Find security on 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 AVAILABLE SOON. 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

SERMON TEXT AVAILABLE SOON

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.

Kingdom culture

Preached on: Sunday 10th 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 22-07-10 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:21-37
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– In the Kingdom, the King sets the culture
– In the kingdom, there is no place for anger, contempt, lust, unfaithfulness, dishonesty and manipulation
– In the Kingdom, we treasure one another

Let us take a moment to pray before we dig into God’s word. Let us pray together:

Come Holy Spirit and, as we pray each week, soften our hearts that we might receive Your Word for us today.
Come Holy Spirit and create in us the kingdom of God.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

As Marion was alluding to in her prayer, there’s been quite a lot on the go, obviously in politics, this past week and major changes coming and within government, within number 10 Downing Street and all because, obviously, the decisions, the ethics that lie behind those decisions have, at times, been very questionable, very poor and it really creates a culture, I think many people have said, which seems corrosive, really quite negative, some would probably go as far as to say a modicum of corrupt, and surely it all stems from leadership, from the heart and character of those in leadership, and hold on to that for a moment because we’ve now begun this series in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus is teaching us about the way of the kingdom, that the life, the best life, the blessed life is found in the kingdom and that there’s a radical welcome for anyone to share in that and, but when you’re called into that, it’s going to feel foolish and subversive because the ways of the kingdom often appear that way and if you share in that kingdom you’re then called to be light and salt in the world by first being changed from the inside out.

Jumping back, culture is important in the kingdom as well but culture, whether we’re talking about the culture of the kingdom or the culture of number 10 Downing Street, is a word that we band around but can mean a lot of different things by it. So, before you hear my definition of culture why not take just 20 or 30 seconds to talk to your neighbor next to you and come up with your own working definition of culture. What is culture? Okay, so over to you for 20 or 30 seconds.

So, probably a lot of ideas. I won’t get you to shout it out because we can’t probably be here forever and a day, but the working definition that I’m going to go with is something I picked up somewhere along the lines that, culture is the way things are done here. So, it’s our practices, it’s our traditions, our values, our expectations, the way things are done here, and that can apply to many different groups and situations. Yes, number 10 Downing Street or a place of work, it can apply to a church culture, it can apply to your family, your family has a culture, your group of friends have a culture, your area has a culture, your society and country has a culture and so, we all belong to many different cultures all at the same time. Now, we clearly are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world and so we are to embody something of a kingdom culture in all those different spheres of life, and to help us know what that kingdom culture looks like and what it means practically, Jesus has given us the Sermon on the Mount to get very specific and in the previous couple of weeks He’s crammed a lot into some very few verses but now He slows down to look at some very specific areas of life and that’s His way of fulfilling the law, of filling it out, by giving it its true interpretation.

Now, before we get into the specifics, we need to know something that’s very key if we want to live a kingdom culture in our own lives and as a church family because a couple of times in the passage Jesus is going to say this ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago but I tell you….’ You’ve heard in the law of the Old Testament, you’ve heard that and you’ve heard the various interpretations whether it be the Pharisees or the Sadducees or some other group. You’ve heard all that but I tell you, I tell you, and behind that phrase of a very bold claim, an incredible claim, a claim of authority that His way is the true way, greater than Moses, greater than the Pharisees and Sadducees who sought just to build on what Moses is saying but He’s saying ‘Actually, I’m kicking right back to the source, this is what it really meant.’ and He’s able to do that because He claims to be God, He claims to be the Lord of the lord, the king of all creation. And so, what Jesus is doing here is more than just rehashing some old laws, more than just making it harder or more difficult or feeling more burdensome, what Jesus is doing here is giving its true interpretation because, after all, in the kingdom the king sets the culture. A culture is the way things are done here. It’s our values, it’s our traditions, it’s our practices, our expectations, and so, Jesus is setting the culture of the kingdom but He does it because any king should do it, to bring life in that kingdom, to enable all to know and share in that good life of the kingdom, and so, yes, it feels at first read when you hear this, as we went through that and Jean’s reading it and I’m like ‘Oh, why have I picked this passage?’ but you go through it and you think at first this is really hard, this is really negative almost, but we need to remind ourselves that behind all this is the goodness of God’s kingdom and as we go through that I’m going to try and bring that out for us today, because it’s not just negative, it’s to show what doesn’t belong, so they know what does belong now.

Jesus has taken a very different approach from the Pharisees. He is, rather than trying to narrow it down to something very specific or broaden it out to try and wriggle out of things, He’s going to choose another path and that’s going to, at times, feel really hard hitting and really quite challenging and, depending what we make of Jesus, will determine our response. So, before we get specific, can I ask you all this – Who is setting the culture of your life? Who’s setting the culture in our church family, in your family, in your household? Is it Jesus? Is it Jesus? We might claim it to be Jesus but is it really Him? Because it’s easy to say ‘Yeah, it’s Jesus, of course it’s Jesus. I’m in church. It’s got to be Jesus.’ But is it Jesus? Have you resolved in your heart that the one who will set the culture for your life, for the life of our church, is Jesus? Not our traditions, not what’s most comfortable or comes most naturally or easy to us. Is it going to be Jesus? And you need to make that decision for yourself if you’re going to live the kingdom life and through you that life is going to be experienced by others as Jesus setting the culture of your life. So, let’s get specific in our portion today.

We’ve got four little parts to look at and we read earlier ‘You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not murder’ but I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment and anyone who says ‘You fool’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.’ Now, when it comes to the teaching of the Pharisees, they narrowed it down to just physical homicide, the taking of a life, the killing of another, but Jesus says that the full application of the law ‘You shall not murder’ includes both anger and contempt and we might be tempted to say ‘Why Jesus? How is that ever on the same scale?’

