True Rest

Preached on: Sunday 9th July 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 23-07-09 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 11:28-12:14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Come to Jesus truly
– Learn the heart of Jesus
-Learn the way of Jesus

Teacher (evening)

Preached on: Sunday 30th April 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 7:24-29
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus as Teacher/Rabbi
– We need to know the voice of Jesus
– Jesus leads us into truth


Preached on: Sunday 1st January 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this message.
Bible references: Matthew 2:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Why do we come to church?
– Upset by the message
– Unfair message
– Who do we worship?


Waiting for restoration

Preached on: Sunday 27th November 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-11-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoint:
– Waiting for restoration
– Waiting with hope
– Waiting with watchfulness


Who’s counting?

Preached on: Sunday 16th October 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Numbers 1:1-4, 17-19, 45-50 & Matthew 28:16-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Gathering
– Giving
– Groups

If like me you’re a fan of tennis and, in particular, Andy Murray, you’ll understand why I say that as long as he is winning it’s a joy to watch but as soon as the score is not going his way well, I don’t know about you, but I often have to leave the room. I can’t bear the tension.

In any sport from football or rugby to ice hockey, cricket to tennis, if you don’t count the goals, the tries, the runs or the points, you don’t know who’s winning.

Well, what about the church? How can you tell who’s winning in the church?

I can remember when every Church of Scotland had to count the number of people attending communion at least once annually and send it into Presbytery who in turn sent it in to 121 and that exercise was supposed to be a good way of keeping count of how many people attend a church regularly. So, someone who is in church every Sunday for example but happened to miss the twice or thrice yearly communion because they were away on holiday or they were unwell, well, they were counted as a non-attender whereas someone could roll up once a year just to keep their name on the congregational role and be counted as regularly attending. What a piece of nonsense! Thankfully, those days are gone.

We need to be wise when it comes to counting numbers in church. Obsessing over numbers as a so-called measure of success can cause wrongful pride. Which church do you go to? Oh, I go to !!!!!!!! church. Oh, how many people go on a Sunday? Um, just a few. Oh well, I go to Brightons Church and every Sunday there’s at least 200 in church.

I/we wish. Well, sometimes anyway!

Rural congregations, for example, have no opportunity whatsoever to gather in that kind of number of people. But we can go too far in the opposite direction, if we dismiss keeping numbers, keeping track of numbers all together.

Interestingly, in his book Anatomy of a Revived Church, consultant Tom Rayner discovered, completely unexpectedly, and I might add, that revitalized congregations were counting. They were keeping track of their numbers.

So, continuing the series based on this book that Scott began two Sundays back, and I’m doing what I’m told Scott, if you’re watching this morning, we come to Who’s Counting?, that’s the title of my sermon, Who’s Counting?, and we begin firstly with Gathering.

Now, just in case anyone is thinking this isn’t very biblical can I remind you of our first reading from the Old Testament that Margo read to us. Numbers is called Numbers, in English it’s not known as that, in the Hebrew but it’s known as Numbers in the English translations because it takes its title from the first few verses. As Margo read to us, we heard that, instructed by The Lord, Moses was told ‘You and Aaron are to number by their divisions, all the men in Israel 20 years old or more who are able to serve in the army.’ and that was in verse 3.

Now, let me give you a little bit of background to Numbers because it’s one of those books that well, if we’re honest, we don’t read that much you know with the people who decide ‘Right, I’m going to read the Bible from the very beginning.’ Genesis, Exodus and then they get to Leviticus and yeah, the struggle and of course Numbers comes next so maybe skip over it but it’s actually quite an interesting book. It came at a pivotal point in the history of God’s people. Having been rescued from Egyptian slavery, the people of God arrived at Mount Sinai. God had provided for their spiritual and their physical needs. He’d given them the Covenant Law by which to live and a Tent of Meeting in which to worship and also a system of sacrifice to ensure forgiveness of sins. So, in Numbers, the people of God, the Israelites, are finally ready to make the journey to Canaan, the Promised Land.

Now, counting the number of men suitable for army service was part of that preparation. To set off along the way they would learn some valuable lessons about holy living, the importance of good leadership, the dangers of temptation and perhaps, most importantly, that God is gracious and keeps His promises.

Now isn’t that bang up to date for the 21st century? The kind of things that we need to know as individual followers of Jesus but also as a church community and congregation and family.

Our aim, of course, is not to enter into the land of Canaan but, as Jesus commanded us in our second reading, our aim is this ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them everything I have commanded you.’ That’s Matthew 28 verse 19 as Margo read. That is our aim.

Just for a moment, to go back to the people of Israel, in order to ensure that they could defend themselves Moses counted the Israelite men who could fight should that be needed and, as we know, the journey to the promised land did not go rather smoothly but rather lonely, rather long, longer than this sermon is going to be, 40 years exact and well, a lot of problems on the way. But, in order to work out if what we are doing in church is actually reaching people outwith the church, we actually also need to count numbers.

Now, one group of church leaders, sensing that things in their congregation were declining, called this consultant who wrote the book to ask for help, and he analyzed their Sunday worship attendance over the past 10 years. In the words of one elder the results were breathtakingly shocking.

Now, to their credit the leaders of that congregation didn’t panic nor did they stick their heads in the sand and refuse to change, you know that well-oft used phrase in the Church of Scotland ‘Well, if it sees me oot, it’ll day fine!’ Well, actually, it won’t. They didn’t panic, they didn’t refuse to change, instead they decided to take seriously their mission to their community and they began to prayerfully plan. Their focus changed. In other words, from being inward to being outward.

So, by engaging with where people’s actual needs were, showing that they cared, sharing God’s love slowly, new people started to come and they kept track of church attendance because they reckoned that if what they were doing was working then it would increase and, in fact, in that congregation it did, So, Gathering is my first point.

My second point is Giving. Financial giving can make more people more nervous than any other subject in church life especially if that congregation is behind budget and it can also make more people more apathetic if that congregation is doing well. Now, I don’t know if Brightons still has a Deacons Court. Have you still got? You do, well, in Larbert East we had a Deacons Court as well, but we changed over to the new constitution a couple of years before I retired in preparation for what was coming but a number of years ago a lovely godly church member left quite a large legacy to the church. It was actually a quarter of a million pounds and that’s, I can say that because it’s out in the public domain. When the Deacons Court learned about this, I saw the pound signs appear in their eyes and I told them, I’m usually quite a gentle person, but on this occasion, I was less than gentle, and I said to them ‘I can see what you’re thinking so, if you think that money is going to be used to pretty up the church building, or if you think you’re going to invest it in something like the lottery then you’ll be looking for a new minister.’ Well, to their credit, they realized what I was saying. That money was invested with the Church of Scotland and is used to finance 80 percent through its interest, 80 percent of the salary of the part-time family worker in the church. Parish Outreach worker. So, money can be a blessing if it’s used in a godly way.

I know of other congregations, I was ministering one who received a legacy and the congregational board in that church sat back and folded their arms, whereas the other congregation with which it was linked wasn’t so, wasn’t so fortunate in one sense and they worked hard and they were the ones who increased their financial giving and saw life in the church. You see, congregational giving is an indicator of leading trends of the spiritual state of the congregation and, interestingly, in this book, Rainer discovered that people often stop giving before they stop coming to church altogether. So, if someone is struggling for whatever reason and stops giving it is a pastoral matter not just a financial one.

So, before we rub our hands together and start counting the offering, here are three simple principles to note that come from the book, and they’re biblical as well, and I share them with you in the hope that your Deacons Court will take them on board and prayerfully consider them. It may be that you’re already doing them so forgive me if I’m doing repeat, saying something that you’re already doing.

But the first is a systematic approach to first-time givers works wonders. People need to know that they are appreciated. That’s actually a Biblical principle, to show someone, you know, to thank them, to be kind to them.

Secondly, tie money to mission. Using an offering to showcase how givers are supporting God’s work is the surest way of making sure that it continues to be supported.

And thirdly, thank generous givers because it appears that some people don’t even know if anyone in their congregation cares that they are supporting their congregations. Now, I’m not saying that about Brightons. That is just a general principle that has been discovered in the study of the anatomy of revitalized churches.

So, that leads us thirdly to Groups, I hope you notice the alliteration Gathering, Giving, Groups, specially done for you. Seven out of ten revitalized churches also tracked attendance at groups associated with their congregations.

Now, take, for example, James had been a minister at a certain church for 12 years, it was in decline before he was called to be the minister but that decline continued gradually in his time too, so the church decided to get serious about Jesus’ command in Matthew 28. and to make some more disciples. They track Church attendance but also Church groups. It enabled them to see where the greater spiritual fruit was growing in terms of the groups connected with the congregation and they also discovered, incidentally, that those who had stayed with the church through its decline were all part, every single one of them, was part of an existing group within the church. So, they learned from this that pouring resources into groups that were working was the way ahead instead of wasting energy and time on those groups that weren’t, and the growth in that congregation was slow but steady. The trend reversed and it went up. Everybody in the congregation didn’t have to do everything or go to everything. Remember our passage in Numbers where the Levites the members of the tribe of Levi, the Levites, weren’t counted as fighting men because their job was to take care of the worship side and the tent of The Lord’s presence. In other words, people should use their God-given gifts where they are most suited. Not forced into doing that which isn’t their gifting. So, if you aren’t good with children, resist all pressure to go and teach children. If you aren’t good at finance like me, get your wife to do it and make sure you’ve got people in the congregation who know what they’re doing. We don’t have to do everything. We don’t have to go to every group but there’s all always something where we can become more involved and use our gifts and that way, the church family grows.

