Forward with hope

Preached on: Sunday 27th December 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-12-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 2:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Sunday 27th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church


Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last weekend I was chatting with some of the tech guys about various bits and pieces including some great songs from the 80s, and so when I was listening to the music later in the week, it got me thinking: what songs would sum up 2020? This kind of thing is often done when we approach the start of a new year and so I did some research on the internet and via Braes Blether, and here’s a video with some of the ideas that came up.
(PLAY VIDEO)
Feel free to add your own ideas in the Live Chat at home. Obviously, what was shared there is meant to be slightly humorous, echoing some of the feelings that we’ve probably all felt in this past year. Music has the capacity to capture some of what we feel, and we can often link a piece of music to a particular season or event in life, and whenever we hear that music it brings back the emotion and the memories of long ago. Music can even give us a sense of articulation in what we are feeling.

Nevertheless, there have been other feelings this year, feelings of genuine isolation, of grief and loss, of anger and frustration, and of fear and worry. In the face of such emotion, no song can truly capture this; no song, can speak to the rawness of our emotions and of our pain. Because songs come and go, they’re here today and… gone tomorrow, and so don’t we need something more than a song as we reflect on 2020 and prepare to enter into the new year? I think we do, and that’s where Matthew chapter 2 comes in.

It’s a tough portion of Scripture; it’s not one we’re going to use much in Sunday School. We often forget the next part of the Christmas story – we stop at the magi bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus, because it’s cute and it’s heart-warming, and so we tend to gloss over how their story ended, that they too were forced to flee. But there is that one final part of the Christmas story, captured in what we read today: Jesus, the promised Messiah, is born in a land and at a time full of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Before He had even learnt to walk, Jesus was a homeless refugee with a price on His head.
So, what are we mean to see here today? What do we see here of the identity of Jesus and what has that got to do with us on the cusp of 2021?

Well, firstly, let’s remember what we read last Sunday: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
(Matthew 1:23)

This is Jesus, He is Immanuel, God with us and His coming into the brokenness of our world is how He will go about changing the world; the promised Messiah will not live in pomp and ease, instead He is with us. For there’s no point in Him arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; there’s no point in Him having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice. If He is to be truly… Immanuel, God with us, then He must be with us in our pain and in our brokenness; He must know what it is to live in fear, in need and in isolation.

Friends, we have more than a song, we have a Saviour who is with us in the struggles. Not that those struggles always miraculously disappear; after all, Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew real hardship, even though they also knew moments of God’s protection and provision. But God was with them and God is with us; we have more than a song, we have a Saviour, Immanuel, who is here, with us, in every moment of our brokenness.

In addition to this, our passage today also points towards something else. Because not only does Jesus experience the reality of this world, He is also the hope of this world… Three times Matthew says that Jesus is fulfilling Scripture in what happens here. But Jesus is fulfilling these Scriptures in a different way to what we read in chapter one. There Jesus was fulfilling what was predicted, but here, Jesus and the events surrounding His birth are seen as fulfilling what already happened 1,000 years before. In Matthew chapter 2, Jesus is seen as embodying once again the story of God’s people, Israel, from long ago. In the Old Testament we read that Israel went down to Egypt to seek safety and they came back under God’s protection. Likewise, Jesus finds safety among the Jewish colonies in Egypt, where His people numbered in the millions. Additionally, when the time was right, Father God brought His son Jesus safely out of Egypt and to the promised land of Israel.

What is more, the sorrow that 10 to 30 families would have experienced because of Herod’s actions, that sorrow is seen as echoing the sorrow Israel would have felt when families were scattered by the Babylonians as they took Israel into exile.

In each story, including the account of Jesus being a Nazarene, we are meant to see solidarity between the story of Jesus and the story of God’s people and in that solidarity, find hope once more. Because when those families wailed at the time of exile, the prophet Jeremiah also spoke about how God would fulfil His promises and bring life out of death and hope amidst darkness. We are meant to see in Jesus that He is the fulfilment of Israel’s story and thus that hope is still alive, because Jesus is still alive. He is the promised Messiah…
and the mission He came to fulfil will not be thwarted, He will bring life and justice and peace, He will bring freedom, and so we can have hope because of Him.

Friends, this year has been so hard, and as we enter 2021 we face a future of tighter restrictions and questions about this new strain of the virus and still we wait for things to “go back to normal”. It’s essential to know that Jesus is with us in the struggles, but we need more than as well, we need hope, we need to know that hope is still alive. And it is alive, friends, because our Saviour is alive. He is with us, not only in stories from 2,000 years ago – but in the here and now, for the babe that came at Christmas, grew to be a man, and yes He died upon a cross, but after 3 days, Father God raised Him from the dead, and so for 2,000 years this has been the testimony… and hope of the church: that Jesus conquered death, he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay, instead, Father God vindicated His sacrifice on the cross by raising Jesus to life.

