz in the dead of night, to ask for him to act as their kinsman-redeemer - the relative who would buy them out of slavery and give them freedom. Ruth had asked Boaz to ‘spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’ And the cliffhanger in verse 12 was that there is someone with a prior claim, a closer connection, who is the kinsman-redeemer. So what will happen?Just as Naomi predicted, Boaz would not rest until the matter is settled. Ruth has returned home, and Boaz went to the town gate, where he sat down. In lots of towns and villages, there’s normally a bench in the town square where some of the men gather - that’s what happens in Dromore anyway, where my dad will be found most mornings! In this culture, it was the town gate that was the place of trade and civic business.Boaz is on a mission. He’s watching out for the kinsman-redeemer he told Ruth about. And when the man comes along, he gets him to sit down. He then gets ten of the town elders to also sit down. He has something to say.In verse 3 he begins to tell this other man about Naomi’s situation. Naomi needs to sell the family land to a relative. This man has the first say on the land, and so Boaz asks if he’s going to redeem it, or if Boaz can do it.Initially, the other man is interested. But then when he hears the full terms and conditions - that he will also have to marry Ruth, then he backs off. He’s not looking to the interests of Ruth or his relatives; he’s only really interested in himself and his own interests. He gives Boaz the green light to go ahead himself. In the words of the Dragon’s Den: ‘I’m out.’Now, when you went to buy your house or some land, you probably sat in your solicitor’s office, and at some point, you signed on the dotted line. I’m fairly sure you didn’t take off your shoe and give it to them! But that’s what happened here. A sandal was removed and given to the other party to seal the deal. It was a deliberate act that no one could miss, or misconstrue. The witnesses would see it, and understand that the deal had been agreed. And that’s what happens in verse 8. The other man takes off his sandal. Boaz and Ruth can fix their wedding date. (By the way, I don’t think that the other person held on to the sandal. I think it was then given back, so that the first one didn’t have to hop home!).In verse 9, we hear what Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer announces: ‘Today you are witnesses [...]

Sermon: Mark 1: 40-45 Ready, Willing and Able


When someone asks you to do something, how you decide if you’ll do it or not? In a lot of cases, you’ll probably decide very quickly, almost on impulse, if you’re going to help them or not. So whether they ask you to get something from the shop, or post a letter, or lend them fifty pounds, or whatever it might be, you’ll decide on the spot. Instinctively, you’ll say yes and do it, or no you won’t do it. But what’s behind your decision? How did you get to that decision so quickly? Whenever someone asks you to help them, your brain very quickly goes through two questions: 1. Do I want to do this?Am I able to do this?Now, how you answer those questions depends on who is asking, and what’s being asked of you. So here’s a wee example, to help you see those questions in action:I’ll happily baptise little Harry later on in the service. But if I’m asked to change his nappy, then I’ll probably think - I don’t really want to do it, and actually, I’m not really able to do it either. So I’ll leave it to the experts in the front row! So, for some things, you might well want to do something to help, but you know that you’re not able to do it. Maybe you’d love to be able to help clean out your neighbour’s guttering, but you don’t have a head for heights. So you (wisely) say no.But for other things, you could very well do it, you’re able to do it, but you just don’t want to do it. You’re able, but not willing.That’s the grid that you use, maybe even unthinkingly, just instinctively - asking yourself: am I willing? am I able? And when you ask someone else if they will help you, you might have worked this out in advance - might they be able to help me? And could they be willing to help?In our reading from Mark’s gospel this morning, we find a man who thinks in these categories - willing and able. But before we even come to his request, we see that he is a man in great need. Look at the first four words of verse 40. (p1003) A man with leprosy. You know the way people dread sitting in the doctor’s office to be given a diagnosis? Nowadays, it’s the ‘c’ word (cancer) that’s dreaded. In those days, they dreaded the ‘l’ word. Leprosy. The word covered a variety of infectious skin diseases (not just modern-day Hansen’s disease), but the end result was the same. The person diagnosed with leprosy would be an outcast. They couldn’t live with their family, or in the town, and everyone was afraid of them. Leprosy was feared, so they were shunned. Lonely. Isolated. This man with leprosy comes to Jesus. He’s so desperate that he gets down on his knees in front of Jesus. He ‘begged him’ on his knees. And do you see what he says to Jesus? “If you are willing, you can make me clean.”Do you see how he has worked through that willing and able set of questions? He must have heard about Jesus, heard about all the things that Jesus has already done - look back to verse 25, casting out an evil spirit. Verse 31, healing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever. Verse 34 healing lots of people from various diseases. He knows that Jesus is able. He is sure that Jesus can do it. He’s just not sure if Jesus will want to do it. “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” He’s sure Jesus can do it, he’s not sure if Jesus will want to do it. Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. You know all about Jesus, you’ve heard about his power, his miracles, even his salvation. You know that Jesus can do all things. The thing you’re not sure about is if Jesus wants to help you or save you. It’s not could he, but would he?Picture the scene. The leper has asked for help. He has made himself vulnerable. And he waits for the answer. Maybe you’ve been in the same place. You’ve asked someone for help, and then you wait, to see what they say, how they’ll answer, what they’ll do. Will Jesus help this leper?We see the answer in v[...]