So, who’s counting? It’s a proven fact that revived churches are. They are counting people who are gathering for worship and incidentally, remember to include those who are worshiping online because there are still people who, after the pandemic, are worried about coming back to church and there are people who are two and a half years older and a wee bit more frail but they can still watch online and, if you’re watching today, you are part of the worshiping community of Brightons Church just as much as everyone sitting in the pew.

So, growing churches are counting people who are gathering for worship. They’re also counting how people are giving financially and of their time and talents, and also the groups in which people are involved.

This is not about counting for counting’s sake. Nor this about counting so we can boast about our increased church attendance. This is about counting for accountability. We are all accountable to The Lord, for how we are serving Him in our church congregations.

Now, Rainer did not expect to find this aspect of counting amongst churches that were revitalized but, when he did and thought about it, it made sense because, if what a church is doing for example in worship is still seeing decline then it isn’t working. Hard questions need to be asked and that isn’t just about the minister, in case anybody thinks that I’ll blame Scott.

Do you know, a number of years ago, my wife and I went to a church, I won’t say which church it is, it was in Falkirk Presbytery where I knew, as Presbytery Chaplain, that the minister was struggling and when we arrived at the door there were two elders that were greeting people and I knew who these Elders were because one was a Presbytery Elder and the other was an additional Elder on Presbytery and when they saw us walking towards them this is what they did – they looked us up and down, folded their arms and turned their backs. That’s true. An utter disgrace! No wonder the minister was struggling. And that’s why what’s happening in church is not just the minister, it’s the entire congregation. I can’t tell you what a joy it is to hear you singing this morning. It’s absolutely amazing. I can sense that you’re worshiping The Lord.

So, if what’s happening in worship is not working, it’s everyone’s responsibility, together. It’s about the entire congregation, to seek where God is leading because you see, what really matters, is making disciples of Jesus. It’s what he commanded us to do, and that’s why I’m going to reissue my challenge that I raised with the children earlier. Those people that you’ve thought about that you could invite to church. Please do it. If they say no, then you’ve done your part. Maybe God will work on them. But maybe go back in a wee while and try again and pray for them.

You see, let’s not forget that along with His command to make more disciples, Jesus also said this ‘And surely I will be with you always, to the very end of the age.’


A year to say ‘YES’

Preached on: Sunday 21st August 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button
above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 7:24-29
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– say ‘YES’ to Jesus

So, boys and girls, it’s really good to be all together as a church family, to have all our ages and hear the buzz and atmosphere.

Have you had a good summer? Well, that doesn’t sound very good! Have you had a good summer? Oh, I’m sure we could be a wee bit louder than that! Have you had a good summer? Oh, that’s good to hear. Well, over the summer we’ve been looking at a particular Bible passage where Jesus teaches us lots of things about the kingdom of God and it has a special name this little bit of the Bible. Does anybody remember what this little bit is called? What’s it called? Do you remember? What it’s called? Any of our older young people around to help us? It’s called the Sermon on the Mount. Do you know why it’s called that? Where do you think Jesus was at the time teaching it? Was He in the river? No! Was He up a tree? No! He was actually on a hill, on a mountain and He was sitting down teaching his friends. Because, who’s Jesus? He’s God and so He had this incredible thing to teach about the kingdom of God. Now, there was so much in that little bit of the Bible that to help us remember some of it at least, I have hidden some boxes around the sanctuary, downstairs and upstairs, and in a moment, I’m going to count you down and if you want you can help me find these boxes and come and stack them up here. Okay. Now, a couple of things you’re not allowed to run, once you’ve found one you go back and take your seat. Okay. So that everybody gets a wee shot and I think those are the only rules. Okay. So, you’re looking for what? Can you see any of them just now? Can you see some? They’re brown with some white writing. Now, maybe some of our older young people could maybe do the upstairs and the younger ones maybe stay downstairs. Okay. So, I’m going to count you down. We’re going to have a wee bit music while we do this. Three. No running remember. Three, two, one, go. Great Peter, thank-you.

All right, we’ve still got a lot more to go so maybe, if you found one, you could maybe – we’ve got 12 more to go, 12 more to go. Keep looking. Maybe the adults can check underneath their chairs just to make sure they’re not hiding them with their feet. Oh good job Harris, thank-you sir, much appreciated. Right, we’ve got eight to go, eight to go before the music runs out. Come on, where are these? Ah, good job. Magic. Right seven can’t count under pressure let’s not set it on fire though. Thank-you. Good job. Six to go. Oh two, good job. That makes four, three, three to go. One to go. Everybody check underneath your seat. Make sure you’re not hiding it. One to go, one to go. Oh, one’s coming. Perfect. Thank-you so much.

Right, there we go, we’ve found them. Now, I could have made so many more boxes here and I’ll just put them on screen. Oh, let’s cancel that just now. I’ll put them on screen a moment. There’s things like trusting, things like asking, things like investing in eternity, laying up treasure in heaven, being light, turning to God, being salty, knowing God is our Heavenly Father. So many things over these past seven weeks or so. I want to give you an opportunity in a moment to turn to your neighbor or boys and girls to turn and talk with your Sunday School leaders. What one do you think is either the most important or what one has resonated with you most? That might be more an adult, for an adult question. What has resonated with you most? And we’ll get this on screen so you can see it. Okay, 30 seconds either what’s most important or what is resonating with you most this summer.

Okay. Well, I’m not gonna ask for a vote of what you think is the most important or anything like that, but I’m sure there’s a good conversation to be had there, maybe over a cup of tea like ‘Oh why did you pick that one and why did that resonate with you?’ Or ‘Why do you think that’s most important?’ Have those conversations afterwards. Don’t let it just end with that.

Now, Jesus, after teaching about all these things, and much more besides, He gets to the end of His sermon, boys and girls, and we read earlier these words ‘Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.’ Jesus is saying that when we hear it, but much more important, when we put it into practice, when we do what He teaches, we’re being wise, we’re making a good choice, we’re on the way to the good life, and to help us understand how important a choice this is He talks about two people who build a house. Do you remember that bit of the story? So, there’s a person who builds a house and what do they build on? Do you remember? One person chose to build on, do you remember? What was that? Rock. So, someone built on rock for sure and the other one built on sand. That’s right, sand and rock. And so, when the rain came down on the house that was built on the sand the person who tried to do it the easy, what happened? The house went flat! Can we do that together? One, two, three, flat! It fell down because they had tried just to do the easy thing. But then, the other person built on rock. Dug down, put in some effort, listened to it to what was the right thing to do and when the rain came down it stood firm. Didn’t it? Now Jesus is trying to help us see the importance of putting His words into practice, the importance of saying yes to Jesus, the importance of responding to Him. And this idea about saying yes reminded me of a film that it came out a couple of years ago where a family had to learn to say yes to one another. You might have seen it; you might not have. So, let me put this trailer on just now and sorry if this causes any problems at home.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being a mom, it’s that parents and kids always disagree on one thing. No, no, no rules. But saying no 50 times an hour, no, absolutely not, nope on a rope, it’s part of the job. But all of that is about to change. Have you heard about yes-day? It’s this new thing where parents say yes to everything their kids asked for. For 24 hours. Radical? What am I just cheering about this? Well, yes-days are like fun and mom and dad are like fun-killers. We are plenty fun. We used to say yes to everything. We can be fun again. Really. Let’s do this!
It’s yes-day. Who’s ready for yes-day? Ellie wants to do your hair and makeup. I have a vision. Yes, I’m glad you’re using your watercolors. What do we do. One word, two letters and oh, windows down. What is happening?

So, as I say, apologies if I just made your day much harder! But this family found the importance of saying yes to one another. That when they did, it brought them closer, it brought life, and it brought joy. And the same is true in your relationship with Jesus. Whether you’re a young person, whether you are young at heart, your choice is the same. Whether you’re going to say yes or no to Jesus, and put His teaching into practice, respond to Him, Because, when we say yes, then we get closer to Him. When we say yes, we learn more of His life and more of His joy, more of that kingdom-way. And so, I wonder whether this year, as we come back together, as a church family, as we start a new session together, can this be the year when we more often say yes to Jesus than no. Might this be a year of saying yes, not just on a Sunday, not just when the preacher says something, or a Sunday school leader says something, but, boys and girls, could we say yes to Jesus more often in our everyday. That we take what we hear on a Sunday, in our Bible readings at home, wherever it be that Jesus speaks to us, and we say yes to Him this year. Because, if we do, I think incredible things would happen in us through us, and change the community around us. So I’m praying that we say yes to Jesus this year.

The narrow gate

Preached on: Sunday 14th August 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 7:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– 2 ways: narrow gate and that leads to ‘life’; wide gate and a broad road and it leads to destruction
– What is this ‘life’ an what is this ‘narrow’ gate? – It is Jesus himself!
– Jesus warns us to watch on for false teachers and warns us not to deceive ourselves; but to do the will of Father God
– Jesus is the truth
– This is a sober warning!

Father God, as we now come before Your Word, and as we look at Your words, Lord Jesus, the words from the Sermon on the Mount, we pray that You would open our minds, open our hearts and give us listening ears. If the words of the speaker are out of line, Lord, cast them aside. But those words of the speaker that come from You, may they go deep into our hearts I pray. In the name of Jesus. Amen.

Liz Truss. Rishi Sunak. Two names that I suspect not many years ago none of us would have known. Both have been setting out their program for government, close to manifestos. Close to manifestos. I’ll say nothing more about that.

Sometimes the Sermon on the Mount is described as the kingdom manifesto, as Jesus’s manifesto. I’d like you today, if you can to have a Bible near you and open it up and just have those chapters five to seven in front of you.

