Sunday before Easter April 5th 2020


If you would prefer to read it….. Text of sermon preached April 5th 2020, during ‘Lock-down’, when the Corona virus was spreading around the world.
Palm Sunday. Luke 19:41-44  “If only you had known”

If only you had known

I am not about to explain why God sent, or at least allowed to happen, the Coronavirus. The book of Job in the Old Testament explains that human suffering sometimes simply cannot be explained. If you are looking for good theological teaching, then I recommend Ian Paul’s blog, it has the strange name: Psiphizo. But. Just google ‘Ian Paul’ and you will find it. I for one, am happy with the thought that…. We are “in time” and of limited and finite minds, whereas God is outside time and of infinite mind… So I’m happy to come to a point where I say “This much I know…” and trust that is all I need to know for now, from God in Heaven’s point of view – because he hasn’t told us everything…

… and the human Jesus believed that too. He knew a lot, but not everything. This picture used to hang over the door of the study in Bidborough Rectory when dad was rector. I don’t know who the artist was, in the corner it is ‘copyright 1907.’

Jesus looks across a valley, to the artist’s impression of Jerusalem. On the back of the frame, just the words hand-written on the label of the Hastings’ framer: “If thou hast known.” Jesus could foresee the tragedy that was soon to overtake Jerusalem, as Roman armies destroyed it, utterly.

Sunday is Easter. But of course, you can’t have Resurrection without a death. The event at the very centre of all our world’s history is not Easter, but death, the death of Jesus. His resurrection followed of course, But you can’t celebrate Easter without first, the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ death is the most certain event of history. Some have tried to deny that it happened, for an increasing number of people in the West, they think of Jesus much like they think of Santa. Now, I believe in Santa Claus, or rather St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra, he lived 1,600 years ago. (See footnote 1 if you are interested). There is a historical root to the fable. But real history is as important, as science.

I don’t intend now, to go into the arguments for the four Gospels and the other books of the New Testament; or of the Old Testament being reliable history. But the evidence is as certain as any historical fact, that Jesus the boy was immersed in the Jewish scriptures, he knew them inside out, and as a man saw himself fulfilling them. And, that would mean allowing himself to be done to death by people who thought they were Godly. And, it was a most terrible death.

Behind the words: “If only you knew….” lies the anguish of the Old Testament prophets, who had such a profound effect on Jesus, as he grew to adulthood, and came to the agonising conclusion, that he was to be the answer:. The answer to selfishness, to putting self in the place of God, to working for the advantage of one’s own family or tribe against other families and tribes. The Bible word for all that is, sin . Jesus’ answer was the laying down of his own selfless life, allowing it to be (apparently) destroyed by sin, as he challenged death itself. And, then looking forward to life after death, sending his Spirit to all those who committed their lives as his disciples, and able to lead the world into real peace, Shalom/ Salaam, life at the very top of the scale, life in all its possible fullness.

So for us and our world, Passion Week2020, and the seven days between Palm Sunday and Easter Day. What challenges face us? I think of the village where my wife and I, and one daughter and her family live. Here, there are some promising signs, with no less than 80 volunteers to help with a ‘good neighbour’ scheme during this health crisis. And of course in the wider community, so many volunteers to help the National Health Service, in whatever ways they can.

What of the wide world? Nigeria and Africa, including the island of Madagascar where a daughter served as a missionary doctor for ten years. That continent is scheduled on present predictions, to see millions die in the coming months from Coronavirus. Unless that is, the call to the G20 nations is heard, from the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, for trillions of dollars to be committed to help the developing world combat the virus.

Maybe, just maybe, realisation is dawning, that it is simply not acceptable that the richest 10% in the world, own 85% of the world’s wealth. That means of course, 90% of the world’s population only have access to 15% of the worlds wealth to live on. Maybe even now, we can change our philosophy of life and our lifestyles. Do we hang on to old viewpoints and way of life, and live and die with the consequences? Or do we listen to the anguished words of God in Christ: “If only you knew…”?

