Sunday, April 30, 2006

Birthday in Dublin

So there we are, the Community Weekend is over and I'm back home in Norn Iron again for a wee while. Yesterday, as you may have gathered from one of my earlier postings, was my birthday. And there was I in College... with prime messer number one in attendance, aka James Boyd.

James has the reputation in college for being the messer. Early on in my time there, these mysterious arms came in through my window, and who was it? Yes, Boyd. There have been other things too... But anyways... From the start of first year, I knew the weekend was over my birthday, and that I would be there, and so would James. So my policy was of complete silence. My birthday would not be spoken of.

But there was a problem. Dorrian knew. So I had him promise he wouldn't tell anyone. All seemed to be going well. We approached the weekend, and there seemed to be complete ignorance of it. But then on Friday night, late on, Adrian and Clare were doing photocopying for the kids programme and we were all talking. Suddenly the suspicious random question. Wee doll asked when my birthday was. I was very non-committal, and the conspiracy was unveiled!

Thankfully all that happened was that Clare had a cake for us (cos it was also William Steacy's birthday yesterday - we must be twins!), which was brought out as the principal announced our birthdays at dinner. There were none of the feared tyings up, or getting plastered with the week's scraps, or any other unpleasant type stuff!

It also turned out to be quite a good day for me. In the afternoon we went bowling at Tallaght and I managed to win (beating James by only 4 points, and one of the kids by 2 points - I was on 125). No doubt some people will allege that I can only win when there aren't Presbyterians to defeat me...

Then at the evening entertainment, I won in the karaoke!!! It turned out to be a bit of a marathon session though. My song was 'American Pie', and there kept turning up more and more verses that I had never heard of before... I think it turned out to be about 8 and a half minutes. Torture and agony - for my audience! But fair play and well done to everyone who got up to sing, whether we could or not!

Friday, April 28, 2006

Theologically Reflecting

Part of what we've been doing in recent weeks has been an interestingly titled module: 'Practicum.' Basically, it was to make us engage in the process of 'theological reflection.' Now, from what I can make out, that's a fancy phrase for thinking about what you're doing, in relation to God and his word. The way it was structured was that we were each visiting a parishoner from a local parish, then had to take a particular incident or moment from one of the visits and reflect on it theologically.

At first it seemed like a bit of a nuisance - in some ways always at the back of my mind when on the visits - wondering 'could this be the momentous moment?' (Yes, I know that was an awful double use of moment!). Others seemed to have lots of moments they could reflect on - even reducing the class to stitches at times (oh yeah - we had to present them to our class).

But eventually I came up with a reflection, on using the Bible in pastoral visits - when to do it, how to do it, probably asking more questions than answering. I'd be really interested to hear your views on these things, because I can't really remember that much of pastoral visits from when I was younger, so I don't know what is 'supposed' to happen on them.

However, what I'm trying to get at in this posting is more about the reflecting itself. I think the point of the module was to get us to engage in some reflection, which I think was a good thing. College life can be hectic enough, with classes, readings, essays, leading and reading in chapel, cumpulsory meetings and events, optional meetings and events, as well as all else that goes on. How often do I really get a chance to reflect, to think about what has happened? I mean, in about 45 minutes I'll be 25. Getting old...

I'm glad for my Quiet Times, which have continued while in college - sometimes having to fight for them, sometimes finding it a struggle to stay awake or think coherently at the end of a busy day, sometimes not really wanting to pray or read the Bible. But they have been an important part of my life - both before college and also now during it.

I'm also glad that I have this strange vehicle called Blogger, in which I can sit and type away at my random thoughts - perhaps blogging is therapeutic? So fair play to you all for reading and continuing to read what I churn out.

So anyway, back to the theological reflection. Could it be that I had been doing it all along, and never realised? Maybe the benefit of being forced to reflect has been to make me realise the benefit of reflecting! And that's my reflection on reflecting! Now, I just need to go and reflect on it...

First Year Finished!

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy! Today in the city of Dublin, I completed my first year in college. Well, except for the exams, which are just three weeks away, but we'll not worry about them just yet.

Today was the essay deadline for my final two essays - as you're probably fed up reading about. And one essay had to be done. So yesterday I did try to get it done as quickly as possible, but with classes, trips to the library, the preaching competition (for which you'll find an interesting reflection on Adrian's bebo site), it wasn't getting much progress.

In college there's also a bit of a tradition built up that we head out to McDonald's occasionally for a McFlurry, and when Clare announced that Curly Fries were back on the menu, well, we simply had to go! But so as to not completely ruin my evening's work, we waited until after I had done a good two hour's work (and about 1000 words). So off we went to McDonald's - our closest being at Nutgrove shopping centre, 1 kilometre away.

Now, I don't know what you'll make of this, but I really enjoy mixing my Curly Fries and McFlurry - dipping the fries in the ice cream. Last night over dinner I was called a 'dirty minger' for even thinking about it, but I like it... I'm not sure why it's so good - is it because it's two really nice things (chips and ice cream) combined? Is it because it's the contrast between hot and cold? Is it the contrast between salty and sweet? I'm not sure. But try it!