Before we get into that we do need to know that not all anger is wrong. God gets angry at sin. So, there can be a righteous anger. But how many of us are perfect like God such that more often than not our anger is only righteous? So, let’s not let ourselves quite off the hook yet, okay, but let’s note that there is a righteous anger. In thinking about anger and contempt Dallas Willard in his book The Divine Conspiracy wrote some very helpful material that I found this past week and so Willard says that ‘anger often arises in us when our will is obstructed, when our will is obstructed, or when our life is interfered with’. So, that might be in a workplace and you’re trying to do something and someone undermines you, undercuts you, doesn’t do what you expect, and you get angry because what you expected, what you wanted done, isn’t getting done. I feel this at times sometimes with my children. You might with your grandchildren or people in your community, that something is not done that you want it to be done that way and you get angry because your will has been obstructed, how you wanted life to go has been interfered with and so anger arises. But with that also comes something else because when your will is interfered with often what can arise, even unaware to us, is a will also to correct that, to get that person out of the way because they’re obstructing your life and they’re interfering with your life, we want to get them out of the way and if that anger is very strong there can be then a will to harm, a will to harm. Now, it might be physical but it might also be in a look. How many of us know, have given a look this past week because anger arose in us? And just with a look we wounded another in their heart. Or words. Proverbs says that there is power of life and death in our words or even silence, even silence. The cold treatment because we got angry and there’s a will to harm that person, to make them know that you’re angry at them and so, you treat them with the with silence.

Contempt is very similar. There’s a will to harm within contempt because in contempt we want to exclude, we want to isolate, we want to write someone off and, actually, that brings harm too because God has made the human soul such that it needs to belong, it needs to belong, we each need to belong somewhere and know a sense of belonging and when we have contempt for someone, we end up excluding them, isolating them, cutting them off and that withers the soul. And so, there’s a will to harm with contempt and that’s why Jesus says in the kingdom there’s no place for anger or contempt because, like murder, it has a will to harm and instead there should be the highest regard for one another, the highest regard such that He goes on to say if you know there’s a broken relationship with someone you seek reconciliation and He gives the example of being at the altar with your offering and just leave it to go and be reconciled. And we think ‘Ah, yeah, of course you’d do that. Of course, you would do that.’ Let me put that into context: I would have to be the equivalent would be me preaching probably my most important mark of the week and I put in many hours to be here, imagine just letting me thinking ‘Oh, there’s a broken relationship there and I’ve not done anything to try and reconcile that. Sorry guys, see later. I’m going to go and do something about that.’ and you’d be like ‘What is he on!’ But that is literally. Or imagine me, put it in another context, we’ve had a number of weddings recently, imagine being at the front ready to exchange your vows ‘Repeat after me … Oh, hold on. I’ve just remembered there’s that broken relationship and I haven’t done anything.’ Literally that is what Jesus is saying, that is how seriously we are to take our relationships with one another and with anyone that, if there’s a break, we would pause even our wedding ceremony, that is what Jesus is teaching here, because we have to in the kingdom flee from anger and content and pursue the highest regard for one another. So, that’s part one.

Part two, Jesus goes on and says ‘You have heard that it was said ‘You shall not commit adultery’ but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Again, the Pharisees narrowed it down, so it’s literally the physical act of adultery and everything else, looks and conversation, all of that is fair game because you haven’t physically done anything, so you’re safe, you’re good. But again, Jesus extends it out to include lust. Why? Well Willard has another helpful comment to say that ‘to look upon a person for the purpose of lusting for them using their visual presence as a means of savoring the fantasized act has thereby committed adultery with them in your heart.’ It’s not until you get specific with that kind of language that you can really see the logic of Jesus teaching because, imagine your spouse or such like, looking at someone lustfully and you finding out about that. You would be hurt, you would feel betrayed because, after all, that is what adultery is, that breaking of a covenant, that unfaithfulness and so what Jesus says makes complete sense. Now Willard’s quote helpfully puts it as both male and female. He, but also, we should note that attraction is not wrong, temptation isn’t wrong either. Jesus was tempted in every way but he did not sin. But for us, sin is less than a heartbeat away and so we can very easily and quickly move from attraction and temptation to turning people into an object, a thing, a physical body, that is simply there for our pleasure even if only in our imagination, and Jesus says there’s no place for this in the kingdom, there’s no place for lust, just as there’s no place for sex outside of marriage in the kingdom, and to do otherwise, to reject that teaching, is to put our desires, our wants above the ways of the kingdom and instead Jesus says we should be pursuing the respect and honor of one another, that we don’t see people as things, as bodies, as possessions, but we see them as people made in the image of God, a person of great value and so they’re not there to be used or to have or to make you feel comfortable or fulfilled or whatever it would be rather, you’ve to will their good rather than willing to have them or use them.

And again, He gives some points of application here. He goes on to speak of how important this is in the kingdom that you’re to, apparently, pluck out your eye and cut off your hand, and I’m not sure any of us have done that recently so clearly, we must be disobeying scripture in some way, if we took it literally but Jesus, thankfully, has not been literal because the law also taught in the Old Testament that mutilation, self-mutilation, was forbidden, so Jesus is simply using hyperbola to get our attention, to raise our awareness of how important this is, how important it is but the idea that the principle, the metaphor of maiming is still important, still helpful because, there might be things that we need to cut off, that fuel are lust. It could be certain books or magazines; it could be certain films. Gill and I we won’t watch certain categories of films and if we know our film is going to include certain material, we won’t go near that, not just because of lust but because of other factors too. We might limit certain sites and our internet access because either going to a certain shopping site might be unhelpful. Or it might be that actually the plain blatant pornographic sites are clearly out of bounds and unhelpful and just will raise that lust and are not embodying the respect and honor of the kingdom. But it can be in everyday ways that we just need to learn to cut off the things that might feed and fuel or lust. You might be just walking down the street and you notice someone, there’s a degree of attraction, you notice that but it’s then learning to bounce the eye off rather than linger and it becoming more developed, because sin is less than a heartbeat away and so, you learn just to bounce so that you’re not feeling that and you’re walking in the ways of the kingdom where we hold the highest respect and honour for one another.

Thirdly, Jesus says ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give for a certificate of divorce, it has been said. But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife except for sexual immorality makes her the victim of adultery…’ Now, this is an area of the law where the Pharisees had added extra rules and interpretations to try and wriggle a way out of it and so but even within the Pharisees there was disagreement. So, there’s one school of thought that took the words of the law which said that a certificate of divorce could be given if a wife did something unseemly or indecently then a certificate of divorce could be given and there was one school that kept it quite narrow. There was another school that said even if she burnt the dinner then that was a good enough reason to issue a certificate of divorce. Which just seems completely ridiculous but literally that’s that was the case, I’m not making this up, and Jesus narrows the understanding of divorce to say that, in the kingdom, there are exceptionally few reasons for divorce and He says here that one reason is sexual immorality, the breaking of a covenant because, literally, as I said earlier, that is the meaning of adultery, to break a covenant, to be unfaithful and that’s why He goes on to say that if a man was to divorce his wife that would make her a victim of adultery because adultery is the breaking of a covenant, it’s unfaithfulness which is why God with His people talks about their covenant breaking being an act of adultery. Now I guess more could be said. Some might want more to be said about divorce, particularly with the rates of divorce in our world today, but John Stott argued, quite helpfully I think, that to preach more on divorce could end up being unhelpful, might lead to greater pain, might lead to a degree of confusion because, in preaching, you have to paint with very broad brush strokes and so, he argued, actually, that it’s better to have these kind of conversations as a conversation, as dialogue rather than say too much in preaching, but at the very least we can say that in the kingdom we’re to pursue fidelity, lifelong fidelity, where we keep our promises and we embody the faithfulness of God.

