Without belief! (Passion Wk.6)

Preached on: Sunday 19th April 2020
There is no sermon text or powerpoint available for this sermon.
Bible references: John 20:19-29
Location: Brightons Parish Church

No fake story! (Passion Wk.5)

Preached on: Sunday 12th April 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-04-12-Morning-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 24:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 24:1-12
Sunday 12th April 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, what school or nursery do you go to? Shout it out just now! (PAUSE) I can’t hear you! Shout louder!!…Oh, that one!

Well, I’m sure some of you go to Wallacestone Primary School and I’m usually in there every Friday morning and lunchtime to visit two or three classes, and then run the Friday lunchtime Scripture Union Group. Going into Wallacestone was one of the highlights of my week and I’m really missing it!

Now, just before we all had an early school holiday, I was in chatting with the Primary 7s about Easter – and most of them know the Easter story, so I thought I would share with them some of the reasons why I think the Easter story really happened.

One of those reasons is in our story today, but our passage also gave me two more reasons – which is fantastic! So, I’ve got 3 questions for you, to see if you can remember the story, OK? Each one gives me confidence that Jesus is alive. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

First off – what weight do you think the stone over the tomb was? I’ll give you some ideas. Would it have weighed as much as: two bags of cement; two of me; two sofas; or two cars? Make a choice…quick, quick!…the answer is…two cars! Well done if you picked the right answer.

The stone would have weighed about two tonnes, or the weight of two 1979 VW Beetles. That’s a lot of stone, so if Jesus wasn’t dead and maybe He had simply fainted, then there is no way He could have got out Himself, and no way His friends could have rolled the stone away without the Roman guards hearing something and stopping them. So, the stone being rolled away is a major clue that Jesus really did come back to life!

OK, question number 2: who first found out that Jesus was alive? Can you remember? Point this way if you think it was women…point the other way if you think it was the disciples! It was…the women! Good remembering!
And here’s question number 3, because question 2 and 3 are closely related: did the disciples believe the women about Jesus being alive? Did they believe them? Thumbs up for “yes”, thumbs down for “no”…the answer is… “no”, the disciples did not believe the women!

Now, why are these two clues important? Well, back in the days of Jesus, sadly women were not believed, they were not regarded as good enough witnesses, for anything. Which is part of the reason why in v11 we read, that ‘[the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’

It seemed nonsense to the disciples, the men, because no one was expecting this, and they weren’t simply going to believe the women, because they were…women. Exactly!
It came across to the men as a silly dream, the sort of thing that people back then would expect from a few women who are upset with grief and lack of sleep.

Now, sometimes people today think that the first disciples must have made up the story about Jesus, because, after all, no one comes back from the dead, right?

Well, if the first disciples were trying to convince people back then to believe a fake story, then they would not have picked women as the first people to find out Jesus was alive! That would have been a bad plan, and so this another clue for us today: Jesus really did come back to life because the story matches with what really happened rather than what people would have made up!
The third clue is very like that too: if it was a made up story, then the smart idea would be to show the disciples having faith straight away, because then the disciples would be examples of faith and the perfect people to lead the early church.

But that’s not what we read: the disciples did not believe, they were not expecting Jesus to come back to life, it was a complete surprise to them! In a fake story, the disciples should believe straight away, rather than doubt.

Now, there are many more reasons for believing that Jesus came back to life, but those are three reasons from the story today: the big stone; the women witnesses; and the disciples being surprised.

I wonder, do you like surprises? And if you were trying to give someone a surprise, what would say? Might it be: boo? Or maybe: ta-da?

I read a story this week, about another minister, and in this story the minister is talking with the children at an Easter service in church, and he asks the children: what do you think Jesus’ first words were to his friends after He came back to life? And one little boy sprang to his feet, spread his arms out wide and said, “Ta-Da!”

