Request and Response

Preached on: Sunday 1st August 2021
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 21:28-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today’s hero is the older son because he shows us the gift of having a changed mind.

This little parable packs a punch. Here we have the vineyard owner again, but instead of looking for hired workers, he’s asking his own sons to help out. The two sons both react very differently in the moment. They both tell the truth one says ‘No’ or perhaps ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to’ but the other obeys in that moment. The good son is obvious as we see in the passage, the words are empty, much like the religious leaders in the faith it encounters. The challenge of this parable goes two ways – to act on our convictions and to make us willing to recognize our errors and to put them right.

If you perhaps have older kids about your lives, you delve into the questions that the religious leaders hit and pass on the things. We so often ask and the Yeses and the No’s we get are perhaps even just the grunts or the groans. The religious leaders at that time were trying to trap Jesus but He kept asking them questions and they were too scared to answer those questions. and then he had another question for them in our parable this morning.

‘There was a vineyard owner’, says Jesus, and Jesus liked to tell stories about vineyard owners there were lots of vineyards about lots of people drank wine and this vineyard owner had two sons two sons who were sitting near his house not doing anything at all to help, and of course there’s a shout from their father, as he spots them, and he says ‘Those vines, they need tending. Go and help the workers.’ He goes right over to the elder son where he’s sitting and he asked him to go and help and the son looks down at the ground, he really didn’t want to help today, he was hoping that some of his friends were maybe going to come round, but yet, he didn’t want to lie to his father he says ‘I’m sorry father. I don’t want to today.’ The father looked sad but decided to ask the younger son ‘Will you go and help?’

‘Yes sir.’ he replies knowing that was what his father wanted to hear he thought that he would go and help and as soon as he finished the game he was playing. Now we find hours later the younger son was still sitting playing. He knew he should be in the vineyard but he was having too much fun, and his father didn’t seem to be too upset, he wasn’t chasing about after him, and his older brother had said no, and so he didn’t move all day until the evening meal had been called. Meanwhile the older brother feels terrible, when his friends arrive, he sends them away so he could go and do his work as the father had asked. He changes his clothes and he goes to work and make up for the time he’d sat around the house. ‘Which of the two did what his father asked?’ says Jesus.

It was an easy answer; the older son because the older son saw that his choice had been wrong and he changed his mind, yet the religious leaders didn’t want to change their minds even when they realize that they might be wrong. Jesus said that because of this they would be the very last to enter God’s kingdom.

Like any parable, we have different aspects of symbolism for the listener. The Jew of that day, they would have understood the vineyard to be Israel and the work to be God’s work, and the father would be God, and the sons would be two different classes of people, the good son who agrees to work would be the Pharisees and the religious Jews, who outwardly would affirm their relationship with God, and yet inwardly did nothing to further His kingdom, and the other son would be the sinners, those who had rejected God in the past, but through the good news of the gospel preached by Christ and by John the Baptist, they’ve repented and they began to do the work that God calls them to do.

In this short story you can see the frustration of Christ at the long history of the Jews who have seen God’s work, Tasted god’s goodness and favor, and yet, still turn away. For us today, the symbolism is similar, the good son could be those who can talk a good game when it comes to God and religion, those good people who believe in God and try to be good but it stops at that, the commands of God and the work of the kingdom have no place in their lives, the rebellious son would be those who have turned from God rejected Him at various points in their lives, and have that heart change, and now become active in the kingdom obeying His call and His commands

It makes you think – which one describes you better?

Now we know neither of these sons are perfect and that was not the intent of Jesus to say that one or the other is how we should be. There are those who say ‘Yes’ to God and they follow through and the intent of Christ here, the big idea is to impress upon His disciples that a relationship with God is about more than just words, and a theme that we’ve seen repeated over and over as Christ has dealt with the Pharisees it’s not about the outside, the way we look, and the ceremonies we engage in, and the trappings of religion, it’s about that heart change, it’s about obedience and about being, and before His ministry is done Christ wants to make sure that there’s no doubt at all about this fact. In God’s kingdom, it’s not enough to talk the talk, you’ve got to back it up by walking the walk. So let’s pull a few things out of this little passage.

First of all, there’s a request; he says ‘Son go work in the vineyard today.’ Not much has changed over the years, fathers are still having to get after their sons and their daughters to be somewhat more productive. All of us can remember our mums and dads asking us to do something that we absolutely didn’t want to do, maybe because of the kind of work it is, maybe it was because we had other plans, and we all know what it’s like to be doing a job we don’t want to do. We’re not going to spend much time here rather than to point out that the request and the call is there. It’s identical to the call given in the parables in other parts of the New Testament, God has not and He won’t change. He wants us to be active out there in the fields, active in the harvest, active in the work of the kingdom here in Brightons Church, and far beyond it. Ooften times, for us, the that work is not something that we want to do, maybe we’re shy, maybe we’re busy, maybe we’re preoccupied with other things. God’s call comes at the most convenient time for us in our lives but yet that call is consistent, it’s work in My fields, get out there and do something, and perhaps as we start to move out from this pandemic it’s even more important to get out there amongst those, and get that work done because they haven’t heard about God and the wonderful things that He can do for us in our lives.

And then we have two sons that respond in very different ways.

The response of the first son was nothing short of open rebellion. We don’t know if he was angry about being asked, and that’s not important, but we do know that he was certainly stubborn. The moment he heard the request he says defiantly ‘I will not!’ Those two great words that are used there are as defiant and as resolute responds as could be in any of the gospels. There is no precedent in the Bible for such a short and sharp reply in the same way it’s constructed together, he didn’t care to argue with his father, he just said it, the message was clear ‘I don’t care. Don’t bother me – get someone else.’ It was pure, open rebellion, and maybe sometimes we know perhaps ourselves or others that can fall into that category, openly defying God’s call and His offer of that relationship, openly living in a way that displeases Him, and while that may only describe a few, now the reality is at that point that we often find ourselves in these positions. Many do.

In Colossians 1 21 it says ‘You were once so far away from God you were his enemies separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.’ All of us become separated from God at one point, all of us have shared the mark of this first son being rebellious by virtue of the sins that we’re born into, and now there would have been very little good that we could take from this story if rebellion was the only thing that marked out the son but there was something else, because this son was also marked by his repentance.

The New International Version use of the phrase ‘changed his mind’ is rather a weak and inferior translation. The Greek is ‘regretted’ or ‘repented’, it’s the same word Matthew used for Judas’s repentance, literally being seized with remorse. The son came to the point where he wished his rebellion had never happened and he had changed not only his mind but his attitude, his whole heart, his priorities and his actions changed, he came to the conclusion that he was wrong, and he expressed his remorse and repented, and understood that the father was right, and he went out and he did what was asked of him, and of course repentance leads to forgiveness, allows us, those who were once rebellious and sinful, to stand before our God, holy and clean and pure.
Again, it’s an amazing truth and the first son’s story was marked by rebellion but then repentance, led to his life being marked as a life of obedience. For each of us is the end result of that repentance. True repentance involves turning from our sin and heading in the opposite direction. That direction is the way that God calls us to live. aul says in Acts 26:20 ‘First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem, and all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.’

The proof that repentance has happened is in our actions and the way we live and in the way we obey and follow God’s call in our lives. The first son’s change of heart would have been rather hollow if it had not been followed by obedience of his actions.

And then we have the marks of the second son. On the surface this one sounded like he would be the good son. He hears the request, he immediately replies, a whirlwind and for good measure he throws in a ‘Sir’. How many parents would pass-out if this was the immediate response they got from their teenage child. Now, when asked to do some work, the first son agrees to the request, Unfortunately, where things got better for the first son, they didn’t go well for the other, and while he agrees initially, we see that he’s also marked by his inactivity. He agrees but then nothing happens. He accepts the call but no activity on his part. He may look good on the outside, he may look like there’s an issue of repentance, but not like that rebellious brother of his, on the inside,

Unfortunately, today there are too many Christians who fall into the category of this son. Come to church, they sing the songs, they do a few more things along the way, and throughout the week, but when God says ‘Work in my field’ they decide they’re quite comfortable where they’re at. Yet God’s call requires commitment to Him and to His Church. It requires stepping out and being uncomfortable at times. God’s call is not a call to sit and look good, it’s a call to get dirty and messy and to be involved in the lives of those He puts in our path.