Brothers and sisters, as we go into 2021, let us also look forward, look forward to a year in which Jesus will journey with us in every moment, in every season, in every high and low, because He is the Saviour who is Immanuel, God with us, for He is alive even today.

To help nurture this perspective, to help nurture this hope in us, I’d like to invite you to consider joining me in doing something this year.

It’s my practice, to start my day by reading some Scripture and thinking about its meaning for myself. Often in those moments, God speaks, bringing hope, encouragement, sometimes a challenge. On the 1st of January, I am planning to begin reading through the whole of the New Testament again, rooting myself in the accounts of Jesus and the teaching passed on to us.

So, I’d like to invite you to consider doing this with me. Later today, we’ll email out and put on our website a copy of this reading plan, and we’ll also post a copy to those on our mailing list. The reading plan gives you something to read five days a week and then some questions to think about, as a means of meeting with God. Because if we want to be a people who keep our faith in Jesus, who have hope because of Jesus, and who know Jesus…
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with us in our struggles, then the testimony of Christians across the ages is that we need to be regularly in the Scriptures. And maybe if we do this, and do this as a community, then we might also find support and encouragement from one another, and together, stay connected to Jesus, knowing that He is alive and journeying with us in all the struggles of life, not only in 2020 but forevermore.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Advent: welcome and secure

Preached on: Sunday 20th December 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-12-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:18-25
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1v18-25 (NIV)
Sunday 19th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls – adults even: what makes you feel secure? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that, talk about it at home, or even put it up in the Live Chat.
(PAUSE)

I wonder what came to mind for you. Maybe it was family – the security of loved ones being close and able to listen or help. Maybe it is our homes – we might have a chair, or a room, where we feel especially safe. It could be…
holding our favourite teddy or being wrapped up in a blanket you’ve had for years. Maybe we feel secure because of the things in our homes or the plans that we have. We all find safety and security in a range of places and ways, and some will be common to us, whilst others are unique because they hold a special place in our lives.

Do you remember boys and girls who we read about in our story today? We didn’t read about the story of the stable, like in this nativity scene, but we did read about some of the people we see here. We heard the names…Mary, Joseph and Jesus. And who else was in the story? Who else came and visited Joseph? Can you remember? Joseph was visited by…an angel. I don’t have wooden one of those yet for my nativity scene, but here’s one from my Christmas tree.
Our Bible story today reminded us of the beginning, the genesis, of the story about Jesus the Messiah. Mary was engaged to Joseph – they were going to get married. In that culture, as soon as you were engaged you were seen as married, even though for a whole year Mary and Joseph still lived with their parents, rather than together.

But during that time, Mary became pregnant, she was expecting a little baby. We know from other stories in the Bible that Mary had went to visit her cousin Elizabeth for about 3 months, so it’s possible that the story we read today is when Mary is about 4 months pregnant, and she’s maybe starting to show a little – not enough for everyone to notice, but enough that Joseph, and maybe some close family or friends are aware as well.

So, Joseph thinks that Mary is expecting someone else’s baby, not his baby, and wonders if he should call off the marriage, rather than going ahead. But then, the angel appears, and that angel says: ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (v20-21)

What Joseph experiences and hears is enough to convince him, and so he does what the angel says to do, even though Jesus is actually the son of Mary and the son of God, by the work of the Holy Spirit. Even though this is the case, Joseph chooses to take Mary home as his wife and Joseph chooses to name Jesus. These were two very public actions and they made Jesus the son of Joseph…
These actions meant that Jesus was adopted by Joseph.

And that’s important because when Joseph adopted Jesus as his son, that made Jesus heir to the promises God made to King David – Jesus became part of the legal family line, that traced his way from David, to Solomon, all the way down to Joseph and then to Jesus. To adopt Jesus, was a big step for Joseph – he was making a choice that would be for the rest of his life, because when we adopt someone, we are saying that they are welcome into our family forever, and there’s no going back, there’s no changing our minds – it’s irreversible, it’s forever, they are secure in our family.

Boys and girls, we often talk about church being like a family, and that’s been very important this past year…
because we’ve needed extra help, and at times we’ve felt alone, and other times we’ve maybe even felt a little bit scared.

But, why is the church like a family? Who’s family are we? I’m going to put up three pictures on screen and I wonder if you can guess which family, we’re a part of, OK? So, are we a part of the royal family? Or, are we part of the Peter Rabbit family? Or, are we part of God’s family? I’ll give you a few seconds to think about this. The correct answer is…we’re part of God’s family, that’s right, well done! We are part of God’s family and it was made possible because Jesus came as a baby at Christmas.

