Category Archives: Sermon Archive

Palm Sunday and Susan Boyle



Now, you know that I love this moment, I love it too much, the Susan Boyle first audition, and perhaps, but just indulge me.


To allow this moment which has inspired artists:

Here, and here and here


We might think about this moment, here

Jesus and Zechariah

You see what is going on with this moment here,

Jesus on the back of the donkey,

Is that there some words, some ancient, prophetic words, behind the back of this scene.  The scriptures tell us this.


Zechariah, the old prophet is speaking to a broken, despondent people and he has these words about a better future.

“Rejoice, Rejoice, people of Zion!

Shout for joy, you people of Jerusalem

Look, your king is coming to you!

He comes triumphant and victorious

But humble and riding on a donkey.”


And Luke never makes the link explicit with Zechariah, but Matthew in his gospel reminds us of this verse:

“This happened in order make what the prophet had said come true:

‘Tell the city of Zion, Look your king is coming to you! He is humble and rides on a donkey’” (Matthew 21:5)


And it’s not just this verse of Zechariah that is happening here.


You see Zechariah is a man who dreamed a dream – you see where I might be going with this – dreamed a dream.


He dreamed a dream about the city of Jerusalem, this broken defeated city, this city that felt that God had left, that it had nothing going for it any more, this city had hope, because of the presence and care of God.


So he understood that God still loved the city

“I have longed to help Jerusalem because of my deep love for her people, a love which has made me angry with her enemies” (Zechariah 8:2)


And this dream of a better future

“Once again old men and women, so old that they use a stick when they walk will be sitting in the city squares, and the streets will again be full of boys and girls playing.”


And it is a picture of life, and of all people, every gender, every age, being together, in this city that works, that God loves.


And Zechariah knows that many people have been carried off, taken by brutal kings, and so he says, God knows where those far off people are:

“I will rescue my people from the lands where they have been taken, and will bring them back from east and west to live in Jerusalem.  They will be my people and I will be their God, ruling over them faithfully and justly.”


“Because of my covenant with you – my promise with you that was sealed by blood, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit.”


And can you see the dream that Zechariah has, of a restoration,

“At that time, the Lord will protect those who live in Jerusalem, and even the weakest among them will become as strong as David was.” Zechariah 12:8


And this is the dream, the hope, the prophet articulates.

It is like the greatest hero, that we can think of, the very best we had, everyone will be like him.


Like the way that the Herald this week selected Kenny as the greatest Scottish football player ever, he was a bit happier during his playing days than his management


In the dream, the dream that Zechariah has, everyone is going to be like Kenny, even the weakest.



The Dream means death

So Zechariah has a dream of a world reshaped,

But he also understands that the way that God gets to the dream is not the way that you might imagine.


The dreams happens through brokenness.  And it happens through surprising means.


Zechariah seems to understand that the dream happens through pain, desperation, faith being stretched to the limit, even death.


Because it’s not just the verse about the donkey that Jesus is carrying here

And it is not just the verse about the dream that Jesus is carrying here.


Have a look at these other verses:


“Every cooking pot in Jerusalem and in all Judah will be set apart for use in the worship of the Lord Almighty.  The people who offer sacrifices will use them for boiling the meat of the sacrifices.  When the time comes, there will no longer be any merchant in the Temple of the Lord Almighty” (Zechariah 14:21)


And Jesus goes into the temple and clears out the money changers there.


“Because of the my covenant with you that was sealed by blood, I will set your people free” – on the night that he was betrayed, Jesus said, this is the new covenant sealed by my blood (Zechariah 9:11)


“So they paid me thirty pieces of silver as my wages” (Zechariah 9:12)

And we remember that Jesus was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver.


“Wake up, sword, and attack the shepherd who works for me!  Kill him, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zechariah 13:7)


“I will fill the descendants of David and the other people of Jerusalem with the spirit of mercy and the spirit of prayer.  They will look at the one whom they pierced.”  (Zechariah 12:10).  And when Jesus sword is split by a sword, this verse is remembered.


So there is something very profound about Jesus going into Jerusalem, on the donkey, with the dream, there is something here about death.


Going into death

Going into death is a terrible place.


It happens in the waiting room at the doctors, it happens at the moment when you hear the terrible news.  It is the place of violence.  Jim Davidson once told me as a service man in the 1950s visiting Belsen and talking about the sense of death about the place.  Or I remember a couple of times being caught up in violence.  One was at a march in India which was political and a sense that at any point, something dangerous could happen.  Or in Northern Ireland, in what was called Drum-three, the third Drumcree in 1997, and the smoke rising up from the markets and from the Short Strand, and being stranded in Belfast Central in the middle of them.


Christ goes into that place on the donkey, in order to dream the dream,


There is another version of I dreamed a dream,

It’s the Ann Hathaway version in Les Miserables, it is desperate, broken, struggling, the note of the triumph in the Susan Boyle version is a wailing, scream of pain,

And it is to this place that Jesus goes, to bring the dream into being,


When he is on the donkey, it is a about the dream of Zechariah, and the death of Zechariah.


Surprise of God

I think this is a story is about the surprises of God.


Nobody expects a king to be on a donkey.


We do not expect God to operate in the ways that he does.  It could never be predicted, it takes twists and turns on the journey.


I always appreciate this prayer of a confederate soldier in the American Civil War

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve.

I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.

I asked for health, that I might do greater things.

I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.

I asked for riches, that I might be happy.

I was given poverty, that I might be wise.

I asked for power that I might have the praise of men.

I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.

I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life.

I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.

I got nothing that I asked for but got everything I had hoped for.

Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.

I am, among all people, most richly blessed.


The Death

It seems that in order for any true dream to happen, it happens to die along the way.