Sermon: Luke 10: 25-37 Who is my neighbour?


Actions:Good - thumbs up ‘good, good’Love - cross your heart ‘love love love’Neighbour - shake hands ‘hello neighbour’Priest - hands in air ‘hallelujah!’Levite - hands together ‘hmm - praying meditation noise’Samaritan - angry face ‘boo’One day, a man asked Jesus what he had to do to get eternal life. How GOOD is GOOD enough? JEsus asked him what the Old Testament law said. To be GOOD enough for God, here’s what you need to do. You need to LOVE God with all of your heart - your feelings and emotions. You need to LOVE God with all your soul - your very being. You need to LOVE God with all your strength - in all you do. And you need to LOVE God with all your mind - in the thoughts you think. That means we are meant to always, fully and totally LOVE God with everything we are and have. And as if that’s not enough, we are also to LOVE our NEIGHBOUR as much as we LOVE ourselves. LOVE God and LOVE your neighbour. That’s the bar you have to reach to earn your own salvation - it’s like an impossibly high high jump bar. None of us can reach it. None of us can do it. But this man thought that he might be able to do it all by himself. And so he wants to check the terms and conditions - the small print of the agreement. So, wanting to justify himself, he asks Jesus a question. Just a small question. Four/five words: who is my NEIGHBOUR?The man is thinking to himself that if your NEIGHBOUR is just the person who lives next door to you, then he might be able to LOVE that person. But Jesus answers his question by telling a story. It’s a story of a man who was on a journey. And on the way, he was attacked, beaten and robbed. He was sore, and left for dead. After a wee while, he heard someone coming along. He looked up, and saw that it was a PRIEST who was coming. Oh GOOD, the man thought. This PRIEST will help me. But, the PRIEST didn’t want to help. He pretended not to notice the man. He crossed the road, and walked past on the other side. The PRIEST was no help at all. Soon another person came along the road. He was a LEVITE, who also worked at the temple with the PRIEST. Surely he would do something GOOD to help him? But the LEVITE also pretended not to see him. He also crossed the road, and walked on by, just like the PRIEST. After a while, someone else was coming. But this man was a SAMARITAN. Now, the Jews didn’t like the SAMARITANS. The SAMARITANS were considered their enemies. Jews and SAMARITANS didn’t get on. He wouldn’t get any help from him. After all, the SAMARITANS couldn’t do any GOOD, they were such bad people. Yet the SAMARITAN stopped with the man. He had compassion on the man. He helped the man, by binding up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He brought the man to an inn, and paid for him to stay there and be looked after. This SAMARITAN did lots of GOOD for the beaten up man. Then Jesus asked this simple question. Think of the PRIEST, the LEVITE and the SAMARITAN. Which of them was a GOOD NEIGHBOUR to the man in need? It wasn’t the PRIEST. he ignored the man’s need. It wasn’t the LEVITE. he ignored the man’s need. The GOOD NEIGHBOUR was the SAMARITAN. (So I think we should stop boo-ing when we hear him mentioned...)Even though the two men weren’t from the same country, or supported the same team, or liked the same things - the Samaritan was an example of a good neighbour. He helped whoever needed his help, whoever they were. So our neighbour isn’t just the person who lives next door. Our neighbour is everyone in the whole world. To be perfect, to earn our own salvation by ourselves, to be good enough to gain heaven - we would have to love God perfectly, and love everyone in the whole world. And that is impossible. We’ve already realised that today, and confessed our failures to God. We can’t do it ourselves. But Jesus did live this perfect life. He loved[...]