If our relationship with our Father is definitely by inactivity, I hope this story might make us sit up, make us a bit uncomfortable, and, maybe, lead us to a change and realize our disobedience.

Matthew 7:21 says ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.’

Doing nothing is a sin in the same way that openly rebelling is conforming to what God expects outwardly but refusing to do it inwardly, is empty and hollow and doesn’t please God.

I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories of a conversation perhaps with a toddler or a little one and you’re asking them to do something or perhaps rather to stop doing something and eventually they do stop doing it but you get that little mumble but they’re still doing it on the inside.

Was that obedience?

Well, it’s conforming outwardly but rebelling inwardly, it was disobedience and it was sin and, in the same way, the second son conformed and agreed on the surface but in the heart he rebelled and remained inactive and disobedient.

Two very different responses give us two very different results. The results are clear and simple. Repentance led to the work of getting done. Christ said that those who are like this son, who turn away from their sin when they’re confronted with the truth, they enter the kingdom of God ahead of those who produced the second result, and their lip-service led to the work remaining untouched. When you consider that the work we’re talking about directly influences the eternity of all those around us, it’s quite a sobering thought of what we’ve been left to do, and yet, even this reality is not enough for some to change their focus from what they look like on the outside, or what ministry looks like on the outside, or to whether or not that heart is clean and obedient and the work is there on the inside.

As we close, why not take three things away with you as we apply them in our lives:

Firstly, there’s always hope. God is not looking for the ones who look perfect on the outside, He’s not asking us for unattainable perfection, H just wants us to obey His call no matter where we’ve gone or what we’ve done, no matter how much rebellion there’s been in our lives, there’s always hope through the forgiveness of our sins, and we only have to ask for it, and we can join the others in the field and build God’s kingdom here on earth;

Secondly, repentance is a right response to our sin when we see a rebellion for what it is. Repentance is the only right response before our God. We need to have that remorse over our sins, turn away from them, and back to God.

And with repentance comes this third truth: our obedience is shown through our actions. Some of us say ‘Yes’ in church every week, ’Yes’ in Bible study, ‘Yes’ in prayer meetings, ‘Yes’ in our small groups, we become like the Pharisees looking spotless and holy on the outside, but like that child rebelling still on the inside. Jesus says in John 14:15 ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ it’s as simple as that, He wants our hearts, He wants our obedience, and if the external is not flowing out from inside, and our lives are not marked by our obedience, then we’re just playing at being religious, missing out on that relationship with God. Obedience is shown through our actions.

Hope, repentance and obedience, these are the lessons of this short story this morning; these are the truths that Christ wanted His disciples then and wants His followers today to grasp hold of; every word, every action contains the truth that can transform the way that we think and live today.

Amen. Let’s pray:

Father God we ask that indeed we can say Yes and our Yes will mean Yes rather than a firm No that means No. You give us the opportunity to change our minds changes from this day forward that we continue to work and serve You in our in Your kingdom. That our hearts are open and obedient to you so that we can trust and obey because there’s no other way to be happy and serving You. Trust and obey. Amen.

Power revealed

Preached on: Sunday 25th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there are no Powerpoint slides accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.

Speak o Lord, indeed, to us that the earth may be filled with Your glory.
Your glory was seen in this first miracle that we look at today performed at a wedding in Cana and many miracles thereafter have taken place not just through the pages of scripture but in life in many different ways as we come to this world today continue to work in our lives and show anew the things that we might do. In Your name we ask these things. Amen.

In the second chapter of John’s gospel, we have the account of the very first miracle of our Lord. The scene has now shifted from Judea where John the Baptist has been baptizing in the Jordan and they’re now 70 miles north the area of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples have walked all that way. The occasion was a wedding, an eastern wedding.

Eastern weddings were very different from western affairs. In western weddings the bride is the prominent figure when she enters clad in all her glory the whole congregation stand and the organ thunders and whatever it is. Every eye is focused on her, but in eastern weddings it’s the groom that is prominent, he is the featured one. The bride merely shows up for the wedding. I’m sure we wouldn’t like that here but not only is this groom the featured person but he also pays for the whole affair. So, some of those weddings and those times would go on for two or three days, some as long as a week, and both sides of the family would join together for a big celebration. This is the kind of wedding that John is talking about here this morning. Very sadly, unfortunately not the kind of weddings that people have had to have during this these times of lockdown and pandemic. It was a big affair and Mary figures rather prominently at this wedding too.

She’s there at the wedding and Jesus turns up as we’re told with five disciples. Now, whether they hadn’t sent back their reply or hadn’t saved the date they weren’t expected. He had just called these disciples to Himself and they had walked for two days from Judea. No-one had time to send word that they were additional members in Jesus party but as is ordinarily true in these rural settings people do not make a great deal of fuss about things, they’re always there to add a little more water in the soup and take care of the unexpected guests that show up. So, the disciples come with Jesus unexpected and that maybe explains why the wine run out. Not that I’m saying the disciples drunk at all but there were extra people there for two or three days and that called on a great deal of wine at these celebrations so Mary seizes the occasion to say very significantly to Jesus these words “They have no wine.”

She doesn’t ask Him to do anything about it, she merely states the fact “They have no wine.” Some of the commentators suggest that what she meant was that it was a gentle hint that maybe they had turned up unexpected and had caused the situation, they had put a strain on the hospitality of their host and maybe they should have left before it fully run out, but another says that Mary did not expect any miracle because Jesus, up to that point, hadn’t done any. But the account makes rather clear that Mary did expect Jesus to help. She came to Him with the problem and she expected Him to do something about it. Personally, I believe she did expect Him to do something startling and supernatural. We have to understand Mary had expectations that had been greatly awakened. Undoubtedly she had been told about the accounts of what had happened in Judea how he had been baptized by John the Baptist and how indeed the heavens opened, the dove lighted on Jesus head and the voice cried out “This is my beloved son“ and she too remembered the promises of the would-be Messiah when she carried Him in her womb. Undoubtedly, she expected Him to act along with all the other Jews of that day. She doubtless expected Him, as the Messiah, to claim the throne of David, to somehow drive out the Romans and fulfill all the prophecies of the Old Testament, but now that Jesus has taken the initiative, He’s called some disciples, she had a sort of right to expect more to happen, and the fact that Jesus clearly understood her came back in His response and He says “Woman, what has that to do with me?”

It’s not a rude or disrespectful answer to his mother, although it may sound like it. If a young man today called his mother ‘woman’ he probably would have got a clip around the ear, but here Jesus was using a very common title of respect in the same way on the cross he addressed Mary as “Woman, behold your son.”

When he says what was it to do with Him, He’s just more or less saying ‘I don’t
Understand? What do you want to accomplish? What do you want to happen? What do you want in the plan, mother?’, and often that’s the questions we ask in our lives ‘What are, what is part of God’s plan? We look for the miracles and they don’t often happen but sometimes they do and Mary already had in her mind that something was going to happen because at the end of speaking with Jesus these few words she turns to the servants as we hear and says “Do whatever he tells you to do”.

Notice the simplicity of her words, how easily, how quietly and with dignity it was done and then Jesus takes over from there, not in any flashy way, but just simply says “Fill the jars with water” and, of course, they fill these great big stone jars up with water to the brim with gallons and gallons of water and then he tells them to “Draw out some, take it to the steward of the feast.” There was no prayer, there was no words of command, there was no hysterical shouting or bleating or laying on the hands, nothing at all, He didn’t even touch the water, He didn’t even taste it afterwards Himself to see what has happened, He simply says “take it to the steward” the master of ceremonies or whatever you want to call them, and quite simply the water became wine.