Lastly, Jesus said ‘Again you have heard that it was said to the people long ago do not break your oath but fulfill to the lord the oaths you have made but I tell you do not swear enough at all. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ Once more the Pharisees had added some wriggle room here and they basically said that well unless you use the name of God in your vow and oath then you don’t really need to keep it, you can get out of it. So, they had this system, this elaborate way or and rules around this and vows and of course that is going to create a culture of distrust or lack of honesty, of not really being knowing if you can trust someone, if they’re going to fulfill that vow, and Jesus said that this is completely abusing what the law says for, in fact, we should not be taking the Lord’s name in vain anyway or invoking anything else because it belongs to God and ultimately you’re only having to do that because you’re dishonest people, you can’t be trusted and so, you’re trying to engender a greater degree of trust, we might even say you’re trying to manipulate a greater degree of trust. So, instead, in the kingdom, pursue trust and in transparency by being a people who are so honest that you don’t need to resort to adding more to your yes or no,

So, these are some of the ways that Jesus calls us to embody a kingdom culture and I suspect that the issues around anger and lust are the most pressing for us in our day and maybe in our own lives and there might be a conversation, there might be an incident from this past week where you feel a degree of challenge even now that the Holy Spirit is saying you know in that moment this past week and that look that you gave and that we comment or words, that was not of my kingdom and that’ll feel challenging. But let’s remember, as has been said before, God doesn’t convict to make you small or to make you feel terrible about yourself. He convicts to bring life, to bring you into the life of the kingdom, the goodness of the kingdom and then, through that, others may experience the goodness of the kingdom. So, I encourage you if you’re feeling challenged about something, if there’s something drawn out from you then spend some time in prayer with the Lord later today. Go for a walk. Get some time alone in the room somewhere and just talk to Him. Ask for His grace to forgive but His grace also to enable you to make that right with a person and to keep on changing you.

Going through the material this week in preparation for today I was struck by one idea though that really, we could summarize all of these portions of scripture with this thought that yes, in the kingdom the king sets the culture but, in the kingdom, we treasure one another. In the kingdom we treasure one another. I think it summarizes all of what we’ve read because when we treasure. when we value one another. when we treat one another as precious, rather than resorting to anger and contempt or lust and unfaithfulness or manipulation and dishonesty, rather than any of those ways, we instead, we pursue the highest regard for one another where we seek reconciliation, where we hold one another with respect and honor, we seek the good of each other, we remain in lifelong fidelity, we pursue trust and transparency and honesty. These are all ways that we treasure one another and so embody the culture of the kingdom.

Now, we’re going to stumble, we’re going to get this wrong because none of us are fully mature, we’re all on a journey towards the wholeness of the kingdom, but know this brothers and sisters, know this, we are called to treasure others because our God first treasured us. You are so dear to Him that He came and died on a cross that there might be, instead of judgment, grace. Grace to forgive you. Grace to change you. Grace to help you put things right. Grace to hold you fast unto the end.

That is our God. That is our King. It’s the marks of His Kingdom and it’s the culture He calls us to embody in our own lives and in our shared life together, and I pray, I really do pray, that it might be so. Amen.

Called to change the world

Preached on: Sunday 3rd July 2021
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 22-07-03 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:13-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Called to change the world by our saltiness
– Called to change the world by our light
– Called to be changed

Let us take a moment to pause and pray before we dig in to God’s word. Let’s pray together:

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and reveal the truth You would speak into our lives this day.
Come now Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Over the summer I’m going to give you a little bit more opportunity to discuss and talk with your neighbor, not too much but a little bit more, and so, I’ve got an open question for us to have a wee think about and talk with your neighbor about. If you don’t know your neighbor then always you can ask their name first before you begin a conversation if you wish. But here’s your question for today – what is the hardest thing to change? Six months in it feels like the hardest thing to change is to get Innes to sleep through the night but, hopefully, we’re getting there. But I’m sure there are many other hard things to change. What is the hardest thing to change? Turn to your neighbor and 20 or 30 seconds see what comes to mind. Over to you.

Well, sounds like there’s a lot of ideas there. I won’t get you to say them in case they’re embarrassing or in case there’s so many that we could be here all day I’m sure, but keep them in mind as we as we dig into our passage.

We’ve begun this new teaching series on The Sermon on the Mount and we’ve seen that what Jesus is going to teach us here has to connect somehow to the kingdom of God because the kingdom of God was His core message, it’s what He embodied, it is what He brought into the world. And so, last week, we saw that His teaching was completely upending things for His original listeners, turning things on its head as He taught about a kingdom which was subversive and foolish and yet, people still chose to follow Jesus, they still were captivated by Him because of what He taught, what He led them into brought life. And so, as we come back into the passage let’s remember He’s still speaking to those same people. He’s still speaking to our people who up to this point have really been told by the religious authorities that they’re worthless, they’re unimportant to God, that they’re a bunch of sinners, they’re spiritual zeroes, that’s who Jesus is speaking to.

And so, as we begin at verses 13 to 16 we see that Jesus is saying something to a group of people that would never have thought this about themselves. He’s saying that they’re called to change the world. He calls them to be the salt and light of the world. Now, imagine these people, these people who have been downtrodden, who are just being written off by wider societies, especially the spiritual authorities, the religious authorities, Jesus is telling them that He, they are to be the salt and light of the world and let’s remember what their world was like as we pondered about last week a little a Roman dominated world, harsh, hard, unrelenting, with no mercy, where the strong triumph over the weak so often they. These people are to somehow change that world and maybe they thought ‘That’s just the hardest thing to change Jesus. There’s no way that that can happen.’ But they and we need to realize that He calls them, He calls us into this because we are able to change the world, we’re able to impact the world because of the saltiness and light that is in our lives as we follow Jesus. He says to them ‘You’re the salt of the earth but if the salt loses its saltiness how can it be made salty again? It is of no longer good for anything.’ Jesus calls His followers to change the world by their saltiness.