The story of Easter, the story of Jesus coming back to life, was a surprise for the disciples. It wasn’t announced with a “ta-da” or a “boo”, but it was still a surprise, and it was a surprise to people who were sad, who were afraid, and who were doubting.
The story of Jesus coming back to life is a story which began in the real world of sorrow and uncertainty but with a message for that very same world. Don’t we also live with sadness, or fear, or doubt just now?

And what is more, when Jesus came back to life, many things remained unchanged: the Romans were still in charge; the religious leaders were still bullies and bad people; people were still sick and scared.

But here’s the thing – on one level the wider world was still the same after Jesus came back to life; but on another level, everything had also changed – everything! Because in the wonderful events of Easter, there is a dead man who has come back to life, Jesus has conquered death and the grave, and that’s the kind of surprising good news which rewrites history, and not just for a year, a decade, or even a century…no, this is the kind of surprising good news that rewrites history for everyone, everywhere, and for evermore.

Friends, my prayer this Easter, is for us to know the risen Jesus journeying with us in these difficult days. Because as the Apostle Peter later reminds us: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (1 Peter 1:3)

Brothers and sisters, we not only have hope, we have a living hope, living because Jesus lives. And it’s hope, not wishful thinking. It’s hope, because it’s certain, we have strong and confidence assurance….

But we only have this because of Easter Sunday, which is summed up so well in our final hymn today:

“Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus, Yours is the victory.”
(Living Hope, Phil Wickham & Brian Johnson)

Friends, our passage today, reminds us of the surprising story of Easter, a story that was not faked, a story which rewrote all history, and a story which suggests that even in our present darkness, uncertainty and fear, when all around seems to remain unchanged because of Easter, well, this story suggests we can still…
encounter Jesus today, because Christ is risen, He is risen…indeed! Praise be to God. Amen.

King of kings (Passion Wk.4 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 7th April 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-04-07-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-evening-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 19:28-48
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 19:28-48
Tuesday 7th April 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Three weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, with Jesus resolutely setting out for Jerusalem. Along the way, we specifically looked at those parts of Luke’s gospel where Jesus met with, or spoke about, Samaritans – those people who were outcasts, despised, usually forgotten or ignored by their Jewish neighbours.

But tonight, Jesus reaches Jerusalem, the journey is at an end, yet it has not been easy. He has walked mile after mile, up from Jericho, which is the lowest town on the face of the earth, up through the winding, sandy hills and now He reaches the heights of Jerusalem…
Jesus has crossed through Judean desert, climbing steadily uphill, up what feels like a mountain. It’s been dusty, because it’s hot and it seldom rains.

But we know that Jesus has chosen this journey because Luke reminds us that ‘After Jesus had [finished teaching], he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem.’ (v28) Jesus leads the way. This is to be the climax of His story, of His public ministry, and He knows well what lies ahead, yet He sets His face to go and meet it head on.

About two miles from Jerusalem, Jesus comes to Bethany and Bethphage, a place He has been before, and He sends two disciples ahead to acquire a donkey for the final portion of the journey. Likely this has been arranged ahead of time…
And with it all going according to how Jesus says it would, He can now enter Jerusalem.

As He does so, the people start to lay down their cloaks on the ground for Jesus to walk on, for His donkey to walk on. It seems a bit strange to us, but there’s a story in the Old Testament, 2nd Kings chapter 9, where the new king, Jehu, is welcomed into Jerusalem by people doing the very same thing.

And as the crowds lay their cloaks before Jesus, we start to hear a chant, a song, rise up upon their lips – we start to hear the crowd say things like, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ (v38)
They clearly think Jesus is the King that God had promised to send, the King who would make the world a better place. So, they sing an old song, Psalm 118, it’s a song of victory, a hymn of praise to the God who establishes His kingdom upon the earth.

As I said on Sunday, in all of this, Luke is trying to help us see something about Jesus; we’re meant to see that Jesus is the King, the Messiah, that God promised, and that this King has certain characteristics.

