Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Books

It's the end of another year. I like to keep track of my reading each year, so here's this year's reading list.
1. From Weakness to Strength - Scott Sauls
2. Unlimited Grace - Bryan Chapell
3. Good Wives - Louisa May Alcott
4. The Princess Diarist - Carrie Fisher
5. The Diary of a Young Girl - Anne Frank
6. Secret Service - Tom Bradby
7. Following Jesus in Turbulent Times - Hikmat Kashouh
8. The Marshmallow Test - Walter Mischel
9. Judges For You - Tim Keller
10. Rooted - Edward Rhodes

11. How to Pray - Pete Greig
12. The Final Days of Jesus - Andreas J Köstenberger
13. The Seven Sayings of the Saviour on the Cross - AW Pink
14. I AM: Poetic Reflections through the Gospel of John - David Young
15. A Shelter in the Time of Storm - Paul David Tripp
16. Meddling Kids - Edgar Cantero
17. Coronavirus and Christ - John Piper
18. The King’s Justice - EM Powell
19. Where is God in a Coronavirus World? John Lennox
20. Preaching - Calvin Miller

21. Freakonomics - Steven D Levitt and Stephen J Dubner
22. The Monastery Murders - EM Powell
23. In the Presence of my Enemies - Dale Ralph Davis
24. Good Times Never Seemed So Good - Stephen Collins
25. Letters to the Church - Francis Chan
26. Unreliable Memoirs - Clive James
27. The Confession - Jo Spain
28. The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry - John Mark Comer
29. From Good News to Gospels - David Wenham
30. Bookworm - Lucy Mangan

31. Unfollow - Megan Phelps-Roper
32. My Autobiography - Rory Best
33. Humble Calvinism - JA Medders
34. A Mind to Murder - PD James
35. The Guest List - Lucy Foley
36. The Burnings 1920 - Pearse Lawlor
37. Thank You, Jeeves - PG Wodehouse
38. Gentle and Lowly - Dane Ortlund
39. And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie
40. Confronting Christianity - Rebecca McLaughlin

41. Sleep - CL Taylor
42. Undivided - Vicky Beeching
43. A War of Loves - David Bennett
44. The Dilemma - BA Paris
45. The Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie
46. Digital Minimalism - Cal Newport
47. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - CS Lewis
48. The Code of the Woosters - PG Wodehouse
49. Hidden in Plain View - Lydia McGrew
50. Prince Caspian - CS Lewis

51. The Guardians - John Grisham
52. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader - CS Lewis
53. Let This Be Our Secret - Deric Henderson
54. Recovering From Biblical Manhood and Womanhood - Aimee Byrd
55. The Spy and the Traitor - Ben MacIntyre
56. Knowing God - JI Packer
57. The Twelve - Stuart Neville
58. Remaking a Broken World - Christopher Ash
59. A Word to Fellow Pastors - Horatius Bonar
60. On Reading Well - Karen Swallow Prior

61. Bring Them Home - DS Butler
62. Augustine on the Christian Life - Gerald Bray
63. The Silver Chair - CS Lewis
64. Where Secrets Lie - DS Butler
65. Money Counts - Graham Beynon
66. Don't Turn Back - DS Butler
67. The Horse and His Boy - CS Lewis
68. Why I'm No Longer Talking to White People About Race - Reni Eddo-Lodge
69. The Magician's Nephew - CS Lewis
70. The Clocks - Agatha Christie

71. House of Lies - DS Butler
72. The Last Battle - CS Lewis
73. Between the Stops - Sandi Toksvig
74. Out of the Silent Planet - CS Lewis
75. The Inimitable Jeeves - PG Wodehouse
76. Still, Silent, and Strong - Pierce Taylor Hibbs
77. Voyage to Venus (Perelandra) - CS Lewis
78. A Belfast Child - John Chambers
79. Wby does God care who I sleep with? - Sam Allberry
80. The Holiday - TM Logan

81. That Hideous Strength - CS Lewis
82. The Creaking on the Stairs - Mez McConnell
83. The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
84. The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories - PD James
85. Hercule Poirot's Christmas - Agatha Christie
86. The One True Light - Tim Chester
87. Skipping Christmas - John Grisham
88. Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari
89. Hidden Christmas - Tim Keller

My top five are:
1. Gentle and Lowly - Dane Ortlund
2. Confronting Christianity - Rebecca McLaughlin
3. Skipping Christmas - John Grisham
4. My Autobiography - Rory Best
5. Good Times Never Seemed So Good - Stephen Collins
Here are the links to previous years' book blogs: 2019 (62); 2018 (50); 2017 (31); 2016 (23); 2015 (21); 2014 (26); 2013 (45); 2012 (49); 2011 (37); 2010 (52); 2009 (41); 2008 (23); 2007 (78).

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sermon: Philippians 2: 12-18 Rejoicing in our Salvation

Do you remember the excitement when you passed your driving test? The lessons and practices were over, the test was passed, and suddenly you had the freedom to drive anywhere you wanted, without your instructor or someone else telling you what to do. It’s over 20 years since I passed my test, and what I remember most vividly from those first days of driving was that I learnt more about driving after the test than before.

There was the first time driving in the dark, and getting used to dipping my headlights. There was the time when the steering wheel had locked when parked and I couldn’t get the car started (until I realised I had to pull the wheel slightly). And there were the ever changing traffic conditions and weather conditions and everything else that the road throws at you. I thought I’d learned everything when preparing for the test, but I had to keep working out how to drive when the test was passed.

As we continue in the letter to the Philippians today, we see that the Philippians were being urged to do something similar - not about learning how to drive, but in learning how to live the Christian life. Paul, who had planted the church in Philippi, isn’t there with them any more. In fact, he’s in prison in Rome. But he’s writing this letter, partly as a thank you note, and partly to encourage them to keep going in the Christian faith, as they stand firm together.

That’s been the central theme of the letter, as we’ve been noticing over the past couple of weeks. Back in 1:27 Paul told them to ‘stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel...’ - the image of the soldiers with shields locked together, or the rugby scrum pushing together. Last week we saw how that could be achieved - rejoicing in unity through humility - not selfish ambition, but considering the interests and needs of others. And the prime example of that kind of living is our humble King Jesus. He came down from crown to crib to cross in order to save us - and so our attitude should be the same as his.

We need that little recap because everything Paul says today builds on it. Verse 12 starts with a ‘Therefore’ - because of what we saw last week, then here’s what you need to do. And here’s what he says: ‘Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed - not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence - continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’ (12-13)

Notice that Paul doesn’t say ‘work for your salvation.’ He can’t, because salvation isn’t something we can work to achieve - it isn’t about earning our way. Salvation in Christ is a gift, it’s something we receive by grace. We can’t work for our salvation, but we do need to work out our salvation.

It’s not that, once we’re saved, then we’re all right, we don’t need to grow in the faith any more. We can just let God do it all for us. Not at all! We’re to work out our salvation - with fear and trembling. It’s a bit like when you change cars, and things are slightly different to your old car. The wiper stalk goes down instead of up, or the volume control is in a different place. You have to work it all out, get used to it, and grow into it. We’re to work out our salvation as if it all depends on us.

But thankfully, as we do that, we discover that it’s not all down to us. We work out our salvation, but at the same time, ‘for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’ (13)

It’s not one or the other - either only us or only God - it’s both and. God does this by his Holy Spirit dwelling in us, the Spirit given on the Day of Pentecost, God’s power to help us and grow us into the likeness of Christ. And that’s exactly what our passage says as well: ‘God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.’ God is at work in us to change us, and to change our will so that we want what God wants; and to change our actions so that we do what God wants us to do.

If you’re a Christian, then is this what’s happening in your life, even in these lockdown days? Are you working out your salvation, as you seek to grow to be more like Jesus, as you pray and read the Bible and figure out what it means to be a Christian - knowing that as you work at it, God is also working in you?

Perhaps as you look back over the past year, or five years, you can see how God has been at work in your life; the progress that you’ve made; the ways in which you have grown. Be encouraged - and keep going, because God hasn’t finished with us yet!

We’re to work out our salvation as God is working in us. In verse 14, Paul tells us what it should look like: ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing.’ No complaining and no arguing. That sounds like a challenge, doesn’t it? We’re so used to complaining, and ready for a big argument, but there’s no wiggle room here, there are no exceptions in what Paul says.

So why does he say that? ‘Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...’