Anyways, I digress (as I make myself hungry at the same time...). The point of the posting is the essays... We got back to college again at about 10.30pm, and it was straight back to work at the computer. And so, at 1am, I eventually got finished!

Today, then, was our final day of term for the first year, with the usual Church History and Systematics classes. But it also is the start of our Community Weekend, when the student's families all come down to stay over for the weekend, as a sort of party before the hard work for the exams starts. And the weather was fantastic! We had a barbecue out on the front lawn this evening, before a table quiz thing. Now I'm getting tired...!

Thursday, April 27, 2006


The Church History essay has been completed now! In fact, it was finished yesterday evening, and handed in this morning. So that means there's just one essay left, and I have a couple of pages typed on it already...

However, it fell by the wayside a bit this afternoon due to the Downes Oratory Prize. The Downes is the college's preaching competition, with a prize for each year. Basically, what happens is that you pick a text from the basket at random (from a selection), then have ten minutes to prepare with only a Bible for reference. You then go into the room and preach in front of three judges, lasting no more than eight minutes.

This afternoon the event was on, with the third years and first years having the same judges, and the second years having a different panel. The text I drew out was Jeremiah 1:5, the call of Jeremiah, looking at God's knowledge of Jeremiah, God's consecration of Jeremiah, and God's appointment of Jeremiah - to service. It would be a source of assurance to Jeremiah in his ministry, even and especially during the hard times.

The end result was that I won the prize for our year! So there'll be a handsome cheque coming my way shortly. Hurray and hurray! Well done also to Barry and Craig, who won the second and third year prizes respectively.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Essays and Exams...

So here I am... Tuesday afternoon of my last week of First Year, and still with those essays to do. I did start typing this afternoon, but it is slow going, as I can't seem to get into the right frame of mind for writing on the Irish Articles (1615). I think what is even more annoying is that I might be too picky, with lots of footnotes which need referenced etc... So far I have done 700 words, and am just about ready to write about the contents of the Articles, before moving on to consider their impact and significance.

This period of the Church of Ireland was really interesting - as the Articles were more Calvinist (stating the belief that God had indeed predestined and chosen those who would be saved, with the logical reverse that those who were not elect had also been 'elected' to their ultimate destination). But even more so, the Gospel was the primary focus of the puritan church at the time, when gospel ministers were accepted into the church to do the work of the gospel, no matter their opinions on church government. So, for about 20 years, you had the situation where Presbyterian clergy could work within the Anglican church, in order to evangelise the country. Oh that we would again be in the situation where the gospel was the primary motivation for church order and business, where evangelicals in all denominations worked together for the good of the gospel, rather than their own denominational loyalty or group, and where those without Christ would be reached with the gospel in our land, both north and south.

If you're interested in this matter, then you might want to have a read at the Irish Reformation Blog, or read Crawford Gribben's book on The Irish Puritans.

But while my essays go on, others are already in exams. This week and next are Lynsey's exams, so let's hope they go well. All the best, my darling!

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Meeting the Risen Lord

19On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. (John 20:19-20)

Just a few quick observations from one of the Easter Readings (which we used this morning in Magheralin). In this reading, we find (i) the presence of the Lord. Despite the doors of the upper room being locked (cos the disciples were afeared of what the Jews might do to them), Jesus 'came and stood among them'. To the Risen Lord locked doors and walls were no barrier - he was with them, standing there in their midst. The new body - which was his body, but changed and transformed (see 1 Corinthians 15:42, 53) - could pass through walls or doors (as it could also appear and disappear as in the road to Emmaus (Luke 24)). Have you encountered the Risen Lord? Have you known his presence with you in the difficult times, as well as the good?

The disciples were obviously fearful, and probably taken aback, so we next find the peace of the Lord. Jesus brings them the greeting of peace - telling them not to fear or be afraid. This was what the disciples needed more than anything, precisely because they were fearful, first of the Jews, and next, because Jesus had suddenly appeared. But the 'peace' wasn't just a common greeting, even though Jews would have said 'Shalom' on meeting others. Nor was it the uncomfortable moment it can be in Church of Ireland Communion services, when some people move to shake peoples' hands and exchange the peace, while others stand nervously about. This peace was for the disciples, it was something real, and we see the basis of it. 'Jesus showed them his hands and his side.' These are the 'wounds of love' described in the hymn 'Crown him with many crowns' - and are the very basis of the peace that Christ gives. As we find in Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2: '24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. ' (1 Peter 2:24). We now have peace with God through the cross, and by becoming part of Jesus' body, we have peace with one another. Have you come to know the peace of the Lord? Are you fearful about all sorts of things, perhaps the future, or exams or work or whatever? Jesus is the prince of peace, and gives us his own peace - which the world cannot give or understand.

Finally, we find that the presence of the Lord, and the peace he brought, caused the disciples to know the joy of the Lord. The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, because they realised and believed that what had seemed like defeat was in fact triumph. Jesus was not dead, but alive for ever more. Do we know the joy of the Risen Lord? Have we rejoiced in his victory, and applied it to our own hearts? Do we go about our daily lives reflecting the joy and the hope that we have through knowing Jesus?