It is the way of the cross. Thankfully, not as He faced it, but, empowered by the Spirit of God in Christ released through the cross, we stop living for ourselves, selfishly, sinfully, making ourselves to be God. Instead, we put Him and His Way first in our lives. Then, as He promised (in what is called His Sermon on the Mount – in chapter 6 of St Matthew’s gospel) “…all these things will be added to you”. Put Him First. It is “all or nothing.” How often do we settle for second best, for compromise. Sometimes in life we need to, but not with Jesus. “If only you knew… what makes for peace.” It has to be whole-hearted commitment., in order to live – life in all its fulness.

I dare to make the comparison: unless we follow the clear guidelines of how to fight this present health crisis, millions will die; but also, if we try to compromise with Jesus, we die, eternally. I urge you, stop playing games with God, God who in Christ laid down his perfect life, so that we might live. Please, pray with me, this prayer of commitment, or re-commitment. I prayed it, pretty much like this, age 12. It was a mission in Bidborough, led by someone called Ken Prior, and he put the challenge of the cross so clearly, that I was able to pray this prayer. Of course, I have back-tracked many times, but for you, let this prayer be, if not the first time you have prayed it, then a re-commitment prayer…….
“God in Christ, I am a sinner.
Thank you that You died for me.
Forgive me through Your Cross.
I come to You now, come into my life,
and live with me, for ever. Amen”

Ray Skinner:


The Man Behind the Story of Father Christmas/Santa Claus
St Nicholas was a Bishop who lived in the fourth century in a place called Myra in Asia Minor (now called Turkey). He was a very rich man because his parents died when he was young and left him a lot of money. He was also a very kind man and had a reputation for helping the poor and giving secret gifts to people who needed it. There are several legends about St. Nicholas, although we don’t know if any of them are true!

The most famous story about St. Nicholas tells how the custom of hanging up stockings to put presents in first started! It goes like this:
There was a poor man who had three daughters. The man was so poor that he did not have enough money for a dowry, so his daughters couldn’t get married. (A dowry is a sum of money paid to the bridegroom by the brides parents on the wedding day. This still happens in some countries, even today.) One night, Nicholas secretly dropped a bag of gold down the chimney and into the house (This meant that the oldest daughter was then able to be married.). The bag fell into a stocking that had been hung by the fire to dry! This was repeated later with the second daughter. Finally, determined to discover the person who had given him the money, the father secretly hid by the fire every evening until he caught Nicholas dropping in a bag of gold. Nicholas begged the man to not tell anyone what he had done, because he did not want to bring attention to himself. But soon the news got out and when anyone received a secret gift, it was thought that maybe it was from Nicholas.
Because of his kindness Nicholas was made a Saint. St. Nicholas is not only the saint of children but also of sailors! One story tells of him helping some sailors that were caught in a dreadful storm off the coast of Turkey. The storm was raging around them and all the men were terrified that their ship would sink beneath the giant waves. They prayed to St. Nicholas to help them. Suddenly, he was standing on the deck before them. He ordered the sea to be calm, the storm died away, and they were able to sail their ship safely to port.
St. Nicholas was exiled from Myra and later put in prison during the persecution by the Emperor Diocletian. No one is really knows when he died, but it was on 6th December in either 345 or 352. In 1087, his bones were stolen from Turkey by some Italian merchant sailors. The bones are now kept in the Church named after him in the Italian port of Bari. On St. Nicholas feast day (6th December), the sailors of Bari still carry his statue from the Cathedral out to sea, so that he can bless the waters and so give them safe voyages throughout the year.
in 1066, before he set sail to England, William the Conqueror prayed to St. Nicholas asking that his conquest would go well.

In the Netherlands it is St Nicholas, not Father Christmas or Santa, who brings gifts for children before Christm

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