Not complaining and arguing will make us blameless and pure, children of God without fault. Can you imagine how different things would be? How different we would be to everyone around us? Paul says that we would be ‘without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe...’

When was the last time you looked up at the stars? They’re always up there, but when do you see them? You see them at night, when it’s dark, and they shine out against the darkness. And that’s how we’re to be as well - shining like stars in the universe, lights in a dark place, different to the rest of society.

Between social media and everyday interaction, it seems that our culture’s native language is complaint and argument. But we can shine in the darkness if we’re different, if we don’t take part in it all. And what makes the difference?

Listen to the verse again: ‘children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...’

Rather than putting out words of complaint or argument, we hold out different words - the word of life. What is the word of life? It’s the gospel, the good news about Jesus, in which we find life. Now, the footnote suggests that the phrase is either ‘hold out the word of life’ or ‘hold on to the word of life’ - but either way, it’s what sets us apart, and will affect all our other words.

As we hold out the word of life, perhaps others will see and hear, and take hold of it themselves. Isn’t that our desire, that others would find the life and peace that we have found?

That’s what drove Paul to go to Philippi in the first place; and it’s what continued to motivate him even in his prison cell. As the Philippians worked out their salvation, and lived it out in their words and ways, then Paul would know that he hadn’t run or laboured for nothing. He wanted to see more Christians live in this way, so that more people would become Christians, and would live in this way so that more people would become Christians.

Will we give our lives to this? Will we commit to continue to work out our salvation, as we hold out the word of life, so that others will share in this great gift of salvation? It won’t be easy, it will be sacrificial, and yet it will all be worth it. However far along the path you are, there’s still more to work out, more ways to grow, but take heart - God hasn’t finished with you yet, so shine for him!

Let’s pray:
thank you that you’re at work in our lives.
Help us to shine for you,
as we hold out your word of life,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sermon: Philippians 2: 1-11 Rejoicing in Unity Through Humility

One of the key messages throughout this period of lockdown has been the reminder that ‘We’re in this together.’ It’s why we’ve been following the guidance as best we can - not only to protect ourselves, but also to protect other people. If we all started doing our own thing, then the risk would be greater for everyone. And so we play our part in order to help and protect everyone else. We act for the good of others.

In our reading today, we discover that this attitude isn’t just for periods of pandemic though - this is the way Christians should always live. The life of a Christian will be a life of humility, as we follow the Lord Jesus together.

We’re now in the main section of the letter, where - as we saw lat week - Paul is urging the Philippians to ‘stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.’ It’s the image of Roman soldiers locking shields together; or the rugby scrum pushing together.

But how do we actually do this, in the local church? How do we stand firm together? Perhaps you’ve heard the little saying:

‘Living above with the saints we love, Oh that will be glory. Living below with the saints we know, now that’s a different story.’

So how do we live below with the saints we know, as we stand firm together? Well, first of all, Paul reminds us of all that we already have in common together. In verse 1, he makes four ‘if’ statements. He says: ‘If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then...’

He invites them to work through this checklist. And I invite you to do the same! These are some of the benefits and blessings that come from being a Christian. If you’re not a Christian, we’re glad that you’re listening in - and these could be yours if you turn to Jesus and trust in him for yourself. So here’s the checklist:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ - yes;
if any comfort from his love - yes;
if any fellowship with the Spirit - yes;
if any tenderness and compassion - yes;
all the Christians say yes, yes, yes, yes - full house! These are the benefits and blessings we have - together - as Christians. Have you realised what all you have received as you’ve trusted in Jesus? So what now?

If you have (all these, and you do) then... ‘make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.’ (2) Just as we share in all the blessings together, so we are to share in this unity of mind, of love, of spirit and purpose together.

But how do we do that? Paul tells us in verses 3-4: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.’

Not selfish ambition, but humility. Not your own interests only, but also the interests of others. In other words, we’re not to be about ‘me first’ but rather about ‘you first’. We’ve already seen an example of selfish ambition in Philippians - do you remember the people who were preaching Christ out of envy and rivalry, trying to stir up trouble for Paul? They were doing so, 1:17 ‘out of selfish ambition.’

And I’m sure you can think of ways in which this type of behaviour can happen. But rather than climbing over other people, using them to further our own desires and interests, we’re to lift them up, and look out for their interests too.

This was something that the Philippians had to work at, because they weren’t already doing it. This unity through humility doesn’t come naturally - it can only come supernaturally, as the Spirit is at work in our lives. But if the Philippians were to be united through their humility, then it would make Paul’s joy complete. And that word joy is a helpful reminder of our priorities when we live out this united through humility church life - J O Y - Jesus, Others, Yourself.

Up to now, Paul has reminded the Philippians of all they have already received - the If; and urged them to live out this unity through humility - the Then. But now, in the closing verses of our reading, he gives us the supreme motivation and the perfect example of this life of humility.

They are words that are familiar to us, because we’ve been using them as our creed in recent weeks. They would probably have been words that were familiar to the Philippians - it’s thought that verses 6-11 are an early Christian hymn which Paul quotes. They set out what Jesus has done for us in achieving our salvation, but they are also an example for us to follow.

‘Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ 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!’

When you think of all that Jesus did for us, it’s all down, down, down. Someone suggested that it can be summarised as the crown, the crib and the cross. First, the crown - The Son of God, fully God, didn’t consider his divinity as something to be grasped, or exploited. He who set the stars in place, who was used to the worship of angels, left his place in heaven, and came down to earth. Why did he do it? Not for his own benefit, but for ours.

He laid aside his crown, to be born and laid in the crib - made himself nothing, taking the nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. The Son of God took on our flesh - God with skin on - to become one of us. Can you imagine the depth of descent he made to come to this world? A few years back there was an interview with Prince Charles on TV. And he recalled how, when he was small, the Royal family would be on holiday in Scotland, and anonymously, they’d get a boat across to Northern Ireland, and drive to visit their friends at Baronscourt outside Strabane. No guards, no fanfare, just Prince Philip and the Queen and the family driving along like normal people. But that’s small compared to how Jesus became one of us.

And even that wasn’t enough. He deserved to be served, but he came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. And that was the final downward step - even death on a cross! Why did he do it all? In order to save us, in order to bring us back to himself by taking our sins and bearing the punishment we deserved. He was the humble king who went down, down, down from crown to crib to cross.

Because Jesus did all this, and lived the perfect life of humility, ‘Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

Having descended to the very bottom, God raised him to the very top, to heaven’s throne. The name of Jesus is above every other name - in honour and value and worth. And while now, you might hear his name used as a swear word, it will not be like that forever. One day, at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.

If you’re a Christian today, you might have some of your friends or family wondering why you’d still bother tuning in to church. Why would you bother with all that, and with Jesus? But here we see just how precious the name of Jesus is to us - he who gave up all for us, how could we not give our all to follow him? He who humbly served us in order to save us - who lavishes his blessings on us - how could we not gladly serve him and follow in his footsteps - as we seek to learn his humility and stand firm with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

If you’re not a Christian, then please look again at the Lord Jesus. He did it all for you. Perhaps you’ve been hurt by others, even by the church, by people seeking to take advantage of you and exploit you and use you for their own gain. Jesus is not like that. He is the humble king who gave himself for you. One day, you will bow before him and confess that he is Lord - why not do it today, willingly, gladly, joyfully?

Jesus our Saviour is also our example, as he calls us to rejoice in unity through humility. I’m going to read the prayer I’m going to pray, and if you want to pray this too, then say it outwardly or inwardly with me the second time through.

Lord Jesus,
you have given yourself for me.
I give myself to you,
as I bow my knee to you,
and confess that you are my Lord.
Help me to follow you,
and by your Spirit change me,
to be more like you, my humble King. Amen.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sermon: Philippians 1: 18b-30 Rejoicing Whatever Happens

What does the future hold? We’ve been realising more and more in recent months, that none of us really knows what will happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month. Who would have imagined as 2020 started, that we would now find ourselves in lockdown, facing a global pandemic?

Over the past week, the UK government and the Northern Ireland assembly have been releasing their plans for emerging from lockdown. Over a number of steps and stages, some sort of normality will return - provided there isn’t another surge or a second wave. It’s all dependent on how things turn out. But the Prime Minister or the Northern Ireland Executive are unsure themselves as to what’s going to happen next.