I was talking earlier with the children and saying that our two main ways that we think of using salt are flavoring things and so bringing out a greater flavor of something that would be otherwise quite bland and another way, I hadn’t thought about the salt on the road for melting the snow thing, apparently, so might be a third way but the other way that I was particularly thinking of is how salt was used in Jesus’ day to prevent or slow down decay. And we might think ‘Well, that seems like two very divergent uses of salt.’ But I wonder if in the kingdom they’re actually two sides of the same coin. That as you slow down moral and spiritual decay, you might also then allow the flavors, the tangible feeling of God’s kingdom to come forward much more. And so, they play off one another and so Jesus calls us to be the salt and light. But you can only have a salty influence Jesus says, if you’re not losing your saltiness. We need to stay salty and I was talking to the chemists amongst us, or at least one of them, I just ‘Is this right?’ just to make sure of what I was reading. But salt doesn’t actually lose its saltiness really, it’s more it gets diluted or it gets mixed with impurities and so, for salt to be salty, it needs to maintain its distinctiveness from the surrounding bodies, not to be diluted too much or not to be mixed with impurities.

And so, thinking about the church, if the church is going to have this salty influence on the surrounding world, we need to maintain our distinctiveness. Not in a Amish kind of retreating into ourselves kind of way, but more in our the choices, the way we live our lives, the moral and spiritual dynamics of life, by embodying the Beatitudes and the teaching that’s to come and what we read in the scriptures. And, you know, that is sometimes going to make both us and the world uncomfortable. I’m sure many of us have had to resort to a salt bath or putting a hand or a foot into salt to cleanse maybe a wound and when you do that you can feel the sharp negative feeling. Well, sometimes that’s going to be the case with the role of the church and with our influence in the world. It’s sometimes going to have a sharp negative sensation but to bring healing, to bring God’s goodness into the world. But one commentator noted that sometimes ‘to look at some Christians …….. (we’d) think that their ambition is to be the honey pot of the world. They sweeten and sugar the bitterness of life with an all-too-easy conception of a loving God……’ Sometimes we don’t want to be that sensation upon the world, we don’t want to be seen in that negative way, we don’t want to feel like we’re having to be that voice, be that presence that causes that uncomfortable sensation but if we lose our distinctive saltiness then we end up either just becoming really bland and ignored in the world, put to the side, or we just become this honeypot where we just sugarcoat everything. ‘Oh, everything’s okay. Your choices are okay. That’s fine, I’m sure God will be okay with that because God is love after all’ and that’s okay but that’s to misunderstand love and truth, light and darkness. We’re called to change the world by our saltiness.

But Jesus says we’re also called to change the world by our light he says ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden so, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Followers of Jesus are to be the light of the world and Jesus says that our light here equates to our good deeds. That is what our light is. It’s the good deeds that of how we love our neighbor as we’re called to do. But love of neighbor captures the whole of life doesn’t it? If you love just them practically, you’re ignoring them spiritually, but if you just love them spiritually, you’re ignoring the practical side of life. To love your neighbor, you have to love the whole person, all of life.

And so, these good deeds are speaking to all aspects of life. To love in both ways and some of us need to hear that. I’m probably more inclined towards the spiritual and I need to think about how can I live practically. Some of us will think ‘Oh, the practical’s really easy, that’s my thing.’ But we need to learn to love in the kind of spiritual side of life as well to be that light in that way that we might point people towards our God.

But again, in the verse that I haven’t quoted here, verse 15, Jesus warns that we can dim our light. Earlier, with the young people, I almost set the church on fire or I thought I might because I got the candle down and I had our wash basket, which is a kind of woven wash basket, over the top I was like ‘Please don’t put the church on fire!’ We’re obviously fine because we’re still here. Because he says there’s a danger of hindering our light. So, here’s your, the second discussion question I got the children and our families to do this this morning. What hinders our light? What hinders our light? Okay, we’re called to be the light of the world. What hinders, what covers, what conceals that light? So, 20 to 30 seconds, over to you with your neighbor once more. Just help yourself.

So again, there’s probably many ideas here around what can hinder our light. One of the ideas that came out this morning was fear. We sometimes want to just hide away; we don’t want to feel on display. Maybe it’s sin, the wrong choices that hide that light and maybe that is seen through wrong priorities or being too busy that we feel ‘I’m just too busy to be used of God in that way. I’ve got to kind of get my stuff done and when I get the time then I then I can do those other things.’ It might be selfishness, that might be compromising. We don’t want to be on display in that manner and so we compromise in some way rather than point people. We might just feel like we’re not gifted in that way to be used of God, to shine a light. But, if we allow God by His Spirit to week by week shape our lives, reshape our thinking so that we can live His kingdom ways then we can shine a light that changes the world. And last week I spoke about the early church of how the early church just was such a radically loving church, that they set their day, their empire, actually on fire in some ways, not literally although they got blamed for that but they upturned the Roman empire with how radically they loved their neighbor and there’s many different stories you could you could pick on but I guess this was brought to mind again for me this past week because of probably things we’ve read in the news and that have then led to other things being in our news within Scotland, around changes within the United States of Roe versus Wade and of how the rights to abortion are changing there and I came across an article which reminded me of the radical love that the early church showed and I just want to read you a few excerpts from that to remind us of our Christian heritage, of why for so long that the church has said no to abortion but that we’ve probably also forgot some of the other dynamics that go along with that.

This pastor in New York writes ‘How should we respond in light of a decision like this? First, we should note that Christians have historically placed a sacred value on children born and unborn. In the ancient world children were seen as commodities for family gain and nothing more than property to be disposed of if unwanted and in defiant resistance to this idea Christians stated that children are had inherent value in the eyes of God, been made in his image and formed in the womb according to His design. In the New Testament children are shown counter cultural value as being members of the Christian community, capable of both response and participation. This teaching, though, did not lead to judgment but to deep compassion. Compassion for disfigured children from failed abortions were adopted and cared for by followers of Jesus. Children given to exposure or infanticide were cared for and adopted by Christians and taken into their care. Orphanages sprung up often run and funded by Christians for unwanted children in the Greco-Roman world. Christians did not believe life did not just believe life mattered, they showed it with their actions in category defying ways, that have echoed through the centuries down to us.’ He goes on to say ‘Though the church has had a consistent vision of the sacredness of life it has, at times, failed to live up to that vision in a holistic manner. The church has, at times, moralized where it should have empathized, and sermonized what it should have sacrificed.’ He has much more to say and he speaks also about being a champion of women, of women, of all women because Jesus showed that in His life and ministry, He’s championed women. He concludes with saying, ‘You may agree with me or disagree but I want you to know we will continue to be a church that seeks to follow Jesus with category defying love, cares about life as historically taught and shown in the scriptures, and loves and empowers women.’