Jesus comes to bring change. If we fastforward a few months, we find the disciples up before the rulers and elders and scribes in Jersualem, having healed a man (silver and gold have I none... he went walking and leaping and praising God!'). And what does Acts 4:13 tell us? '13Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.' The thing that made all the difference was that 'they had been with Jesus.' Have you encountered Jesus, known his presence, his peace, and his joy? Then you will never be the same again!

Friday, April 21, 2006


I am very pleased to announce that we now have Broadband at home, so I'll be able to be online whenever I want (when I'm home obviously). However, I am determined not to become an internet junkie, not having a life offline, so keep me accountable on this, and calle me up on it if I'm online aaaaaallllllll day every day!

I'd been wanting it for a while, but it took a bit of persuasion before mum and dad came to realise that what we were spending on internet calls was the same price as what broadband would cost per month, and it would also free up the phone line. the scary thing is that the call costs were just from me being home at the weekend too, so dear knows what it would have been like had I been here the whole time?

But it's here now, which is the good thing!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Essay Update

Hurray! Another essay has been completed - just two more to go before next Friday! This one was the book review on 'Ministry in Three Dimensions' by Steven Croft - looking at the ideas behind diakonia (service ministry), presbyteros (the ministry of Word and sacrament), and episcope (the ministry of oversight), and how we should seek to have a balance of each of these concepts in our own ministry - of whatever office or none.

The two remaining, therefore, are New Testament, which is going to be a look at the Epistle to the Hebrews, and it's use of the Old Testament - looking at the significance of the quotations, and how they are used to support the arguments of the book. Hopefully it will be easy enough to write. The other will be a look at Archbishop Ussher (him of the creation of the world on the 23rd October 4004 BC or so fame), looking at his role in the Irish Articles, and their contribution to wider Anglicanism, and their influence on the 39 Articles, and the present Church of Ireland. Well, that's my intention at this stage, before I research or write, but that could all change by next Thursday when I'm desperately trying to write it up!

On one other point of exciting news, congratulations are due to Gareth and Ruth Harron on the birth of their first child - Annabelle Rebecca. I can't wait to see her on Sunday!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Greek Test!

Well well, today was the Greek Test at the end of our year of Greek. Thankfully we don't have to 'pass' or anything to move on to second year, it is entirely just to award the Prize for First Year Greek. The format of the test was 20 Greek words (nouns and verbs) into English, then 20 English words into Greek, and then a passage from Matthew 4 (the Temptation of Jesus and the call of the first disciples) with certain words and phrases underlined to be described gramattically and translated. It was only on doing the text that you realised how much you never knew in the first place, or knew and forgotten...

My prediction is that Martin will get the prize, but we'll see when it's announced next Tuesday!

Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Easter Rising

No, this isn't going to be a posting about the occupation of a Post Office in Dublin 90 years ago, but about the real Easter Rising, the one that matters!

'Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee. there you will see him, just as he told you.' (Mark 16:6-7).

The women had went to the tomb to do the respectable thing, to honour the dead body of Jesus, and to anoint it with spices. The last thing they expected was that Jesus wouldn't be there for his own wake. And then they come to the tomb, and the stone they worried about was moved, the tomb was opened. And Jesus wasn't inside. Why not? Because he wasn't dead... as we find in Luke, the angel asks, 'Why do you seek the living among the dead?' He is alive, he is risen, death could not hold him.

The forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation won for us by the cross was only possible by the vindication of Jesus, through his resurrection from the dead, to new life. He now offers that new life to us, if we will but trust in him.

Notice also the special tenderness for Peter - singled out among the 'go and tell' command, so that the one who had let his Master down was assured that he still had a part to play in God's plans, and that he hadn't completely blown it.

The rebels in Dublin 90 years ago thought they could win freedom by their Rising - Jesus has assured us freedom from our enemies (sin, death, hell), through his rising from the dead.


Christ is Risen. He is Risen indeed. Hallelujah!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Bowling Update

Tonight we had another of the competitive bowling nights... and I'm afraid to admit that it wasn't my best night of bowling ever. The winner was Jordan, with 142, and Stewart came in second, on 126. I could only tie with David on 103 (so at least we broke the hundred), and Bryan came in with a respectable 98. But then, I do have my excuses (sorry, reasons!) - we were on one of the lanes beside the pillars in the Odyssey, and it distracted me, cos I didn't want to go too close to it, which meant I was always bowling more over towards the left... Added to that, it was the first time we had bowled since the Christmas holidays, so we were a bit out of practice... I'll just have to make sure I win the next time... can't have these Presbyterians triumphing all the time!

Friday, April 14, 2006

'Good' Friday

Today is of course, Good Friday - the name that the church gave to the day, on which Jesus died. Is it not 'Bad Friday', because Jesus died on it? Thankfully no - it is indeed 'Good Friday', because Jesus' death wasn't pointless, it wasn't an accident unforeseen by God or by Jesus, it wasn't the triumph of 'sin, the world and the devil' against Jesus.