Last week, we saw how Paul was rejoicing even in his lockdown in prison, because what had happened to him had really served to advance the gospel. Looking back over recent events, he could see how God was at work. Now, as he looks to the future, he’s not sure what’s going to happen. But he is ready for whatever happens, and he wants the Philippians to be ready for whatever happens as well.

First of all, he addresses his own situation. Remember that he’s locked up, in prison, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. He’s waiting to go on trial, and the outcomes will either be release or execution; life or death. So how does he feel about that?

At the end of verse 18, he says that he will continue to rejoice. ‘For I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance.’ He’s confident that he is going to be released - the Philippians have been praying for it, and the Spirit is at work to bring it about. He will be delivered. This is what he thinks the future will hold - but remember that we can’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring. And so Paul is realistic.

His aim isn’t for his own personal comfort. His aim is to glorify Jesus whatever happens: ‘I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.’ (20). Exalting Christ is his aim - and so he’s content to do that in his life and in his death.

He sums it up in one little phrase, found in verse 21. But before we look at it together, how would you fill in the blanks: ‘To live is ... and to die is ...’ To live is great, or good, and to die is a tragedy, a loss? Here’s how Paul puts it: ‘For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.’

This is the Christian hope, summed up in one short sentence. To live as a Christian is to live for Christ, to follow Christ, to be united with Christ, to be filled with Christ, and satisfied with Christ. It will mean ‘fruitful labour for me.’

And yet, this life is not all there is. Because Jesus died and rose again, he has assured us that death is not the end, and that one day he will bring in the new heavens and the new earth. But between now and then, when a Christian dies, they have gained. Why’s that? ‘I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.’ (23)

We feel the pain when our loved one dies. We see the empty chair, the empty place at the table. We miss having them with us. But they are with Christ, which is better by far! This is what gives us comfort when a Christian dies. And this is our hope as well - that when we die (in the Lord’s timing), we will be with Christ.

It’s as if Paul is weighing up the two possibilities - life or death - as he waits to see what the Roman Empire will decide to do with him. He would rejoice in either option, whatever happens, and yet he’s convinced that it’s more necessary for these young Christians in Philippi that he remains, in order to encourage them, for their progress and joy in the faith, so that they’ll overflow with joy when they see each other again after his release.

In these days of lockdown, as we’ve been careful to isolate or social distance, and as we watch the rising death toll, it brings back to us a sense of our own mortality. And even when a vaccine is produced, one day we’ll come to the end of our life, be it soon or many years from now. Do you have that hope which means that you can face the future whatever happens? Can you say those words: ‘For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.’ In Christ, we have a sure hope, whatever happens.

But then, in the closing verses of our passage, Paul turns to the Philippians, and wants them to be ready for whatever happens as well. Here’s what he says: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.’ (27) Do you remember when you were going off on a school trip, and before you left, one of the teachers gave you the talk - today you’re representing the school in uniform, so make sure you conduct yourselves properly. Paul is saying that we’re to conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel.

We belong to Christ, we’ve been saved by his gospel, and so we should live in line with that gospel. And what will that look like? ‘Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.’ (27-28)

Whatever happens, they are to ‘stand firm’. Paul here is beginning the major section of the letter. Later on, in 4:1, he’ll say this: ‘Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!’ So everything from the end of chapter 1 to the start of chapter 4 is all about standing firm, being immovable, standing your ground, on the rock of Christ and his gospel.

And did you notice how they’re to do this? So often, we read the letters in the New Testament and apply them individually - so here’s something for me to do myself. But this is a letter to the Philippians together. And how do they stand firm? ‘Stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel...’ (27)

Did you catch it? In one spirit, as one man. The image is of a Roman army unit, standing firm together, shields linked together, providing protection for each other. If one soldier moves ahead on their own, or holds back on their own, then the unit is in danger. Or think of the rugby scrum. Eight individual players, but they have to work together, standing firm together, pushing together. If they all decided to go their own way, the scrum would be overrun.

That’s how we’re to be as well. Standing firm, together, in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. Why? Because there is always opposition. But we’re not to be frightened by opposition - we have the sure hope that Jesus brings. But being a Christian, having this sure hope doesn’t mean that everything will be easy and straightforward. Trials come. Hardships come.

As Paul says: ‘For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (29-30).

God has granted us faith in Jesus, and also the privilege of suffering for Jesus. It’s all part of the package of the Christian life. But he has also given us each other - to encourage one another and to stand firm together, in the good times and the hard times. Perhaps we might summarise this passage in this way: ‘Because we have a sure hope, we can stand firm whatever happens.’

We continue to face uncertain days. We just don’t know what will happen. But whatever happens, we have each other in the church family, and we have the promise of life with Christ, both now and forever.

I’m going to pray the Methodist Covenant prayer, normally used each January, as they place themselves in God’s hands for the coming year. Perhaps this is your prayer today, whatever may happen:

I am no longer my own but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.

Glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
So be it.
And this covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sermon: Philippians 1: 12-18a Rejoicing Even in Lockdown

Imagine for a moment that you’re a member of the church in Philippi. And one day, you hear word of the apostle Paul, the guy who planted your church. And the word is this: Paul is in prison in Rome.

How would you react to that news? What would be your initial response? You would probably be concerned for him, sad that he has been locked up; and would want to help in some way. And that’s what the church in Philippi had done. They had gathered up some money and sent Epaphroditus to bring it to Paul to supply some of his needs while in prison. (And this letter is his letter of thanks in response to their generosity).

I think we’d all conclude that Paul being locked up is a bad thing. We might question God’s goodness and protection, in allowing Paul to go through such hardship. We might be frustrated that he isn’t able to travel on more mission trips to plant more churches. We would definitely think that lockdown is entirely bad. Perhaps we’ve come to a similar conclusion about our own lockdown over these past seven weeks or so.

And yet Paul sees things differently. Yes, he’s still in prison, and yes, he’s still enduring lockdown, but he himself isn’t down about it. Instead, he’s rejoicing even in lockdown. How could this be?

Well, perhaps you’ve seen some of the posts going around on social media inviting us to think differently about our situation in these difficult days. So, rather than saying to yourself that you’re stuck at home, you should say to yourself that you are safe at home. Well, in a similar way, Paul invites us to view his lockdown from a different perspective.

In another of his letters from lockdown, Paul writes this: ‘This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.’ (2 Tim 2:8-9) And that’s what Paul was seeing from his prison cell.

He writes in verse 12: ‘Now i want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.’

Paul’s priority is the gospel - and advancing the good news of Jesus to people who need to hear it. But how could that be if he’s sitting in prison? If he can’t go anywhere, how can the gospel advance? As it turned out, Paul the captive had a captive audience.

You see, a guard came on duty to watch over Paul, maybe even chained to him, and so Paul starts talking to him. The guard can’t go anywhere, so he might as well talk to pass the time. And what do you think Paul will talk to him about? You’ve guessed it - Jesus! And when that guard’s time has finished and a new one comes on duty, what do you think Paul will talk to him about? You’ve guessed it - Jesus! And so the guards start to talk, and word spreads about Paul, the prisoner in chains for Christ. Verse 13: ‘As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.’

How else would these tough Roman soldiers have heard about Jesus? And yet Paul sees the possibilities and opportunities that arise because he is in that very situation. What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. So what are the possibilities and opportunities that have opened up for us when so many things have closed down? Who are the people that you are coming in contact with these days? How might you share the gospel this week?

Paul’s immediate circumstances have opened up a new mission field within the prison, and he was ready to take those opportunities. But the gospel was advancing outside the prison walls as well as inside. And Paul tells us about that in verse 14: ‘Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.’ (14)

Outside the prison, the Christians in Rome were now speaking the word of God. They were saying to themselves - if Paul’s in prison, then who’s going to share the gospel? If he can’t do it, then someone else is going to have to - so why not me? And sure, what’s the worst that could happen? You’d be arrested and end up in prison with Paul!

And do you see how they were doing it? ‘More courageously and fearlessly.’ They were being bold in taking opportunities to speak up. Back in verse 13 it was clear to the whole palace guard and to everyone else why Paul was in prison. So perhaps in the city, people were talking about this prisoner. And a Christian is asked by his neighbour if he’s heard of this guy Paul. Why is he in prison? And the Christian begins to talk about Paul - and about Jesus, the reason he’s in prison.