The story of Jesus, and what He sought to achieve, is a story of family, of adoption – Joseph chooses to…
adopt Jesus; Jesus chooses to adopt human form, God took on human flesh; and this was all done so that Jesus could extend the family of God. From all eternity there was the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and in love for this world they wanted to include others, they wanted you and me to be part of their family.

But because of sin, that doesn’t happen straight away. We each need to make a choice, the choice to allow Father God to adopt us into His family. Joseph made a choice to adopt Jesus; Jesus made a choice to adopt human form; and we need to make a choice as well, the choice to allow Father God to adopt us into His family.

I wonder friends, have we each made that choice? Have we come to God and said “yes, I want to be part…
of Your family!” – have we said that, or something like it? Because if we haven’t, and if we do not have an identity as adopted children of God, then we may feel even more adrift, overwhelmed or alone; we may feel that it all rests on us – on our plans, on the stuff we can get, the money we can make. But if we know ourselves as adopted children of God, if being part of God’s family is more than turning up to church or being “religious”, then with that identity can come a security because then we can become confident of God’s welcome, His rescue and presence, and the value we have to Him.

Friends, this Advent season, may we each make the choice to allow Father God to welcome us into His family, because when He adopts us, there’s no going back, He won’t change His mind – it’s irreversible, it’s forever…
and so as the Apostle Paul once said:

‘…I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’
(Romans 9:38-39)

I pray that we may remember the babe who came that we might be adopted into His family line and so be secure in Him forever. May it be so. Amen.

Advent: welcome and remembered

Preached on: Sunday 10th December 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-12-13 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:12-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:12-17
Sunday 13th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What are some of your favourite memories of Christmas? When you think back over the years, what comes to mind? I remember decorating the tree with mum and dad, as well as Christmas card deliveries with the Scout Post and hiding behind the sofa with one of my sisters for some strange reason that I don’t recall. Feel free to share in the Live Chat at home some of your own favourite Christmas memories.

In our Advent series so far, we’ve seen in the genealogy of Jesus that God welcomes us into His family – He welcomes one and all, indeed, all the nations, for none are written off; no matter our brokenness or personal story, the welcome of God is extended to each of us. And when we accept that welcome, when we choose to repent and find our identity in Jesus, then a journey with God begins, a journey whereby God rewrites our future, and weaves our story into His greater story, and as part of that He sends us out with the good news of Jesus.

But Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus is not the only genealogy within the New Testament. In fact, the gospel of Luke contains one as well. Yet, if you compare the two side by side, there are very significant differences because they each miss out people that the other writer… mentions. The issue is further complicated within Matthew’s genealogy, in that there are three sets of fourteen generations, but there’s no way that this accounts for the length of time inferred here. So, what’s going on? Are Matthew and Luke being forgetful? Is Matthew simply glossing over gaps in his memory?

Well, these are not new questions – people have asked them over many generations and commentators have helped us realise that there are two things to bear in mind. Firstly, when we read today, that ‘Jacob was the father of Joseph…’ (v16) we take it very literally, in a biological and genetic kind of way, which creates a problem when we read in Luke’s gospel that ‘Joseph, [was] the son of Heli…’ (4:23). So, is Joseph, Jacob or Heli’s son? The answer is – both.
Because in the Greek language that the New Testament was written, the phrase, ‘the father of…’ in Matthew’s gospel, can mean ‘the ancestor of…’ and it was a phrase used of relationships that were not genetic, such as between a rabbi and his disciple.

But something else is going on as well, and what Matthew is recording here is the line of succession to the royal throne, the ‘official’ genealogy. This would not necessarily pass from father to son, but would still remain within the family. Matthew is helping us see the legal claim that Jesus has to the throne, where as the genealogy within Luke, focuses on the physical family line. So, neither Matthew or Luke are having memory problems. Indeed, the individuals listed by Matthew in
that final portion, are largely unknown to us,…
there are no records of their lives within the Scriptures, as compared to most of the individuals listed before the exile. Yet, we know that certain cultures of the time, and particularly the Jews, were fastidious in keeping family records and so both Matthew and Luke are drawing upon this to fill in the gaps, so that a record, a memory of the genealogy of Jesus might be known and never lost.

We started this series with the aim of learning more about the identity of Jesus and so more of our identity as people who are in Christ, people who follow Him. So, how does what we now know, aid us? What we do we learn here of the identity of Jesus and of ourselves?