Even though the human and even demonic actors thought that they were triumphing, in that Jesus was arrested, tried, condemned, and killed, this is not the end of the story. When Jesus was buried in the grave, it was not the end. To quote Tony Campolo - 'It's Friday, but Sunday's Coming!' Because it is only through the death of Christ that we can have the resurrection, the promise of new life, and the sending of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus took our sins, our burdens, our debt, and made them his own (who knew no sin), and paid for them, taking the judgement, the penalty they deserved. He who had forever existed with the Father and the Spirit in the unity of the Trinity, was forsaken by the Father so that he might bring us back from our separation from God.

And so, 'Bad Friday' is actually Good Friday, because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. May you who read this know the certainty of sins forgiven by trusting in Jesus' blood, shed for us on the cross.

Good Friday

Here are just a few Bible verses to read and think about on Good Friday...

Psalm 22:1-31
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning? [2] O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent. [3] Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the praise of Israel. [4] In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. [5] They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. [6] But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. [7] All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: [8] "He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him." [9] Yet you brought me out of the womb; you made me trust in you even at my mother's breast. [10] From birth I was cast upon you; from my mother's womb you have been my God. [11] Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no-one to help. [12] Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. [13] Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. [14] I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. [15] My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. [16] Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. [17] I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. [18] They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. [19] But you, O Lord, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me. [20] Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs. [21] Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen. [22] I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you. [23] You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honour him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! [24] For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help. [25] From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfil my vows. [26] The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the Lord will praise him— may your hearts live for ever! [27] All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, [28] for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations. [29] All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him— those who cannot keep themselves alive. [30] Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. [31] They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn— for he has done it.

'He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed, For you were straying like sheep, but have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.' (1 Peter 2:24-25)

''I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.' (Galatians 2:20)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy Week in College

So here we are, Holy Week in the College, and yet it doesn't appear to be much like Holy Week. The services are continuing on just as normal (albeit using the Holy Week readings), but wihtout anything special for this week. It just seems a bit strange to me, being used to the Holy Week services in parishes 'in the north' (to use that contentious phrase!). Although, even then, I have to admit it must be about four years (at least) since I attended every night of Holy Week in the one place, due to my exile in Tyrone and all that...

This morning we had the College Photograph, so we were all looking well for once! And it went off surprisingly quickly, given that sometimes things can be a bit muddled and disorganised...

Tonight then, is the House Meeting, at which I will (DV) be appointed as Year Rep for the second year, which will keep me busy, doing all the Rep stuff!

Oh, and I managed to get the first of those four essays done last night, after a sustained effort (and missing Greek), so now I'm working on the book review for Pastoral, then after that I'll think about the New Testament and the Church History ones...

Yes, as you can see, this is all a bit scattered today - I have a few minutes before class and wanted to do a normal update type posting, rather than copying and pasting my sermons and letters! I will put some more coherent thoughts on Holy Week and the cross together before Friday. Watch this space...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Latest Prayer Letter, emailed today and to be posted tomorrow when I get stamps!

Greetings from Dublin!

This is just another quick letter to say hello, and to thank you for all your prayers and support during my time here in College. So what have I been up to since my last letter?

The Hillary Term (January – March) seemed to be quite short, and I managed to get all my essays done and handed in with time to spare. So far I haven’t got all my marks back, though, so I don’t know how they turned out! We also had the mission event in Trinity in February – about 150 people attended the service, with Ed Vaughan clearly preaching the gospel, and 50 people attended the debate afterwards.

We then had most of March as a sort of ‘Easter holiday’, only nowhere near Easter, and I was thankful for the time off, and the relaxing time I had in various places. My year group were taken to Venice for a study trip, where we met lots of interesting people from a variety of churches and traditions, as well as visiting many churches and places of worship. I then enjoyed a few days in Dublin with some people from West Tyrone Voice, the victims’ support group I used to work with, before heading over to Dundee for a week with Lynsey. In between these big visits, I was able to meet up with some friends to catch up on how their studies are going.

But now I’m back in Dublin for our short, final term of the year. The Trinity Term consists of four weeks of study, three weeks of revision, and then the dreaded exams! And in these last four weeks, there are four big essays due, as well as smaller assignments. We also have some meetings, including the House Meeting, which is the AGM, where student jobs are elected and concerns are raised. At the end of this term we will also lose the 3rd Years, as they are ordained to their Curacies. Through this, I’ll lose my best friend in college, Adrian, who is moving to St Mark’s Newtownards. However, I have many other good friends here, who are a great encouragement to me, as well as my friends on the outside!

Outside of Dublin, I have been privileged to be assisting in Magheralin and Dromore Parishes, having some opportunities to preach and lead services. I have been enjoying these opportunities, and I’m learning lots. I hope that I’m encouraging and benefiting the congregations who have to listen to me!

Some current prayer requests are the following:
- For the follow-up to the mission in Trinity, both through our contacts and the Trinity Christian Union, that the seeds planted would spring up to bear fruit
- For Adrian and the other Third Years as they make final preparations to be ordained and for the Parishes they will be working in.
- For Gareth and Ruth in Magheralin, as they wait for their baby to be born
- For my Rector, Stephen, and Curate, Trevor in Dromore
- For my family, Lynsey, and my friends, as we see each other less while I live in Dublin
- That I would grow in my faith, and be a good witness to all I come into contact with

Thank you for your help and support. As you are praying for me, be assured of my prayers for you. May you have a blessed Easter, as we come again to reflect on the cross of Christ, the assurance of sins forgiven, and on the empty tomb, the promise of new life and our own resurrection.