Now, Paul is realistic in verses 15-17. The brothers are speaking out, but sometimes their motives are suspect. He says: ‘It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill.’ (15) So the second group - the goodwill motive people, they speak up out of love, wanting to share the gospel while Paul can’t; wanting to encourage him while he’s behind bars.

But the first group - the envy and rivalry people - they ‘preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.’ (17) For whatever reason, they want to make life even more difficult for Paul. Maybe they see a vacancy in church leadership, and see themselves filling it - thinking themselves a better preacher than Paul. Maybe they don’t like Paul, and want him out of the way for a long time. They’re characterised by selfish ambition.

With such motives, you would think that Paul would be against them, if they’re stirring up trouble for him. And yet, do you see how he responds? ‘But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.’

Their behaviour and motives might hurt him, but he doesn’t dwell on that. His priority is the gospel, the good news of Jesus being shared. And so he focuses on that priority, and is glad that whatever the individual might be intending, Christ is being preached. In fact, he rejoices in this.

Paul rejoices even in lockdown. His circumstances were most unpleasant; his freedoms were completely taken away; it sounds like a total disaster. And yet his perspective is focused on sharing the gospel. And so he says: ‘Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.’ (12)

Can we echo those words, as we endure this lockdown in the middle of a pandemic? What is happening to us has really served to advance the gospel?

Our church buildings have closed for services. Yet via Facebook and YouTube and DVD, God’s word is coming into your homes, and reaching more people than would fit into St Matthew’s for one service. And this week Tearfund published a poll which reported that 24% of UK adults have watched or listened to a religious service since lockdown; and 5% of them have never gone to church.

Maybe you’ve found that you’ve got more time to read, and pray, and grow as a Christian. Time to send a text, or write a letter or email, or call someone. And maybe you’re finding that people are more open to thinking about life and death and everything in these days. Maybe you’ve been helping a neighbour to get groceries and prescriptions, and there are openings to chat about why you’re so friendly, and why you have hope in the midst of such despair.

Let’s not miss the opportunities that God is providing in these days - so that we share in Paul’s priority of sharing the gospel with whoever he comes in contact, even in his prison cell. May it be that when this lockdown comes to an end, we can look back and say: ‘What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.’

Let’s pray:
we pray that your gospel would advance,
and many will come to know you
even in these lockdown days,
for we ask it in Jesus’ precious name. Amen.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sermon: Philippians 1: 1-11 Rejoicing in Gospel Partnership

So how are you coping with life in lockdown? Perhaps you’ve been able to find some positives in our current circumstances - more time at home with family; more time to get some things done that you’d been putting off; more time to read and pray. But for many of us, I suspect, this lockdown has been hard to bear - not being able to go the places you want; not being able to do the things you want; not being able to be with the people you want.

The apostle Paul knew what it was to be in lockdown, quite literally. Paul’s movement is completely restricted, because he is writing from prison, probably in Rome. And yet, as you read this letter to the Philippians, you wouldn’t think that he was in prison. We’ll see over the coming weeks how this letter is bursting with joy and rejoicing - in the midst of lockdown.

So how could this be? How is it that Paul is so full of joy and rejoicing when he’s locked up in a Roman prison cell? Could it be that we can also share in his joy, in the midst of our own lockdown? That’s hopefully what we’ll discover as we study this letter together.

As we begin to dive into the letter, it might be helpful to know that this is a thank you letter. You know the way you might write a thank you note for your Christmas presents, or your wedding presents? Paul is writing to say thank you to the church in Philippi for a gift to supply his needs while in prison. He is using the technology at hand - paper and ink - to encourage and bless his fellow Christians. And he does this as he rejoices in gospel partnership.

First of all, we see that there is thankfulness for gospel partnership. We come across that idea in verse 5, where Paul says that he prays with joy for them, ‘because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.’ It had been Paul who had arrived in the city of Philippi, bringing the good news of the gospel. You can read about it in Acts 16. And from that very first day, Lydia and the city jailer and his family, and the rest of the believers, had become partners in the gospel.

They joined with Paul in the work of the gospel. The word partnership here is also translated ‘fellowship’. And if you’ve sat through the very long Lord of the Rings movies or read the book, then you’ll know that the first film is called ‘The Fellowship of the Ring.’ An assortment of men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits united in a common purpose.

The Philippians were partners in the gospel - they were united with Paul and other believers in the common purpose of sharing the good news of the gospel. They were committed to the gospel, and for this Paul rejoices.

Now, I’ve said that this is a thank you letter, but did you notice who Paul thanks in verse 3? He says this: ‘I thank my God every time I remember you...’ He’s thankful for the Philippians and their partnership, but he says thank you to God for them.

He thanks God for them, but also lets them know. God is the giver of all good gifts, and so should be thanked - but how encouraging for the Philippians to know that Paul is thankful for them. Who is it that you’re thankful for? How might you let them know that you’re thanking God for them?

Paul is thankful for gospel partnership. And he is thankful that God always finishes what he starts. Maybe you’re a bit like me - you enthusiastically start a project, and you get so far, but then you set it down and think ‘I’ll get back to that later’. And maybe you’ve been finding all sorts of half-finished projects as you potter about the house. God is not like that!

Rather, God is like Magnus Magnusson or John Humphrys on Mastermind - God always says: ‘I’ve started, so I’ll finish.’

You see, the Philippians’ partnership in the gospel shows that God is at work in their lives, because only God can turn us around through the gospel. And what God has started, from the first day until now, he will finish: ‘Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.’ (6)

How encouraging to know that when God starts working in our lives he will complete it. It brought Paul joy and made him thankful. What about you?

There is thankfulness for gospel partnership. But there is also a depth of feeling in gospel partnership. Paul was feeling it in his lockdown, and perhaps we’re feeling it more and more when we can’t meet together the way we would like.

Paul speaks of having the Philippians in his heart, and how ‘God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.’ (8) There’s a special bond that we have in the church family. Sometimes you see partnerships that come together in business. But that’s all it is - a business working relationship. You come together with the team, you get the job done, and it doesn’t really matter if you like the other team members. It might be easier, but it doesn’t matter, so long as you deliver the end result and get the sales and make a profit.

But it’s not like that in the church. Gospel partnership isn’t just about getting the gospel out - it’s personal; relational; affectionate. And we’ve been missing that as we’ve been moved online. It’s just not the same. I’m longing to see you all again, and to be together again - and I hope you feel the same way.

And what is that special bond in the church family? Paul tells us in verse 7: ‘It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.’ We share in God’s grace together. The grace that gives us what we don’t deserve; the grace that sustains us; the grace that causes God’s love to overflow for one another.

Could it be that God is reminding us of what we’ve maybe taken for granted? And even these online videos and zoom prayer meetings are growing in us a deeper affection for one another, and a greater desire to be together again in gospel partnership, and a greater appreciation of God’s grace to us and in us?

Gospel partners give thanks to God for his work in their lives; and gospel partners care deeply for one another as they share in God’s grace. Finally, gospel partners pray for one another.

Now, sometimes our prayers can remain in very general categories. Maybe you were taught to pray something like this: ‘God bless mummy and God bless daddy and God bless the cat.’ Those are good prayers, and God will answer them! But how about praying more specifically for people - into particular needs; or for particular and specific results.

Here’s how Paul prays for the Philippians: ‘that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight...’ He prays that their love will grow - love for God, and love for one another; that their love will grow as they grow in knowledge and depth of insight - as they get to know God better and better understand God’s ways. Now, why does he pray this?

‘ that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ - to the glory and praise of God.’ (10-11)

The growth in knowledge isn’t so that the Philippians can apply to go on Mastermind with a particular specialist subject and a wide-ranging general knowledge. No, it’s a growth in knowledge so that they will know what is best, and then do it. As they grow in love for God and knowledge of God, they will know what he loves, and love what he loves, and do what he loves, because they want to become more like Jesus. And as we do that, Jesus grows the fruit of his righteousness in us - for God’s glory and praise.

That’s what Paul was praying for his gospel partners, the people he was thankful for, the people he longed for with deep affection. Could it be that we need to be praying these same things, as we share in the gospel together?

Can you imagine how things would change as our love abounds more and more, as we pray for one another, and long for one another, and thank God for one another as we share in his grace, and are united as partners in the gospel - and God brings to completion the good work he has begun in us, to his praise and glory. Amen!