The early church lived in a salty and light-giving way and they were willing to pay the cost of that both in what they said but also then in their lives. I wonder if we do? I wonder if we’re willing to step up in that? it’s all too easy to, I really hate those web, the news articles where you see Christians standing at the side and they’re hollering at people. I just have no patience for that and do not think that Christians should be involved in such a practice. Are those same people sacrificially giving of their lives? Would they seem people have a child come and live with them? Maybe they would, it’s hard to know just from newspaper articles, but it just doesn’t feel like a salty, a light giving approach in the world.

So, how can we do differently? How can we, whether it’s with the big issues, whether it’s the other issues of life, like care for the poor, creation care, gender-based violence, the treatment and care of refugees? So many of the big ways that we could be salt and light. But it can also be in the everyday ways, the ways that we’re getting involved in, the ways that you just stumble across almost. Like, I was talking to a colleague this past weekend and although she is ridiculously tired, she knows of a couple that have a number of children and they were just worn out at the end of the week and she said ‘I’ll take two of your kids just for a couple of hours to give you a break.’ That couple are just new around church, they’re just getting back into faith and one of them is just used to be an alcoholic or is an alcoholic and has been sober now for about 16 weeks and she just gave of out love in that way and shone a light into their situation. It could be in the most minute kind of ways. I was sharing with the children I was at Tesco this past weekend, come back with my trolley to the trolley park after getting the stuff in the car and the place is a mess, I couldn’t get my trolley in and so I think right ‘I’ll just tidy this up.’ so I can get my trolley in, sure it’ll help other people but predominantly for me, and I turn around to leave and this guy, I have no idea who he is, he doesn’t know me, he just says ‘Oh, you’re doing your good Samaritan thing for the week.’ Like, completely unprompted. I’m like ‘What did I do here?’ so I just said ‘Well, if the local minister doesn’t do it then who is?’ just to sew that wee seed and saying ‘Well, you know, I am a Christian and I’m here doing this thing’ and, yeah, I probably did it for quite selfish reasons but hey it benefits my neighbor. So, but just that we salt and it can be in the most small ways, the most unintended of ways, we can be salt and light, we can be that salt and light and change our world in little ways, and in great ways.

And this would have been really news to Jesus followers, as the crowd, as He’s sitting with them, because no one would have ever said to them you can be that kind of influence in the world, that would have been for the religious, the militarily mighty and such like, not these little folk. And so, as He begins to upend their world, it seems, because we have to remember that this is a flow of a sermon and in the days of Jesus teaching was very didactic so it wasn’t just a three-hour sermon that He gave or whatever. So, it appears that like there’s maybe some conversation, maybe people are beginning to ask questions and so Jesus maybe hears some questions that say ‘Well, if you’re turning the world upside down in this area of life Jesus, are you going to do that with God’s law as well. Like, is God’s law may be less relevant? Can we just kind of ignore it a bit, or are you going to do away with it because it feels like everything the religious leaders are teaching us, you’re turning upside down? So, are you basically just chucking out God’s law?’ And, to them, to that question He says, ‘Do not think I have come to abolish the law of the prophets. I’ve not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’

So, up to now he’s been turning up the world of the Pharisees, I think now he turns the world of the folks He’s listening to because, let’s remember the lifestyle of the Pharisee, the teaching of the Pharisees. We have all the Old Testament laws, there’s quite a few of them, to that the Pharisees added 600 more. Like ‘Come on guys, 600 more?’ And that was to help you understand how to live out the old teaching the Old Testament teaching and the law, which just seems crazy. I’m sure the people would have been thinking ‘Jesus, how is this ever possible? Like, the Pharisees are here and we’re down here, there’s no way our righteousness can surpass them!’ But Jesus is doing this to surprise and shock them a little bit, to push them, to call them into His kingdom ways in in a greater measure, because He wants them to have life, to know that good life, the life of the kingdom, if they’ll understand Him properly.

And so, we need to do a wee bit of digging in here. When Jesus says about fulfilling the law and the prophets, fulfill means to fill out literally and what He means here depends upon the law that He’s mentioned, referring to. So, if he’s mentioned, if He’s talking about the doctrine of the Old Testament then He’s bringing a fuller a revelation of God, He’s filling out the picture we have of God and He certainly does that. If he’s talking about the prophetic aspects of the law then Jesus fulfills that because He completes it, He puts it into practice, He fills it out in that way. There were the ceremonial parts of the law and they were talked about as a shadow pointing towards something else and Jesus fulfills them as He dies on the cross, as he dies as a sacrifice as we sung about today and that’s how He fulfills that. He also fulfills the law ethically. There are all the ethical teachings, the do and the don’t do, the ways to live, and He fulfills that by doing it Himself, obeying that perfectly himself. But also, drawing out its true interpretation, and we’ll get into more of that in the coming weeks with the Sermon on the Mount, so Jesus actually fulfills the law in all these ways and He’s going to fulfill it in all these ways across the course of His life and ministry but in these latter verses where He talks about our righteousness, this righteousness that this surpassed the Pharisees. I think He’s particularly talking about the ethical dynamics and the prophetic dynamics of the law because, let’s remember, there were prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah who said things like this, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh and I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’

The Pharisees problem was not that they didn’t have enough rules, it was that their heart was hard and prideful and distant and cold to God. That was their problem, because your heart determines your actions. Jesus says that ‘out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks’ of what’s in us comes that darkness and no matter how meticulous your rules are, no matter how good your intentions are, if your heart is still not right in one particular way or another, then those rules and those good intentions will just be overruled by your heart. The Pharisees needed a new heart and it comes by receiving the Spirit of God into our lives and to us by Him dwelling within us.

To go back to that earlier question from the start of our sermon What’s the hardest thing to change? the longer I live and I’m not particularly old, but the longer I live it feels like the hardest thing to change is a human heart, as a husband, as a dad, as a minister and all the ways that I just wish I could change, the human heart feels like the hardest thing to change.