Sermon: Ruth 3: 1-18 Requesting Redemption


The story of Ruth feels as if it’s a four-part television series. So forgive me if we start (as we did this morning!) with a ‘Previously in the Romance of Redemption...’ Whether this is a reminder or a catch-up, here’s the story so far. Naomi, her husband and two sons had left Bethlehem in a time of famine. They went to the land of Moab, where tragedy struck. Naomi’s husband died, then after their weddings to Moabite women, the two sons also died.Naomi returned to Bethlehem - intending to come alone, but was joined by her daughter-in-law Ruth, who pledged her loyalty to her. Naomi was bitter and empty, blaming God for all her troubles. That was chapter 1. Then last week, we saw the Ruth took the initiative to go and glean, picking up the spare heads of grain behind the harvesters in order to feed her and Naomi. She sought, and then found favour in the fields of Boaz, as he modelled the favour and grace of God in his kindness and compassion for her. And last week’s cliffhanger was that Naomi revealed (2:20) that he was a kinsman-redeemer. We didn’t really know what that was last week, but we’ll see what that means as we follow the latest instalment in Ruth’s redemption story.As the chapter begins, we find the driving force, the big need in verse 1: ‘My daughter, should I not try to find rest for you, where you will be well provided for?’ Now, the NIV says ‘find a home for you...’, but the footnote which says that the Hebrew actually says ‘rest’ shows the main concern of Naomi.You see, it’s not just a home that Naomi wants for Ruth. After all, they must have a home where they’re living already - Ruth and Naomi. But Ruth needs ‘rest’, she needs that place of security and provision, which in that culture at that time meant married life. Naomi realises that Ruth can’t keep gleaning from harvest to harvest - she needs the security of a home, the place of rest for the rest of her life.And Naomi realises that she needs to sort it out for Ruth. Notice that back in chapter 2 it was Ruth who took the initiative, suggesting the gleaning that would give them something to eat. But now Naomi is taking charge, caring for her daughter-in-law, seeking to provide the rest that Ruth needs.And right in the centre of her target is this man called Boaz (2). Ruth is already aware of him, having worked with his servant girls, and having met him in the fields. And we’re reminded again in verse 2 that he is ‘a kinsman of ours.’ Now, kinsman is just another way of saying relative, a member of the extended Elimelech family. But bear in mind that Naomi uses that word kinsman. It’ll help us later on.And so Naomi tells Ruth to go and get ready. She’s going out tonight. But it’s not on a date, as such. And it’s not to dinner, or to a nightclub. But she is going to get her man. Now, if you are planning to get ready for a date this Valentine’s Day, then you might find some sensible wisdom here about how to get ready - wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Now she isn’t getting dressed up for dinner in a fancy five star restaurant. Instead, she’s going to the threshing floor.It’s the end of the barley harvest, Boaz will be winnowing, separating the grain from the chaff. And it’ll be party time. He’ll be in a good mood, because the work is done. And when he has eaten and drank, and lay down, then, Naomi says, go and uncover his feet, and lie down.Now, how would you react if you had been told to do all that? Put on your best clothes, to lie down in the farmyard, at the feet of the man you hope will marry you. To our ears it seems like strange advice. And, in the dead of night, it may seem slightly dodgy.But Ruth does what she was told. And then in verse 8, Boaz is startled in the middle of the night, to find someone at his feet. Remember, it’s properly dark [...]