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Sermon: The Emmaus Road (Luke 24: 13-35)

This morning, I wonder if you’ll come for a walk with me. It’s maybe a road that you know well, one you’ve walked many’s a time before. It’s the road to Emmaus, a road paved with confusion and disappointment. It might be the road you walk every day on your one permitted exercise. But even if you’re staying inside, you can still be walking on this road.

All those dashed hopes and disappointments piling up, overwhelming you - the plans you had made, whether it’s a mission trip, or a holiday, or your wedding, and the date comes and it’s not happening as you had hoped. You expected to be in one place, on top of the world, but instead you’re in the doldrums. And it’s confusing, and it’s hurtful.

As you walk along the road to Emmaus, you’re in good company. You see, we imagine how great it would have been to be among the first of Jesus’ disciples. Imagine being there as he performed those miracles; and to hear his teaching; and to be there on that first Easter day. And yet here we find two of the disciples, who had been there in Jerusalem on that first Easter day, and they’re heading home, away from the action.

They were in Jerusalem, they had heard the tomb was empty, they had heard that Jesus was alive, they had heard the good news, but you wouldn’t think it. They trudge home; hopes crushed; dreams fading; they’re confused, hurt, and lost. They talk it out, but they fail to understand.

But as they walk, they’re joined by a stranger - or at least, they think he’s a stranger. They were kept from recognising him. They don’t know who he is. But he wants to know what they’re talking about.

They stop, downcast, and can’t get over the fact that someone who had been in Jerusalem wouldn’t have heard about what had happened. Has he been living under a rock? Well, not quite - he’s been behind the rock, in the tomb, which is now empty, but he just asks, ‘What things?’

Here’s what: They know the full facts - Jesus of Nazareth, a powerful prophet, who was crucified. And it’s there that their hope died with Jesus: ‘We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.’

They expected Jesus to redeem Israel by being a kick out the Romans kind of conquering king Christ. Instead, he had been killed by the Romans and it seemed that the Jesus story was finished. Their hope certainly was.

And now, they’re more confused. You see, they know about the empty tomb; they have heard the message of the angels; they’ve heard that the tomb is definitely empty, but that their friends haven’t seen Jesus. (And they say this to Jesus!)

Have you been walking the Emmaus road? Dealing with disappointments? Any disappointment is hard to come to terms with, but it’s surely even more disappointing when it comes to God. You trust him, and then something happens you didn’t expect, and you wonder what’s going on. And so you set out for Emmaus, you decide to give up and go home.

Now, if you were Jesus, what would you do at this point? If it was me, I would have said, look, it’s fine, it’s me, I’m here, it’s all ok. But God’s ways are not our ways. And Jesus meets them in their confusion and disappointment, and helps them to see him in two ways:

First of all, they see Jesus in the Scriptures. Jesus says that they are foolish, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken. He asks the question that we heard earlier: ‘Did not the Christ have to suffer all these things and then enter his glory?’

Suffering and then glory. The path was laid out in advance. And so Jesus helps them to grasp it: ‘And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’

Can you imagine that? A Bible study led by Jesus?! As he talks about the promise of the serpent-crusher in Genesis 3, and the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12, and the Scapegoat in Leviticus 16, and the bronze serpent lifted up in the wilderness in Numbers 21, and the prophet like Moses in Deuteronomy 18, and the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, and the sign of Jonah, and the promise of resurrection in Psalm 16, and so much more!

God had promised beforehand that it would be like this - so the wheels hadn’t come off the bus. They just had to see Jesus in the scriptures, all pointing to him and his mission to truly redeem Israel - not by military might, but as the crucified Christ.

And as he did so, their hearts burned within them. It wasn’t that they were having heartburn, that they needed Gaviscon, because of something they ate. No, their hearts were burning within them, as they grasped God’s word and God’s purpose - as they heard God speaking to them through the Scriptures, and they saw Jesus in the scriptures.

But then, they see Jesus with them. It’s getting late, and they’re coming into Emmaus, and home beckons. And they insist the stranger stops with them.

And as they sit down to eat, suddenly the guest acts like he’s the host. ‘He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.’ And suddenly, the stranger’s actions are very familiar. It’s what he had done at the feeding of the five thousand; and it’s what he had done at the Last Supper - took, gave thanks, broke, gave. And in that moment, they recognise him; they seem him; and he disappears from their sight.

And suddenly, those downcast, disappointed, confused disciples are transformed! They quickly set out, back along the same road, but the road from Emmaus is one of joy, as they rush to share the good news that Jesus is alive!

Are you walking on the Emmaus road today? In these days, when things don’t go the way we planned, when we fail to understand what God is doing, when we think all is a disaster, we need to see Jesus. To see Jesus in the scriptures - to see what God has promised (and what he hasn’t promised!); and to know that Jesus is with us, even if we can’t see him right now.

As you walk the Emmaus road, look for Jesus - in his word, and in his presence with you.

Lord Jesus,
may we know your presence with us,
today, and always. Amen.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sermon: John 20: 19-31 Evidence for Easter

What would it take to convince you that Jesus is alive? What sort of proof would you need?

Perhaps you think that even that question is ridiculous. You’re not sure that Jesus even existed in the first place, and so to even try to prove that he is alive is beyond the bounds of possibility. Or perhaps you reckon that people who think Jesus is alive are like the people who try to claim that Elvis is alive.

There couldn’t possibly be any evidence, any proof. To believe that Jesus is alive, and to believe in Christianity is to take a leap in the dark, to summon up some blind faith in order to believe no matter what the facts might say. As Richard Dawkins once said:

‘Faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence. Faith is belief in spite of, even perhaps because of, the lack of evidence.’

Is that true? As we normally gather here in this church building, and as we gather digitally this morning, have we turned our brains off? Are we believing in Jesus no matter what evidence may or may not exist? On first reading, it even appears as if that kind of ‘don’t think about it, just believe’ attitude is being endorsed and encouraged in John 20. Taken by itself, it might sound as if ignorance is bliss: ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

Out of context, it sounds as if you have to just accept everything, no matter how strange it might appear, no questions asked. You haven’t seen it for yourself, but you’ll be blessed if you just believe it anyway. And maybe you’ve been accused of that kind of faith by a family member or a friend, or maybe someone in work. So they’ll say - you show me God, and I’ll believe. If I just see God, then I’ll believe.

So have we turned our brains off? Are we naive? Gullible? Unthinking? Not at all! Christianity is based on the historical fact that Jesus, who was crucified, has been raised to life again, resurrected. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, ‘If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins... we are to be pitied more than all men. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead...’ (1 Cor 15:17,19,20)

So how can we be sure that Jesus really is alive? Last week, we looked at the empty tomb. Today, we find even more evidence that Jesus really is alive. We see that evidence in the disciples of Jesus, and in particular one of the disciples, known by the name doubting Thomas. We’ll come to him in a second, but consider first the disciples generally.

Look at how they were personally transformed. As our reading begins in verse 19, they are in lockdown. They’re together in one place, and the doors are locked for fear of the Jews. Perhaps they thought that they would be next, as the leaders moved against the followers of Jesus. And so they are fearful.

By verse 20, they are overjoyed. So what brought about the transformation? It wasn’t that they were having what we would call a wake, and they were just sitting around, telling stories of Jesus, remembering what he was like, and then they had a fuzzy feeling of remembrance, and they felt that he was with them in spirit. No, they were transformed because Jesus himself was standing in the room with them - physically, bodily.

It’s not that Jesus lives on in our memory, or lives on in our hearts. It’s that Jesus is alive, raised body and soul, in the room with them. He speaks the word of peace: ‘Peace be with you’ and shows them the price of that peace - showing them his hands and side - the wounds of love. The fearful disciples are now overjoyed.

They are also now sent. As Jesus was sent by the Father, so he now sends the disciples out into the world with the news of God’s peace, the forgiveness brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The resurrection changed the disciples from weak, fearful men into world-changers who gladly died for the truth that they staked their lives on - that Jesus was alive. As Charles Colson, who was imprisoned for his part in the Watergate scandal in American politics in 1972, said:

‘I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world - and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.’

Now, think about Thomas. He had missed that original meeting with Jesus. And he wouldn’t believe what the other disciples told him about seeing Jesus alive. He knew them, and yet he wanted proof; solid evidence for himself: ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’

Can you imagine that whole week? The others trying to convince him: ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But it wasn’t enough for him, doubting Thomas.