This happened within the limits of a natural process. It’s very important to see this. Milk didn’t become the wine, the water didn’t become milk, he didn’t change it into something like Irn Bru brew or whatever, what happened was something that also happens in nature, water is being changed into wine in every vineyard in France, Spain, Portugal and further afield, it’s part of the long process of growth, gathering, and crushing, and it involves the activity of men and women and the process of fermentation, it’s a natural process and this was the characteristic of these miracles of Jesus, they were a very natural process.

There’s a very helpful book by C S Lewis called Miracles where he pointed out that every miracle Jesus did is simply a kind of short circuiting of natural processes, doing instantly something which, in general, would take a longer period of time. Lewis says in the book each miracle writes for us, in small letters, something that God has already written or will write, and letters almost too large to be noticed across the whole canvas of nature. This is what Jesus is doing, He’s overleaping the elements of time, growth, gathering, crushing, fermenting and he takes the water right to wine without a word or a gesture. He demonstrates His marvelous ability to master the processes of nature.

Some claim that Jesus didn’t change water into real wine that all he did was change it into very good grape juice. I consider that claim that they make ridiculous, probably hardly worthy of an answer. They don’t serve grape juice at Jewish weddings. They never have and they probably never will. In fact, in other places in the New Testament where we have warnings against the overuse of wine, we have a clear indication that the wine of that day was indeed intoxicating, people had to watch it then, just as they must watch today. Wine was a commonplace drink, one that believers partook off along with everyone else in the culture and climate. Our Lord certainly did change that water into real, true, genuine wine. Actually, the very force of this miracle depended upon the fact that it was good wine and this was confirmed to the amazement of the steward of the feast when he drank the wine. Can you just picture them taking the cup and sipping it, swirling it around, perhaps smelling it, and drinking it again, and then realizing what a wonderful blend or brand of wine it was, in fact, such a good wine that had come from these jars that had been filled with water.

The account that we read this morning even hints at the bewilderment of the very bridegroom, we’re not told that the what the bridegroom said but he evidently didn’t say anything he must have been quite, I suppose, bewildered by everything. He just keeps his mouth shut and he takes the credit for the whole incident and for his guests realizing that they had kept and served the best wine last which was not the common practice at these things.

“This is the first of His signs that Jesus did in Cana and Galilee! it says in John 2:11 and it manifested His glory and the disciples believed in Him.

Three factors call for our attention in that particular verse because John says that the miracle was a ‘sign’. It was an acted parable and signs are not merely miracles they’re miracles that have a meaning, they’re intended to convey truth that would not otherwise have been known, that’s what signs are for, to tell us something that we wouldn’t otherwise know, that’s what John means when he says that this miracle was a sign and what it pictured on that day was the normal outcome of the combination of human and divine activity. Men can fill water jars, only God can change water into wine. Men can do the ordinary, the common place, the normal activity, but God touches it and brings it to life and gives it its flavor, and what’s the meaning of this sign that day, it’s an indication of what the ministry of Jesus was going to be like, Whenever He touched a human life, not only during His lifetime on earth, but well beyond that, and that’s how it affects us today as well. Bring God into our situations, into all the humdrum calling places, activities, and we’re touched with a new power, become different, more fragrant, more flavourable, more enjoyable and delightful, and the joy and the gladness of our heart when He comes into our lives, and that was the meaning of the sign that day where God indeed manifested Himself to humankind and showing this first miracle, and, according to John, that the second thing was that indeed it did show God’s glory. Already in chapter one John has told us that the glory of Jesus is His great grace and truth, and that He’s full of that grace and truth, and here in this event this morning we see both of these together.

His grace is manifested in the fact that He brought with Him five, with Himself six, unexpected guests to the wedding. They had no gifts to bring, so He seizes on the fact of the six stone water jars and He has them filled to the brim and He changes them and thereby He gives the most generous gift anybody would give at a wedding. He gives that newly married couple a gift of the best wine in the whole countryside. One jar for each of those unexpected guests. What a gracious truth comes from our Lord’s grace as He gives and gifts to each one of us and with it comes the truth and the glory of Jesus in His fullness, in that event there, was manifested truth about Himself that He indeed was the Lord of all nature.

A I pointed out earlier, He was carrying out a natural process but in a very short period of time.

We can open up the fairy tale books. We find ourselves in a world of miracles so diverse that they can hardly be classified – beasts that turn into men; men into beasts or trees; trees that talk; ships that do things; magic rings that change; all these things in the land of fairytales, but the fitness of the Christian miracles and their difference from these mythological miracles and storytellers lies in the fact that they show invasion of a further power, the great power of God. He brings the light into the world through His son Jesus Christ and He’s proclaimed the King of kings and His majesty is there for all to see and it was starting to become evident as these miracles were carried out.

He worked with things in nature changed them quickly, and people talk about nature. I read a little explanation in our gardening magazine that someone has said nature is the glove on the hand of God and we see the glove at work and we think it’s marvelous and it spoke about many of the ladies gardening and wearing their gloves wearing their garden gloves to dig up the earth, to pull the weeds, to sow the seeds and the plants.

Wouldn’t you think it’s strange if someone came along past your garden seeing all the fine work you had done and marvel that your gloves could do such a thing.

It’s the hand inside the glove that does the work to show the glory of the garden and it’s God indeed in Christ that shows the work that glorifies Him in life.

We see everything in the natural world, we see the cycles of snow and rain, we see the stars in the heaven, the sun, the moon.

Who did it? It wasn’t the glove behind all these things, and the power of nature was God Himself.

The third thing that John brings out and concluding this passage he says “His disciples believed in him” they believed that here was God’s man, they had started following Him, He was ruling over all the works of God’s hand, He was put in dominion and authority and given power over all the earth and here He had power over nature, a limitless power, and that was the sign in this very first miracle when the disciples saw the water changed into wine they believed more deeply in Him than they ever had before, they saw that here was one who could handle life, here is one who could take a commonplace thing, nothing out of the ordinary, simple water, and make it wine, make a source of joy, glory and warmth, and He still comes yet, but not to change water into wine, but to change us. The hand is there upon us, and in us, and through us, and the power of His spirit, and He can bring out in us more flavor and fragrance and strength and beauty than can ever be brought out in whatever bottle wine. He will do this with each of us if we ask Him if we follow Him, and if we believe Him.

Through the miracle at Cana, His disciples believed in Him, and through that very miracle today can we indeed strengthen our belief that He works in all things for the good of His glory and continues to mould each of us day by day, Amen

Let’s just pray:
Thank-you Father for this look at this simple event on that day in Galilee. Help us define its meaning for our own lives, knowing that He who, without a word, without any ostentation, transformed, silently,, quietly with dignity, the water of that day into wine. So, can He take the water of our commonplace lives and change it into wine that we may be rich and full of His power and His glory. We thank you for that, in Jesus name, Amen

Fruitfulness

Preached on: Sunday 18th 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 21-07-18 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit, help us to follow after Jesus and hear His voice.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen

Two of the places where Gill and I like to holiday the most are Northern Ireland and up north, particularly west of inverness, but to get to either of those locations requires quite a long drive and for many years I’ve really wanted to have a car that had cruise control, because the idea of not having to worry about speed cameras, not having to worry about accelerator, just being able to sit back and enjoy the drive, oh, that just sounds really good to me, not being able to have to worry about those things, but, as yet, no cruise control in a car, maybe in a couple of years whenever the car eventually dies and that’ll be the time for that feature, and similarly I wonder if there are times in our faith journey where we wish we could have cruise control, where our following after Jesus would just be that little bit simpler if you could switch on the cruise control so it was a little bit smoother, easier, just enjoyable. How good would that be? No? Am I the only one that might like that from time to time?