And so, Jesus calls His followers not just to change the world, but to be changed. To be changed. That, actually, to be that light in the world we first need to have the light of Jesus in us, to be that salt of the kingdom, that brings that saltiness of the kingdom, we need to know the purifying work of Jesus in our own hearts. So, we need that, we need God to be at work in us by His Spirit. And, just in case you’re wondering, in verse 20 where He says ‘You won’t enter the kingdom of heaven and unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees’ He’s not teaching that you have to be good enough to get into the kingdom, He’s trying to draw them into, to the wider teaching of the scriptures, that teaching that says it’s only by trusting in God and being right with Him that you are then born again, you receive His Spirit and after that the Spirit’s working in your life, will change you to bring forward that righteousness. So, if you see your character growing in the likeness of Jesus, even minutely, because it’s a whole life journey, and it’s never perfected this side of heaven, but if you’re growing in the likeness of Jesus that is because the Spirit’s in your life and that’s there, He’s there because you’re in the kingdom, through trusting in Jesus and being born again. He’s not teaching salvation by works, He’s not teaching anything different from the rest of the scriptures, He’s drawing them in to good news that there is a God who wants to be involved in our lives and change us from the inside out so that we can change the world as well.

And I’m sure the people of the day would have been thinking both ‘Wow, this is amazing!’ but also ‘You’re crazy Jesus! You’re crazy!’ Wow, because here’s good news. I’m sure all of us have a way or many ways in our lives that we want to see changed. We see a darkness in us, we fly off the handle, or we’re more snippy than we want to be, or we were more prone to moaning than thankfulness, or we’ve whatever it would be. There’ll be a part of our lives where there’s ingrained ways of darkness and the good news is there’s a God who wants to be involved in your life and change you from the inside out. But, equally, the message that you can change the world is for you as well and you might be thinking ‘Well, I’m just little old me. I’m nothing compared to this person or that person. I can’t do this, I can’t do that.’ But actually, there’s a God who says He will use you if you will allow Him. That, if you will invite Him into your life, if you will keep in step with Him, He will use you to change the world and who knows what that’ll look like. It might be in the practical ways, it might be in in spiritual ways, often the spiritual ways we just have no idea what to do and we’re trying to resource us as a congregation to invest in that as well. So, you know of the card stall through and the hall and that’s a great way to show to sow a seed in a very gentle way getting a card that shares something of your faith but, on your pews today, we just put out these reprinted books that we had a number of years ago and then there are some prayers. Now, you might want to pray them just at home but there might come time, a time when you want to pray with someone and you’re like ‘I’m not sure what to pray.’ Well, if you’ve got this in your bag or in your car or whatever, then there’s some prayers you might utilize. There are also some questions in there where you can be thinking about how to share something of your faith or what God’s speaking to you, of what he’s maybe saying through the church service to you. So, that we can practice amongst ourselves and in practice having and then carry those conversations out into today, every day as well. So, you might want to pick up one of these, they’re at the end of your pews. We do have some more and that might just resource you as well so we can be a people who love our neighbor both physically, materially and spiritually, and be that that light and show that there is a good a God who wants to bring good news to our world and good news to each of us because it all depends on the Spirit and so, let’s close our time as we pray together and ask for the Spirit to come and fill us.

Our God and Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your word today. We thank You for the hope of these verses, that You call us to be salt and light in the world, that we can have an influence, whether it’s in small ways or big ways. Often we feel intimidated by that but You call us maybe just to love the person in front of us, the next person in front of us. To shine a little of Your light into their life. Lord, help us to be that.

So, we ask for Your Spirit to come and fill us. Fill us to enable us to live Your kingdom ways and Lord, if there’s an area of life that that we’re longing to see changed, we’re longing to live more in step with Your kingdom ways, then again, fill us with Your Spirit to overflow. Bring us into life and into freedom. Help us to be renewed and changed in our minds and in our hearts so that we can live that way, we can live in a way that is not concealing Your light or diluting our saltiness but which points to You and the goodness of Your kingdom, breaking into our lives and into this world. So, come Holy Spirit we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The good life

Preached on: Sunday 26th June 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 22-06-26 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Life is found in God’s kingdom through Jesus
– Kingdom life is frightfully subversive
– Kingdom life is surprisingly foolish

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

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

Here’s a question for you to have a little conversation with your neighbor about how long do you think the Church of Scotland has left. How long in years, not days? So, turn to a neighbor, holler across the room if you’re a wee bit farther apart. How long has the Church of Scotland got left? Turn to anyone and have a chat for a few seconds.

So, did anyone go above 50 years? A couple people went about a couple above 50 okay.
How many were between 40 to 50. Those are many a couple.
30 to 40 years. 30 to 40.
20 to 30. 20 to 30.
Everybody else was under 20 then. What did you pick? Over 50, over 50.

Okay okay. We the elders and I had a Kirk Session meeting on Tuesday night and within the various conversations I shared with them an article that I had read quite recently which brought together some statistical information about the Church of Scotland saying that, if what we experience the decline we experience, continues at its current rate and things don’t change there will be no more Church of Scotland by 2040. 18 years away! And that I can hear it. I can here it ‘Wow! No way! I would never have imagined!’ But that is the case. And you can actually see it here just now this morning.

Okay, yes, we’ve had two services and most of our families have gone there but when you look around this room just now, the demographics in this room are the demographics I see in every other church where I preach or I talk and we think it ‘Brightons, well we’re doing fairly well.’ and we think sometimes that’s representative of the wider church but it’s not, this is representative of the wider church and probably even too generous because many are not having so many as we do. And so, when I came to the passage today I’m really struck that in verse 1, crowds of people are coming to Jesus, crowds not a trickle, not a few people but crowds, that He saw multitudes come to Him, that the early church knew explosive growth and by the end of the third century the church and the Christian faith had literally turned the Roman empire upon its head. Why is that?

I’m sure there are many answers and if you’re having a conversation after church then have a chat about that. Why is that? Why the difference? And I think one reason has got to be that Jesus and the early church had a message that was truly good news. It wasn’t about coming to church; it wasn’t about being religious. They shared something which was more than that actually, when you get into it, and we’ll get into it this morning. When you look at their message it was frightfully subversive and it was surprisingly foolish, when you look at the teaching of Jesus in the church and yet people still came to faith. People still came to Jesus. People joined the church and as I say there was that explosive growth. So, maybe we’re wondering ‘Well, what did they teach? What was the message they shared?’ and, in part, we’re going to see that through the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon which captures the way of Jesus, the way He embodied and the way He called people who wanted to follow Him to live out and He begins it with The Beatitudes.