I don’t know about you but I’ve found the going through the Sermon on the Mount really enjoyable but at the same time really challenging. I hit on a marvelous thing. I started to listen to it on my audio Bible and what I would do is I would start in chapter five and I’d listen to the whole lot in a oner because, if you look at it in your Bible, you’ll see that it’s broken up with little headings. Those headings are fine. They help us navigate our way around the Bible but those headings are not Holy Scripture and what they can tempt us to do is to break the Sermon on the Mount down into little, little chunks and, actually, the Sermon on the Mount was a sermon on the mount. It was Jesus’ sermon. Well, today, we’re getting to the point where Jesus is beginning to conclude what He’s been saying in the in the Sermon on the Mount and frankly, He says some things in today’s passage which are difficult to hear. Scott’s smiling. Well, let me tell you a little secret. I must say that when Scott shared with me the program for the summer and he told me what my passage was, I was horrified. Of course, I didn’t tell him that. ‘Horrified’ you say, ‘about a passage in the Bible?’ Well, I’ll explain that in a minute.

But let me first recap a little bit on Jesus’ manifesto. The Sermon on the Mount is challenging yet, at the same time, it’s full of really uplifting passages and two weeks ago Scott said that there was a real danger that when we read through the Sermon on the Mount, we see it as a list of do’s and don’ts and, if we do, that it leads to a lifeless religion that would deaden your soul. Those were his precise words. I wrote them down. A lifeless religion that would deafen your soul. You see, in Jesus’ day, Judaism was plagued with legalism. A mistaken view that, if you obeyed all the rules all the time, you are living the right way and you are on the right path. Yet, consistently, Jesus calls that out as hypocrisy and that’s the running theme through the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, this amazing manifesto, flips everything. It flips it and it becomes something that’s really quite radical. Now, you often hear me talking about Jesus being a radical and the message being radical. I say that deliberately because I think we have a problem in the Christian church today. I think the message is now seen to be so old, from 2000 years ago, that we’re blunted it and we see it as an old message but, in fact, it’s a radical, new message and we must believe, that we must stand up to that. It is hard to take an old message and see it as radical.

But, think about it for a moment. What if the Sermon on the Mount was truly implemented today? Everything on earth would change, if implemented. Everything would change. Modern slavery, immigration, war, famine, sex crimes, family tensions, fraud, exploitation, gone in a moment.

Now, I know some of you will be thinking ‘Bent’s exaggerating again!’ Well, let’s go back to our candidates for Prime Minister and imagine for the moment that one of them stands up, or both of them, and says ‘I declare to you today that if I am your Prime Minister, the country will be governed by the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.’

How’s that going to work out? I’m serious. How’s that going to work out? I can tell you, without a shadow of a doubt, that it would end in political failure. And the reasons for my confidence? Well, we’re coming to it in today’s passage.

You see, having set out His program for government, His manifesto, Jesus changes the mood music. Verse 13 ‘Enter through the narrow gate, for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’ Whatever has gone on in the Sermon on the Mount to that point, these words shock you. See. throughout the manifesto, Jesus has, He’s referred to the kingdom-way of living and He’s nudged and He’s cajoled us listeners into really thinking about an upside-down way of living on the whole, in the world, in an upside-down way, a heavenly focused way. We pray it ‘Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth.’ We pray it as Christians.

But now, where the rubber hits the road, Jesus says there’s a choice and today people don’t like choices. There’s a choice. Two gates. One that is narrow and small, and one that is wide and broad. And I’ll read that verse again because it’s so, so important ‘Enter through the narrow gate’ says Jesus, ‘for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it but small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’ Now, I’ll tell you, I don’t like the word ‘narrow’. People might call me narrow-minded. People might think I have a narrow perspective, but these are the words of Jesus so I need to take them seriously. You see, Jesus was no politician. He’s not looking to get elected and He’s certainly not out to win a popularity contest. H wouldn’t try Strictly Come Dancing I don’t think. This is Jesus Christ. His claim, His exclusive claim, whatever you make of it, is that He is God. God come to earth as a human being on a rescue mission. This is Jesus Christ telling the truth and I’m going to use these words, an absolute truth.

Now, to be honest, that might be hard to hear. Jesus, in very plain language is saying that, there are only two ways; one way that leads to life and one way that leads to destruction. Two ways. Not many ways. Not three ways. And that is offensive. It’s offensive today because we live in a multicultural, multi-faith, secular, pluralistic world -all big words but it basically means anything, and I mean anything and everything, is okay. Where everyone has their own truth, that’s your truth, that’s my truth and you know, to all of that, not in a shouty way, not in an aggressive way, Jesus just says ‘No, no. There are only two ways.’ And, actually, when you really think about it, what He is saying is that there is only one way.

I know it’s a bit dull but I’m going to read that verse again. ‘Enter through the narrow gate for wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction and many enter through it but small is the gate and a narrow is the road that leads to life and only a few find it.’

Notice the last six words ‘only a few find it’?

Last week Donald took us on a car journey. Well, let me try and do the same. Come along with the Haywoods. Heather uses our car every day. She is a good driver. Ii am not as skilled as Heather. If Heather is driving and she comes across a signpost that’s got two choices, I know Heather will pick the right choice. I know she will end up at the right destination. Now, I’m the son of a taxi driver- Alistair – if I’m behind the wheel of a car and I see the signpost to wherever we’re meant to be going, but then I see a smooth road going in a slightly different way and it’s a wider road and it might get the other, it might get to there, eventually well, Ii just might take it. We might get there sometime.
But Jesus would say that my strategy for driving is not a sound strategy. It’s certainly not a sound strategy for life and if I applied my navigation skills in the car to my life then I think I would be on the road to destruction.

So, there’s two choices and frankly, people, this is now where it gets awkward because I’m compelled to say ‘What gate are you passing through? What road are you on?’ Now, maybe you can answer that and you’re quite confident, or maybe you say ‘Look, I don’t buy into any of this Jesus-way stuff.’ Well, that’s okay, that’s your choice. Jesus doesn’t compel anyone. I said to the children this morning that Jesus is not a policeman. But all I can say is good luck to you. But maybe you’re not sure and you don’t know and well, gate and road and way stuff, what does that all mean? And like I said, why does it have to be narrow?

Well, the answer is maybe not quite what you would expect. You see let’s take another passage. If your bible’s open, you have a look in John 14.

And this is, this is, this is a really significant part. All parts of the Bible are significant but this is a discussion Jesus is having with His disciples on the night before He’s killed. I don’t know about you but when someone’s close to death I tend to take notice of the things that they might want to tell me. Let me take this slowly through the passages from John 14.

‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.’ This is Jesus speaking. ‘You believe in God. Believe also. In my father’s house has many rooms. If that were not so would I have told you that. I am going there to prepare a place for you and if I go and prepare a place for you I will come back and take you to be with me, that you may also be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.’ Now, I’ve mentioned Thomas last time I was speaking or the time before. I think Thomas gets a bad rap in the Bible sometimes but Thomas was one of His disciples and he says ‘Lord, we don’t know where you’re going so, how can we know the way.’ Jesus answers ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.’ I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me. Now, this is not the only time in the Gospel when Jesus explains Himself this way, but here we have it an exclusive claim, yes, a narrow claim, because the claim of Jesus is that He is the way, that He is the gate, He is the narrow path. Exclusive, because there is no other way to Father God. You see, the kingdom manifesto is about the king, and the kingdom-way is exclusive and it’s narrow because it’s a person, it’s Jesus. There’s no neutrality with Jesus. There’s no middle road with Jesus. The claim of Jesus is that He is the truth. So, if your truth is different well, like I said to you, good luck. And it’s hard to say it but you are on the road to destruction.

So, now do you see why I was horrified that this was the passage I was preaching on?

This is not a popular message and you may be sitting in your seat fuming or you may be watching this online and are about to give up, and I understand that. I did not pick this passage but though it makes me feel awkward to say it – you need to go through the narrow gate. Jesus says, if you don’t, you’re on the path to destruction. And again, it’s actually easier for me to say this to a crowd of people but I know people here, personally, and I’ve never been able to go up to you and say, have you gone through the narrow gate, or are you on the road to destruction. I ask you that question today. I ask you that question today. You see, because in the language of the Bible, and this is not language that people like today, if you have not gone through the narrow gate, then you’re going to hell.

ACDC, that wonderful prophetic, rock band – You’re on the highway to hell.

To say that is difficult. It’s been difficult for two thousand years. Particularly, interestingly, to middle class people, for some reason, through history and through the Bible we see that poor people are more likely to accept that message. But you know what, the man who first claimed it was not popular and they put him on a cross. The man who baptized Him, John the Baptist, got his head cut off. Jim, I think you’re okay. Those first Christians were imprisoned and beaten and martyred. Even this very day in Asia and Africa people are dying because they’ve decided to follow the narrow way. We couldn’t preach this openly in Afghanistan or North Korea or even China. And here I am, telling you that I’m horrified or feeling awkward about telling you this. It’s narrow and it’s hard and only a few find it.

Think on that, think on that, for you. Now, usually a hard-hitting message like this you’d stop, but anybody who’s awake has realized that there’s two thirds of the passage that I haven’t gone into. Don’t worry Scott, I’m gonna finish soon.