And our passage today reminds us that we can’t just put on the cruise control, that our fruitful life does not happen that way.

At this point in Luke’s gospel, and we’re beginning to see that Jesus is becoming very popular, and big crowds are gathering around Him but Jesus discerns this is the time for a bit of a challenge, now, because He’s looking for more than superficial faith, He’s looking for followers who are open and receptive to His teaching about the kingdom of God because, let’s remember. at the time Jesus came the Jews were looking and hoping for a Messiah to come, a political and military Messiah who would come and be king and get rid of the Romans, but Jesus, if you go back and look at chapter four, makes it very clear that now is not the time of God’s vengeance, it is not the time. He is Messiah but He is not the Messiah they expect, and so this is part of the reason why He teaches in parables.

He said ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you but to others I speak in parables so that those seeing they may not see, though hearing they may not understand’ and when Jesus speaks here of the secrets of the kingdom He’s referring to what was there in the Old Testament but everybody was just overlooking it because they were expecting that political and military Messiah and yet, now, Jesus is revealing the truth of it, the truth that was there still in the Old Testament that the Messiah would come to serve and to die, and that the invitation to be part of His kingdom would be for everyone, not just the select few in the Jewish nation, but that didn’t fit with the expectations of the people of his day, and they refused, especially the religious leaders, but others besides refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah even though His miracles and His teachings should have made it really quite clear, and so He teaches in parables.

He teaches in parables for two reasons: to show their hardness of heart, but also to keep their idea of Him being this political and military Messiah just on down low, rather than it gaining traction, and we saw that in our last series on grace, but it’s only for a time, it was only for a time. Jesus doesn’t want to cloud His identity forever otherwise He wouldn’t give the disciples the explanation of the parable and we wouldn’t be teaching on upon it this morning, and so Jesus does want people to understand who He is, does want us to teach, and does want us to understand the parable, so that even today, just as in His day, there will be followers who are open and receptive to His teaching about the kingdom, rather than just being superficial followers, and so He gives us the parable of the soils, and it probably should be called the parable of the soils because the focus is not on the sower and it’s not on the seed, it’s on the soils and on how receptive the soils are to the seed sown by the sower and there are four types of soil.

There’s the footpath soil which is what my daughter called it this morning in the early morning service and she was all shy and bashful about it. I was like “Hope, have you been reading my notes?” she hadn’t, she’s only four so that couldn’t happen. Footpath soil and rocky soil and thorny soil and good soil, and Jesus gives an explanation for each of those soil types.

The first one, He says the seed is the word of God and those along the path are the ones who hear and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Now, because of our propensity nowadays for the supernatural and for superstars and for superheroes like in Marvel, we get kind of attracted to one word the ‘devil’. Don’t we? And because we’d rather blame others than looking at ourselves again we get attracted to this word and this is what we want to focus on in this verse maybe, but the focus is not actually on his part in this because he couldn’t do anything if the soil first wasn’t hard, and so the focus is on the soil, that the soil is hard and it cannot receive the seed and become embedded in the soil, and so grow, and in Jesus day, that was most often seen in the religious leaders but many others besides, those who would not receive Jesus, would not receive His teaching, would not receive Him and believe His message, and I wonder, friends, are any of us here or at home, does this describe us? Do we refuse to believe the teaching about Jesus and we keep Him at arm’s length with a hard heart?

Then there’s a second type, those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it but they have no root, they believe for a while but in the time of testing they fall away. Here Jesus describes a superficial heart a superficial response to the word and yes, they start with great enthusiasm and passion but there’s no depth and because there’s no depth, they’re not able to sustain their faith particularly when things get hard, and following Jesus gets hard, and I wonder if that describes any of us, friends? Did you maybe pray a prayer, could have been in your teens, could have been much later, maybe one of the prayers that I’ve led us in but it’s not really led to very much. Now, I am not going to stop giving people an opportunity to pray a prayer, I think that’s a really important first step, but the proof of faith is fruitfulness, it’s a life lived in faith and so it’s not enough just to say a prayer, it’s not enough just to become a member of a church. So, is this you? Is this your faith, your heart? Is it superficial?

Soil three describes those that fell among thorns which stands for those who hear but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries riches and pleasures and they do not mature, and what Jesus is describing here is a divided heart, a divided heart and again there’s initial positive response to the teaching of Jesus and maybe it lasts a bit longer than the superficial heart but eventually the worries of life, the pleasures and riches, they grew up like weeds and they stifle it and they overwhelm faith and eventually again faith withers. Is that you friends? Is that you? Is faith withering?

Or have we the potential of the fourth soil which was described this way “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the words, retain it and by persevering, produce a crop” Do you have the potential of the fourth soil? Do you have the potential of the fourth soil? Because it’s only seen over time, fruitfulness is never achieved overnight and so the focus is on our response over a lifetime maybe most properly seen at the end of life when you look back over all your days of faith is that you friends are you continuing in faith with Jesus holding on even amidst the difficulties and as you look back over your life do you see signs of fruitfulness.

So, which type of heart or soil are you?

Are you a hard heart, a superficial heart, a crowded heart or a heart that has a potential for fruitfulness? Are you on your way to bearing a great harvest and you know maybe as we think about that we might begin to worry, we might think ‘I feel like my faith is drying up’ or ‘I feel like my faith is being crowded out’ maybe especially by worries or ‘I’m struggling to persevere to the end’ or you maybe look back and you’re thinking ‘Where is the fruitfulness in my life?’ Where is the fruitfulness? But, you know, Jesus doesn’t share this parable to condemn you and he doesn’t share it to say that what you are is always what you must be, because he shares it to issue an invitation. He wants you to recognize your heart but by recognizing that He wants to give you an invitation to have some heart surgery, because Jesus is in the business of healing and changing hearts.

Let’s remember what he said earlier in the gospel of Luke ‘It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

Friends, we’re all sick with sin, every one of us, we always have been and, until we go to glory, we always will be. Sin will always be an influence in our lives but Jesus is in the business of changing hearts bit by bit, year upon year, so that we can be fruitful, to bear fruit to the glory of His name.

So, what type of heart are you friends? What type of heart are you and are you on your way to being a fruitful heart? because Jesus invites you to have Him as part of your life and change your heart that we might be fruitful and I reckon many of us yearn for that. We might be withering in our faith, we might be struggling in our faith, we might feel like our faith is being overcrowded, or we might just want to be fruitful so that Jesus is glorified.

I think in part of us there’s that yearning and so in the rest of the time remaining to us I want to look at two things.

Firstly, what is fruitfulness? what are we talking about here? and the second is well How do you become more fruitful? What is fruitfulness and how to become fruitful?

Fruitfulness is described in the New Testament in these ways it’s described as good deeds, generosity, a Godly character, the fruit of the spirit. It’s knowledge and praise of God and sharing our faith. Now, I know there’s a danger in putting up a list like this because we’ll instantaneously start going ‘Okay, good deeds, tick; generosity, tick; I’m not very loving but I’m not bad on the kindness so, tick; and we start letting ourselves off on some of the things that are up here, and I’d want to challenge that because Jesus in the parable said the good soil are those that hear retain and persevere in what they’ve heard and that should prompt us to be people be Christians who want to display fruitfulness in all the areas not instantaneously because, as I said, it’s over a lifetime, but we should want to grow in all these areas even the things we’d prefer to avoid, because they make us uncomfortable. So, please don’t start just ticking off the list.

Okay, and in case it sounds too difficult and too costly, I think Luke gives us the first three verses to say kind of set the context and call us out on this because we read there ‘The twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases Mary, Joanna, Susannah and many others, these women were helping to support them out of their own means’ and there are various reasons for Jesus, for Luke including this.