I say this is a word for those of you who are in the death part of the dream.  Where it seems that God has abandoned you, and the dream.


The story of Zechariah is that God does not let go of the dream, in the miry pit.


I was thinking about the story of David Livingstone,

The man’s life in many ways was a disaster,

He was a poor leader, there was a great estrangement between him and his family,

He was someone who was determined to sail ships up the Zambezi as a way of bringing trade to Africa,

He was forced to resign from his mission society because of his lack of evangelising, having made only one convert,

He hated the slave trade, and then hated the fact that in the last parts of his he was reliant on slave traders for transport,

He became desperately poor, at one time forced to sit in an open cage and beg for food for amusement,

He lost contact with the outside world for 6 years, and in his one surviving letter from that period wrote “I am terribly knocked up, but this is for your eye only, doubtful if I live to see you again.”


Yet despite being a broken man,

His way of travelling, of winning the trust and respect of local people, was hugely admired, and led to others inspired by his example to set up schools for local people, which were later influential in the freedom movements in Africa in the 21st Century.


His words and writings were hugely influential for those fighting against the slave trade, and part of that legacy.  He once wrote to the New York Herald “If my disclosures regarding the terrible Ujijian slave trade should lead to the suppression of the East Coast slave trade, I shall regard that as a greater matter by far than the discovery of all the Nile sources together”


He never did discover the sources of the Nile, but he did help with many others (an irony for someone who was such a lone operator) to help abolish slavery.


Despite everything going wrong, through him the prisoners were set free.


Susan Boyle

And this leads me at last, from someone from Blantyre, to someone from Blackburn West Lothian.


She is asked, “What is the dream?”


And she says “I am trying to be a successful singer.”


The dream is still there.


Don’t settle for second rate dreams,

The dream is this,

The dream that Desmond Tutu, someone who attended one of those mission schools inspired by the legacy of David Livingstone, wrote that God has a dream,

It is the dream that Jesus has on the back of the donkey.


A dream of a world reborn

A dream of a rediscovered dignity

It is a dream of people, old and young, men and women, sharing space, conversation, love, being with each other

A dream of reaching the other side of death


He once spoke of God’s dream, of togetherness, of human’s reborn

Of a rainbow coloured nation

Of the things between us, and within us broken

All of that dream is born on the back of the donkey

And it is now shared by us, so like Jesus, live for, and give yourselves to the dream



The Boy Is The Gift



The gift is the boy.


We miss the gift, the gift is a confusion to us, a source of irritation, something that that we don’t understand, something that vexes us, something that we rarely appreciate, and it is the boy.


I love the fact that he comes from Hamilton, attends Townhill Primary, and I also love the fact that in real life his name is Lewis.


One of the great gifts of this nativity play and the shows that are on at this time of year, is that a group of people who irritate you, who arouse in you great emotions of tiredness and irritation and fury are unveiled for us as the gifts that they are.


And the great message that we have at Christmas, is that the boy is the gift.


And we don’t spot it…


This is the gift, this child, this baby boy.


Sure there is a gift that the boy holds in his hands,

It might be a toaster, a DVD player, a hot water bottle, his and hers matching dressing gowns,

And they will be unwrapped, they will be appreciated,

But the gift, really is something that will stay with them longer than all these things


The gift is the boy.

What they see, these parents through blurred eyes, is the gift,

But what they see above all, what we have delighted in through this whole advert

With his funny expressions, his hope that that wizard magic would speed up time,

What we remember, what they spot in this moment

Is that the gift is the boy

People Sing Songs About Him

People sing songs about him at Christmas time.

Because our deepest emotions, our deepest truths about him

Are found in song


Mary sings, and Zechariah sings and Simeon sings and the angels sing.

They sing, because songs are the place where people are able to rejoice in the gift.

In amongst the busy-ness, the fury, the irritation, they are the place we spot the gift.


This the time of year I receive the most hymn requests,

The place where people are most passionate that their hymns is included,

Because in the hymn people want something

And I suggest it is that they need, want to, at some deep level

Spot the gift.

We Sing Songs

So in song we will sing to the people we love

“you to me are everything, the sweetest song that I could sing, Oh baby”

“All I want for Christmas is you”

“after all, you’re my wonderwall, baby, you’re gonna be the one that saves me.”

“you’re my bridge over troubled water”

“The skies above are blue
My heart was wrapped up in clovers
The night I looked at you”

“You’re just too good to be true 

‘t take my eyes off you 
You’d be like heaven to touch 
I wanna hold you so much 
At long last love has arrived 
And I thank God I’m alive 
You’re just too good to be true 
Can’t take my eyes off you”


And we will sing to this baby

“God of god, light of light”

“Veiled in flesh the godhead see, hail the incarnate deity”

“Hail the heaven-born prince of peace, hail the sun of righteousness”

“King of all the world”

“beloved and fair, Christ the Redeemer is here, saviour since thou art born”

“The prince of glory was his name”

“the everlasting Light, and the hopes and fears of all the years”

“heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign”

“Be near me Lord Jesus, I ask you to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray”


The gift this Christmas is the boy.

We sing songs, because somehow song unwraps the gift for us.


He is the friend in every lonely circumstance

He is the wisdom in every confusion

He is the sacrifice to remove every guilt

He is the price to set us free from every tyranny

He is the brother who gives us a new family

The teacher who shines light that we can see

The power who helps us become the best hopes we have for ourselves

He is the prince who has defeated evil

The king who promises justice

The love that will not let us go

The God who alone is worthy of our best


And he is given to us


As the ancient prophet put it

And urges us to see

In our prayers, our allegiance, our intention, our love

Unto us a son is born

Unto us a child is given


This Christmas, we sing

And in our singing we spot the gift

The gift is the boy