God bless,

‘Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ… that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak’ (Colossians 4:2-4)

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Preaching Hazards!

This morning I was over again in the parish of Magheralin, on the due date for the Rectory baby, but as of yet, there has been no arrival! However, I encountered a few hazards and funny things this morning in Dollingstown, which I think I should share with you!

This morning was the first time I had ever been interrupted during my preaching. Yes, the Rector got up and told me to stop. Imagine!!! But before you get too worried about me, or any inherent heresy I was preaching, it wasn't because of that! Rather, the Sunday School hadn't gone out before the sermon, and as I was launching into my introduction, I could hear whispering behind me between the pianist and rector, and some awkwardness in the congregation... But I continued, not knowing what was happening. And then Gareth came over and says 'I don't like interrupting you, but we'll let the Sunday School go out now!' So there, I stopped mid-flow, and watched as the kids went out. But it went ok after that, and I managed to get back into my stride.

However, one of the perils of preaching is the commentators you use, and how you name them. Sometimes I don't say their name, but only say 'as someone wrote' etc... but this morning, for some reason I used the name of Harry Uprichard, a I had used his commentary on Mark's Gospel, and because he's from Northern Ireland, I thought I would use his name. And behold, but who was sitting in the front row of the congregation, but Harry's sister-in-law! I'd noticed a bit of a stirring in the front row when I said his name, but it was only on the way out as Gareth stopped to talk to her and told me who she was, that I realised what had happened! Doh!

The Coming King. A Sermon for Palm Sunday in Dollingstown and Magheralin on 9th April 2006. Mark 11:1-11

What would happen if I told you that the Queen was coming here this morning? What sort of preparations would be necessary? How would we get ready for her visit? What would happen when she arrived? How would we recognise her? How would we react to her? I came across the website of an Aboriginal Language School in Australia that was recently visited by the Queen. It tells of their frantic preparations, cleaning the school, and of the many visits by the security staff beforehand. They had four weeks to get ready for the Queen, and to prepare the children for their visitor.

Our New Testament reading this morning tells us of the arrival of a king, not to a school, but to his own city. Through his arriving, there were many signs to show the identity of the king, which the Jews would recognise, and so, Jesus arrived at Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, and entered into the city, with the people shouting praise, just a few days before he was crucified.

This morning we’re going to look at the signs of the king, looking at the significance of the donkey, and the cloaks on the ground, and the branches. What did it all mean, and what does it mean for us now?

As we concentrate on our passage, we will also use some passages from the Old Testament, to see how the coming King fulfils prophecy and shows who he is. (So if you have a Bible handy, you might want to hold on to it, and use it to keep track of our study.) As Harry Uprichard says, our reading this morning is an ‘acted parable’, as the rightful claimant comes to his throne, and in the coming, portrays the nature of his kingdom.

So who is the rightful claimant to the throne? Who is the one riding on a donkey? Immediately, we know that it is Jesus, but what is he saying to his disciples, to the crowd, and to us about who he is through what happens on Palm Sunday?

When the disciples are sent to obtain the donkey from the village, they are sent with the words to be used if challenged: ‘The Lord needs it’. Here, Jesus describes himself as ‘The Lord’. Now, some people think that this is a sort of pre-arranged signal, a sort of code to allow for the release of the animal, and maybe this is so. Others concentrate on the divine power and knowledge of Jesus, that he knew there would be a donkey just where he said there was.

But in any case, he had given the disciples that word of security for when they were challenged. And that word was one of proclamation, that the Lord needs it. Jesus was, and is, the Lord. He is the rightful ruler, and has the right to order all things, and to be obeyed. We thought of this a few weeks back as we considered the kingdom of God, from the start of Mark’s Gospel. And here we are, at the end, and still the theme of Jesus as Lord is there.

[But notice also what Jesus said of the donkey. ‘The Lord needs it.’ The lowly donkey, the beast of burden, was needed by Jesus to fulfil his purposes. How much more, then, will the Lord require each of us to fulfil his purposes? After all, Jesus died to purchase you, to redeem you, and would he then save you for you to be saved, but to do nothing about it? Rather, Jesus, having saved us, wants to use you to fulfil his purposes, and to extend his kingdom, through your witness to those people you come into contact with, whether at school, or at the shops, at work, or out walking.]

Jesus, the Lord, is coming, riding on the donkey. But he is saying far more through this simple act. Jesus is demonstrating that he is the Messiah, the expected anointed king that the people were waiting for. Now, while Mark doesn’t quote the verse from Zechariah itself, we can see that it isn’t far away from his thoughts:

‘Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zechariah 9:9).

We’ll come back in a minute or two to the type of kingdom he is bringing, but for now, we notice that the king comes on the donkey. The donkey was a symbol and sign of the coming Messiah. We find this thought also in Genesis 49. Here, Jacob, otherwise known as Israel, was blessing his twelve sons, making prophecies about their futures and their descendants.