But we’ve got a little bit more to do. You see, verses 15 to, 15 onwards, also reference back to that because they reference this business about false teachers. ‘Watch out for false teachers, wolves in sheep’s clothing.’ I don’t actually need to expand that. A wolf in sheep’s clothing looks like a wolf, and a wolf eats sheep. You see, the problem has been throughout the history of the Christian church that there are have been false prophets and false teachers and Jesus in His very manifesto at the start, is telling us about what the kingdom-way is says, watch out, there are going to be false teachers. So, let’s not get hung up on that and let’s not get overcome with the fact that there are some bad apples. Jesus simply says, watch out and be and be aware. And, if we go back to the passage that Donald was teaching us about last Sunday, the word from that was ‘discernment’. We need to discern, we need to know and see the bad, they see the false teachers and how well again, Jesus is just such a master at painting pictures, and He makes reference to the fact that, if the tree is unhealthy, the fruit will be unhealthy. So, the bad apple analogy is quite a good. One, you’ll see you’ll see the fruits of a false teacher and the reason there are false teachers goes back to what we’ve been talking about for most of this sermon is that it is a difficult message to say that there is only one way and that Jesus is the way. And people water it down. People try to have a little bit of both. A little bit of Jesus and a little bit of the wide road. And that’s where the false teaching comes in. But it’s Jesus Christ Himself at the foundation of bringing forward the message of salvation says that’ll be there, you need to watch.

And even if we go a little bit further, it even gets tougher because we need to watch ourselves. Discernment. Verse 21 to 23 an important warning to take heart on it says ‘Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly’ and again, these are Jesus words ‘then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you. Away from me you evildoers.’

Wow! That’s a warning. We can even fool ourselves. You see, we can fool ourselves into thinking we’re on the right road. There’s no magic formula into heaven and there’s no amount of effort will get you there. Trying to live the kingdom manifesto under your own strength, as Scott said two weeks ago, won’t work. Jesus is the narrow gate. He is the gate that we need to go through. watch out for false teachers, Do the will of God.


Find security in God; invest in eternity

Preached on: Sunday 31st July 2022
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 here22-07-31 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 6:19-34
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– We’ve all learnt to place our security in the wrong place
– We need to learn to put our security in God
– With our security in God we are freed to invest in eternity
Let’s take a moment to pray before we dig into God’s word. Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and lead us into the ways and life of the Kingdom.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus, name. Amen.

I wonder what your earliest childhood memory is. Your earliest childhood memory. If you feel like it, why don’t you turn to your neighbor and for the next 20 or 30 seconds with a bit of music in the background, share what your earliest childhood memory is. Over to you.

So, okay then, sounds like you could go on for hours probably there, so feel free to pick up those conversations afterwards.

I’m saying to Margaret I have a terrible ability to remember events. My wife despairs of me. She’ll be like ‘Remember this?’ and I’m like ‘When? How did that happen?’ There are some things I would love to be able to remember just because it’d be great to see what the people’s faces were at the time/ Like, when I was really young and apparently, I thought that the neighbor’s car needed a paint job and so I got out the creosote. Thankfully it was a company car so he wasn’t too bothered actually. Or there’s a time when I was really young, about three I think, and had one of those little fire engines that you could ride on. I got about half a mile away from house before dad found me and the next day a fence was built within 24 hours to keep me penned in the back garden. I would love to be able to remember these things rather than just be told by my parents ‘Oh, you know, this happened when you were really young.’ There are lots of things we don’t remember from childhood. There’s probably lots of things actually we try not to remember from childhood and these events, some of them at least, can really shape our lives in very profound ways and we’ll come back to that thought in a little moment.

We’re in this series on the Sermon on Mount. We’re about two-thirds of the way through and we’ll finish up with our all-age service in about a month’s time with our children and families back amongst us, hopefully, and through all we’ve been seeing how Jesus has been building upon the teaching of the kingdom. He’s been helping us see what the life in the kingdom looks like, the ways of the kingdom so that we can come into that good, blessed, kingdom life. I don’t know about you but when I read so much of the Sermon on the Mount, I find it really challenging and there’s points, especially maybe with today’s passage, that it feels a bit burdensome. He says ‘Don’t have treasures on earth’. Well, strike number one. ‘Only serve God’. Strike number two. ‘Don’t worry’. Strike number three. ‘Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness.’ Well, I’m all out Jesus so I’ll just pack up my bags and especially if you’re someone who worries by nature or by nurture and so that you’re in that place where anxiety is something you really struggle with and you’ve maybe been struggling for years and it might even be crippling your life there’s every potential that you hear this passage, you read this passage, you’ve maybe heard it tons of times and every time you end up going ‘Well, that wasn’t helpful’ or ‘It feels like a bit of a slap in the face.’ And especially when you come to some later teaching of Jesus in the same gospel, I might add, it really gets a bit perplexing because Jesus says this just a couple of chapters later not quite chapter 9 Jean, we’ll move on to 11. ‘Come to me all you who are weary and burdened,’ – she’s going to get me later on – ‘and I will give you rest take my yoke upon you and learn from me for i am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ and as you’re reading through this passage, as you’re reading through the Sermon on the Mount and you think well His yoke is His teaching, that’s what Rabbis meant, that you would take the yoke of the Rabbi upon you, that’s His teaching. Really? The Sermon on the Mount is easy and light, really Jesus? So how, how do we square that up? How do we square up what Jesus is saying and what we feel?

I think some of it has to do with how we read it. That we read so much of scripture, we read the Sermon on the Mount, through a particular lens and so we don’t end up reading it through the lens of His heart. This heart that is gentle and humble. This heart that desires for you to know life and joy and freedom, and so, we don’t read it through that lens and we read it in another way and so, we don’t see His heart and it feels burdensome. So, if we were to read His word, if we were to read this passage through the lens of His heart, how does that change this passage? Indeed, how does it change the whole sermon?

Well, coming back to our passage, we heard Jesus say earlier ‘Do not store up for yourself treasures on earth where moths and vermin destroy and where thieves break in and steal …….. for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’ What is the concern of Jesus here? If His heart is for you, if He’s not against you, if He’s not out to condemn you and belittle you, what is His concern here?

Treasures are things that we value and it could be any number of things. It could be the material. It could be our money but, equally, it could be reputation or image; a loved one; our health; could be our comfort; it could be a job or a position that we have a role, even within the church. All these could be our treasures. Treasures are things we value but tied to that, often, treasures are things that give us security, they make us feel safe and when the thing we treasure is undermined or threatened what comes? Worry, as Jesus says, and when we elevate that earthly treasure to a position it should not hold, it becomes our master, as Jesus says, and when it becomes the focus of our lives, when it becomes our ambition and the goal and the driving thing in our life, then then our vision is often clouded, as Jesus says here, and with that, at times, can come a darkness in us, as that thing becomes the goal, as Jesus says here. And so, again and again Jesus is asking the question – Where do we find our security? Where have you placed your security? He knows our human condition, He knows by both nature and nurture, we all learn to place our security in the wrong place. There’s a writer that I really enjoy reading and listening to, her name is Ruth Haley Barton, a Christian writer, and she has a helpful way of putting this across. She talks about how, across our lives but particularly in the early years, we develop coping mechanisms. Mechanisms to help us deal with the harsh and hard realities of life in this world but, often, these coping mechanisms, particularly a young age, don’t include God and so, we end up finding our safety, our security, ways to cope, in the wrong place and God isn’t a part of that picture. I was listening recently to one of her podcasts and in that she related a story in which she recalled an event from her childhood. This event she had blocked from her memory for probably about 30 years but God brought it back to her and she went and spoke to her mum who confirmed it was a real event. She was about four years old when this event happened and it was her mum who dealt the blow because her mum disciplined her in a particular way, really not in a justified way, but her mum wasn’t doing it for any ill reason but she was just, that’s what she understood to be maybe best for her child but it clearly wasn’t because it left a wound and in light of that wounding, Ruth learned a coping mechanism. She learned how to keep herself safe, how to find security in a world which had suddenly upended for her and that had effects over the years such that in her thirties she was facing a form of bullying at work, she was really in a very difficult situation but she could not stand up for herself despite the encouragement of others, she could not stand up for herself because of that earlier wound and what she did instead was she withdrew and she got small because that was how she kept herself safe, that was her coping mechanism, that was where she found security by withdrawing and getting safe.

So, what about you? What about me? Where have we learned, maybe from childhood, maybe during our adult years, where have we learned to put our safety and security? It could be in position, could be in health and comfort, could be in reputation, it could be in loved ones, or wealth and possessions, might be any number of these.

Remember, Jesus doesn’t raise this to condemn you, belittle you, He does it because He loves you, He wants you to come into life, to come into greater freedom, to cut, to know a greater security than what you’ve known until this point. And that’s our next point, because he says ‘Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or stow away in barns and yet, your heavenly father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? …. For the pagans run after all these things and your heavenly father knows that you need them.’ So much of the teaching of Jesus, so much of what He says mentions the Father because the Father was His place of security, His safe place, that the foundation of His life because He is in that intimate relationship with the Father, the Father’s love, the Father’s care, the Father’s affirmation, that was central to Jesus and He models it and He teaches it to His disciples. And so, what Jesus is saying in these verses and through this passage is that we need to find our greater security in God. He calls us to give up that limited security that we may be nurtured and built for ourselves whether through childhood or whether through our adult ears, we need to give that up and find the greater security of the Father’s love, the Father’s affirmation, the Father’s care and provision. But to learn that, to learn to find our place in that is a journey. But it does echo what Jesus says in Matthew 11 too ‘Learn from me and you will find rest for your souls.’ To learn from Him, to learn from Him by unlearning our coping mechanisms, to learn from Him by having our minds renewed that we understand our Father more intimately and better, that we can have that greater trust and security. It is a process. Any learning is a process. It takes time.