Well, I think our portion of Scripture today is a call to remember, to remember that God has revealed Himself… in history, that the Christian faith is a historical faith, rooted in real people and real acts of God within history. The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae and said: ‘The Son is the image of the invisible God…For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him…’ (Colossians 1:15, 19)

Jesus is more than just a good teacher, or an above average human being; He’s even more than simply a legal and physical descendant of Abraham and David. Jesus is, in fact, God in the flesh and such a claim is no mere thing because the claim of Scripture, the claim of the Christian faith, is that Jesus is unique and uniquely qualified to fulfil the promises made to Abraham and to David because He is God in the flesh, appearing in history in Jesus. We are called to remember this and in our remembering to trust.
Because in our day of fake news and relative truth, as well as amidst the struggles of life, there is so much which can undermine our trust in Jesus, there is so much which can undermine the uniqueness of Jesus and make Him seem like a myth or just some wishful thought. But we are to remember, to remember that the God of all creation came in human form, in the person of Jesus, and stepped into history that we might know Him and trust Him, both in this life and for the life to come.

I wonder, friends, do you need to remember this? Is your faith wavering? Has it been undermined this past year? Are you facing a future or a decision, and in the midst of facing it, do you need to remember the truth, the reality, that God stepped into history, through Jesus, so that you could have a relationship with God, today and forever?
Maybe God is calling you to remember, to remember what He done in the past, in Jesus, and so to trust Him now for what lies ahead.

There is also something else we can take away from this portion of the genealogy of Jesus. Not only are we to remember, but God remembers as well. In our passage today, there is, as I said, a list of names which we know very little about – most of these individuals are unknown, largely forgotten, lost in the sands of time. But they are remembered by God. He chose to have these names written down in the Scriptures. These people are not unfamiliar to Him, they are not overlooked by Him. Instead, they are known, they are seen, they are remembered by God.

This is something that also comes across in other parts of the genealogy, for as we saw in earlier weeks, within the family line of Jesus are a number of foreigners and most of them are women. Their names are Rahab, Tamar, Ruth and Bathsheba, and it’s very unusual to see the names of women listed in a genealogy from this period of time. It would have been startling to people of the day, for in both Greek and Jewish culture a woman had no legal rights, yet this is a legal record. What is more, women were often seen more like a thing, than a person, and a Jewish man would thank God each day that he had not been created a slave, a Gentile or a woman – and yet there are four such women listed in the genealogy of Jesus, because God sees, He knows, He remembers.

I wonder, do you need to hear this about God today: that He sees you, He knows you intimately, and He has not, and will never, forget you. In all that you are facing, He has not taken His eye off of you and you haven’t slipped His mind.

And what if you, or a loved one, are affected by one of the many conditions that affect memory – either, your memory or theirs? What does it mean that God remembers? Well, in the midst of changes and losses which are so painful, and when it seems that our, or their, sense of self – their identity – as we have known it, is literally vanishing before our eyes, to know that God remembers is to know that He holds the memory of our true self in Him, and so we will never, ever, be forgotten and one day our true selves will be restored.
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Brothers and sisters, God sees you, He knows you and He will always, always, remember you. In the midst of whatever you may be facing, you are not forgotten, for you and all this world, are so dear to Him that He came as a babe at Christmas, entering into history, that we might know His welcome into His family, the family of Jesus.

I pray that this season of Advent will not only be a time to recall our fond memories of Christmas, but to remember God and His welcome shown in Jesus, in whom we are called to place our trust, for He is God in the flesh, and He sees you, remembers you and loves you. May it be so. Amen.

Advent: welcome and re-storied

Preached on: Sunday 6th December 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-12-06 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:6b-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:6b-11
Sunday 6th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I wonder what Christmas films you’re looking forward to watching in the coming weeks? Do you have a family tradition of watching a particular film each year? Maybe it’s ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Elf’, ‘Meet me in St Louis’ or even ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’ – there’s so many to choose from! Why don’t you put up your favourite in the Live Chat.

In each of these there is a story of fortunes overcome, struggles faced, and battles won. Often the stories we go back to, are those that are stories of change, of freedom, of redemption and a new life, a new future secured.

Last week, we began a new sermon series that will see us through to the end of December, focusing on the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, which began with these words: ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ (v1) We dug in to some of the names and titles here: Messiah, David and Abraham. We saw that Jesus was the fulfilment of promises made long ago by God and that the initial people listed by Matthew show the welcome of God to one and all, that no one is written off. In those opening verses, we saw more of the identity of Jesus…
as the promised Messiah but also the identity we are to have: followers of Jesus, who are welcomed into the family of God and sent out to invite others to share in this good news as well.

Today we move on to the next portion of the genealogy and as you look over that list – as you take a wide-angle view of who you find there – what do you see? I see story after story filled with dysfunction. In the family line of Jesus there are a lot of skeletons in the cupboard!