Here is what Jacob said about Judah: ‘The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. He will tether his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch; he will wash his garments in wine, his robes in the blood of grapes. His eyes will be darker than wine, his teeth whiter than milk.’ (Genesis 49:10-12).

Jesus was a member of the tribe of Judah, and is the one spoken of, who will come, to whom the sceptre, the ruler’s staff belongs. And the sign of the coming ruler is once again the donkey, the colt. But notice what will happen – he will tie his donkey to a vine, his colt to the choicest branch. Now, I’m not much of a farmer, but I think I know enough to say that you wouldn’t tie your donkey up to your best vine, because if you did, the donkey would eat the plant, and the crop would be ruined. And yet, this is the sign of the Messiah, pointing forward to that time of prosperity, showing that when the king comes, he will be so rich that it doesn’t matter about his best vine; he can tie his donkey to it.

And in our passage this morning, Mark makes a point of saying that the disciples find the donkey tied up, and they release it, and bring it to Jesus. Just as the donkey is a sign of the Messiah, so is the image of the cloaks being spread on the road. We find a similar event in 2 Kings 9. Elisha the prophet had sent a prophet to Ramoth Gilead, to anoint Jehu to be the next king of Israel in the inner room, away from his companions in the army. But when he came out again, and told his fellow officers what had happened, ‘They hurried and took their cloaks and spread them under him on the bare steps. Then they blew the trumpet and shouted, “Jehu is king!”’ (2 Kings 9:13).

The spreading of the cloaks was to keep him from walking on the bare ground, to show that he was special, because he was the king. In many ways, it’s like the ‘red carpet’ treatment the Queen always gets. No matter where she goes, there will be the red carpet rolled out on the tarmac of the airport or on the open ground as she goes to meet and greet the crowd. The crowds were showing that they reckoned Jesus to be special, and in some way recognised his being the Messiah.

And even in what they shouted, the crowd sensed something of what was happening. They were praising God, and urging him to ‘save now’ as they shouted ‘Hosanna’. They used the words of Psalm 118, as they shouted ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”’ And they even recognised something of Jesus’ role as king, as they shouted ‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

So far, we have seen that Jesus is the coming king, the Messiah promised in the Old Testament, and now riding into Jerusalem. But what would his kingdom be like? What is the nature of his kingdom?

We talked earlier about the donkey, in the fulfilment of Zechariah’s words about the coming king. But the donkey also points to what the kingdom will be like. Let’s hear Zechariah’s words again: ‘See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zechariah 9:9).’

Zechariah says that Jerusalem’s king comes to her ‘righteous and having salvation’. Jesus lived the perfect life, never sinning, never doing anything wrong, and always in right relation with God. That’s what it means when we read that the coming king is righteous. And having salvation? That can be seen in the whole purpose of his entry to Jerusalem.

Jesus arrived at Jerusalem, knowing that he would die in less than a week just outside the city. Three times in the Gospel of Mark he had taken his disciples aside and told them that ‘We are going up to Jerusalem and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.’ (Mark 10: 33-34, as well as 8:31 and 9:31).

Jesus had set out to come to Jerusalem, knowing that it was only through the events of the next week, his death on the cross and his resurrection, that he could win salvation for his people.

Zechariah also tells us that the king is ‘humble and mounted on a donkey’ (ESV). His riding on a donkey was a sign of triumph, and of peace, showing his humility, and that of his kingdom. You would expect to see a king riding a white horse, or even of whatever colour, leading his people to war. But not Jesus; his is the humble donkey, the quiet and gentle stead bearing the humble king.

As one writer has said, Jesus’ donkey shows that his is a ‘kingship of hidden majesty, of humble power to save.’ This is Jesus, who ‘being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!’ (Philippians 2:6-8).

So what do we find as we stand in Jerusalem with Mark this Palm Sunday? We see the coming king, Jesus, the anointed one, the one expected for so long, and heralded by the Old Testament Scriptures. And Jesus, the coming king, arrives at Jerusalem, ready to offer himself in sacrifice for us, to bring us salvation. And that salvation is open to us today, as we come to trust in the coming king. Because the king who arrived at Jerusalem that day, will come again in glory to judge the world.

At the start, I told you about the school that the Queen visited. One of the teachers said afterwards about her visit: ‘It was a wonderful experience, but we were all relieved when it was over, to be able to get our lives back to normal.’ The crowd that welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem soon abandoned Jesus, turning from shouting ‘Hosanna’ to ‘Crucify’ in the course of this week. But Jesus comes to be with us forever, if we will welcome him.

So on this Palm Sunday, as the people welcomed him with shouts of praise, will you welcome the king today, and invite him into your heart as the humble, but ruling king?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Paul's ministry. A sermon preached in College Chapel at Late Evening Office on 6th April 2006. Colossians 1:24 - 2:5

Through the spring, I’ve been going through Colossians with my youth group back in Dromore, and recently, I was struck by the passage we’re using tonight. I want to make a few quick observations on the passage, as we think tonight about mission, and especially about our own ministry, as we prepare for the work of the gospel.