Sermon: Mark 1: 29-39 Why did Jesus come?


On this Sunday a year ago, we announced in Aghavea that we were moving to Richhill. And a similar announcement was made here. And I know that the news spread rapidly after the two morning services here and there. People in Fermanagh were ringing round to share the news (good or bad?) that we were going. People here were ringing or googling to try to find out who this new boyo was. From a worship service, the news of what had happened spread rapidly.And that’s what’s happening in our reading this morning. We’re hearing about the aftermath of a worship service; we’re seeing how news of what happened was spreading rapidly. There were no phones, or social media, so it was word of mouth, people going to tell others, but as we’ll see, it creates quite a stir.You might have noticed that we’ve skipped from verse 20 to verse 29. That’s because David McComb preached on that passage the other week in the evening. But to understand what’s happening now, we need a recap. It’s a bit like in some TV boxsets - ‘Previously in Mark’s Gospel...’ Jesus is in the synagogue, the local Jewish place of worship, prayer and preaching in Capernaum. And two things happened that morning to cause amazement.First, the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, with authority. He spoke like no one else they had ever heard preaching. And second, the people were amazed at his authority over evil spirits, as he cast one out of a man. All this happened in the synagogue in the one day. It’s no wonder that verse 28 tells us that ‘News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.’So in our reading we see what happened next. After church, they go to Simon and Andrew’s house, maybe for a cup of tea. And in the house, Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever. She’s not well. So they tell Jesus about her. They simply let him know that she isn’t well. They’ve seen what he was able to do in the synagogue - maybe he could help her too.So Jesus goes to her, takes her hand, helps her up, and the fever left her. Jesus is able to heal and restore. He takes away the fever and instantly gives her health and strength. You know the way when you’ve been ill, you’ve spent some time in bed, it can take a few days or weeks to get fully better? Not here with Peter’s mother-in-law. she is healed, and immediately begins to wait on them. She is healed by Jesus and then starts serving Jesus.Now that’s all been happening inside the house. But outside, it’s been a hive of activity. News has spread about Jesus and his authority to teach and heal. So everyone has come to him. Verse 32: ‘That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door.’Can you imagine that? If everyone from Richhill was standing outside your door? Or perhaps another scene that we’ve witnessed recently, the queues at A&E, with people waiting in ambulances, on trolleys, in corridors, and anywhere else there’s a seat or a space. That’s what it looked like outside Peter’s house. The whole town is there, having brought all the sick and demon-possessed people.So Jesus does what he is able to do to help. He has the authority to heal, and so he does it. It’s a sign of the kingdom of God, bringing order where there is chaos; putting wrong things right; bringing health and wholeness where there is sickness and disease. Verse 34: ‘Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.’Whatever the problem, physical, mental or spiritual, Jesus was able to bring healing and restoration. But he doesn’t allow the demons to speak - they know who he is. Look back at verse 24 - the demon in the synagogue had named Jesus as ‘the Holy One of God.’ Bu[...]