I don’t know about you but my mental picture almost of the disciples is that they hear this and immediately they just jump ‘Right, no more worry!’ So, I almost imagine that but it doesn’t match up to the facts. Have you noticed how often the disciples are portrayed as a bunch of messed-up individuals. It gives me confidence actually, this is a side point, it gives me confidence that the Scriptures are true because if it weren’t true you wouldn’t include them as a bunch of messed-up individuals, you’d want them to be on a pedestal, but they’re not. So, we find Peter at the start of his time with Jesus and Jesus goes off to pray one morning and Peter comes after Him and says ‘Jesus, you know there’s a bunch of people over here, they want to see you,’ He’s more worried about them than about what Jesus is concerned about. He has this worry in him. Or later on in life, now, admittedly, walking on water I think any of us might be a wee bit intimidated by that, but he worries and he thinks but at least he walked on the water. Or later on in life again a couple years later, he’s with Jesus who’s arrested and because of worry and anxiety he denies the Lord three times. Worry. Or later, as an apostle, when Jesus returned to heaven, the Holy Spirit’s come, Peter saw 3 000 plus people come to faith and yet later he can then choose to ignore the Gentile Christians and only have fellowship with the Jewish Christians, because of worry, because of anxiety. And it takes Paul to come along and give him a bit of a verbal slap to get him out of that place, to help him see that it’s wrong what he’s doing. But he’s worried. But, you know, even later in life Peter is able to write in chapter 5 of one of his letters ‘Cast all your anxiety on him, the lord, because he cares for you.’ It’s a journey. It takes a whole of a life and more besides to learn but, if we will learn it, we will find a greater security, we will find rest for our souls. And later, in the same sermon, Jesus will say ‘Those who seek will find.’ Is it easy? No! Is this sermon going to answer every question and issue around worry and anxiety for you? No! Might you need to go and see a counsellor for years on end maybe, maybe, if worry and anxiety has become that pattern in your life. And that’s okay, I’ve been to see a counsellor because of things. So that’s okay. I don’t expect this sermon to achieve everything but some of it might help. Hopefully. Is this ever fully achieved in our lives? Well, I’ve only been following Jesus for 20 years, I’m hopefully only halfway through my life so I can’t really say that with any great authority but I doubt it. Ask some of the older people who have been following Jesus for a lot longer than me. But I reckon they’ll probably tell you, there’s always more to learn, there’s always more to learn.

How do we learn that? How do we learn to find that greater security? I think core to it all has to be to listen for the voice of our Heavenly Father. I think that has to be core or at least it is from my experience so far. Because, what are the things that I worry about? Not so much the Manse, to be honest, I worry about its influence on Gill but I don’t worry about it quite so much. Finances? Not so much. Image? Clearly not so much. But doing right by you, this community, doing right by God a bit more. Let’s remember, this is only my first charge. I’m a young guy. I’ve got lots to learn. Half the time I’m guessing. That’s what I worry about. But you know, whether it’s through the daily reading of scripture or reading of other books, or prayer and solitude in silence, there are ways that I’m building in. When I’m not like this little chap in the picture; he seems to be kind of almost trying to get out of his father’s arms; it’s not really, ‘I’m not really sure about this cuddle, dad!’ But if we want that greater security, we need to turn to the Father. We need to learn to hear His voice.

I shared with the Elders the very first Kirk Session meeting I had I think it was Elders it might be in the Deacon’s Court it gets confusing when you have two bodies of people but I was on retreat the week prior to me being ordained and inducted here and had all these thoughts swirling around me and I’ve learned on retreat to utilize art. now I did do standard grade art but I’m not the greatest artist in the world so line drawings are my thing. And I drew this picture and through it was drawing it because of just what I felt the Spirit was saying to me, You won’t see it well but if you want to come up and see it afterwards then please do and so, in this picture I’ve got me, I didn’t pick black for any particular reason other than just to make it a bit less obvious but here’s me and here are these things that could weigh upon me like: ministry expectation, being a pastor; week-in week-out preaching which is quite a daunting prospect; tradition; numbers; being young but also maybe lacking young people and wanting to see that grow in our body. All these weights but they’re not on my shoulders because I felt God was saying ‘I’m behind you, and I’ll take that weight if you let me. As long as you stay connected to me and breathe in my Spirit and breathe in what I say to you, it will nurture your heart and keep you right because, what should be over your shoulders is My yoke. My yoke, that is easy, my burden that is light.’ And I have that up in the study to remind me of that

So, what about you? What do you? Do to turn to the Father to hear His voice and it can’t be every now and again and it can’t be even just a Sunday, you need more, unless like you’re a bit more like Jesus, I think you need more than once a week. So, what are you doing? What’s God saying to you? Not to correct you necessarily, to affirm you, to speak His love over you. What’s He saying? And, if you can’t answer that question, then you need to learn, you need to learn to find that greater security in the Father and we have ways and means of doing that at church: Huddle; a Fellowship Group; many others besides. And if you don’t know how to tune into the voice of the Father you need to learn because you can’t do this life of faith otherwise, you can’t grow in greater security otherwise so, come and talk to me, drop me an email because I won’t be leading over the next two weeks and when I get back if I’ve got a group of people who are saying I want to learn to grow in that, we will put a group together, we will do something because there’s few things more life-giving than hearing the voice of your Father.

Now being free of worry is a, more free of worry is a great thing but there’s also other things that come, as Jesus says, as we find that greater security He says ‘Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven when moths and vermin do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.’ With our security and God, the rest of the teaching of Jesus can come into play and become a reality in our lives. And too often we try and jump from ‘don’t have treasures on earth’ to ‘have treasures in heaven’ and we try and skip out the bit in the middle which I’ve just talked about. And, if you try and do that, you will end up with a religion, a way of following Jesus that is lifeless and which deadens your soul because instead, what you will have is something that makes you feel guilty, which makes you feel weary, and most likely in time, will bring about bitterness. So, don’t forget the bit in the middle.

But there’s this other third bit of today of ‘having treasures in heaven’. What is that? Well, it’s anything that lasts into eternity. So, what lasts into eternity? A Christ-like character. The Scriptures teach us faith, love and hope. The Scriptures teach us knowledge of God. Those who we’ve helped to come to faith in Jesus that will last into eternity. ‘The prayers of God’s people are like an incense that come before the throne of God’, they last into eternity. Our witness, our testimony of Jesus lasts into eternity. Anything that brings God glory, lasts into eternity.

So, where is the room for you to grow and how you invest in the eternal things? And that will depend upon where you are putting your security now. So, for example, if your security is in success at work and being a good employee and making sure that you tick all the boxes and such like, then you might be more inclined to say ‘Well, you know, I don’t have time. I don’t have time to be with God and seek His voice. I don’t have time to serve at church because work, that’s the goal, that’s where my treasure is, that’s where my security is.’ If it’s your comfort, your lifestyle, your bank balance, then what might come as a lack of financial generosity because you don’t want to invest in that, you want your bank balance, you want your lifestyle to remain safe, comfortable. It’s your treasure and so you’re not as generous as you might be. If image, if how you appear to others is your place of security and treasure, then what will come is an unwillingness or an inability even to step out in faith, to be different and often. I think, that can be a problem for our young people but is a problem for most of us too. A young person’s journey, a big part of it, is about identity and we need to help our young people navigate that journey so that this is not their place of security, but it’s there for all of us, I’m sure, as well, with each of those areas and there’s many more besides. With each of those areas if we can learn to find our security in the Father’s love then we are freed up to invest in eternity, to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, not simply to be more free of worry and that would be a glorious thing to see.

Now, this is the point when I suspect you begin to feel a bit more of a challenge. You begin to wonder if God is criticizing you a little bit more, but let me remind you of Jesus and His words He is ‘gentle and lowly of heart; humble of heart; His yoke is easy and His burden is light.’ He came that you might have life and life to all its fullness. He was sent because the Father loves you and didn’t want to have eternity without you and Jesus chose to lay down His life on a cross to be the sacrificial Lamb of God for you and for me.

Let that sink in, brothers and sisters. Let that sink in, because, if we can, if we will, then we’ll see the heart of Jesus, the heart of God which yearns for us to find a truer life, a fuller life, a freer life, by having our security and our treasure in God.

I pray it may be so. Amen

Prayer: gift of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 24th July 2022
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 22-07-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 6:5-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– the kingdom is based on trusting relationship
– prayer is a gift of the kingdom
– get praying this!

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let us pray:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and captivate our hearts with the ways of the kingdom.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen

I don’t know about you but in my life, there are things that I’d love to see change, love to see ways that I would mature and grow in bits and pieces and the same is true in my faith. In my faith I’d love to mature and grow in different areas of life. And so, when we read passages like ours today, we instinctively think ‘Well, I need to get better at prayer’ or ‘I need to pray more often’ or something like that and I wonder, if you had a choice between growing in prayer or growing and reading the bible or just some other aspect of faith, what would you pick? What would you pick? If you feel brave enough, why not turn to your neighbor and share with them what you would pick. Would it be prayer? Would it be bible reading? Would it just be to know God is there? Whatever it is, if you can pick one of the two or go for something different. So, over to you just for 20 or 30 seconds. Over to you.

I’m not going to ask you to do a hands-up or anything like that, but those are maybe a conversation to carry on afterwards and just explore that a bit. Often when we get asked these kinds of things I probably, if you’re anything like me, ends up making you feel a bit guilty, a little bit like ‘Oh, I’m not as good a Christian’ or whatever, as you maybe think you should but, as we’ve been seeing throughout this series on the Sermon on the Mount, behind everything Jesus teaches is an invitation, an invitation to more, know more of the life of God’s kingdom, that He wants good for you and for me. So, yeah, today might include one or two challenges. You wouldn’t expect anything different from me after three and a half years, after all. But there’s invitation here. There’s invitation into the life of the kingdom and last week’s passage, at the end of it, we saw that Jesus brought a particular challenge to one practice that the hypocrites were doing and He flows now onto the next couple of practices where the hypocrites are abusing the ways of God, in different ways.