First, we notice Paul ‘became a minister [of the church] according to the stewardship from God that was given to me… to make the word of God fully known’ (1:25). It wasn’t Paul’s idea to be a minister, but rather, it was God who called and commissioned him for the work. And similarly, when times of discouragement come for us, we do well to remember that we haven’t come into this work of our own accord, but that we have been called of God, and we are his stewards.

It seems that this also encouraged Paul, even in the times he suffered for the church, for Christ’s body (1:24) – not in regard to any redemptive sufferings, because nothing can add to those that Christ suffered for us on the cross, but rather, his pains in labouring for the gospel and facing opposition and persecution.

We then find the heart of the message that Paul was called to proclaim. The message, the mystery which had been hidden for generations but was now revealed to the saints was this: ‘the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (1:27).

Christ is our message, in whom we trust, and who, by living in us, spurs us to the hope of glory, as we look forward to his glorious appearing, when we will be like him and be with him forever. In him, also, is ‘hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ (2:3) – with the image of a mine being open, and all we have to do to obtain these treasures is to go and dig.

Finally, we find the purpose of Paul’s work. In verse 28, he says ‘him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.’ Paul wants to see this church in Colosse, as well as every Christian, to come to maturity, as they grow up in Christ. In verse 2 we find a bit more of how this will work in practice – ‘that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach the full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ.’ This is the situation looked forward to by one of our readings from earlier this week, in Jeremiah 31: ‘And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying “Know the Lord”, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.’ (Jeremiah 31:34).

Let us all seek to do the work God has called us to, proclaiming Christ at the heart of our message, and indeed, the only message, and striving so that all may come to full maturity in Christ.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


So yeah, I'm back in Dublin again, and well into my fourth-last week of first year! I'm getting back up to speed again, with the routine and all that, and yet I'm not getting sucked into the institutional mindset just yet - I think it's partly due to the good weather outside, the good laughs we're having among the students (the craic has been mighty so far this term), and the good feeling that the year is nearly over!

The only thing marring the horizon is of course the exams and the essays - the first of which is nominally due for Monday (although we got a reprieve of an extra week today, but I think I should probably work on it this week and get it out of the way), and the other three or four for the end of the month.

At the minute I'm just starting into one of the 'Bible Speaks Today' Bible Themes books, entitled 'The Message of the Cross' by Derek Tidball. It's a good read so far, and helping me to especially focus again on the cross in this season of Passiontide as we approach Holy Week and Easter. Last night's Late Praise in chapel was also good, as we focussed on the cross through about 7 readings and 4 songs, so it's good to see that we are focussing on the cross, if not led by the staff, by the initiatives of the students.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


What a busy time of it! Yesterday I came home from Dundee with Louise - she was very gracious in letting me come along with her in the car. So just as my holidays come to an end, hers begins. In order to make it to the boat for 10am, we had to leave Dundee at 5am (which meant up at 4am to get all packed).

The car journey down was great - and seemed to pass very quickly, thanks to Louise's driving! I probably should have slept, so that I wouldn't be so tired, but being both polite (in the sense of keeping Louise company and talking to her) and nosey (in wanting to see my surroudings), I stayed awake! the crossing then was smooth, and we were home in good time.

Last night we were out in Belfast for a meal with Glenn and his fiance Linsey - so congratulations to them! The diavola pizza in Speranza's (Shaftesbury Square) was very very hot, and my mouth was nearly burnt off me, but it was good stuff! So when I came home it was into bed as soon as I could as I was wrecked!

This morning, then I was preaching at the CIAO service, on the rich young ruler. The text of the talk can be found below... After that, we had the 11.30 Communion, and it was nice to be there without having anything to do, just to enjoy the service (and sing in the choir!).

So then, later on, after church and YF it's back down to Dublin for the last four weeks of my first year! Time is going so quickly!

The Rich Young Ruler. A Sermon preached at the Celebrate Service in Dromore Cathedral on 2nd April 2006. Mark 10:17-31

This morning we’re going to be thinking about the two questions in our reading – ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ and ‘who then can be saved?’ I’m assuming that these questions are fairly important to you, seeing as you’re here this morning. So as we look at the questions, and how Jesus responded to them, we’ll find out something about eternal life, how we can achieve it ourselves, and what it means for us.

Jesus had been teaching the crowds, and had been blessing the children brought to him – against the disciples’ wishes. And just as he was setting off on his journey up towards Jerusalem, the young man approaches him, and kneels before him. He is breathless, because he has been running, and gasps out his question: ‘Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

He wanted to know how to have eternal life. Now, while this means that it goes on forever, it means so much more than that. Eternal life is also about a new quality of life, because it is spent with God, in fellowship with him. He was asking Jesus how he could be right with God. As someone has pointed out, he wanted to know what to do in this world to be happy in the next.

Jesus refers him to the commandments, and lists off some of them – ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother.’ As Jesus says these, you can see the young man going through a checklist in his head, nodding, and smiling more and more. And then he says, ‘Teacher, all these I have kept since I was a boy.’