One week later, today, in fact, the disciples were together, and Thomas was there too. And once again, despite the locked doors, Jesus showed up. He greets them with the word of peace, but then turns directly to Thomas, and offers to him every one of his criteria for believing that Jesus was alive: ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’

Now, we’re not told that Thomas did any of those things. He didn’t need to. Now he saw Jesus, face to face, resurrected, alive, and he exclaims. ‘My Lord and my God!’ His standard of evidence had been met, and he was sure, beyond all doubt, that Jesus is alive.

And it’s here that Jesus says those words about seeing and believing. Do you see how they fit in context: ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’

It took Thomas to see and then believe. But there is a blessing for those who haven’t seen and yet have believed. Now Jesus isn’t saying that you’re blessed if you turn off your brain and just accept it unthinkingly. He’s saying that we believe based on the evidence of the eyewitnesses - the testimony of the disciples who have seen and were sent. We can examine the evidence, and think hard about its reliability, and be sure that it is the truth. And as we do so, we are blessed.

And what is the blessing? It’s having life in Jesus’ name. The risen Lord Jesus shares his risen life with us, and assures us of life with him for all eternity.

It’s the reason that John wrote his gospel. He tells us at the end of our reading that he could have written about loads of other things that Jesus did. There was no shortage of source material. But he has written these signs down so that ‘you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’

The evidence is here, in John’s gospel. if you aren’t a Christian, then why not sit down and read through John’s gospel some time? Maybe you’re feeling bored during the lockdown, looking for something to do. Read through it in a couple of hours. Examine the evidence and see if you could be persuaded to believe in Jesus.

If you are a Christian, then don’t stop thinking! Keep on reading, and examining the evidence, and rejoicing in the good news that Jesus is alive, that he can be trusted, that it is life-transforming. There is joy to be found, and peace, and blessing, as we believe in Jesus. And don’t be shy in sharing that good news with your friends and family.

Let’s pray:
Father we thank you that Jesus is alive,
and brings peace, and joy, and blessing.
Help us to believe in him
as we examine the evidence
and listen to your word. Amen.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Sermon: Matthew 28: 1-10 Come and See, Go and Tell

Have you ever said something a bit like this: ‘Come here till you see this! Maybe something’s happening outside, and you want the other people in your house to see what’s happening. The other week, there were two people out for a dander round in Richhill in their inflatable fancy dress dinosaur suits - and someone took pictures to put it on Facebook, so everyone could see what was happening!

Come and see. That’s what Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were told to do by the angel in our reading today. There was something special, something vitally important to look at and to take in, and so they had to come and see. Come here till you see this!

And what was it they were to come and see? It was the empty tomb. This wasn’t what they were expecting to see as they made their way to the tomb at dawn that first Easter Day.

You see, they had been there on Friday afternoon. They had watched as Jesus had died on the cross; they had seen where Joseph of Arimathea had placed Jesus’ body; they had seen where the stone was rolled in front of the entrance. They had seen all that happening on Friday. So now, after the Sabbath rest, they retrace their steps. ‘To look at the tomb’ as Matthew tells us.

They just wanted to see where Jesus was laid to rest. Perhaps you’ve been feeling the pain of not being able to visit a loved one’s grave this Easter, due to the current restrictions. What the women saw that day at that tomb brings hope and comfort. So what did they see?

‘There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. HIs appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.’ (2-4)

What a lot to see, and to take in! They saw (and felt) the earth shake under their feet. They saw this angel of the Lord, all brightness and fearsome, rolling back the stone and using it as a seat. And they saw the guards lying on the ground in fear.

The guards were there because the chief priests and Pharisees had remembered what Jesus had said - ‘After three days I will rise again.’ And so, to make sure that the disciples couldn’t steal the body and pretend that Jesus had risen, a guard was sent to the tomb, to seal it and guard it. But the guards proved useless against a risen Jesus and an angel of the Lord. They are afraid, and become like dead men; whereas the dead man they are guarding is alive!

It turns out that religious leaders had listened more carefully to Jesus than the disciples. The religious leaders knew that Jesus had said something about rising on the third day. But the disciples hadn’t remembered that at all. And so the women weren’t there to witness the resurrection - they were there to see the tomb.

While the guards are afraid, the angel speaks to the women and says this: ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.’

Jesus who was crucified has now risen. And they are told to come and see the empty tomb, the place where he lay. This is the very heart of the Christian faith. It stands and falls on the empty tomb. And we can be sure and certain that this is historical fact. The two Marys came and saw where Jesus had lay, which was now empty.

Come and see the place where he lay. The women provide the eyewitness testimony. They have seen that the tomb is empty. And that’s important. And it’s great. But it’s not enough.

You see, the angel has something more for the women to do. Having came and seen, the women have to do something else as well: ‘Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.” Now I have told you.’

Having witnessed the fact of the empty tomb, they now have to go and tell. They are sent to tell the disciples - the followers of Jesus, who are now locked in their homes, afraid to leave the house. they have good news to share - the best news ever - that Jesus is alive.

The disciples will in turn be sent to tell that news to the whole world, as they’re sent to preach the gospel in the Great Commission at the end of Matthew 28. And that news will turn the world upside down.

Because Jesus is alive, death is not the end. All who trust in him will live with him in his new heavens and new earth. So while we mourn the loss of loved ones; and while we feel the pain of not being able to visit their graves, we have this assurance, that we will see them again, and live with them again.

Because Jesus is alive, we have hope. Real hope. Not the wishful thinking kind of hope, but the rock solid absolutely certain hope that Jesus will raise us to live with him. It’s a message that the disciples needed to hear. It’s a message that we need to hear. It’s a message that the world needs to hear.

While we’re social distancing this Easter, and maybe even self-isolating, we do not need to be afraid. We can come and see the empty tomb, and go and tell the news. So who could you tell?

Let’s pray.
we thank you that the tomb is empty
and Jesus is alive.
Help us to come and see, and be sure of the message,
and help us to go and tell, as we share this great good news.
Show us who we can tell, and how we can tell them,
for we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Cross Words 7 - Peace (Luke 23:46)

My first year at secondary school was a shock to the system. You see, my school was known as a rugby playing school. For something like ten years in a row, Dromore High had won the High Schools’ Cup. So while I wanted to be playing football, we all had a crash course in the basics of rugby - drill after drill of throwing and catching the ball.

Mr McAleese, our PE teacher would tell us why these drills were so important, even if we never played a minute of competitive rugby. “You’ll want to be able to catch whatever is thrown at you. You want to know that you have good hands.”

I never became a rugby player, and I might not be great at throwing and catching, but I never forgot that line about having good hands. Others talk about a safe pair of hands.

Just before Jesus died on the cross, he uttered one last word, which speaks of peace and safety and security, because he was placing his spirit in the best of all hands. Jesus said: ‘Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.’

Jesus is quoting from another Psalm of David - this time from Psalm 31 verse 5. David was affirming his trust in the midst of trouble. And Jesus takes those words on his lips as he affirms his trust in his Father as he comes to the end of his life, and completes his saving work on the cross.

Jesus is placing himself in his Father’s hands. For a while, he had been given over to the hands of wicked men, who pursued their evil plot to crucify him. As far back as Luke chapter 9, once the disciples have realised that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, God’s promised king - Jesus tells them ‘The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.’ (Lk 9:44). And in Luke 24, as the angels explain to the women about the empty tomb, they remind them of what Jesus had told them: ‘Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified, and on the third day be raised again.’ (Lk 24:6-7)

Jesus had been delivered into the hands of sinful men. Indeed, he had chosen to surrender himself into their hands, to do all they wanted to do, to beat, and flog, and mock, and crucify. In their wicked hands, he was mistreated, and killed. They had done all that they wanted, and got rid of Jesus.

We would have done the same. How often we want to use Jesus for our own desires; to abuse him; and have him serve our plans. Our hands would have been just as ready to crucify the Lord of glory. Our hands are just as guilty, we are caught red-handed with Jesus’ blood on our hands.

But, having suffered all that men desired to inflict on him, and fulfilled the rescue plan, Jesus commits himself into his Father’s hands. The safest pair of hands in the whole universe.

Just after he says these words, he breathes his last, and dies. Yet Jesus shows us that, while his body is taken down from the cross, and buried in the tomb; his spirit is in God’s care and keeping. Now, it’s not that the body is worthless and it’s only our spirit or soul that really matters, and it’s just longing to get free of this bodily prison. No, far from it.