He is a King who has power and authority; that comes across in a number of ways. In v31, the reason to give for the request of the donkey, is that ‘The Lord needs it.’ God needs it, and that Lord, that God, is Jesus.
What is more, we know from v30, that this animal has never been ridden before, you would think it would just throw off a backwater carpenter and rabbi. But low and behold, no such thing is recorded, we’re meant to see that Jesus is King of all creation, including what might be otherwise wild and untameable.

On top of this, the particular reason given for the crowds believing Jesus to be the promised King is spelled out for us in v37: ‘the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen.’ Countless miracles, things beyond explanation, things only the promised Messiah, the promised King, could do, because He came in the name and power of God.
It’s because Jesus is such a King, that even though some of the Pharisees object in v39, even then, Jesus says the praise of the disciples is fitting because otherwise the stones would cry out in praise themselves! Jesus is due praise even from the inanimate parts of creation, such is His right and claim. I think we’re meant to see in Jesus a King who has power and authority.

But, as I said on Sunday, that’s not all we see of Jesus, for we see Him entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey. Not the grand animal chosen by other kings. Yet as the words from Zechariah remind us:
‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’ (Zech. 9:9)

Here Jesus comes, riding on a donkey, for He is humble and lowly – He is the King who comes in humility to serve.

Jesus does so, because He cares. We’ve seen that along the way in the particular stories we’ve focused on: scandalous grace shown to the undeserving; mercy shown to the neighbour whom we might otherwise overlook; abundant generosity for the least, the last and the lost. This is King Jesus, this is the King of kings that Luke has been trying to help us see.

Brothers and sisters, in our time, with what we face, doesn’t this sound like a King whom we all need to know?
And even a King we all need to emulate? In Jesus we see a King who cares for people, for people who think they are outcasts and to them He shows scandalous grace. Where do we need to show grace in these days? Who has fallen? Who has not met expectations or seen things as we have? There is grace awaiting from Jesus for them, but is there grace from us?

We’ve also seen that Jesus cares for people who think they are forgotten or insignificant. I wonder if that’s you friends? I wonder, as you sit at home, slowly bouncing off the walls, wondering if someone will call today, because they didn’t call yesterday, maybe not even called for the last week, and the thought begins to go around your head – am I forgotten? Am I insignificant? Well, not to Jesus, not Him, because He came to earth for you, for love of you; to Him you are worth dying for.

And in a world, shaken to its knees by coronavirus, does that world not need to know that Jesus cares for all the nations? That not one is favoured more than another, that there is love and care and concern in His heart for every one, and so none is rejected, all are welcome.

Friends, do you need to know the King of grace, mercy and generosity, whom despite His power and authority, comes close in humility to serve, because He cares for you, for me and for this world? I know I need that King.

Nevertheless, in every age, in every decade, indeed in every life, events arise that question this. In fact, at the time, people questioned this.

We read tonight of some Pharisees in the crowd, who just could not see this of Jesus and so they call out to Jesus to rebuke His disciples for what they say of Him. To these Pharisees it sounds irrational, it sounds dangerous in fact, because it sounds like the kind of thing which will disturb the peace, for it might catch the attention of the Romans and get the Jewish nation in trouble. These Pharisees would rather hush up Jesus and keep the peace, than see Him for who He truly is. They question the claims of Jesus.

But other people also questioned, even rejected Jesus, at the time. At the end of our reading tonight, the chief priests, teachers of the law and leaders want to kill Jesus. The time has come; He’s gone too far, they’re thinking to themselves: “who does this upstart, backwater rabbi think He is? The stories about Him cannot be true; it’s just a placebo for the masses; folk tales and wild fantasy. We know the truth,” they say, “we know how the world works, and Jesus does not feature in it.” These folks also questioned the claims of Jesus.

In our day, understandably I might add, people question the claims of Jesus. Amid coronavirus, we might all question the claims of Jesus. Is He really King? Really?

The claim of Christianity that Jesus is King is as confounding as a King who rides on a donkey. But Jesus did it then, He does it now; He does things that just don’t make sense to us, and in the midst of it, He asks us: who do you say I am? And will you follow me?