Now, I suspect we’ve probably heard a number of sermons over the years about The Beatitudes. We’ve probably read it in our own devotions and I wonder what emotions has raised up within you. So, again, we’re doing a wee bit interaction over the summer, why don’t you turn to a neighbor and say what’s your emotional reaction to this, what’s your emotional reaction to The Beatitudes. So, 15 20 seconds over to you, what’s your emotional reaction to The Beatitudes.

So, again, feel free to carry that conversation on. I heard words like ‘challenging’ and bits and pieces but I wonder if any of us ever felt a bit confused. I have. Have you ever felt a wee bit despondent when you’ve read these, because you end up seeing it as a benchmark. Have you ever felt pain as you’ve read them? Lesser than them those who mourn. Really, I’m blessed when I mourn? And it seems to belittle your pain and your hardship. Is that really what Jesus is getting? Is that really His good news? Because He uses nine times the word ‘blessed’ and it’s quite a hard word to try to translate and to explain partly because it’s usage across the scriptures and its uses in other ways draws upon many different ideas like wholeness, and well-being and joy. If we were using a Hebrew word we would probably most likely use the word ‘shalom’, that holistic peace that the scriptures speak of, that covers every aspect of life. So, maybe, there’s a way of putting this across that will help us. Some of the translators the commentators put it this way ‘Who has the good life? Who has the good life?’ If you’re blessed you have the good life. Who has it? Who’s in, who’s out? How can I enter into that good life? The good life is known by this group of people, that group of people.

And so, before we even get into The Beatitudes, we need to understand a wider context for what Jesus is trying to say here because, what He gets to here in the Sermon on the mount, in The Beatitudes, comes after He’s already said and been doing something. We could read earlier if we go back into Matthew these words ‘From that time on Jesus began to preach. ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness among the people.’ If you’re to summarize the teaching, the message of Jesus, it’s ultimately about the kingdom. That is the good news. So, whatever Jesus is teaching here about in the sermon on the Mount and in The Beatitudes has got to be about the kingdom because that is His core message. And so, the good life, that’s what blessed means, the good life is known by people who know the kingdom, who share in the kingdom of God and, as the text here in verse 23 makes clear, as Jesus teaches and as He ministers, through Him people are experiencing the kingdom, the experience in the power, the hope, the freedom, the comfort, the joy, the good news of the kingdom through Jesus. And, bringing all that together means that ‘Life (the good life) is found in God’s kingdom through Jesus’.

Life is found in God’s kingdom through Jesus.

Do you know that? Have you experienced that? Are you convinced of that yourself?

What does your faith mean to you? Is it only confined to the four walls of the church, to the ongoing running of an institution? If that institution, if this building was no more, would your faith be no more? Or is your faith tied to something greater and bigger, more eternal? Is it tied to the kingdom?

One of our earlier songs spoke about having a foretaste of heaven. Can you say that, in the depths of your being you have tasted a foretaste of heaven? You don’t know the fullness of heaven yet, obviously, but you have a foretaste because the kingdom has broken into our lives. Do you know that? Have you shared in that?

If you have, is there a desire in you to make that known at all, to share that with others? Because we’ll never see past 2040 if we’re not sharing it and if you don’t know it or if that conviction, if that hope in you has waned a little. Maybe, maybe the invitation today from God is to press in, is to know more, to know that there is good news, there is life through Jesus in the kingdom of God.

So, Jesus is talking about the good life, about the blessed life and that fundamentally it’s tied into God’s kingdom through Jesus. But He goes on to give us these Beatitudes about the who and the what of life and, as He shares this, to my mind, there’s two parts to them and each part is pushing against the prevailing assumptions of Jesus day in two particular areas of life.

And so, in verses three to four it feels like He is pushing against a religious perspective because, if we’re trying to answer who has the good life, the religious perspective, the religious teachers of the day, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the really knowledgeable folks, they would say ‘Well, the good life is known by who?’ Them. The godly. The very religious and that would exclude the vast majority of people, not them, but the vast majority of people because they’re just not good enough. And so, when Jesus comes ministering, what do we see their reaction? ‘Why are you messing around with these people, who are a bunch of sinners and drunkards? Why are you messing around with the prostitutes? Why are you messing around with the tax collectors?’ They just cannot get their head around it because He’s embodying something different, something that goes against their assumptions. And so, when He says ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ and ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ He’s pushing against their assumptions. And that might be a surprise to you because often, we read these words and we think ‘Poor in spirit? I need to be poor in spirit. That’s a benchmark I need to get to. I need to know how terrible a person I am if I’m to walk into the fullness of God’s kingdom.’ Or some such idea or that ‘I need to mourn somehow to be worthy of the kingdom and to know God’s nearness and comfort.’ We end up twisting it so badly, but that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s not saying that you have to be good enough to earn it or you have to have these conditions to earn the kingdom because poor in spirit is those who are sinful, it’s those who mess up in life, it is those who would be ‘spiritual zeros’ we might say, religiously, spiritually. And those who mourn – well do you remember that story where Jesus has this man who’s been blind from birth come before and the disciples say ‘Well Jesus, who sinned? Was it the man or was it his parents?’ because the prevailing thought of the day was ‘Well, if you know any difficulty, know hardship, if you know illness and sickness and sorrow then it’s your fault. You’ve sinned in some way and you’re under God’s judgment’ and obviously in that passage Jesus puts them right. And so, when he says ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ He’s speaking into that assumption that you’re excluded, that somehow you are, you’re not worthy, you’re not good enough, you’re not in, you’re not going to share that good life because clearly, if you’ve got hardship in your life, then you’ve messed up your life and you’re never going to be part of God’s kingdom.

And I’m sure we all know people who think the same in our community and our families. We know people whose lives are really broken, they might not be tax collectors, though they might be we might think of certain things about them, or they might not be prostitutes, but they might be, they might be broken, addicted, they might be just struggling with so much, they might be people who you think is the worst person you know in the world and they’re at work with you day in day out, and you hate working with them or that neighbor who really grates on you and you just wish they would move, it might be someone who has hurt you so deeply, it might be someone that just grates on you and you want nothing to do to them and they might be sitting here in this building with you.