Many of the individuals listed here were wicked kings of Israel and Judah, and even going back to last week’s portion of the genealogy, we find broken people there as well: Jacob who was a deceiver and thief; Judah who sold his brother into slavery; David who was an adulterer… and murderer; Tamar who engaged in incest; Rahab who was a prostitute. Time and time again, the individuals listed here are not the folks you would expect to have in the family line of the Messiah; the people here – both this week and last – are flawed, weak-willed, selfish individuals with some seriously shady stories. A real bunch of misfits.

So, what are we to make of this list? What are we meant to see about the family line of Jesus? Well, first off, I think it shows, once again, the welcome of God, but this time amidst all of our brokenness. Because not only does the family line of Jesus have a back story, we each have a story as well. In each of our lives, there is brokenness, there is imperfection, and still God calls us home to Himself and He is ready to welcome us.
One author, Brennan Manning, wrote: ‘The heart of Jesus [which is the heart of God] loves us as we are and not as we should be, beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity. He loves us…without caution, regret, boundary, limit or breaking point.’

This is the love of God for you and for me. This is the welcome of God extended to you and to me. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God loves you and is ready to welcome you home into His family. Just look at the list of individuals in the family line of Jesus – and yet
God chooses, Jesus chooses, to be born into that particular family line. God knew what was coming, none of their stories took Him by surprise, and yet He still chose to identify with them, to become part of that family line.
Friends, as another author put it: ‘the grace of God is…lavish, excessive, outrageous and scandalous. God’s grace is ridiculously inclusive. Apparently God doesn’t care who He loves. He is not very careful about the people He calls His friends or the people He calls [family]…the grace of God is indiscriminate, foolish, impractical, unrealistic, crazy and naïve.’

I also wonder, friends, I wonder what’s in your story– I wonder what you are facing just now, or what you have faced in the past – and whether it has sown a seed of doubt about whether God would ever welcome you home, whether God would ever delight in you and value you? I wonder if there are skeletons in your cupboard, which maybe you keep hidden from others, and maybe even try to keep hidden from God?…
Well you don’t need to, and you don’t need to doubt – because we see in Jesus the welcome of God and His love of broken people, like you and me.

Friends, this advent season, do you know the welcome of God? Do you know His grace? All of us are broken, all of us are flawed, just like the individuals in the family line of Jesus – all of us are undeserving, we’re all on the same level – and yet we are all welcomed home as well. (P)

Nevertheless, the grace of God is not only there to welcome us, but to save us, to redeem us, to restore, even re-story our lives. You see, the people in the family line of Jesus were broken people – like you and me – but they were broken people because of sin, because of a deep darkness and sickness that is in each of us…
Jesus came, not only to reveal the welcome and grace of God, but to do something about our underlying condition. In fact, it’s so key to the identity of Jesus that it’s part of His name. Matthew began by saying:
‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah …’ (v1)

To us, a name is little more than just a word, but in the culture of the time a name carried meaning, and ‘Jesus’ meant ‘the Lord saves’ and as we’ll see in a few weeks’ time the angel also said to Joseph: ‘[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mt. 1:21)

God not only wants to welcome us, He wants to save us, He wants to restore and re-story our lives, in fact He wishes to do this for the whole of creation…
When Matthew says, ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus…’ the original Greek literally reads: ‘This is the book of the genesis of Jesus…’ and that would have made the Jewish readers of Matthew’s time think about the start of the Old Testament, where God began another ‘genesis’, the genesis of creation itself. Matthew is trying to tell us that the coming of Jesus is a new beginning, a new creation, a new genesis and that this is for all the nations, for all broken, sinful people. This coming Messiah came to save, to restore, to re-story our lives and the whole of creation. The Apostle Paul would one day say, ‘…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Cor. 5:17)

Friends, Father God accepts you as you are – back story and all – but now as part of His family, part of the family…

line of Jesus, He wants to re-story your life, weaving a future – your future story – into the great and cosmic story of what He was up to at Christmas: that Jesus, the Messiah, had come to bring about a new creation, starting with the broken people of this world.

Friends, your past, your back story, doesn’t need to define who you are or your identity or your value or your future – because Jesus came to save, to restore, to restory your life and mine. I will never tire of retelling my story, of how God broke into my life at the time when the darkness of my soul had gone too far. And in that moment, I met with the grace and welcome of God – He welcomed me as I was, but since then, He has re-storied my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in all the world.
Maybe you’re wondering: how can I know the welcome and grace of God? How can I let God re-story my life and save me? Well, later in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus began teaching about the kingdom of God, He said this:
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
(Matthew 4:17)

Repent. That’s how we let Jesus re-story our lives. It’s more than simply saying sorry. To repent, is to have your thinking changed about Jesus that it affects the core of who you are and how you live your life. When you repent truly, you make the choice to follow Jesus – His teaching, His ways, His example – you seek to follow Him first and before all. Now, you won’t get it perfect, because none of us are, we’re still broken. But if there is genuine repentance, then there should also be a desire in us…
to allow Jesus to shape and lead our lives.