And so, he says ‘and when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others their fasting.’ And so, Jesus brings this critique of the hypocrites of the Jewish leaders of His day to say ‘Well, they are turning the practices of prayer and fasting, they’re turning them inwards, they’re turning them into a show, a pretense by putting on this mask and faking it before God so as to be looked at and esteemed by others.’ They’re corrupting these practices through their selfishness.

But Jesus also has a critique for the pagan practice of prayer and he said earlier ‘and when you pray do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many word,’ One of the most convincing comments I found on this, doing my reading during the week, was one commentator saying that there was a pagan practice where you would try and find just the right name of God and so you would keep repeating names of God to try and get power over that God or pronounce the name just in the right way so as to again get that power and then have control over the God. And so, it was all about manipulation again, taking prayer and corrupting it for self, for selfish purposes and Jesus holds up both these practices to say well, neither is what you should be about.

There’s a third way, the way of the kingdom and so we read earlier ‘but when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. Do not be like them for your father knows what you need before you ask him. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting but only to your father.’ There are a few things we need to note here in passing. The ‘you’ that’s used here is not meaning a group of people but an individual and so this is about our individual practices. It’s not a ban on public prayer so, Rachel, you didn’t do anything wrong here sister, you’re not sinning, good job so you’re fine, Also Jesus is not banning us repeating our prayers nor is he banning us having long times of prayer around a particular issue. I know this because He did it. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed three times for the same thing so, it’s obviously allowed. He prayed through the night before choosing the apostles so, that’s allowed too. It’s not a ban on either of those practices when it comes to prayer and clearly, when He mentions fasting, He has an expectation that we’ll fast but for all you foodies amongst us I’m not going to speak about that today so we don’t need to worry about that so much. All these things aside, what is this passage revealing about the kingdom? Because, remember, we saw a few weeks ago that everything that’s going to come here has got to reveal something about the kingdom. It’s about the ways of the kingdom. So, what is Jesus revealing?

Well, he reveals that the kingdom is based on trusting relationship. He says ‘Your father, who is unseen’ is about relationship. It’s not about reputation and status, like the Jewish hypocrites. He says ‘Your father knows what you need.’ It’s about trust, not about manipulation, like the pagans. And so, core to the kingdom, is this basis of trust, of having a trusting relationship. It’s there within the Godhead. It was there at the beginning of creation but lost this trusting relationship that we’re called into. Called into a trusting relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. With a Heavenly Father who knows what you need before you ask. A Heavenly Father who sees you in the secret hidden place and knows the deep hidden things of your soul, of your heart, the aches and the joys, the worries and the stresses, the questions and the griefs. He knows it all. H sees you like no one else sees you. He sees you to the depths of your being. He sees the things you hide away and the mask that you put on. He sees behind it such is His love for you and He calls you into trust and relationship with Him. So, can I ask you this morning, do you know that? Do you have that kind of relationship with God? Or are you keeping God at arm’s length? Are you keeping Him at arm’s length? There might be many reasons you do that. Maybe it’s something from your past. Maybe there’s something there maybe.

I was watching a program, it was the Chosen program, I’ve mentioned it before, and I was mentioning a recent recording, I’m watching a recent recording they did with some Gen-Zed young people, whatever that is, what? early twenties, late teens, that kind of age range, and they were speaking not only about the pain of fathers but also the pain of mothers and so, I don’t want to assume that it can just be one or the other that actually it can be either, that we’ve maybe had a difficult background and it warps our picture of God and we end up seeing God in what was portrayed to us by parents or by a faith leader or by whoever it might be, and we get this warped picture of God that matches nothing like what Jesus teaches. Or maybe you’ve been to church before or it was religion at school, with school assemblies and school times of prayer, whatever it might be, and it just left you cold and unmoved and it just seemed like people were just going through the hoops, but it meant nothing, and it was empty, and it’s just you think ‘Well, I want nothing to do with God.’ If that’s what it is. But that’s not what it is. That’s not what Jesus comes to reveal. He comes to reveal a God who wants a personal relationship with you, who wants to be in that place of trust with you, and has tried to prove that to you by dying for you and for me, and that’s the invitation of Jesus this morning, to take up that invitation into trusting relationship again.

Now, we might wonder ‘Well, why did Jesus teach it at this point in the Sermon? Like, ‘Why did he not include it earlier in the Sermon? After all, if trusting relationship is so important, why not after the Beatitudes? Why not include it there? So, cuz you’ve got that great high of the of the Beatitudes, of this great welcome into the kingdom and the blessed life, why not include it at that point, this great invitation to trust in relationship.’ Or, why not include it at the end because well, You know Jesus, if I was Your PR agent, You’ve ended on a bit of a downer? Like, if I don’t trust You if I don’t follow Your teaching it might not be the best. Like, that’s a wee bit morbid. So, like, let’s end on a high. Let’s end on this trusting relationship thing.’ Why, why does he have it in the middle?

Well, maybe it’s exactly where it needs to be. Maybe it’s in the center of the Sermon because of all that came before and all that’s going to come next because, after all, if you scan through this Sermon, you can’t be salt and light without God’s help, you can’t seek to try and follow the ways of the kingdom with a righteousness greater than the Pharisees without God’s help and, when you mess up, you’re going to need to know His forgiveness and, rather than seeing these as a bunch of laws that just weigh you down, to see it as an invitation into the goodness of God’s kingdom you need to know the Father’s love. Maybe that’s why Jesus puts it there. And then, if you go on into chapter six and seven it’s all about trust and so, this prayer is a springboard into that whole section of trust because prayer is that expression of trust. So, it’s right where it needs to be. It’s right in the center. And maybe that’s where it needs to be in our lives, in the center, in the center of our lives and the rhythms of our days, of our weeks, of all the rhythms of life and maybe that too is the invitation of Jesus to see prayer as this gift not as a burden, not as an obligation, not as just another tick box exercise or an empty religious practice but to see it as a gift, a gift of love for you to open and to have at the center of your life, not as something that He beats you up with, not as something to wear you down with, but a gift to bring you into life. And so, maybe there’s an invitation to be vulnerable again with God, to be vulnerable in that place of prayer with Him and carve out some time to be in that place now, if you’re ready, if you’re ready to pursue God in either the secret place, maybe in your room or in a walk or you’re ready meet with God in times of corporate prayer. What might we pray? How might we pray?

Well, Jesus gives us this prayer but you can pray in different ways. Did you know that? Did you know that because Matthew says ‘This, then, is how you should pray…’ like, here’s a model, here’s an example, here’s a rough structure and some kind of kickstart. A kickstart for you. If you look at, look he says ‘When you pray say ‘Our father who art in heaven.’ Nuance difference there. Are they contradictory? Well, No, because both examples can lead to life and we’re going to look at that just in a moment. They’re not contradictory. One is a model and one’s a set prayer, and both can lead to good things. But let’s look at the specifics of this prayer and this is going to be a whistle stop tour. I’m going to get through it pretty quick and you might want to go back to the recording just to pick up on some things that can’t catch your attention.

So, Jesus says ‘Our father in heaven’ and I don’t know about you but father feels a bit formal. I don’t know about you, I never called my dad ‘father’ and if I did, as I say, it feels quite formal. And, actually, the word that Jesus uses here doesn’t have quite the same connotations that His Hebrew word would have been Abba. Abba, as I was saying to the children earlier, Daddy, Daddy God and that would feel a bit maybe too informal for us but Abba might work. That intimate relationship with God and in heaven well, we end up thinking ‘Well heaven, in heaven means up there somewhere. He’s so distant and far away’ but that’s not what it would mean in the original, in Jesus’ day. They didn’t picture God in that way and ‘in heaven’ it was their way of saying that He had authority and power that He was omnipotent, God Almighty. So you might want to change the language here to ‘Our Abba Almighty’ that would be a more fitting way to capture what He means there. ‘Our Abba Almighty, hallowed be your name’ is to honor, is to treasure something and we treasure God’s name because His name represents His character, His person much more than you or I’s name. My name, Scott, means from Scotland, which, okay, is technically true but not every Scott is from Scotland and so it often doesn’t carry any great meaning for us but not the same with God. Every one of His names reveals something of His character, something of how He wants to relate to us and so we hallow His name above all other names.

‘Your kingdom come’. There’s two parts to this prayer. One is asking for more of God’s kingdom to come into the present, to change our world, to make our world less broken than it has been and we saw that, when Jesus comes, He comes preaching saying that the kingdom has come near and so, we’re asking for more of that to come. The other side, that the more long-term bit, is actually saying ‘Well God, we want you to end this current age and for Your kingdom to come in all its fullness. And, I don’t know about you, but that feels like a pretty radical prayer but sometimes we need to pray that and want to pray that because of the brokenness we see in our day.

‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And when we speak of God’s will here, we’re meaning His divine purposes, of what He is seeking to accomplish through all of human history. We’re praying that for that to be done on earth as He’s promised, as He’s outlined, as it is in heaven and we can see here that the start of this prayer is very God-focused. It starts with praise and adoration and moves on to kind of God’s agenda, God’s concerns and that might be a helpful place for us and we’ll come back to that in a moment.