First of all, clearly he wants us to see that the invitation to follow Jesus is there for everyone man and woman, that there’s no favorites, there’s no hierarchy, everyone is equal under God and invited to follow Jesus, and that would have been controversial in Jesus day because only men could follow Rabbis and Jesus is saying No, No, No, the kingdom is open for all because He values and loves all equally but secondly, and more to the fore of probably the reasons here are that these women have benefited from the teaching and ministry of Jesus, they’re all healed either spiritually or physically and so out of that they do the unthinkable, they sacrificially follow Jesus, they give up well-defined social circles and expectations and duties and the box that people have them in to follow Jesus, and they do so sacrificially, giving of themselves, their time, and their resources. These women are held up here as more of an example to emulate than the disciples are! So far the guys have not hit the standard but the women have and we’ve to emulate their example and so that list that was like ‘Oh this is way too daunting!’ these women are held up as to call us out, to say ‘here are people who gave up expectations, who gave up commitments and comforts so as to follow Jesus in a sacrificial way. They did it, you can do it if you are but willing.’ because fruitfulness will not come by putting on the cruise control, it will not come by doing what we’ve always done or what is comfortable. Fruitfulness does not just happen.
So how can we become more fruitful? What does it look like to hear and retain and persevere with God’s word? Well, there are literally books written on the subject and you’ll be glad to hear I’m not going to regurgitate a book this morning and so, what I’m going to share with you is just some broad principles and ideas and a few ideas that I’ve seen people in this congregation put into practice, and each idea is linked into the soil type.

So, soil one was the hard soil, the not receptive soil and it really speaks about openness. How can we be a people who are more open to the word of God? and you might think ‘Well, I’ve ticked this box. I’m in church or I’m tuning-in at home.’ Well sorry, if the very word of God made flesh was there amongst people’s lives and they were rejecting Him, and not open to Him, then don’t think just turning up to church means that you’re open to the word of God. Let’s not just tick the box rather.

Let me ask you ‘What is your rhythm at home of reading the bible? Do you have one?’ because that’s where it really hits the rubber to keep using the car analogy or when we come to church do we come expectant to hear from God and two people come to mind and I won’t name them but what they show me is great expectancy in how they come and even before they come and so one person I can think of they come with a notepad ready to take some notes down during the sermon because I waffle an awful lot and there’s a lot to take in and maybe you’ll just get lost in all the words and so coming ready to capture that thought to think ‘Oh, that speaks to me.’ take it down, take a note because by the time you leave that door you might have forgotten it. Are you coming open and expecting? and another person I can think of she sends me a written prayer every Sunday morning, every Sunday morning and has done it throughout lockdown every week carrying on a ministry she did even before lockdown and every week in that prayer in some way or another is God speak to us, minister to us, meet with us, whether we’re online or here in person.

Do we have that level of expectancy or do we just rock up to church because it’s the done-thing, or do we come expecting, expectant to hear from God? Do you pray on your way down? Do you pray as you’re getting ready ‘God I want to hear from You, I want to meet with You?’ I’d love to have a church and a family that and in my own life have that level of expectancy, that level of openness to the word of God. Could we nurture that church? Could we nurture a rhythm and an expectancy or soil two, the soil that struggled to provide for the wheat because it wasn’t deep enough and so there was lack of fruitfulness? How can we nurture depth?

Well, you could get involved in a Fellowship Group where you go and you study the scriptures together and you get deep down into them, and you share also your life in a fellowship group so you can pray for one another. That’s a way to nurture depth.

Or maybe later in the week don’t go on yet maybe later in the week you can look back over your sermon notes that you took when you came along, or go back and listen to the sermon again because it’s on our website, every sermon from the last two and a half years is on the website – go and have a look.

Or do you talk to God about what you take home from a Sunday or what you’re reading during the week, because when you talk to God you’re not just ticking the ‘read the bible box’, you’re taking it deeper, you’re reflecting and you’re praying and these ways get the word of God deep in our hearts by reflecting on it and by praying it over. It’ll help us retain the word of God.

Or the third soil type, clearly it was the crowded soil, so how do we create space? How we create space and it’s intentionality and priority and for some of us that will mean we need to reorder our lives. Most of us prioritize life either on habits we’ve learned over the years or the most pressing issues facing us just now and so quite often it will be family, work, friends, the house chores, maybe some volunteering but nowhere in the top five or ten things does time with God feature, but it should. Where do we bring it in? because if often ends up at the bottom of the list and ‘Well, oh God, there’s another day I was too busy, I couldn’t fit it in. There’s another week, there’s another month, there’s another year, and so no wonder we lack fruitfulness, no wonder we lack fruitfulness, and at every stage of life I’m sure that has different state pressures whether you’re in retirement, whether you’ve got a family, whether you’re busy with a career, whatever it may be, they’ll be the different pressures. So, what does it look like for you to prioritize Jesus in your life? Maybe we need to say no to more things, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to taxi you or the kids or the grandkids as much this week – easy for me to say with a four-year-old – do we push back against unrealistic work expectations. Do I in church, do we allow some things to stop in church because we’re too busy. How can we be a people who create space through intentionality and priority, space for God to speak?

But for some of us and for some areas of fruitfulness the issue is not stopping it is actually starting and earlier on I gave that list of fruitfulness and I just want to pick three from that list of good deeds, so generosity and sharing our faith.

So, good deeds, we looked in our last series that one of the meanings of grace is refers to spiritual gifts and so we all have spiritual gifts, we all have something given for the mission of the church. So are you serving? Now you may be at a stage of life where being, doing something physical is just not your thing, but are you supporting others, are you praying for others, otherwise others of us are able still to serve very actively, and so my question would be ‘Where is at least one area of church life where you give yourself? because all of us should have at least one area and sadly because not enough of us contribute.

Or we maybe need to stop more things. There are some people who have so many things that they’re doing, so on good deeds. Where are you serving the mission of this church, which is to make Jesus known and help us follow him?

Or generosity, are you giving to this church, to the work we do and if not, because it’s very easy to forget to maybe bring something or do it do it electronically, have you set up a standing order? Do you maybe need to increase your standing order? and as far as sharing our faith goes what are you doing about these words of Jesus where he says ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’

Are we retaining this like he says the good soil does, or are we turning away from it and just ignoring this, because it’s too hard and it’s uncomfortable? Now, I don’t expect you to go out and talk to the first person you meet on the street, I don’t expect that but, how about all of us committing to pray for two local people to come to faith, two local people so that then they become part of this church family. You can pray for more besides and I do as well but I have no expectation of them ever coming here because they’re too far away. Who are the two local people you’re praying for? because if you pray for them eventually, you’re more likely to invite them to come to church or you invite them to come to something or you’re likely to share your faith with them or you’re going to know them so well that when times are hard you can share something of your faith. So, who are the two people you’re going to pray for that are local, that you would love to see part of this church family? because we will not be fruitful if we just put on the cruise control. We will not be fruitful if we do what we’ve always done. It does not just happen friends. The Lord wants us to be fruitful that’s why he gave us this parable and I pray that, no matter the cost, no matter how counter cultural it might be, and how it might upset the apple cart, may we give ourselves in these ways so that we have the potential of the good soil and might bear fruit that is a hundred-fold what has been sown in our lives over the years. I pray it may be so, Amen.

Great reversal

Preached on: Sunday 4th 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 21-07-04 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 18:9-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer in advance of thinking about His word.

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

It’s sometimes said that Christianity cannot be true because the four accounts of Jesus life just seems so varied and contradictory and it’s true that if you look at the different accounts Matthew,, Mark Luke and John they have very different material. Sometimes one has one story and one has another and you’re like “Why are these differences guys?” but to say that these differences undermine the truth of Christianity is to reveal simply that you don’t understand or appreciate the purposes and style of the authors because the authors are trying to help us capture something of the wonder and vastness of Jesus and His kingdom and what it means to follow Jesus. As such, in the book of Acts, one of the great themes he tries to convey is that of a great reversal and it comes across in stories.