Friends, if we want saved, if we want our lives restored and re-storied, such that we know the welcome and grace of God, then it always begins with humbling ourselves – repenting – and calling out to Him for help. If we do that, then God always responds, He always welcomes home anyone – no matter their story – God welcomes home such a person to be part of His family.

Brothers and sisters, every season of Advent is a time to remember the greatest of stories – not captured often by Hollywood – and yet, in this story, the story of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, we find a story of struggles faced, and battles won, a story of change, of freedom, of redemption and new life. Because…
in the story of Jesus, in His family line, we see the grace of God extended to broken humanity and the invitation for us all to find ourselves in His family, becoming a new creation and so having our futures re-storied.

I pray that each of us, whether for the first time, or the hundredth time, may we all repent and come into the life that can only be found in Jesus. May it be so. Amen.

Advent: welcome and sent

Preached on: Sunday 29th November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-29 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:1-6a
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:1-6a
Sunday 29th November 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Introduction to series
Today we begin a new series that will see us through to the end of the year. But first, here’s a question for you to think about or engage with in the Live Chat: how far back can you trace your family history? I know my dad has done some work on this and there’s also that TV programme which helps people trace their family line. At times something unexpected arises, a revelation that impacts the identity of those living today.

Over the next three sermons we’re going to focus on the genealogy of Jesus, as found at the start of Matthew’s gospel. The genealogy is structured with three sets of fourteen generations and we’ll take one set each week. Often when we read this list of names we find it dull and a bit odd, we don’t really see the relevance of it.
But in Jesus’ day, and at the time when Matthew wrote this gospel, having the genealogy of Jesus written down, spelt out, would have been impressive, exciting, compelling for the people of their day because it revealed the roots of Jesus, it revealed His identity.

As we journey through Advent, my hope is that we will not only become familiar with the identity of Jesus, but that our own identity might be matured as well. Because when we place our faith in Jesus, when we identify as people who follow Him, then as the New Testament tells us, we are “in Christ” – we share in who He was and what He was about – in truth, our identity becomes entwinned with His identity, because we are now part of the family of God. So, let us open our Bibles and hear today’s passage read for us but Norma Thompson. (PAUSE) Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Matthew’s tracing of the family line of Jesus began with these words:
‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ (v1)

With so few words, Matthew would have grabbed the attention of his original readers, because he is making big claims about Jesus: Matthew is claiming that Jesus is not only descended from Abraham and David, …
but that the promises given to these individuals, and the hopes that God’s people had kept alive for hundreds of years, Matthew is claiming that in Jesus these promises, these hopes, are now being fulfilled. So, let’s briefly see what those promises were.

To Abraham, God had said:
‘I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. …and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’
(Genesis 12:2-3)

With Abraham, God initiated a plan to bless all peoples, all nations, to bring them back into relationship with Himself and so be part of His kingdom and know the life that can only come through a relationship with the living God.

But the Lord also made a promise to David, we read:
‘“…when your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom…I will be his father, and he shall be my son…my love will never be taken away from him…Your house and your kingdom shall endure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”’
(2 Samuel 7:12, 14-16)

An incredible promise, a promise that had seemed to be lost, or unfulfilled for so long, and yet the people continued to wait for a son of David to be born. We saw in our last series in Isaiah, several of the prophecies given by God, confirming to His people that He would fulfil this promise: that a King would come and in time this individual came to be known as the Messiah, the Anointed One, or in the Greek, Christos, from which we get the title Christ.

So, when Matthew says: ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ – this is a very loaded statement and part of Matthew’s purpose in detailing the family line is to affirm and validate the identity of Jesus: He is Messiah, the Christ; He is heir to the promises of David and of Abraham.
But, what does that mean for us? For you and me? Well, we need to understand that Jesus – who He was, what He was about, the message He conveyed and the ministry He carried out – all of this was so vast, so multi-layered, multi-faceted that none of the gospel writers could weave everything together, so they each sought to capture a perspective on Jesus, a perspective that spoke to the needs and concerns of a particular audience.