You see, in the account we read tonight, it’s all about Jesus and what our response to Him is. Some question and reject, as we’ve seen. Others appear to welcome Jesus, there’s the great crowd who gather round and join the celebrations. But in reality, these folks have simply got caught up in the moment; they’re going along for the trip, hoping Jesus will fulfil some of their hopes and desires. They’re happy to sing the songs of praise, but only as long as Jesus retains the potential of doing what they want of Him. Because, these same folks, will in a few days’ time be shouting: “Crucify! Crucify!”

Nevertheless, there are some who genuinely follow Jesus, they trust Him to be King, to be Messiah, and though the coming week will put them to flight momentarily,…
They still have faith in Him, it’s just that their faith needs to mature in substance.

So, I wonder friends, where do we sit? Who are you most like? Is it the Pharisees? Those who can’t quite make sense of Jesus. Does the claim that Jesus is King make you feel a bit unsettled and you’d rather keep Him at arms length and not disturb the peace?

Or is it, the religious and political leaders you most feel akin to? Do you know how the world works and Jesus isn’t part of the picture, so He is not welcome?

Could you be a member of the crowd? Ready to follow Jesus, but only if He meets your expectations?

Or, are you a disciple? Have you come to that point, where you know, deep down, that Jesus is this King? You can’t explain Him fully; you don’t have all the T’s crossed and the I’s dotted; because He’s the King who rides a donkey. But there’s enough faith, because it’s not size that matters after all, there’s enough substance to your faith, that you know Jesus is King. You’re a disciple, you’re a follower of Jesus, through and through, come what may. Friends, which are you?

I suspect that many of us might have had experiences with a number of these groups. I don’t think I’ve ever been amongst the religious and political leaders, certainly not as far as God is concerned, though maybe a little with Jesus Himself. Because, after all, I didn’t really understand anything about Jesus for a long time…
I knew His name, but not anything of Him, I had no real understanding of the significance of Easter, for example, and so I didn’t doubt God, but this Jesus guy didn’t figure in my understanding of the world.

And then, one day, He did. Because one day, I came to see my need of Jesus. I’d messed up. I came face to face with my own brokenness, my own humanity, and I found in Jesus scandalous grace, a mercy wide and free, which I knew I now needed, and it changed my life forever.

But along the way, I’ve had my wobbles. There have been those moments when Jesus has just not matched up to my earlier expectations. And there have been those times when I’ve come to the point of asking: what do I really believe of Jesus? What do I really even know, of Jesus?
Back in mid-March, I was speaking at the Breathing In event at Brightons Church, and we were speaking a little about Christian apologetics, about the defence of the faith. I recalled for the folks there a time when I really questioned what I knew of Jesus, and all I was sure of was this: I knew I could trust the Bible, so I knew Jesus lived, that He died, that He rose again, so He was who He claimed to be, and I knew by putting faith in Him, I was a child of God. I think that’s about all I was sure of, but it got me through, and in time, faith was restored, relationship rebuilt, pain healed but with scars that were there below the surface.

So now, today, I would say I’m quite firmly in the disciple group. I’m not saying I don’t question or doubt. But I’ve come to a place where I can live with mystery, with the unknown and unanswered. I know Jesus to be King. I know Him to love me and love this world. After all, this week of all weeks, is the one which proves these things.

Friends, what’s your response to Jesus? Does He feature in your picture of the world? Is He more, than simply, your “genie in a bottle”? Have you come to know Jesus as King of all creation, but the King who comes riding on a donkey? Is He to you the King of kings, even though He does stuff, or things happen, which just don’t make sense?

