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Remembering Prince Philip

We are remembering Prince Philip who lived a very long and active life. His early years were difficult when, following a coup d’état in 1922, the Greek royal family into which he was born was forced into exile. In 1930 his mother was hospitalised with a serious psychiatric illness. In 1939, at the age of 18, he entered the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth and was on active service in the Royal Navy throughout World War II. In 1941, when serving on HMS Valiant in the Mediterranean Fleet, he was involved in the battle of Matapan against the Italian fleet and was mentioned in dispatches.

Following his marriage to Princess Elizabeth in 1947, and then the death of her father, George VI, in 1952, his life took a new direction as he became consort to his wife, Queen Elizabeth II. At her coronation he was the first to swear allegiance to her promising to be her “liege man of life and limb.” For nearly 70 years he faithfully fulfilled his promise, accompanying his wife on many public engagements all over the world and always walking at least two steps behind her. On their golden wedding anniversary in 1997 the Queen said, “He has, quite simply, been my main strength and stay all these years.”

Prince Philip’s long and varied life was characterised by committed service to the Queen, to his adopted country and to the countries of the Commonwealth. Each year he fulfilled an average of more than 370 personal engagements, excluding those accompanying the Queen, and also accompanied the Queen on all her 251 official overseas visits. He took a particular interest in young people. In 1956 he established the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme to introduce young people to physical, skills-based and community challenges. More than 4 million young people from over 90 countries have taken part in the scheme. Prince Philip retired from public duty in August 2017 at the age of 96.

The Prince has now passed into eternity. In heaven people from all nations and tribes stand before the throne of God and before the Lamb and cry out in a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” No one is there because of what they did in this life but because of what Jesus, the supreme Servant, did for them. He is in the centre of the throne and is the focus of heaven’s worship because he came to this earth not to be served, as was his right, but “to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.”

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I want the best for you

On 26 September 2018 Amber Guyger, a Dallas policewoman, returned to her apartment building after a 14-hour shift. Still in her uniform and in a state she later described as “autopilot”, she entered the wrong flat. She lived at flat 1378 but went into flat 1478, one floor above hers, where Botham Jean, a black accountant, lived. The door was unlocked, and Botham was sitting on the sofa eating ice cream. Thinking he was an intruder, Amber drew her gun, and shot him twice, intending to kill him.

When giving evidence, she wept and said, “I ask God for forgiveness. I hate myself every single day. I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life. I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.” The mostly black jury of eight women and four men convicted her of murder. She could have been sentenced to life in prison but received 10 years. Protesters outside the court building were outraged by the lenient sentence.

After sentence had been passed Brandt Jean, Botham’s 18-year-old brother, told Amber, “If you truly are sorry, I forgive you. And I know, if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you. I’m speaking for myself, but I love you just like anyone else. I don’t wish anything bad on you. I want the best for you, I don’t even want you to go to jail, because I know that that’s exactly what Botham would want, and the best is to give your life to Christ.” Then he asked the judge if he could hug his brother’s killer and embraced Amber for about a minute. It was an act of Christian forgiveness that brought tears to many eyes.

Botham’s mother Allison said she had no idea that Brandt was going to hug the killer. She, too, spoke of forgiving Amber but said, “I don’t want forgiveness to be mistaken for a total relinquishing of responsibility.”

The response of the Jean family to the tragic death of Botham illustrates the importance of both justice and forgiveness. How can our sins, that deserve to be punished, be forgiven by God? When Jesus died on the cross he both satisfied the just demands of God’s law and also opened the way for us to be forgiven. One hymn says, “Here is love, vast as the ocean, loving kindness as the flood, when the Prince of Life, our ransom, shed for us his precious blood. Grace and love, like mighty rivers, poured incessant from above, and heaven’s peace and perfect justice kissed a guilty world in love.”

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Aung San Suu Kyi is released

In the past week a number of people have been released from captivity. The Burmese military authorities released the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest. The Nobel Peace Prize winner had been detained for 15 of the past 21 years. Soon after her release she spoke of the need for unity and said that she felt no resentment against the authorities who had imprisoned her. Throughout her imprisonment she has acted with great grace and dignity.

A few days later Paul and Rachel Chandler, who had been held for 13 months by Somali pirates, were also released. It was reported that two factors contributed to their release: the payment of ransoms and the benevolent intervention of the Somali community, both in the UK and in Somalia.

The release of these people is good news. The stories stand out against the background of the troubles afflicting so many people in the world today. They also remind us of some of the key themes in the good news of God’s gracious intervention into our world through his Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus suffered and was shamefully treated by both the secular and religious powers of his day. He was denied justice and condemned to death. Throughout his sufferings he was calm and gracious and, even when he was on the Cross, prayed “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

His died, not because he had done wrong, but for the sins of the world. He stood in our place and endured the punishment our sins deserve. He came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. He paid the price of our sins. He satisfied the righteous demands of God in order that all who trust in him as their Saviour may be forgiven and go free.

Each one of us is a prisoner to our sinful nature. We do not have the power to change our lives for the better. Our whole lives bear witness to the fact that we have broken God’s law. In Jesus Christ we can find forgiveness and the strength to live a new life. He said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” As one hymn says, “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; he, to rescue me from danger, interposed his precious blood.”