Now, these perspectives do not conflict – it’s like seeing a diamond from different angles, with it’s different faces and cuts, yet each perspective allows us to appreciate the overall beauty and significance. It’s the same with Jesus, for in Matthew’s gospel we find a focus on the “Kingdom of heaven” and the “son of David”. Again and again,
Matthew uses language…
to get us thinking about the kingdom of God and the rule of Jesus. But Matthew’s focus on this, is not only in reference to historical promises being fulfilled in Jesus – Matthew also knows that following Jesus, identifying with Him and His family line, is to identify with the Kingdom of God and the rule of Jesus in your own life and as a community of faith. To follow Jesus, within Matthew’s gospel, is to recognise Him as King and ourselves as His subjects and ambassadors. To have faith in Jesus, is to confess Jesus as King of kings and actively seek the extension of His Kingdom. So, it’s no surprise that Matthew concludes his gospel with these words:
‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have
commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:18-20)
You may still be wondering: how does this relate to us? Well, firstly – you are welcome; you are welcome into the Kingdom of God for God delights in you. For a long time, Israel misunderstood its place and its role, becoming very insular, writing others off. But God always had a plan that was for all the nations, for all peoples – we saw that in the promises made to Abraham and in the verses we read today, we see mention of three women – and I’ll say more about them in the coming weeks – but for now, let’s notice that Tamar, Ruth, Rahab and probably even Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, were all foreigners. They were Gentiles, outsiders, usually excluded, ostracised, unwelcome. But they are named in the family line of
Jesus to help us see the all-embracing love of God; we see His welcome to the nations, to one and all, to any who will come to Him in faith through Jesus.

I wonder, do you know this welcome, friends? Do you know the affirmation of God? You may not because you are not yet following Jesus, and if that’s you, then God extends His welcome to you as well and all you need to do is come in faith to Him through Jesus. Friends, when you know the welcome of God, it changes your life because you realise you’re not written off, you are valued, you are precious to God, He truly delights in You and wants You to know a place in His family, through faith in Jesus. Friends, do you know the welcome of God?

But what if you do know the welcome of God? What if you do follow Jesus and part of your identity is having faith in the One who is Messiah, the promised King? Well, if that’s you brothers and sisters, then let me ask: in our day-to-day lives, in the life of our congregation, where… is our focus? What is our priority? Is it the Kingdom of God? So, for example, we are exploring our future place with the seven Braes churches coming together as a Hub – is our focus on the Kingdom of God, or is it upon our building and our future as Brightons? As a congregation, do we have an identity defined by the Kingdom of God?

Or on a personal level, are you sharing in the great commission, given to all of us who follow Jesus? We saw, in the verses from Matthew 28, that we’re all sent to make disciples of the nations; each of us is personally called by Jesus to be His ambassador. Is that part of your identity? Because it’s not optional, it’s not for a select few; everyone who claims to follow Jesus is called to make Him known and extend His kingdom.
So, here’s an easy first step, to help us all grow in our identity as ambassadors of the Kingdom of God. In the next couple of weeks, our church Christmas card will be coming out, but due to restrictions we’re not delivering to the whole parish. Instead, each church household will receive two cards – one for yourself and another to give away, that you might invite someone to watch or attend a service over the festive period. This is a really simple way of extending the welcome of God to another person and playing your part within the Kingdom of God as His ambassador.

I pray that over this time of Advent, we will see more clearly the identity of Jesus and grow in our identity as people who are in Christ: welcomed and sent out.
May it be so. Amen.

Called to Give Our Lives away

Preached on: Sunday 30th August 2020
No sermon text is available.
Bible references: Matthew 20:20-28
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Called to Maturity

Preached on: Sunday 16th August 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-08-16-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Matthew 15:10-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 15:10-20 (NIV)
Sunday 16th August 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

A few weeks ago, we began this new series where we are turning to a few moments in the book of Matthew where Jesus called people to Himself. Specifically, we were looking to see what these encounters might teach us about being church together, that we might then have clarity about the why, the what and the how of church life, both in this time of lockdown and when we start back with some of our more normal activities. So, what ideas or teaching or values of Jesus might guide us in this time and in the future?
Well, we’ve seen that Jesus invites us into relationship with Himself, He invites us also into His purpose, and Jesus invites us into family, His family, the family of God.
With regard to purpose, we turned to the Church Without Walls Report, which said that the core purpose of the church is ‘to invite, encourage and enable people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’ Today I want to explore one idea for how we may enable people to be disciples of Jesus.