We’re very familiar with Luke as the only author to speak of shepherds who are visited by angels and go and see the baby Jesus. Luke is the only author to write about parables of Lord, sheep, coins and two lost sons, and in all these examples and many more besides, in his account of the life of Jesus he tries to help us see that with the coming of Jesus a great reversal began and is on-going, that those who were welcome, those who were written-off, are welcomed, and those that which was wrongly honored is shown to be empty and replaced with something better.

The same is true of our passage today. We’ve just begun a series on stories of power and parable but don’t make the assumption that it’s only in the big displays of God’s power that people their attention was grabbed because, in fact, these parables of Jesus were equally awe-inspiring, these parables unsettled people, these parables made it clear that a great reversal was going on, and it began because Jesus and His kingdom broke into the world and in our parable today we have two individuals, we have the pharisee and the tax collector, and we probably know that the pharisee was known for their religious observances and their exact interpretation of Old Testament law we probably know that they are the epitome of faithfulness to God and that they had a moral and religious life that was beyond compare.

Indeed, the pharisee says today that he gives a tenth of all he gets and fasts twice a week. Now fasting in the Old Testament was only required once a year and yes, the Old Testament expected tithing on what you earned but we know from other stories of the pharisees that they probably even tithed the herbs they grew in their garden and they might tithe the produce they bought just in case the person they bought it from had not tithed. These individuals, the pharisees, were head and shoulders above everyone in obeying the laws of God. He is probably held in high regard by everyone. He is the person everybody wants to emulate.

On the other hand, we have the tax collector, the most hated of sinners, the worst of sinners, because they had sided with the Romans against God and His people. They were seen as leeches upon society, traitors, and no one honored them, no one aspired to be them, and Jesus picks these two characters to speak of His kingdom to speak of the reversal of His kingdom because Jesus recognizes He needs to speak into His day and to His time and to challenge those who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else. Jesus wants to help them see that a great reversal has begun and that what was wrongly honored is seen as empty and is being replaced with something else, because, at the heart of this parable as well as the story about the little children and if you go on to the story about the rich young ruler, the heart of the issue and all these stories is what are the conditions for entering the kingdom of God.

What are the conditions? What makes us right or justified before God?Is it really just observance? Is it success and self-sufficiency? Is it the group you belong to? What makes us righteous such that God accepts us? And to help unpack that Jesus, in His parable, shares the prayers of these individuals and in doing so helps us see their hearts.

The pharisee says “God, I thank you that I am not like other people, robbers, evildoers, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”

He’s basically saying “God, I thank you that I’m so great.” He lists the things he avoids and the things that he does and his heart is revealed as proud, as self-sufficient. There’s no sense of sin, there’s no sense of need, there’s no humble dependence upon God. His words revealed that he thinks he’s earned it, he’s worthy, the doors are open to the kingdom of God because he is due by God Himself, and in all likelihood, you can imagine people, although they’re so jealous of the pharisees, you can imagine them going “Yeah, you know he’s got it right.” He knows what he’s doing, his life, his heart, his religious observance, they’re ticking all the boxes and God would welcome him and I wish I was him I honor him.

And yet, Jesus goes on “but the tax collector stood at a distance, he would not even look up to heaven but beat his breast and said “God have mercy on me a sinner.”” We can see that he’s under conviction of sin, he won’t come any closer, he’s at the very edge of the temple and he dare not come closer because he is aware of his current state, he will not even look up to heaven which was the way they prayed but rather, bows his head and he beats his breast as a sign of sorrow and in what he says there’s no great list of all the things he’s done, there’s no self-congratulation, there is simply an awareness, one simple awareness “God have mercy on me a sinner.” Now mercy here has a particular meaning which is easy to not know or gloss over and the word for mercy here is used in the scriptures of appealing for God’s forgiveness to ‘cover over’ the sins of the individual and for that covering over to be through sacrifice rather than earning it yourself.

Now at this point in the story people will be thinking “Yeah right tax collector, you’ve not a chance, you’ve not a chance, you don’t deserve it, God has cast you out, you will never be welcome” but then what does Jesus say? “I tell you that this man rather than the other went home justified” made right before God, for all those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Jesus is saying that assumed appearance means nothing, the group you belong to, the social status you have, mean nothing, self-reliance and religious performance mean nothing, what counts is humble, sober, recognition of who you are not in comparison to one another but to God in His holiness and to see in that light that we need God’s help, that we have to come humbly and in dependence to God because we can’t fix it and overcome it ourselves. No, this would have shocked people. it would have shocked people, this is a great reversal no one expected, and in fact, such was the shock at what Jesus was undoing and overthrowing here, that people actually did seek to kill him for it because what had been honored was shown to be empty and He was completely challenging those who were confident in their own righteousness. Nevertheless, Luke time and time again speaks of this great reversal. He begins his account with shepherds, dirty stinking shepherds, and they first meet Jesus rather than the high and mighty and Jesus in chapter 15 will go on to speak of a God who leaves the 99 and goes searching for the one, and a God who is like a father and welcomes back the son who wanted the father dead, such is a great reversal that is going on through Luke’s gospel as he portrays Jesus and it’s there too in the story about the children Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Jesus is saying that just as children bring nothing, they don’t try and say “Oh Jesus, look how great I am” they’re just coming and he’s trying to help us see that just like children come with nothing before Jesus, the sinner who’s accepted is the one who simply comes in child-like trust, in humility, and asks for mercy bringing nothing, it’s that person who goes home right with God.

And I wonder friends, on what basis do we approach God? on what basis do we seek welcome into God’s kingdom? Is it upon our achievements? Is it the years of service we’ve given to church? Is it the good deeds we’ve done for the community? Is it how well you live out God’s commands? Is it the group you belong to, the rights you’ve performed, the things that you know that maybe other people don’t? Is it because you’re better than that person down the street? On what or in whom is your faith?

Do you come with simple faith and humility like that of a child, because in our last series on grace we saw that God has made a way for us to be forgiven and in grace He gave Jesus as sacrificial atonement that same word and idea of mercy, that covering over of our sin so that we could be forgiven?

Friends, in what or whom do you trust? Is your faith in Jesus or in something else? because God says, God’s word says, that our righteous acts count for nothing before His judgment throne, it’s all marred because of sin and what or in whom are you trusting? And in case there’s someone here or at home who recognizes that they’ve been trusting in the wrong things I want to give us an opportunity before we go into one final point in the sermon, to respond, to pray, to ask God for mercy and grace, this day and if you’re in that place, if you know that you need to come to God and have His sacrifice cover over your sin so that you’re right with God, why don’t you pray this prayer with me just now. So, let us pray:

Lord Jesus, I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong, and I take a moment in the stillness to name anything that’s upon my conscience just now before You.

Lord Jesus, please forgive me. Thank-you that You died on the cross so that I could be forgiven.

I choose now to turn from everything I know is wrong and ask You to cover over my sin and set me free.

Please come into my life by your Holy Spirit. Thank-you that You promise the gift of Your Spirit to live in me that I might follow You all the days of my life.

Thank-you Lord Jesus. Amen.

As I always say, if you’ve prayed that prayer for the first time, if Jesus would become your Lord and Savior for the first time, come and speak to me, share it with someone else if you don’t want to share it with me, because by sharing it you help to strengthen your faith, you help to strengthen the step of faith you’ve taken today.

Okay now, many of us will be familiar with the story and everything that I’ve said. You’re like “Yeah, old news Scott. I’ve known this. I know that Jesus is the way of salvation. I know that it’s all of Grace.” But this parable still has something for you and I because in the example of the pharisee we see that pride leads to a heart that judges, pride leads to a heart that looks down and rejects and in the example and heart of the disciples we see something equally worrying because these individuals are not appreciating what they’ve found in Jesus, they’re showing that by their poor treatment of others they too are prideful because let’s remember that these disciples are a ragtag bunch, they are not the cream of the crop, they don’t have it all covered, some are fishermen, one’s a tax collector, come on, and so together they’re displaying such terrible pride they are not appreciating what they have received, the grace and mercy they’ve found in Jesus, and we’re not seeing in their lives the fruit of God’s kingdom yet and how they treat others. So, here’s the lesson and question for us that one in response to the grace we have received is compassion, welcome, forgiveness and the honoring of the other seen in our lives.