But then He goes on and gets very personal about our own lives. He says ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ and sure, this does include food and I’m sure in the day of Jesus folks would have been thinking ‘Well, we’re needing food’ because they lived from day to day, literally. But it was Martin Luther, the reformer, who said that this could mean so many other things. It could include all that’s necessary for life. He included things like the weather and, in Scotland I’m certainly praying for slightly less heat, but you might prefer it. But we could also include home and family here. We could include peace and government. All that’s necessary for life is what we could be praying here.

‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ I don’t know about you but I mess up and I need God’s forgiveness but, as we, as we receive that forgiveness, if it’s more than just a casual asking God to forgive us, then it should change our hearts, it should change our hearts and enable us to be more forgiving towards others, it should overflow and so this bit and the later verses in verses 14 and 15 it’s not about earning forgiveness, because you’ve been forgiven, but Jesus is talking about someone who has become so bitter that they refuse to forgive and they want to hold on to a grudge and so they haven’t really appreciated what God is offering them and His forgiveness and so we pray ‘forgive us as we forgive our debtors.’

And then ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.’ And the more traditional phrases ‘deliver us from evil’ but, actually, saying the evil one is quite a helpful translation because, we know from the book of James, that God does not tempt us. He doesn’t do that. He’s a good God, a loving God and so, Jesus is not implying that but saying ‘lead us not into temptation’ is about asking God’s help for us not to succumb to temptation. That when the evil one tempts us with things, that we don’t go into rebellion, we don’t distrust God and break our relationship with Him because we listen to the lies of the enemy and so we ask to be delivered from his influence when those temptations arise and that looks like the good life rather than the good life of God’s kingdom.

So, that was the whistle stop tour and I’m sure there’s many questions. There might be three questions I want to just tease out with you very briefly.

You might be wondering ‘Well, do I just pray as it’s written?’ You can do. It might be exactly what you need to pray. You might just need to pray ‘God, Your kingdom come’ but, you know, you might want to just use it as a launching board into other things. ‘God, Your kingdom come. Would healing come in a situation. God would Your kingdom come, would You bring reconciliation. God would Your kingdom come, would You bring peace amongst the nations.’

Another question might be – Do we pray in this order, and only in this order? And again, you can do because, I don’t know about you, but my so many of my prayers are quite selfish, quite me-focused, God help me, help mine, that kind of thing, and it can help at times to start somewhere else, to start with God and His priorities and set our issues in the context of that, of what He’s doing and not only to us, to get good priorities but it helps us be hopeful when we get on to praying for ourselves and our loved ones but, equally, like the Psalmist, you might begin with what you need. God, I need daily bread, the daily bread of wisdom and you might pray into that and eventually you might come right around to praise and say ‘Our Father, You’re the God who provides wisdom. You’ve promised to provide wisdom and I thank you for that. I praise you for being this faithful God who promises to be with me, to be my good shepherd and lead me through into green pastures’, and before you know it, you’re praising God, but you started with what you needed. There are different ways to pray.

Final question is ‘Well, can I pray anything else?’ Of course, you can. Of course, you can. The Bible is full of other prayers but equally it has been said that everything you might want to pray about, every concern, every situation you can come across in life there is something in this prayer. You can pray every situation. So, here’s a challenge for you this week – as you go about praying for stuff, your day, your loved ones, situations at work or in the world, come back to The Lord’s Prayer and see if you can find something that fits and let me know if you find anything that doesn’t fit. But, I’m pretty sure you will.

At the beginning of this week just as I was beginning my preparation, I came across a news article and in this news article it was of a 16-year-old lad and he is now this international DJ. He goes off to Ibiza and plays there in front of thousands of people at the age of 16. and it in the story, in the article he shares that he’s only been doing this for about four or five years. Clearly has, I guess, clearly has applied himself to this but what started it was that four or five years ago, for his birthday his dad, not making this up, his dad bought him his first DJ equipment and it has led to this incredible life, this incredible joy in his life, but it began with that purchase, that gift. And imagine if he got that gift, and I imagine a lot of teenagers like what I was like, were like ‘Hmm, not sure about that? Just put that to the side, thanks very much. What’s next?’ Or imagine he got a gift and he tried it for a wee bit but, you know, all the dials and all the faders and just too complex, I’ll just put that to the side as well. Imagine he’d done that. He would have missed out on this great life. He would have missed out on something that brought him great joy. And the same is true of prayer. If the kingdom is based on trusting relationship, if prayer is a gift, then we need to get using it. We need to get praying. We need to get into that secret place with God and sure, at times, it doesn’t come easy and it raises so many questions but He invites us into it just like that young lad was given a gift and I don’t know what that looks like for you. Maybe it’s as you walk somewhere or as you drive somewhere. Maybe it is set aside some time and you close the door just to get away from distractions. Maybe it’s setting some time to join in to the Thursday Live Prayer and I know it’s online but you don’t need a smart device or a computer to join online, you can literally use your telephone to join in and listen to that and you don’t have to pray out loud. Maybe it’s coming to the 10:15 prayer on a Sunday morning and again, you don’t have to pray out loud, you can just sit in there and listen and as you listen you’re encouraged and you learn what to pray as you listen to others and be in that environment.

But if the kingdom is about trusting relationship and if prayer is a gift, we need to get praying, we need to press in and really appropriate what God has given us that we might know that life and that others that we know and care for, might know the life of God’s kingdom as well, So, may we be that kind of people. May it be so. Amen.

Live out of God’s love

Preached on: Sunday 17th July 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button aboveSermon Sunday 17th July 2022. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 5:38-6:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Turn from dead end ways
– Adopt the Kingdom way of love
– Know and live in the Father’s love

This week I don’t have slides for you so you might want to follow along a bit more closely in your Bible, on your Pew, or in an app. You might want to get a smartphone or whatever you’ve got to follow along and we’re out of the Manse again. Beetles are back so yeah, so, I just didn’t have time for slides this week I’m afraid and so you might want to turn with me and the pew Bible to page 970 and we’ll dig into God’s word but let’s first of all pray:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and lead us into the life of the Kingdom.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

So, I know we’re not betting people but, who’s your money on? Who’s your money on? That’s your question. Turn your neighbor. Who’s your money on for leading the next government? So, over to you for a couple of seconds. Who’s your money on?

Well, lots of opinions there I’m sure. I’m not gonna, we’re not gonna take a straw poll so you can keep that to yourselves. But I don’t, yeah, I’m certainly obviously watching with a measure of interest to see who will be the next Tory leader and so then, who will be the next leader of our government. But it was interesting, startling, worrying some of the commentary after the votes this week. The candidates being urged to drop out and what normally, I think might happen in a back room, was brought much more into the public sphere where some are encouraged to drop out and given the reassurance that ‘You know if you drop out and you support this person, you get a place in the next government. And that is just a bit worrying to me, I must admit. But is there a bit in every political party, I don’t think we can just lob stones at this particular one, and you know, as we get into this passage, I think it’s there at times in all of our lives as well.

We’re in the series going through the Sermon of the Mount and we’ve been seeing that Jesus is inviting us into the life of the Kingdom, the Kingdom way, this Kingdom culture he seeks to create in our lives and in us as a community and that Kingdom way often doesn’t fit with the expectations or traditions that we’re so used to and it certainly doesn’t fit with what comes naturally to us. But, today, we have the next three little portions and in each one is helping us see not only how to live and how to live that Kingdom life, but also what to turn from.

So, let’s see what we’ve to turn from first of all.

So, we’re going to pick up from a couple of verses verse 38, 43 and chapter 6 verse 2 and in all these ways you’re going to see that Jesus is calling us out of a dead-end way of life. So, verse 38 he says ‘You have heard that it was said eye for eye and tooth for a tooth.’ Now, this was a principle from the Old Testament law, the principle of exact retribution and that was a development in civilization because, up to till that development, you took the law into your own hands and if someone took an eye you took a life. You just, you upped the ante and so you got a development of blood feuds within nations and in cultures. But God lays this foundation for justice. He lays a foundation to limit vengeance and to stop us taking the law into our own hands. And so, He gives a court system as well to His people of old. And you know like in everything we end up corrupting God’s good provisions and ways. And so, what was meant to lay a foundation and encourages in a healthy direction, we end up turning into something else, we end up developing a perspective that says ‘Well, it’s tit for tat,’ whether it be in politics, whether it be in our families, or in the workplace, it’s tit for tat, everywhere. Church life. But no, and every one of the ways that we’re going to look at there’s an opposite side to it as well because, not only is there tip for tat that’s a rule that we live like live by, it’s also, if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. So, not only is there the kind of negative of eye for an eye but there’s well, you know, if you help me, I’ll help you out. If you love me, I love you and so, we pay back both injury and favor. And Jesus is saying that’s a dead-end way of life but it goes on, there’s more dead-end ways of life. Verse 43 ‘Now you have heard that it was said love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ Now the law didn’t teach this at all. It’s taught love your neighbor and as Jesus, we know from other stories, expands that to include anyone. But it seems that the teachers of the law had kind of overlooked that element and really narrowed it down because, in fact the law taught you to aid your enemy, if they were needy or and in need of some help. The law actually taught that but they added on hate your enemy. That is an addition, that is a corruption of the law again. Just human nature. We end up corrupting the good ways of God and so we end up developing that way of life that says ‘Well, I’ll only care for those who care for me. I’ll only love who loves me and everyone else well, they don’t really have a claim on my time or my affections or my needs or what I can aid them with, and I will either shun them or end up just hating them, and that’s okay.’ That’s what we end up turning into but it was Martin Luther King who said ‘Hate multiplies hate in a descending spiral of violence.’ Hate multiplies hate in a descending spiral of violence. And it’s another dead-end way of life that when we just go with what comes naturally, when we go with what we’ve been brought up in or what our culture says, we end up just loving those who love us and everyone else well, we might as well hate them because, if we’re not loving them, then it’s towards the end of the spectrum, it’s another dead-end way.