Boys and girls, you’ve had a big week this week – schools and nurseries have started back, and it was lovely to see so many of your pictures. I’m sure your folks have even got pictures of last year, and so they can see how much you’ve grown and matured. Today is also our Moving Up Service, which is a time of year where we mark your development, your maturing, within the church family.
I wonder, adults in our congregations, as we see our young people mature, moving up the school years, moving up the Sunday School groups, how do we hope to see them mature? What hopes do we have for them?
Let’s take a minute to think or talk about that at home.
(PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with, feel free to put it in the Live Chat. Do we hope for our young people to achieve a path towards work and fulfilment? Maybe we also hope for them to find love, or stay active in our church family? On the issue of faith, do our hopes for our young people include more than Sunday attendance, or even more than diligence in reading the Bible or prayer? Our passage today speaks to these hopes, but it will also ask some tough questions about our own faith.
Jesus is with the disciples, surrounded by a crowd, and surrounded also by the religious leaders and teachers of His time. They’ve asked some thorny, difficult questions, and after answering them Jesus calls the crowd to Himself. He says, ‘What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’ (v11) Now, it may sound odd to us, or if we’ve grown up in the church, it may sound a bit obvious. But to the folks of the day, this was radical teaching, because they put so much focus on external things, on the rules and regulations of their religion, such that they forgot the issues of the heart.

A little later on the disciples ask Jesus for an explanation of His teaching and Jesus says, ‘…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts…’ (v18-19) This echoed His earlier teaching, where He said, ‘For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’ (Matt. 12:34) I’m sure many of us can think of people whose words reveal the condition of their heart; words of comfort and encouragement from a heart of love; yet in another, words of criticism or judgment from a heart that is wounded or bitter.

In all of this, Jesus wants to help His disciples realise that following Him includes having their hearts changed, maturing in His likeness. Jesus had also earlier said, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48) Not that He expects us to reach perfection, but that we would grow in the likeness of our heavenly Father.
This would have shocked the people around Jesus – to them, maturity was about being religious, about duty, about stringent keeping of the rules. They had forgotten, or not been taught, that God is concerned with who we are on the inside, in our heart, and that until the heart is changed, external acts which seem good or tick the religious box, will never suffice. Jesus wanted to help the people see that following Him, being His disciple, is much more than superficial, outward displays of religion – instead Jesus had come to show that the outward acts are meant to flow from a changed heart.

So, let’s go back to those hopes we have for our young people. Did you mention this? Did you mention the idea of them having a relationship with Jesus, and through that relationship the character of Jesus being matured in them? Or did we simply list ideas such as going to church, reading their bible, praying, serving other people? These things are not bad things of course, and in the doing of them we hope that young people will connect with Jesus. Yet the danger is that we simply pass onto them a list of traditions, expectations, religious acts, such that they think this is all that makes up Christianity. Is this what we are passing on to the next generation?

If we are, if this is what we tend towards, could it suggest that this is all we think it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
Have we reduced our faith to a list of things to be done? Or is there more to our faith? Can we speak of a relationship with Jesus which changes our hearts, and so our lives?

I’ve thoroughly valued the Testimony Tuesday evenings we’ve had so far, and if you’ve not watched them yet, then you can do so on our YouTube Channel or listen to the latest recording via our phone line. In every one, there have been stories about how God has changed people’s lives and we’ll be having another Testimony Tuesday on the 8th of September. If you would be willing to share something of your faith story, then please let me know. Specifically, it would be helpful to hear about recent things God has been doing – maybe something He has spoken to you about from the Bible, maybe an idea He has given you, or something He has prompted you to do. Now I’m willing to accept any story, but if there were any recent examples, I’d love to hear them – because if following Jesus is more than just a list of rules, if it’s more than turning on YouTube on a Sunday morning, then every one of us who calls our self a “Christian” should have something to share. We should be able to share how God is changing us now, from the inside out, how Jesus is helping us mature as His disciples, children who are growing up in the family likeness. I could name 2 or 3 areas just now where God working on my heart, leading me, maturing me. The areas of justice are particularly at the forefront of my thinking these past weeks, both for the poor and with regard to racial relations.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised, if some of you said that this is not part of your faith; that you don’t know how God is wanting you to mature, or even how He might do that. This takes me back to the word ‘enable’ – that part of the core purpose of the church: ‘to enable people to be disciple of Jesus’. Sadly, for generations, the church has
not done well at this, the church has often focused on ticking the external religious acts, but has not shown people a way of living in relationship with Jesus such that our hearts change. We need to do better at this. We need to find ways, as a group of churches, to enable people to follow Jesus, beyond simple religious observance, and into a way of life which matures the heart. Our young people today are not interested in ticking religious boxes. And there are many generations in our society, who write off the church, because of hypocrisy, or of an air of religious superiority, since they do not see the character of Jesus maturing and being evident in our lives.

Friends, in this time of restriction, in this season of change, with our hopes of our children, with our hopes for the future of our churches, I hope, I pray, that we never return to a faith which is focused on a list of things to be done. Rather, may we invest now, may we pursue now, and in the future, a following after Jesus, which changes our hearts, maturing us in His likeness.

May it be so. Amen.