Sermon: Ruth 2: 1-23 Finding Favour


Would you do me a wee favour? Would you nudge the person beside you if they fall asleep? I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of doing someone a wee favour. They ask you to help out, and so you do something they need done, you do it out of the kindness of your heart. You don’t expect or want anything for doing it, it’s just a wee favour.Favour is the theme of our reading tonight in Ruth. It’s the driving force behind the developing story, as Ruth looks to find favour - but the question is, will she find it? Remember that she finds herself in Bethlehem, a new and strange place for her, a Moabite. Ruth had been married, but her husband had died young. Her mother-in-law Noami had decided to return home to Bethlehem, and told her two daughters-in-law to go back to their own homes.But Ruth had pledged her loyalty to her mother-in-law, so here she is. A foreigner, far from home, far from family, living with Naomi. What would happen to her? Particularly since immigration seems to be such a contentious topic these days. How do we treat the foreigner and stranger? How will Ruth be treated?Before we get to Ruth’s story, verse 1 seems almost a wee bit out of place, doesn’t it? We’re hearing about Noami and Ruth, when suddenly there’s this mention of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech. And all we’re told about him is that he is a man of standing. A man of good reputation. And then by verse 2, we’re back with Ruth and Naomi.Verse 1 is a bit like the start of Casualty. Normally at the very start of Casualty you see someone you don’t know before, maybe someone on their bike, or a family setting off on a car journey, or someone making a cup of tea. And you know that very soon, something is going to happen to this person - they’re going to have some sort of mishap, and they’ll be brought to Casualty. Well verse 1 is a bit like that. We don’t know Boaz, haven’t met him before, but keep him in mind... we’ll soon get to know him better!Do you remember how Naomi described herself at the end of chapter 1? She was Mara (bitter) and empty. And she’s still empty, because it was the men who went out to work. There’s no universal credit, no welfare system, and so the two women are hungry.But Ruth takes the initiative. Here’s her plan in verse 2: ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.’ There were no welfare benefits, but there was a system of provision for the poor. It was the idea of gleaning. Nowadays the combine harvester gathers the full harvest in fairly quickly, but in these days, you had a line of harvest workers, pulling the stalks. Sometimes they would maybe miss some, or drop some. The Law said you weren’t allowed to reap right to the very edges of your field, or go over the field a second time. You were to leave some for the poor and the alien. (Lev 19:9-10). And so that’s what Ruth set out to do. She was looking for favour, for some kindness, to allow her to go gleaning.Look at the middle of verse 3. ‘As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.’ As it turned out - it just so happened. I’m reminded of that line from Casablanca - ‘of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.’ Of all the fields around Bethlehem, Ruth just happens to be in Boaz’s. Coincidence? or God-incidence? Just then, Boaz arrives. Now, I wonder what happens/ed when the boss arrives at your place of work? Or if you are the boss, how do you greet your workers? We see the greeting in verse 4 - the greeting we began our service with: The Lord be with you! And the workers reply ‘The Lord bless you.’ We’re getting a glimpse of Boaz’s standing. He certainly talks about God... but is it a[...]

Sermon: Mark 1: 14-20 Follow Me


Have you ever wondered what goes on behind the Vestry door? While you’re sitting in your pew, waiting for the service to begin, behind that door, lots of things are going on in the five minutes before we begin. We have a run through the service to make sure we know what’s happening. We put all the gear on. We pray. But at the same time, we’re also listening for the signal to start the service. Whenever we hear the Richhill chimes, the clock striking eleven, then we know that the time has come, and we come out to start the service.Just think how many times you’ve heard or said these words: ‘It’s time.’ It might be when you’re getting up in the morning, when the alarm sounds, and it’s time to get up. Or if you’ve been up and you’re now waking the other people in the house. Maybe it’s when the exams come around, there’s no more revising, you have to sit the exams. It’s time. Or your first day at a new job; an appointment; or whatever. It’s time.And when 2pm on Friday 16th February rolls around, we’ll be saying it’s time. All the preparations will be completed, the doors will open, the time will have come. Love So Amazing will have begun, after months of anticipation. It’ll be time.It’s that sense of the preparations being complete that starts our reading today. Remember, in Mark’s gospel we’re reading the good news about Jesus Christ, the Son of God. But last week we saw that, before Jesus arrived, John was the messenger preparing the way. John was getting things ready for Jesus.And now, the preparations are complete. John has stopped baptising, and Jesus appears on the scene. Look at verse 14 with me. ‘After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.’ It wasn’t that John had retired from his baptising work - he had been given his redundancy. He’s in prison - that’s all we’re told here. You have to read on into chapter 6 to discover why he’s in prison, and what happens to him.But it’s the fact that John is in prison that seems to be the sign for Jesus to begin his preaching ministry. And what is it he is proclaiming? ‘The good news of God.’ Jesus comes to proclaim good news. There can be all sorts of good news - hearing about a baby being born, or an engagement, or an act of heroism, or kindness. Good news is always being told, if we listen out for it. But notice that this is the good news of God. This is God’s good news. You might be asked, did you hear of Ermentrude’s good news? That she’s engaged. Or of Henrietta’s good news, that she had her baby... Well this is God’s good news. And what is the news? We see it in verse 15.“The time has come, he said. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”Three short sentences. And they sum up the good news of God.The time has come. The right moment has arrived, after a long period of anticipation. It’s a bit like in a show, the announcer says, ‘And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for...’ The time has been fulfilled - like one of those egg timers, where the sand has fallen from the top to the bottom, and the very last grain has landed, the time is filled full. And what is it time for? The kingdom of God is near. Look back to verse 2. Remember last week we looked at the promises made in the Old Testament that the Lord would come, and bring the kingdom? Just how long had they been waiting for these promises? The bit in verse 2 ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you’ - that’s from Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, written about 400 years before Jesus. The bit in verse 3, ‘A voice of one calling in the desert, Prepare the way for the Lord...’ - that’s from Isaiah, written about 700 years before Jesus.The other day, someo[...]