If we have received grace then the scriptures teach that disciples are to grow in humility and forsake pride and I want to give you three examples from the writing of Paul although many more could be added. Paul says “If you have an encouragement from being united with Christ in humility, value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests be each of you to the interests of the others.” in Colossians “Bear with each other and forgive one another. If any of you has a grievance against someone forgive as the Lord forgave you” and then in first Corinthians that chapter where Paul writes about the body but as a picture of the church and he says “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honour God has put the body together giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it so that there should be no division in the body but that its parts should have equal concern for each other”. Time and time again the scriptures reveal that in response to the grace we have received we are to show compassion and welcome and forgiveness and to honor one another.

So, is it, is it? Because in my experience of many churches nowadays and training and other places beyond, churches are terrible at showing humility. We so often have a lack of compassion and welcome and forgiveness and especially terrible at honoring one another. One commentator put it this way “The difference between pride and humility: pride preaches merit, humility pleads for compassion; pride separates by putting others down, humility identifies with others recognizing we all have the same need; pride destroys through its alienating self-service, humility opens doors with its power to sympathize with the struggle we share; pride turns up its nose, humility offers an open hand.”

And the question is, in our lives, is it pride or humility that is seen in our shared life? Is it pride or humility that is seen?

I wonder if you’ve heard or thought any of the statements I’m going to put up on screen:

Those children are not showing proper respect in the Sunday service.
This organ music is boring.
Why is our worship style so dated?
When will the younger generation step up? back in my day I was juggling.
I’ll never forgive them and I’m never going back.
There is no reverence for God here.
When will what I want be prioritized?

I wonder if you’ve heard or thought or said some version of these statements?

Because in my years as a Christian I have, I’ve probably thought them and I’ve certainly heard them, and often they start with an issue we perceive as important and yet that issue and are identifying with that issue so get the better of us that we move from the place of compassion, a place of humility wherein there is compassion and welcome and forgiveness and honoring of one another, and we let these issues take our eyes off Jesus, and we move to a place of pride and that’s why all our hymns today were focusing on Jesus, we’re coming before the sovereign, awesome God who has given His life for us and in light of Him and that there is no room for pride, there is no room for any of these statements to be said, none, none.

And so, is it pride or humility that we see, that we share? In our tensions that we have had in the two and a half years I’ve been here over worship is it pride or humility that prompts it, and the correspondence I get through the door, is it pride or humility? and how we talk about one another behind our backs, is it pride or humility? do we criticize or do we honor one another?

Tough questions, and my expectation as your minister is, if you hear someone saying this, in love I’d like you to challenge them because iron is meant to sharpen iron. We’re not meant to just allow this to slide. I’ve already said this to our elders but I say it to every one of us, we need to move from pride to humility, if we are saying these things about one another or even to one another because we will not see the great reversal of God’s kingdom in our day without moving to the place of humility, and God may very well say “You’ve had it Brightons, I will not bless and this church will not last” He did it with Israel, He may do it with us,

and the choice is ours, the choice is ours.

So my prayer is that not only will we humble ourselves before God and so with childlike trust find salvation in Jesus, may this humility also be seen and how we treat one another publicly and in the hidden secret place where you think no one sees you because God sees, such that the great reversal of God’s kingdom might be seen in our lives and in the Braes area.

I pray it may be so. Amen

The Lord calling

Preached on: Sunday 27th June 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above ABVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-06-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 14:22-33
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer before we delve into His word, let us pray:

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

One of the many privileges of ministry is to be asked to conduct someone’s funeral and particularly to write a eulogy, because, someone in my position may not even know the individual all that well and yet, we are given the opportunity and the responsibility to recall and honor another’s life. Often, in a person’s life, there’ll be many seasons, highs and lows, and in the writing this eulogy we’re not simply seeking to recount a chronological series of events, rather,we’re trying to tell a story, we’re trying to tell something of their journey, a very personal journey which has touched upon the lives of other people. The life of faith is also often described as a journey, as a journey of following after Jesus with its own highs and lows, its twists and turns as we go to and fro, and one of my privileges in the past year has been to facilitate the telling of people’s journeys of faith through our Testimony Tuesday evenings. If you’ve not listened to these I heartily encourage you to do so. Look them up on our Youtube Channel or, if you don’t have access to the internet, then please ask for a CD or DVD copy. We’d love to facilitate that for you, because these stories of faith, these testimonies and following after Jesus, were so moving and powerful. Many a time these stories were quite normal, not everyone had a great crisis that brought about a renewed faith or something changed in their life, but each person did have a story to tell because being a Christian is to follow Jesus and if we are following the living Jesus then we should have a story to tell as well.

A story about how your faith in Jesus makes a difference to your everyday life and, hopefully, through you, how it has impacted others as well. When the day comes that someone has the great opportunity, I’m sure to tell some of my story I hope it’s a story where Jesus and following Jesus is clearly seen and told. So, if I was to pause right now and ask you to think over your life, to think over the many years maybe that you’ve been a Christian and I was to be asked to write your story, I wonder how much would your story of faith feature?

Would your family, would your friends have stories to tell about how Jesus made a difference to your character? How you following Jesus how the call or teaching of Jesus got you involved in something, got you to start something, maybe got you to stop something maybe, would they be able to say that you had such a close and personal relationship with Jesus that we remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus.

What does your story of faith say of you? How is following Jesus seen in your life?

Our gospel story today is a story of faith, it’s a story of following after Jesus and it’s also a story of Jesus, and it’s not so much about faith and following Jesus and the general storms of life that many of us will be able to resonate with, rather it’s much more a story of risky faith that gets you into a bit of a tricky situation.

We know from our reading that the disciples are instructed by Jesus to get into that boat and to grow across that lake and as they’re going they experience one of those great storms that was quite common in that area, as they crossed the water and they struggle against the wind and the waves for several hours until something happens, until something they’d never expected to see happens, until something that was outside of anything they’d experienced before – here came Jesus walking on the water and it’s understandable that at first they think it’s a ghost, like, if you saw that when you’re on your holiday over the summer, I’m pretty sure you’d be thinking it was a ghost or something strange, but with only a few words Jesus reassures them that it is Him. Though, for some reason, he doesn’t seem very eager to get in the boat initially and then for some other inexplicable reason Peter gets this idea to say to Jesus “Lord if it’s you, call me out.” and for an unknown period of time he gets to walk on the water with Jesus.

I wonder when Peter asked that question when he said Lord if it’s you tell me to come to you on the water what do you think the other disciples were saying to Peter at that point

might they have said Peter you’re crazy man don’t be silly don’t risk it or maybe they said Peter that’s not possible you’re only you don’t bother don’t risk it bother I wonder if those are words or thoughts that you have had in your own journey of faith maybe someone said them to you maybe you’ve thought them yourself don’t risk it don’t bother I wonder friends has there been times when Jesus has called you to take a step of faith and we’ve allowed these words to dissuade us from following him don’t risk it don’t bother maybe even just now the Lord is calling you to do something that you thought is just crazy maybe he’s telling you to take a step of faith and get involved in some way in our church family doing an area of ministry you think there’s no way I can do that or to become a member and take that step of faith to publicly say I believe in Jesus and this is my church family and I’m proud to admit that maybe it’s to give up a sinful habit that you think there’s no way I can do that maybe it’s to share something of your faith and invite people to come to church a friend a family member part of elaine’s story is stepping out in faith I’m sure you probably never thought the praise group would end up in the places that it went but you stepped out in faith you followed the call of Jesus maybe Jesus has something planned that would be incredible in your faith journey would be incredible testimony of what can happen when we step out in faith and you now face a choice