There’s no doubt about it – Jesus was impressed. We read that ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ He knew that what the man said was true enough, that he had indeed kept the commandments listed, that his credentials checked out. The young man was trying to please God through following his commandments. And Jesus was pleased to see his earnest desire to follow God. But then came the punchline – the decider – ‘"One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Mark tells us that the man’s face fell, and he went away sad. It had looked so good for him – he had everything going for him, until Jesus put his finger on the one thing the man didn’t want to give up – his wealth.

You see, on the outside, it seemed as if the man had it all made. Any church would have wanted him as their member, or maybe even to serve on the Vestry or as Churchwarden. He had done it all right on the outside – keeping all the negative commandments – all those ‘do nots.’ Things seemed to be going well when Jesus dealt with the commandments towards your neighbour.

And yet, when it came to the first four – our responsibility towards God, then it got a bit tougher for him. Then the young man had a choice – would he obey the first commandment (You shall have no other gods before me)? He had to face up to the tough question of what he would put first in his life – would it be God, or would it be his wealth?

Sadly, he chose to hold on to the wealth he had, and turn his back on Jesus. When it came down to it, what he had in this world seemed to him more important than what he could look forward to in the next. He wanted the crown in the next world without enduring the cross in this world.

Notice that Jesus didn’t run after him – he simply stated the conditions of eternal life for that man, and let him make his decision. But then Jesus turns to his disciples and seems to make it even harder for salvation. What does he mean when he says ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

Now, I don’t know about you, but when I read these verses, it makes me wonder a bit. After all, while we may not feel incredibly wealthy, in world terms we are indeed rich. And have you ever tried to thread a camel through the eye of a needle? I find it hard enough to put a thread through there, let alone a needle! Peter catches the serious implications of what Jesus is saying, when he asks him the second question – ‘Who then can be saved?’

And here, we find great comfort, in Jesus’ words, "With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” All things are possible with God. We can indeed be saved. Not through any striving or effort in ourselves, but by God alone. God can, and will bring about our salvation if we let him. This is indeed a great comfort. But his words also contain a challenge. Because if we’re going to find salvation in God, then we have to let him bring it about, and not try to work for it ourselves! And this was exactly the problem with the young man. He wanted to know from Jesus what he had to do to inherit eternal life, and his striving was all what he would do. Yet when it came down to it, his ultimate security was found not in God, or the salvation he would provide, but rather in the wealth he had.

And so the challenge is there for us today – how have we tried to gain eternal life? Has it been through keeping the commandments (or at least those that are easier to avoid), or by observing some sort of moral code of decency (the sort of thinking that says that I’ll be all right if I’m in church each week)? Have we tried to gain eternal life by trusting in our riches or our job, our social status, or our postcode?

God doesn’t want a sort of outward conformity, that sort of decency that seems to run throughout our thinking in Northern Ireland – yeah, she’s a decent woman… etc. Rather, God wants to be first in our life – that we would love him with all our heart and all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength (Mark12:30). Think of the young man – his wealth took first place in his heart, even above God, so that in the end, he had to turn his back on God because of his wealth.

It would be so easy this morning to stand here and say that God is calling each one of us to sell all we have right now, and to give all to the poor. But I’m not sure that this is the direct application for every one of us. However, the passage does lead us to think about what is important in our lives. Does wealth take a great role in your life than God? Which are you actually worshipping, because Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters.

And as we reflect on our priorities, let us think about what we do have. Would we be willing to give all away for the sake of Jesus? Do we actually believe that Jesus alone is the source of eternal life and worth giving everything up for?

In a way, it boils down to our attitude to wealth. Are we going to be like the young man, tight-fisted, holding on to his wealth, even if it ultimately costs us eternal life? Because if we hold on to what we have, with that closed hand, then we won’t release it to God, or be able to receive what God has for us.

The contrast to the young man, though, is the disciples. As Peter points out, "We have left everything to follow you!" They have opened their hands, and surrendered what they had to God. But at the same time, they also receive from God, so much more than what they ever had – both in this life, and in the world to come. How is this so? Well, as Jesus points out, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.”

We aren’t called to follow God as individuals, as lone rangers on our own. We follow God together, in the church, and it is in this community that we find that hundred times as much that Jesus talked about – as we share with our brothers and sisters in the family.

The call for us this morning may not be to sell all we have and to give it away immediately. But the call is for us to surrender all we have to God, seeking how we can use the things he has given us to his glory, and for his purposes. Perhaps you could offer your house to host a home group, or offer some hospitality to the new person sitting near you in church this morning. Because even simple actions like these can show that you aren’t trusting in your wealth for eternal life, but rather, that when God is first in your life, then you will use all you have for his purposes, and are willing to give it all away, if he calls you to do that.

So what must we do to inherit eternal life? We are saved by putting our trust in him, by putting him first in our lives. And this will have implications for our wealth and all that we have – as we ask God how we should use it for his glory. Will you be like the rich young man, who held on to his wealth and lost eternal life, or will you surrender all you have and find salvation by putting your trust in God?

Let’s pray together: Father God, we thank you that all things are possible with you, and that we can find eternal life in you. Help us to trust you, and to surrender all we have to you, to be used as you want. Help us also to recognise the riches we have through this church family and the wider family, and to encourage one another to follow you. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.