Sermon: Mark 1: 1-13 Good News about God's Son


Somewhere in my mum and dad’s house, there’s a book that is all about me. If we were to hoke it out of whichever cupboard it’s stored in, we would discover all sorts of fascinating facts about me - my date of birth; what weight I was when I was born; what I looked like when I was born; and so on. There were also pages for when my first tooth came; when I started walking; my first word, all those sorts of things. It’s all about me. And maybe baby Noah has a similar sort of book which is all about him.This morning we find ourselves at the very start of a book which is all about Jesus. We’re told that in the very first verse: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ (1)Mark sat down to write a book which is all about Jesus. And here at the start, he tells us that it is ‘the gospel about Jesus.’ Now that word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’. So this is the beginning of the good news about Jesus. So often when we open a newspaper, or turn on the TV news, it’s only bad news that we hear. But Mark says that he has good news for us - good news about Jesus.And just so that we’re absolutely sure who Jesus is, Mark tells us a bit more about him in that opening verse. He is ‘Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’ Christ there isn’t Jesus’ surname - you know the way the spy introduces himself, ‘The name’s Bond, James Bond.’ (I have a minister friend who sometimes introduces himself The name’s Boyd, James Boyd!). So it’s not James Bond, Gary McMurray, Jesus Christ. Christ isn’t his name, it’s his title - it means the anointed one, the one who has been chosen and set apart for his job as King. You could also say this verse as ‘Jesus the Christ, the Son of God.’Jesus is the Christ, and he is also the Son of God. He is in close relationship with God, his Father. He is one with the Father. Mark is writing down the good news about Jesus, the Christ, the Son of God. So you might be a bit surprised to see what he doesn’t include. There are no details here about Jesus as a baby; no birth weight, or first tooth, or any of those sorts of things. He doesn’t deal with the first thirty years of Jesus’ life - Mark doesn’t have time for the story of the shepherds or the wise men. He starts in when Jesus is about thirty years old. But, did you notice, he doesn’t even start with Jesus at all! This would be like the first bit of Noah’s baby book with pictures and details all about Sophie instead. So why does Mark include verses 2-8, which aren’t about Jesus, but are all about John?It’s because John is the messenger sent to get people ready for Jesus. We see that in the Old Testament verses Mark quotes; we see it in what John does, and we see it in what John says.Back in the Old Testament, God had promised to send a messenger ahead of the Lord. ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way - a voice of one calling in the desert, prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.’ (2-3)Jesus had been promised from long before - but so had John. And for Jesus to come, John had to arrive first. That’s what verse 4 tells us: ‘And so John came.’ And how did he prepare the way for Jesus? He came baptising in the desert region and preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.’People from all over Judea and from Jerusalem came to John. They confessed their sins to him, and were baptised in the River Jordan. To repent means to turn around - to stop going in one direction, and instead to go in a different direction. That’s what the parents and sponsors will declare later on in the service - turning away from the devil and all proud rebellion against God; renouncing the deceit and corruption of evil; r[...]