Friends, I hope we can all reach that place, but even if we can, faith is not easy. There are still questions, there are still unknowns, there is still mystery. And there will be those times, still, where the best, maybe the only, response is to weep, to wail, to lament. But as we saw on Sunday, we’re in good company, for in v41, we read, ‘As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it…’

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and He weeps because it was the place of deepest rebellion against God, its people are blind to the One in whom true peace lies and in whom fullness of life could be found. For they have and will set their own interests and agenda before those of God, they will resort to murder to do so. Jesus can see where Israel is heading, and He knows that their infidelity to God and obstinacy towards His reign will only lead to ruin.

But, as you hear those words of judgment and see His actions of rebuke in the temple, as you see both prophet and priest in Jesus, speaking truth to power one moment then cleansing what is defiled the next, remember His tears, remember His tears of lament. What He says, what He does, issues forth not from a stern and cold justice, but from a heart of love, a heart that wants the best for, and from, His people, and so now must oppose their rebellion, even though it breaks His heart.

It’s the mystery of the gospel friends: that God is love, but His love will not overlook, cannot overlook, evil, and so there will be judgment of sin. But it breaks the heart of God. God was grieved to His heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of His human creatures. He was devastated when His own people, described as His bride, turned away from His love to give their love to another.

Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in His world. But that’s not the picture we get in the Bible, and lament is not just an outlet for frail, little humanity. Here is King Jesus, full of power and authority, yet vulnerable, honest and caring enough that He cries, He laments.

Lament is the cry of a heart that is shattered, raw, gazing into suffering, bruised by its ragged edges and crying out for justice. Lament resists shallow, packaged, simplistic answers. It demands fierce authenticity and is unafraid of unanswerable questions. Lament is not the antithesis of faith; it is what faith looks like when it draws near to grief. The more passionately we believe in the goodness of God, the more passionately we protest when His goodness is obscured, and so we lament.

Friends, we don’t have to have all the answers, ever, and not even in or for our present time. Yet not having the answers, doesn’t mean we must give up on Jesus being King of kings or truly caring for the nations. For He welcomes us to cry with those who cry, and mourn with those who mourn, and in the midst of pain and brokenness, find the God who laments with us and for us.

May this be the Jesus we know and whom we follow, not only this week, but until we see Him face to face.

May it be so. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 31st March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-31-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 17:5-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:5-19
Tuesday 31st March 2020 Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem. On Sunday we had our final service before we reach Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We’re hoping to have some online prayers and reflections then for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, led for us by ministers in the Braes area, and more details will be available on Sunday.

In our passage for this evening, we have the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about and it follows on after a lengthy teaching portion, which began back in Luke chapter 15. In the particular section we heard tonight, it began and ended on the topic of faith, and that’s where we’ll start this evening.

As I said on Sunday, having faith just now is hard, we have questions, some people may even scoff at the idea of faith, scoff at it having value and relevance. But I think that hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. It is possible to be people of faith even amidst uncertain times.

But as the example of the disciples teaches us, it’s OK to be honest with Jesus about our doubts. In verse 5, we see that the apostles, those close friends of Jesus, said to
Him: ‘Increase our faith!’
Here are the people that Jesus is training up, training up to be involved in His continuing ministry, and despite having seen so many miracles already, they are now struggling, they perceive their faith is maybe not quite big enough for what Jesus asks of them.

And what does Jesus ask of them? We didn’t read those particular verses tonight but if you open your Bible, you can see in verse 1 that Jesus speaks of keeping faith even when things come along that might cause some to stumble, then in verses 2 to 3, Jesus speaks of living in such a manner as not to undermine another’s faith, then finally in verses 3 to 4, Jesus teaches that we are to forgive as often as repentance occurs.

What’s quite striking here, is that the things which provoke the disciples to say, ‘increase our faith’, are not great wonders or undertakings which we might normally associate with needing faith. We may more naturally think of deeds such as praying for healing, or being asked to preach, or give up something that is dear to us.