Jesus’ spirit is in the Father’s hands, awaiting resurrection, when body and spirit and soul are reunited and raised. For Jesus, that will happen on the third day, early on Easter Sunday. But because Jesus has died on the cross, that’s also true of all who believe in him.

So if you’re trusting in Jesus, when you breathe your last, your spirit is instantly with God, while you await the last day and the resurrection to the new heavens and the new earth. And that’s true of your loved one who believes in Christ. They are not lost - you know exactly where they are, through the death and resurrection of Jesus; they are in the safest place they can be - in the hands of God, in his care and keeping. As Jesus says in John 10: ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I am and the Father are one.’ (Jn 10:27-30)

There is eternal safety and security for those held in the Father’s hands. Are you held in his hands today? Have you entrusted yourself into those good hands?

Jesus dies, not in despair or distress, but in peace, fully trusting in the Father’s power and protection. And he gives us that same peace - for our loved ones and for ourselves - when we’re in the Father’s hands.

The seventh cross word is a word of peace.

Jesus says: Father, into your hands I commit my spirit..

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father,
in your keeping are all those who have departed in Christ.
We thank you that your hands are love and they are good.
Help us to know the peace that only you provide,
as we entrust ourselves into your hands,
now, and in the hour of our death,
through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for us. Amen.

Cross Words 6 - Victory (John 19:30)

Amidst the devastating news of the coronavirus pandemic, there are glimmers of hope, and stories of amazing dedication and sacrifice. Maybe you’ve seen some of the medical staff who have separated themselves from their families for several weeks in order to serve without risking their children’s health. Or the keyworkers who volunteer to do extra shifts and to cover for their colleagues.

I wonder did you hear of Friar Don Giuseppe Berardelli? He was a parish priest in Casnigo near Milan. He contracted Covid-19 and his parish raised funds to buy a respiratory unit to help him. He refused to use it, though, allowing someone else to use it, and so he died. He gave his life so that a stranger would live.

Today, as we focus on the cross, and listen in to the cross words, we hear how Jesus viewed his death on the cross. You see, for some people, the cross is just a tragic end to a promising life. They reckon that Jesus was an amazing man, able to do wonderful things, but what a pity that it all went wrong that week in Jerusalem and he ended up dead. And so they hear in his words ‘It is finished’ a cry of defeat. As if Jesus is merely saying, it’s all over - even, I’m finished.

But that’s not how Jesus viewed his death. You see, Jesus hadn’t come to an unfortunate end, unexpectedly. Rather, Jesus was completing the plan of salvation, promised through the whole of the Old Testament. Just before our verse, we read these words: ‘knowing that all was now completed...’ And that led into Jesus saying that he was thirsty, to fulfil the scripture.

So as Jesus says ‘It is finished’ he is referring to God’s salvation plan. All was now completed. Everything that needed to be done to rescue sinners had been done. And so this is not a cry of defeat - it’s a declaration of victory.

Already in our reflections we’ve heard how Jesus prayed for forgiveness, how he gave assurance of salvation to the dying thief, how he paid the great cost as he was forsaken by God. Jesus is now saying that all has been completed - that the price of salvation has been paid in full. That’s the emphasis of the Greek word behind this saying. It’s a commercial word. It says that the bill has been paid, the demand has been satisfied, and nothing more is owed.

So, when the restrictions are lifted and you’re able to go out for a meal somewhere nice, and the evening’s drawing to a close and you ask for the bill. Imagine if the waitress said to you, it’s already been settled. Someone else has paid your bill, and that means you can walk out without having to get your wallet out. Your debt has been settled, your bill has been paid.

That’s what Jesus is saying here. And what is the bill that has been paid? He has paid the debt you owed because of your sins. Jesus gave up his place in glory, and died in our stead, so that we could be forgiven, and saved, and redeemed.

Giuseppe gave his life for a stranger. Jesus gave his life for people he knows and loves - you and me - in all our sin, and shame, and guilt. He has paid our debt and gives us his life, his righteousness. There is nothing we can do to contribute to our salvation - it’s already been finished.

We just have to receive it. To see in Jesus’ death our life and peace, our sins paid in full. As our Communion service puts it, ‘he made there the one complete and all-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.’ (BCP p. 210)

And he did it for you.

The sixth cross word is a word of victory.

Jesus says: It is finished.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father,
we thank you that Jesus has paid it all;
that his sacrifice has been completed,
and we are saved only through him.
Help us Lord, to trust in him,
and in his finished work on the cross,
for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Cross Words 5 - Suffering (John 19:18-19)

There’s something very natural in the fifth word spoken from the cross. On the night before the cross, Jesus had shared in the Last Supper with his friends. But since then, going out to Gethsemane, praying in earnest, being arrested, and tried, and led out to the place of the skull, he hasn’t had anything to drink. His fluid loss, as his blood flows out, must have been reducing. It’s entirely natural that Jesus would be thirsty as he undergoes the agony and suffering of the cross.

As we confess in the Nicene Creed, the eternal Son of God was made man - as fully man as he is fully God. And as man, he has fully entered into our experience with one exception - though he was tempted, he did not sin. And so Jesus experiences life as we know it. He was hungry; he was tired; he wept; and here, on the cross, he was thirsty. One of our natural experiences.

And yet, there is a profound mystery in these words of Jesus. It’s in John’s gospel that Jesus requests a drink of water at a well in Samaria. The question startles the Samaritan woman, because Jewish men and Samaritan women didn’t ever associate with each other. And at that well, Jesus says these famous words: ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him with never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ (Jn 4:13-14)

The woman had been trying to satisfy her thirst in all sorts of ways with all sorts of men - five husbands, and now another who hadn’t even committed to her. Jesus offers her living water to quench her thirst. And yet, on the cross, Jesus thirsts.

Later in John’s gospel, Jesus stands up on the last and greatest day of the Feast, and with a loud voice says, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ Jesus is offering the Spirit to all who believe in him.

But for Jesus to offer this living water which will quench our thirst, he had to thirst himself. We know this, because it’s what John tells us in the context of this saying of Jesus: ‘knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”’

By this point, Jesus has endured the agony, the darkness, the weight of our sin. All is now completed - the price has been paid. And Jesus brings to mind all the Scriptures that prophesied his work on the cross. All of them had been fulfilled; we’ve seen some of them in our reflections this week. There was just one that remained unfulfilled. A verse in Psalm 69.

Psalm 69 foreshadows the cross, just like Psalm 22. And the verse that was outstanding was verse 21. ‘They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.’ In order to fulfill the Scripture, and ensure that every part of the plan was completed, Jesus declares: ‘I am thirsty.’

Now, if you’re thirsty, you need a good drink of water. But the cruelty of the cross meant that wine vinegar was offered. A bitter drink; not very thirst-quenching. And yet that was fulfilling the prophecy of David in Psalm 69. They gave me vinegar for my thirst.

There are over 300 prophecies about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus in the Old Testament. And every single one of them was completed and fulfilled. To the last detail, God’s salvation plan has been accomplished.

The man who thirsted on the cross offers you the living water so that you will never thirst again. Jesus offers refreshment and revival if you will but take and drink. Believe in him, trust in him, and that spring of water will well up to eternal life in you. Will you receive from him?

The fifth cross word is a word of suffering.

Jesus says: I am thirsty.

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father,
we thank you that through Jesus’ thirst,
he has opened the fountain of living water.
We turn to you afresh;
will you satisfy our thirst,
and give us this spring of water
welling up to eternal life.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Cross Words 4 - Cost (Matthew 27: 45-49)

Tonight is the night that we normally share in the Lord’s Supper. After the meal, Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane, where he prayed this prayer: ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ Luke tells us that Jesus sweat drops of blood, so earnest was his prayer, so great his distress.

Why was this so? It’s clear that Jesus knew what lay before him. Many times he had predicted that he would be handed over, be killed, and rise again on the third day. And yet, as the cross approaches, Jesus asks if there could be any other way.

He knew that in a matter of minutes, his disciples would flee, abandoning him. He knew that in a matter of hours he would be beaten, flogged, and nailed to the cross. He knew the physical pain that lay before him, arms stretched out, struggling to breathe, his life blood being shed. And yet, above and beyond all those pains, he knew that there would be a deeper agony, as he bore the spiritual cost of salvation.