do you listen to Jesus or do they listen to the voices that say don’t risk it don’t bother now I hope and pray that we will take those risks that we will take that step of faith and maybe also I pray that through that something incredible will happen in your life something incredible might happen through you even for the benefit of someone else but do you know what often when we take those steps of faith it goes well for a while like with Peter but something happens something happens in Peter’s experience he takes his eyes off of Jesus and then he sees the wind and the waves and they start to just overwhelm him he starts to get fearful he starts to sink more often than we like more often than we like following Jesus can get us into situations where we feel overwhelmed where we feel vulnerable where we feel scared maybe even threatened and I wonder if you have taken a step of faith sometime and it hasn’t worked out like you planned or I wonder if you’re thinking of taking a step of faith just now and you worry something will go wrong you worry that the voices are right don’t risk it don’t bother

most often when we read the story of Peter we focus very much on the stuff he does wrong and we’ll get to that but there’s also something he did right at that point in the story something we can learn from he called out to Jesus before he was in over his head I was listening to a sermon last weekend because well what did I listen to so I listened to someone else since uh I’m preaching each week and I was listening to a friend uh one of my friends uh trained with in ministry Lindsay who’s the minister down in Dundonald on the west coast uh south of here and she was saying that in hard times we might say when the wind and the waves are buffeting us it can be easy to allow these situations to undermine our faith these situations can make us try to go alone we maybe withdraw from our church family we maybe try to do it in our own strength we maybe try we even try and withdraw from God we just turn away from God we stop praying we stalk reaching out to him and as we do that we sink further and further down but not Peter not Peter sure he takes his eyes off Jesus and as I say we’ll come to that but he calls out to Jesus he has faith and a faith that is more than a faith for the good times and more than a faith that is just following Jesus when life is exciting and often in our day and in western culture if life isn’t going well and Jesus isn’t ticking all your boxes then apparently he can’t be very loving really is that faith is that was just turning Jesus into a genie Peter has faith and so he calls out to Jesus and in doing that he finds that Jesus is right there in the storm with him he finds that Jesus is able to save to pick him up amidst the storms because let’s remember they’re in that storm because of Jesus let’s remember Peter’s experiencing those waves because Jesus said come you might say it’s Jesus fault in some ways they are where they are meant to be and Jesus is right there with them and he’s ready to save

friends I wonder if storms have come in your life they’ve come upon your journey of faith and in the midst of those storms and waves did you call out to Jesus did you call out before the water was over your head or did we try to go alone did we allow faith to wither did we allow hurt and bitterness genuine heart maybe to have their way and drive a wedge between us and God

you know even if we did even if that was the case it’s not too late it is not too late the water can be right over your head but Jesus can pick you up and he can bring you into his embrace that you might have life that you might have peace that you might have renewed faith let us not allow faith to wither nor simply rely on our own internal strength let us learn from Peter’s experience from his story and call upon the name of Jesus both in the storms and in the everyday moments of life I said near the start that this is a story about following Jesus but it is also a story about Jesus himself and you know every one of our stories includes that too when you tell your face story you’re not just telling about your life you’re telling about the Jesus you follow

and the same is true here sure we get lessons about what it means to follow Jesus about having a risky faith or how to respond when we start to sink but we also get revelation about Jesus

in part we have this story because of of an event that happens beforehand and it’s made clearer for us in the gospel of john there we read after the people saw the sign Jesus performed they began to say surely this is the prophet who is to come into the world Jesus knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force withdrew again to a mountain by himself the sign referred to here is the feeding of the five thousand and in both Matthew’s gospel and john’s gospel the feeling of the 5000 comes before this experience in the storm and before Jesus goes up the mountain Jesus goes up the mountain Jesus sends his disciples away because the people want to make him king they want to have him rule them rather than the puppet king that roman stopped but Jesus doesn’t want that and so he goes up the mountain he sends the disciples away they might see him as a man they might see him as a prophet but they don’t realize there’s so much more to Jesus Christian writer Max Lucado imagined what a journal entry might be like might have been like if one of the disciples straight after they got to shore had written down their experience and he describes it like this

i had never seen Jesus as I saw him then had seen him as powerful I had seen him as wise I had witnessed his authority and marveled at his abilities but what I witnessed last night I know I’ll never forget I saw God the God who can’t sit still when the storm is too strong the God who lets me get frightened enough to need him and then comes close enough for me to see him the God who uses my storms as his path to come to me I saw God it took a storm for me to see him but I saw him and I’ll never be the same

maybe before the experience on the lake the disciples were just picturing Jesus as a man a prophet a wise teacher able to do a few miracles but after their experience on the lake they think very differently of Jesus the fir this is the first time they worship him this is the first time they say truly you are the son of God and surely don’t understand that phrase fully they have a lot to learn they’ve got assumptions on to undo but they start to see that Jesus is more than a man he’s more than merely a human king and ultimately it is this revelation that should prompt us towards a risky faith this revelation should prompt us to call upon Jesus amidst the storms and the waves he is God he alone is God and you know Jesus rebuke of Peter is not so much about the quantity of Peter’s faith though that’s what comes across an English translation rather faith is a consistency of trust in whom Jesus is faith is a consistency of trust in whom Jesus is and we know that because of what we read in James where doubt is to be divided into and so you you move from doubt to faith not by adding more to faith so that faith is somehow heavier than your doubt rather doubt diminishes as you become less divided in your thinking about who Jesus is who Jesus is and so we develop from that a more consistent trust a more consistent faith in Jesus so I wonder friends what is your perception of Jesus what is your perception of Jesus

to nurture a confidence that he is God you need to be in his word you need to be praying you need to be worshiping seven days a week not just today can I ask are you doing that are you facilitating that

you might do it as you jog or walk the dog you might do it in a quiet room you might do it at the end of the day the start of the day it doesn’t actually matter but are you doing it because even if Jesus who had the most important job and the greatest demands and the busiest schedule and a family to look after because remember he doesn’t have a dad he’s the head of the family if even Jesus with all of this if even he had to go up a mountain and be with the father so that he would be more clear about who he was and the mission he was called to and that he might persevere under the greatest of challenges and temptations if even Jesus had to go with to be with the father and reconnect how much more how much more church do we need that to connect with God to connect with Jesus you won’t get through the storms without being with Jesus so can I encourage you to do that and it’s only by connecting with Jesus and being sure of Jesus that you will have a story to tell a story to tell to the generations you know Wednesday I went and visited Elwyn and that first verse I shared from first Thessalonians I read with Elwyn because our brother has a story to tell he will be remembered not just because he’s a great guy he will be remembered because he has a faith in Jesus which has changed the world it has changed lives

can we say that can we say that you will only be able people will only be able to say that if you know Jesus if you spend time with Jesus and allow Jesus to lead you into the risky places of faith

as I said this summer, we are starting a series on stories of power and parable and in the midst of it I hope we learn much more of Jesus and if we hear his call he’s called to risky consistent faith even amidst the storms of life

let us pray

so brothers and sisters where’s Jesus calling you to take a step of faith

or what are the storms you’re facing and you need them to pick you up and hold you fast

or what’s causing you to be double minded to be split into to doubt that he’s God

in the stillness why don’t you just take a moment to share that with them in any of these three areas

Lord Jesus

I pray for those you’re calling to step out in faith just now

give us a boldness a holy boldness fill us with your spirit afresh that we’d risk it that we’d risk it all for you

Lord I pray for those in the storm those with the waves crashing upon them be their strength and stay be their peace and their rock see them through the storm file see them through the storm and Lord where we feel just out of kilter with you

where we struggle to reconcile that that you are God help us give wisdom and revelation I pray

nurture our faith and lead us to that point where we know with confidence we know with clarity we know with clear consistency of faith that you are God you’re here and nothing, nothing in all creation can separate us from your love

We ask this in your name, Amen.