Sermon: Ruth 1: 1-22 The Romance of Redemption (1) - Bitter and Empty


What’s in a name? Your name isn’t just the way that people call you; it can also say something about you. Perhaps you know what your name means, and you can decide if it’s accurate or not. Gary means strength, and I can see you all thinking that it’s spot on (or maybe not...). Names communicate something of who we are. But sometimes, people decide to change their name. In fact, in 2016, there were 85,000 who changed their name by deed poll in the UK.Those name changes happen for a variety of reasons. For some, a name change will be a new start, a new identity, a clean break from an abusive partner. For others, though, it seems to be less serious, like the lady who changed her name to include Penelope Pitstop (from Wacky Races), or the person who is now known as Mr Bacon Double Cheeseburger.In our reading tonight from Ruth chapter 1, we discover a requested name change, in verse 20. Now, for us, as we read that verse, we might not grasp what’s being said. ‘Don’t call me Naomi, she told them, call me Mara...’ So let me read it in translation, the way the people of Bethlehem would have heard it. Don’t call me pleasant. Call me bitter.Naomi’s name seemed like a burden to her. It didn’t seem to fit her any more. She doesn’t want to be called pleasant, because she feels far from pleasant. Instead, she wants to be called Mara - bitter. That’s how she feels, and that’s what she wants everyone else to call her.So how did this come about? How did the change from pleasant to bitter happen? What has gone on to bring about her bitterness? That’s what this opening chapter of Ruth tells us.Verse 1 gives us an idea of where this story fits into the bigger Old Testament story. ‘In the days when the judges ruled.’ Ruth can be hard to find, snuggled in between the big books of Judges and 1 Samuel, but this is where the story fits. The days of the judges - when God’s people would turn away from God, then they would face opposition, then they would cry out to God, and God would send a ‘judge’ - not someone in a robe and curly wig, but a rescuer, a saviour. And round and round that pattern goes in the book of Judges - you can probably think of the famous ones, Gideon, Deborah, and Samson, but there were 12 in total. Going round and round in this cycle of things getting worse, and each time God sending help.Well, during this time, we’re told there was a famine in the land. The land is the promised land, the place God had given to the people of Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey. So for there to be famine was a bad sign. A sign that things weren’t well. Famine was one of the marks of the curse under the old covenant (Deut 28:38-42). And even worse, the famine is felt in Bethlehem, which means the house of bread. It’s a bit like the old advert - Fred, there’s no bread. Only this is serious.This one family decide to move away from home, away from the promised land, to go to Moab. They leave their God-given inheritance to live in enemy territory. And again, names are important. We’ve already met Naomi, and her husband is called Elimelech - God is my king. Except, it doesn’t really look like it at this point.So the family move to Moab, and it’s here that tragedy begins to strike. First of all, Elimelech dies. Naomi is left with her two sons. After her boys get married to Moabite women, they both die as well. Naomi has lost her husband and her sons within a few years. She’s in a strange place, without a breadwinner - in those days it was the men who went to work, so without a man, there was no pension or social security benefits.But then Naomi hears (6) that the Lord had come to the aid of his people. He has provided food for them back [...]

Sermon: Psalm 90 Gaining a heart of wisdom


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. Someo[...]

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


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[...]

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


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[...]

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


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 y[...]

2017 Books


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


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 reg[...]

Carol Service Epilogue: Luke 2:12 Christmas Unwrapped


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 pa[...]

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


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 o[...]

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


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? T[...]

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


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 Sp[...]

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


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 [...]