And Jesus would say ‘Blessed are they, for the door is open’ and if the door is open to them, the door is open to you and to me. The radical love of God has opened the door wide for us, brothers and sisters, for you and for me, and we take that for granted a little because we’ve grown up in church and it’s old news, but I’m trying to get us back to that fresh taste of it, that would have been the case in Jesus day, where this was not the knowledge, not the case, and it’s not the case for people in our communities. Sometimes we know people that would say to us ‘God would want nothing to do with me. Look how messed up my life is.’ or ‘I can never go to church and be like them.’ or ‘I’ll go to church when I’ve got life together a bit more.’ The good news of the kingdom is that it is frightfully subversive because it turn up, turns our lives, it upturns our ideas about the kingdom and the window of an invitation and it should thrill us and delight us and we should literally be raising the roof off the ceiling and jumping for joy such is the love of God. But we yawn and we get tired and we just ‘Oh, here we go. God’s love again.’ Yes, God’s love again because it’s a radical love and it upturns. it has upturned history. We get that. Do we get that? Do we live that?

But then Jesus goes on. He goes on to challenge another set of assumptions in the next verses 5 to 12. And these verses are not so much tied to the religious system as they are tied to more like a kind of worldly system and let’s remember at the time, like this picture is trying to jog our memories, it’s the power of Rome, it’s the power of empire, it’s where power and dominance and war are the means to the good life and that, if you want that good life, you’ve got to buy into that system of values and the way of doing life in that time. And Jesus is again pushing against that system, that worldview, that prevailing assumption, because He says ‘Blessed are the meek.’ Like, can you imagine seeing that in the time of Rome, where Roman power holds your life in the grip of its hand and Jesus says ‘Blessed are the meek.’ really Jesus? ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ who want to live a Godly life. ‘Blessed are those who are merciful’ and mercy has that idea drawn from the Old Testament where we enter into the suffering of others just as God entered into the suffering of His people. Really? Can you imagine a Roman citizen saying yes to that? That is how you get to the good life. Blessed are those who are pure, who have unmixed motives, who have God first as their master. Blessed are those who are peacemakers, not just seeking reconciliation between people but that they seek the highest good of others. A world dominating power like Rome does not seek the good of others and we know what that looks like just now in our news. Imagine saying that to Putin right now ‘Seek the highest good of Ukraine.’?. Can you imagine I’m taking that on board? Well, imagine a whole country, a whole citizenship, a whole empire, who thinks that the good life is not earned that way but is earned by war and conquest and Rome’s way being the way for everyone.

What do you think people would make of that?

I think they would be surprised that He’s teaching that. I think they would think it was foolish, absolutely foolish teaching because everyone knows that’s not the way to the good life. There’s no way that you are going to be counted amongst the blessed if that’s the way that you pursue. And isn’t it the case that it’s still a predominant thinking today in our culture, in our times, in our land, in our system of values.

Let me read a paraphrase that I brought together of The Beatitudes based upon something I found in one of the commentaries:

Jesus says ‘Blessed are the meek’
but we say ‘Blessed are the powerful for then they can get ahead of others to secure the good life for themselves.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’
but we say ‘Blessed are the unrestrained and the uninhabited for then they can savor every pleasure imagined by man or devil.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are the merciful’
but we say ‘Blessed are those who look after number one because we don’t have time for the suffering of others.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’ but we say ‘Blessed are the wealthy and, as such, we and our bank balances are our God and they must be satisfied.’
Jesus says ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’
but we say ‘Blessed are those who do what suits them and defend their interests first.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’
but we say ‘Blessed are the expedient and those who are realistic because pursuing what is right is just too hard and doesn’t come quickly enough.
Jesus said we are ‘Blessed when persecuted for His sake’
but we say ‘Blessed are those who go with the flow, are worldly-wise a person of the times, for them the world is their oyster and friend, and the idea of following Jesus to the end against the pressures of the masses is simply too inconvenient.’

Brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us into His kingdom to know life, to walk in a different way, a way that is frightfully subversive, because it turns our world upside down, but it is surprisingly foolish at the same time, it looks crazy on the outside. And to be able to walk in that way we need to know the first part of The Beatitudes for ourselves.

There is a relationship between the two parts because there’s no way we can walk in Jesus’ way, his foolish, radical way without knowing first of all, the love of God for ourselves. There is no way that you can pursue mercy and enter into the suffering of others and keep doing so when you don’t know God’s mercy and love for yourself. You need to know the radical, available, welcoming love of God, not just as an idea, not just as a nice wee Sunday School thought, but as a reality, as a conviction, as something in the depths of your being that drives you, that is your ground, your stay for all of life come what may.

And so, do you know that friends? Do you overflow with that confidence and with that love and with that knowledge of who you are in Christ? Or has the love of God gone cold in your hearts? do you think it’s just old news?

If that’s the case, whatever side you’re in, whether it’s cold or whether you burn with passion, there is more to know, there is more to know. You can know more of the love of God not just as an idea but in the depths of your soul, and I think it begins with prayer. If you go into Ephesians chapter 3 Paul says that he prays for the Spirit to come so that the people there, the church there, will have power to know the length and breadth and height and depth of law of God and to know it in a way that is beyond knowledge, that is in the depths of their being, and I encourage you this summer to press in, to know more to seek God in prayer, that you might overflow with that love and be able to live in that way, the way of Jesus, the way of his kingdom. And you know, maybe then, maybe then we will see churches grow rather than decline. Maybe then it will be many more than 18 years before the last door of the Church of Scotland closes. Maybe then we’ll see a little or maybe even more than what Jesus and the early church saw.

I pray for that future. I pray for you to know that love. I pray for me to know that love to the depths of our being. May it be so. Amen.

Sermon on the Mount series introduction

Preached on: Sunday 26th June 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. There is no PowerPoint accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew
Location: Brightons Parish Church

In a moment we’ll hear our Bible reading for today and today we begin a new teaching series that will see us through the summer months. In our last series in Nehemiah we ended just last week with the idea of trusting in Jesus, trusting in Him as the one who builds His church and He’s called us to play our part in that. But what does trusting Jesus look like day to day? What does it look like in our morals, in our choices? What does it mean to follow in the way of Jesus, to be one who trusts in Him?

And so, we’re turning to The Sermon on the Mount – it’s found in Matthew chapters five to seven – and it will be our portion of text over the summer weeks. Today we begin with The Beatitudes and that’s going to be read for us this morning by Maralyn.