That cost is expressed in the fourth cross word. ‘About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’’

Jesus is quoting from the first verse of Psalm 22. That Psalm sounds like it is an eyewitness account of the sufferings of Jesus - the mocking, the piercing of hands and feet, the dividing of his garments and casting lots for his clothing. Yet the Psalm was written by David 1000 years before the cross. He foreshadows the experience of the suffering Saviour.

Those opening words speak of the horror of the cross; the cost of our salvation. As Jesus takes our place, as he dies for us, he receives the wrath of God. In those three hours of darkness, Jesus was forsaken by God, bearing the weight of our sin.

As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:21: ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’

Jesus, who had no sin, who had always fully and perfectly obeyed God’s law. This Jesus, was made to be sin for us. He took our sin and our sins from us, and took the punishment that we deserved. As we sing in the song, ‘In Christ alone:’

Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied For every sin on Him was laid Here in the death of Christ I live.

It’s because Jesus was forsaken, that we will never be forsaken. Through his sacrifice we are welcomed, and accepted, and redeemed. Here again we see the reverse of the curse of Genesis 3.

After Adam and Eve had sinned in the Garden of Eden, they were removed from the garden, and from God’s presence. Sin brings separation. That was emphasised again in the building of the tabernacle, and then the temple. You could only get so close, but no closer. Only the high priest on one day in the year could enter the most holy place, bearing blood for his sin and the people’s sin.

But when Jesus died on the cross, having borne our sin, having been forsaken by God, what happened? The curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. We can now draw near to God - the way has been opened through the sacrifice of Jesus.

Whatever it is that you have done. Whatever you are guilty of, or ashamed about. Every sin was laid on the Lord Jesus. He has endured the penalty, the punishment, the God-forsakenness - for you. You can come to God today; you can come back to God today. So won’t you come, and find that welcome, because Jesus has paid it all. Another song puts it so well:

This, the power of the cross Son of God slain for us What a love! What a cost! We stand forgiven at the cross.

The fourth cross word is a word of cost.

Jesus says: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Let us pray.
Heavenly Father,
we thank you that we have confidence
to enter the Most Holy Place
by the blood of Jesus.
Thank you that we can be welcomed and accepted
because Jesus has died for us.
We praise you, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Cross Words 3 - Comfort (John 19: 25-27)

As we’ve been adapting to the new normal of the current social distancing and self-isolation restrictions, perhaps one of the most difficult aspects has been in relation to death and bereavement. To deal with a relative’s death at any time is difficult, but even more so in these days. So at present, if a relative is nearing the end of their life in hospital, then visiting is either strictly limited or else prohibited. Wakes aren’t possible at present, nor funeral services in church, with just a very small, socially-distant graveside service.

As the Lord Jesus hung on the cross, most of his closest followers had self-isolated. One of the twelve had betrayed him, and was no more. Another had denied knowing him. And the rest had abandoned him. All except one - the disciple whom Jesus loved - John.

And in his gospel, John tells us who else was standing near the cross. Most of the men had gone, but it was the women who were still present, watching as Jesus suffered and died. Jesus’ mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene.

The women who were last at the crucifixion and burial would be the first to witness the resurrection on the morning of the third day. But focus in on one of the women, the first mentioned, the mother of Jesus.

Can you imagine the grief Mary is experiencing? In the gospels, the last we hear of Joseph is in Luke 2, on the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 years old. By the time of Jesus’ public ministry, we imagine Joseph had already died. And now, Mary stands at the foot of the cross, watching as her firstborn dies.

To lose a child at any time is traumatic. To see him suffer in such a way, her precious, innocent son, in so great an injustice must have been devastating. As Mary stands near the cross, those words spoken to her by Simeon so many years before were now coming to pass:

‘This child (Jesus) is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ (Lk 2:34-35)

As Mary approaches the death of her son; as she plunges into the depths of grief and sorrow; as her soul is pierced it is Jesus who speaks this word of comfort from the cross. He says to her. ‘Dear woman, here is your son,’ and to John, ‘Here is your mother.’

Even in his final moments, Jesus is fulfilling God’s law, as he honours his mother and provides for her in so many ways. John takes her into his home, to provide for her material needs, the food that she needs to survive in the absence of any other means of income. But more than that, she is provided with fellowship, as she and John go through this time of darkness together.

Jesus, who wept at the grave of Lazarus his friend (even though he was about to raise him to life) knows what we’re going through. He is able to sympathise with our experience of grief, and gives us his grace in our time of need. That grace comes through other believers, through practical helps, and through his own presence with us.

How might the Lord be directing you to help others who are in need today? Could you be present in their grief through a phonecall, or a text, or by leaving something at the door in an appropriate and safe way? Could you be the means of providing the Lord’s comfort to those who mourn?

Or perhaps today you are grieving. Look for the ways in which Christ is showing his kindness to you through his disciples. And remember, in the words of that most loved of the Psalms, ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ (Ps 23:4)

The third cross word is a word of comfort.

Jesus says: Dear woman, here is your son. Here is your mother.

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, you are the Father of compassion, and the God of all comfort; May we know your comfort in these days, and may we be the means of comforting others, as your word takes root in our hearts and bears fruit in our lives. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Cross Words 2 - Assurance (Luke 23: 43)

On Sunday evening, Her Majesty the Queen addressed the nation and the Commonwealth. Speaking from Windsor Castle, she thanked everyone on the NHS front line, care workers and those in essential roles, as well as all who are staying at home to protect the vulnerable.

In the United Kingdom, we have a strong sense of what the monarchy looks like - castles and palaces; pomp and ceremony, guards and bands and parades, horses and carriages; and glittering crown jewels.

In our Bible reading tonight, we find a king, devoid of any appearance of royalty, looking unlike any king you’ve ever seen. A cruel crown of thorns adorns his brow. A scarlet robe adorns his body, as his blood flows, as he hangs on the cross, the symbol of shame and loss.

And almost everyone around the cross joins in the mockery of this supposed king. The people and rulers sneer at this ‘Christ of God, the Chosen One.’ The Christ being God’s long-promised, chosen king. But how could this man upon a cross be a king?

The soldiers join in, mocking him. If you’re the king of the Jews, save yourself! That same title hangs above his thorn-crowned head - This is the King of the Jews. This is what happens to people who think they’re the king.

And even one of the criminals, hanging on another cross, insulted him. ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’

Those taunts were truer than they could have imagined. Yes, Jesus is the king, he is the Christ of God. And yes, he is bringing about the saving of many. But in order to save others, he cannot save himself. They just can’t see it, right before their eyes. And so they mock this monarch; they castigate this king.

Yet there is one person who recognises Jesus as the king he really is. The other criminal, hanging from the other cross, he entrusts himself to Jesus the king.

He rebukes the mocking criminal, by confessing that ‘this man has done nothing wrong.’ He knows that he himself is getting what his deed deserve, but Jesus is completely innocent. Jesus is dying the death of a sinner, even though he has done nothing wrong. This is how Jesus can save others, as he dies in their place.

And so the criminal makes a request of the Lord Jesus: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ As unlikely as it appears, he puts his faith in Jesus the king, and his coming kingdom. He makes Jesus his king. And in that moment, he receives the most glorious promise from the lips of Jesus:

‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.’ Just consider what Jesus was saying:

Today - this very day, without delay, immediately on dying.

You - this is a personal promise, to this dying thief who has believed in Jesus.

Will be - it’s absolutely certain, it will happen, there’s no maybe about it.

With me - he will be with Jesus, together again, in his presence and company.

In paradise - in the place of perfection, the place where there is no more pain, no more tears, no more suffering or sadness or sickness or sin.

Jesus the King is coming into his kingdom on that very day. And this crucified criminal will be with him in paradise. That’s the promise that Jesus gives to everyone who trusts in him, to everyone who recognises Jesus as their king.

Of the two criminals crucified with Jesus, only one of them received the promise. Even in the closing moments of life, whoever believes in Jesus will receive his promise - no matter who they are, no matter what they have done. But we can’t take it for granted that we can leave it until our dying moments - only one of the criminals called out to Jesus and received his promise.

As the Queen finished her address to the nation and commonwealth on Sunday night, she said this: ‘We should take comfort that while we may have more still to endure, better days will return: we will be with our friends again; we will be with our families again; we will meet again.’

Isn’t that the promise of this crucified King, to all who trust in him, and say to him: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus says: we will meet again.

The second cross word is a word of assurance.

Jesus says: I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on the Tuesday of Holy Week, 7th April 2020, during the Covid-19 pandemic.