And then finally, in chapter six, Jesus says, so verse two, ‘So, when you give to the needy do not announce it with trumpets as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.’ A dead-end way. There’s nothing more to receive. That is what they’ve asked for, that is what they’ll get. There’s no more life for them or through them to others. Nothing more is available. It’s a dead-end way. And you know, our culture is trapped in that. You might be trapped in that. That desire for affirmation, for to be honored. We see it in social media but we maybe see it in in our service to the church. We want to be recognized for now or and how we do our work. That we want to be recognized for that and our self-confidence so depends on it sometimes. But again, there’s a flip side to that. Sometimes we use that ,that any need, because of the fall, we’ve got that innate need for that and we end up withholding encouragement and affirmation. We know that it gives us a sense of power and so we end up just being discouragement often. There’s just so much dead-end ways of life and I don’t know about you, but I yearn to live a different way, to yearn to live more of a kingdom way that that brings life for myself, sure, but for others as well and how I treat them, how to treat folks in my family, friendship circles, and the community. That I’m not pursuing any of these dead-end ways.

So, not only does Jesus tell us what to turn from, He tells us what to turn to. And so, let’s look at that just now. But central to all is one verse. I think in verse 48 that guides all three of our principles. It says ‘Be perfect therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect.’ Verse 48 ‘be perfect therefore as your heavenly father is perfect.’ And you know, up till this week I think I didn’t really understand that verse or extrapolated it to include too many things because, if you look at the context, it’s the context of our Heavenly Father’s love and if you look at the equivalent in the Gospel of Luke chapter 6 Luke uses the words ‘be merciful as your heavenly father is merciful.’ God’s mercy is His steadfast love. So, when Jesus says ‘be perfect’ He’s saying, be perfect in love as your heavenly father is perfect in love.

What is God’s love like is that selfless-giving love. There are various words that have been used over the years and centuries to talk about love. There were the four Greek words of:
eros – romantic love
philia – friendship love
storge – family love
but then there was the love that was called agape love. Agape – a love that wasn’t based on feeling, like the other three were a love that was a choice, an act of the will, of giving of oneself whether you felt like it or not. That’s the love of God. We see it in Jesus don’t we. He loved us even while we were still sinners and chose to love, chose to display that love in this verse guides so much and these portions but really and much of the Sermon of the Mount.

And so, let’s go back to see what Jesus says after those dead-end ways, after eye for eye. In verse 39 he says ‘But I tell you I tell you, do not resist an evil person’ and he gives some illustrations. Now, we need to know these are illustrations, they’re not actually hard and fast rules as such, because, while an even evil person could respond in many other ways and the example in verse 42 where someone asks of you something well, they might not even be an evil person. What Jesus is trying to help us see is that the way of love does not respond eye for eye, tooth for tooth, does not respond to evil with evil, but with good, does not respond to a request for help with ‘Well, you haven’t shown me any love so why should I show you love.’ Instead, we’re called to go that extra mile, to do more than we simply must to help others, to give simply because someone asks. Because the way of love doesn’t respond to others by how they have treated us. The way of love does not respond to others by how they have treated us. That is the way of love. Jesus goes on as well, after talking about love or neighbor and hating your enemies, He goes on in verse 44 ‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ Again and again, we’ve seen how Jesus upends the teaching of His day. But it’s not only of His day. How much of our day as well? We still hold to this although we don’t maybe speak it out and yet He turns it on its head. Bonhoeffer, who obviously wrote in the earlier part of the 20th century and experienced world wars and atrocities of that time, he spoke of this idea of praying for those who persecute you and said ‘Through prayer, we go to our enemy, stand by their side and plead for them to God.’ It’s not until you picture it that way that you maybe grasp what Jesus is saying here. I sure will pray for our enemies, really stand at their side in solidarity and pray to God for them. And, in case you think that Jesus has been unrealistic, remember what He did in His own life. Huddle have been reading through Mark recently and in the last couple of chapters we’ve been looking at the crucifixion and when you read the journey of Jesus to the cross it makes you want to cry because He’s spat upon and He’s beaten and He’s flogged and He has a crown of thorns put on His head and He has a robe put on His back for a time which would then stick to those wounds and when they ripped it off it would rip the flesh off His back and then they forced Him to carry a cross to His own execution and then they nail Him to a cross and hang Him there to suffocate. And to those that did such evil He prays ‘Father, forgive them. I don’t know how, but He prays ‘Father, forgive them.’

Love responds in that way and there’s a choice of the will, that’s agape love of God. And I wonder friends, where do you need to live out more of that love, that’s selfless, indiscriminate love of God? It’s not just for the people you like, not just for the people who scratch your back, not just for the people who invest their time in your life, but you give of yourself for anyone and they don’t have to earn it. Is it maybe folks in the church that with some people you’re warmer towards them than to others because well, those others are very good, they’ve given of their time, they’ve earned your respect, as it may be in family, you know maybe family hasn’t called you up in months you’re like ‘Well, that’s them done, I’m cutting them out, they don’t deserve that.’ Where do we need to live out the selfless, indiscriminate love of God that we might be freed from that dead-end way of life of maybe got trapped in because maybe instead of love we live in a place of bitterness or just perpetual criticism.

I was listening to a podcast the other day and the preacher said that some research suggests that the strongest marriages are those where the affirmation to criticism ratio is five to one and I’m pretty sure that probably applies in any area of Church life. So, what is our conversation like amongst ourselves, at home, in the workplace? Is your ratio five to one? I’m not sure I can say mines is. What about yours? Where do we need to live out the selfless, indiscriminate love of God a bit more this week?

Remember, you’re beginning to wonder like me ‘Well, how do we get there? How do we get broken free from that dead-end way, so that we can live this way of love?

Well, clearly, Jesus gives us the Sermon on the Mount in part to do that. As he says elsewhere ‘the truth will set you free.’ So, it’s like, as the psalmist says ‘His word is a lamp unto her feet to show the way to go.’ But how do we walk that way? How do we stay in that way? Because, I don’t know about you, but it kind of feels sometimes like the darkness in me just has a really tough hard grip and it doesn’t want to let go. Maybe it’s just me.

I think there’s something else in what we read today that speaks into that. Jesus says in chapter 6 verse 3 ‘But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you’re giving me being secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ Now, clearly, on the surface of this is a principle about how we respond to, think over our good deeds that He’s critiquing those who would blow their horns and say ‘Oh look at me! Look at me!’ And and Jesus is saying well don’t even let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, which is actually an impossible thing to do. So, he’s clearly got a principle in mind. As one commentator put it, I think it was maybe John Stott, and he said that the principle is a principle of self-forgetfulness. Self-forgetfulness, so that the left doesn’t know what the right does. It kind of forgets what’s happened and he explains that, as rather than boasting about it like the Pharisees, but rather than being the other sort of person who doesn’t do it publicly but in private goes over those good deeds and gives ourselves a bit of a pat in the back and says ‘Oh look at me’ rather than being either of those two ways, we pursue self-forgetfulness. We don’t recall it. We don’t mull over and just think ‘Oh, how good I am. Look at my life.’ we live a life of self-forgetfulness.

But to live that life I think requires another bedrock underneath it which is the one I want to draw it for us this morning because really, what Jesus is saying here is, live for what Your Father thinks of you. Live for what the Father thinks of you. Not what others think of you, not what you think of you, live for what the Father thinks of you. And the American puritans had a philosophy of living for an audience of one. Living for an audience of one, and by that I mean live for the audience of God, not your spouse, not your kids, not the church because I’d have 300 perspectives to live for. Live for the audience of one. Let that be the guiding principle of your life, for your choices, for your affirmation, for your security and self-worth. Live for an audience of one. The Father’s love, the Father’s affirmation. He doesn’t always stand with a list of criticism, by the way, Remember the prodigal son’s father didn’t even get on to the negativity. So often we think of the Father as just up there what wagging His fingers but the Father is overflowing with love to you. Do you know He sings over you. Know the Father sings over you such is His love for you. I was dancing in the kitchen with Hope yesterday. I just love doing it not because I enjoy dancing but I loved doing it with Hope because she just, It’s just such a joy. The Father has that love for you that He sings over you. And many of us need to learn how better to live in that audience of one because He doesn’t call us just a cold religion, He calls us into relationship where you live out of His love and when you live out of His love then you don’t need to worry about the perspectives of others quite so much, then you’ve got love to enable you to love, not just the people that love you, but even your enemies, then you’ve got love to be able to even respond to evil with love. But to live that way of life, to stay in that way of life we must know the Father’s l. We must know the Father’s love.

And there’s no shortcut to that. It’s being in His word. Coming afresh with His character, in His ways, especially being in the Gospels, seeing the life of Jesus, seeing and hearing the words of Jesus, coming again and again to the cross and just seeing the depth of His love for you. For also being in the place of prayer, and I’m asking the Holy Spirit to come and reveal the Father’s love to you because Ephesians chapter 3 what does Paul encourage us to pray because he prays it for them. He encourages them to ‘ask for the Spirit so that you can know the length and breadth and height and depth of the love of God.’ You can’t appreciate it yourself; you’ll never plumb the depths of it but you’ll never get deeper in that love without the Spirit’s help. So, pray, be in the world, grow in the knowledge of God’s love and live for that audience of one and that affirmation of the Father and maybe then we’ll live out more of the way of love, the way of the Kingdom.

I pray it may be so. Amen.