Yet, what Jesus shares here, are every day, normal activities. Keeping the faith, building others up, and forgiving as often as needed. Doesn’t sound very grand, but aren’t they just as hard? Even now, amidst this pandemic, don’t we face all three to some degree? Keeping the faith when events around us might seem to belittle our beliefs. Building others up when it’s so much easier to jump on the bandwagon of criticism, doubt and moaning. And as we face lockdown, maybe for weeks upon weeks, and we get grumpy with one another because we’re living in such close proximity all the time, or we get bitter because we are alone and we feel forgotten, is not forgiveness needed in such times?

I wonder, as time passes and the lockdown extends, might not we also be inclined, with the disciples, to cry out, ‘Lord increase our faith’ because these otherwise mundane tasks are actually quite demanding.

So, what is Jesus reply? He says, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’ (Luke 17:6) Clearly, Jesus is using hyperbole because He and the disciples never did such a thing themselves.
Instead, Jesus is trying to highlight that it’s not the amount of faith that is important, but rather simply its presence and what underpins or defines our faith. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of Systematic Theology, reminds us of this: ‘…our spiritual forefathers used to say that little faith gets the same Saviour as great faith, but it may not get his greatness.’ (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save, page 66)

What he’s saying, as with Jesus, is that what is important is not the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith. Often, we are tempted to say, “I don’t have enough faith”, or “He or she has more faith than I”. But such statements reveal that we think faith is dependant on us, that what we feel, what we can muster up, is what defines the character and strength of our faith.
But Jesus, as with our spiritual forefathers, is saying something else. They are revealing that faith should have its character and strength defined by God, rather than ourselves. This means, argues Ferguson, that ‘faith should be described as the extent to which our trust in the Lord is in keeping with the greatness of God’s person and the certainty of His promises.’ For example: if I trust, that Jesus is always with me unto the end of the age, as He has promised to be, and I trust this because I know Him to be alive, then this shapes my faith and so defines my living, my choices, and my perspective.

But, if I believe Jesus to be God but quite distant, detached from our experience, then I do have faith, I do have access to Jesus, but I do not appreciate His greatness as fully as I should, and so my faith is diminished and its impact upon my life is equally limited.

Faith, which can tell a mulberry tree to jump into the sea, is a faith which appreciates the greatness of God and lives accordingly. It’s not about the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith, and the substance of our faith is matured and maintained by the extent to which we grow in our relationship with God, and we do that by appreciating more of His person and His promises.

So, that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to invest time in their relationship with God during this time of isolation, and we principally grow in our relationship with God as we dig into His Word, because it’s in His Word that we learn of His person and promises. We’ve offered a couple of ideas for this in our Sunday services, with an online reading plan begun yesterday, exploring faith and doubts. It’s not too late to get involved and details are still available on our website and Facebook page.

But, whether you join the reading plans or not, please invest some time in your relationship with God by getting into His Word. Then, the substance of your faith can be matured and maintained in line with the true revelation of God, as you learn of His person and promises.

On Sunday, I also mentioned that this issue of faith among the apostles is followed on after with the story of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It was that man who evidenced a faith which had substance – He

recognised in Jesus the God of all creation and that Jesus the God-man was overflowing with loving kindness.

I said on Sunday, that loving kindness was one way of unpacking the words ‘pity’ or ‘mercy’, which is what the ten lepers asked of Jesus in the first place. Jesus did heal them, He granted what they asked for, they experienced His loving kindness. But they do so, after following His command to: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ (Luke 17:14)

I deliberately skipped over that part of the passage because our service was seeking to be all age. But now, I’d like to give you a little more context for those words. In the Old Testament, the people of God were given instructions regarding various skin conditions, and as I outlined, it was pretty hard back then to tell what people had. So, anyone with one of these particular skin conditions had to leave home, they had to leave the village, because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated and removed.

But it was also possible for someone to be welcomed back into the community if their condition changed or went away. At that point, they were to go to their local priest, for only they could legally declare a leper “clean” and healthy, and so able then to return to a normal life.

What’s striking in the story of the ten lepers, is that one returns to Jesus, rather than going on to find the priest. Clearly, we’re right to talk about gratitude and thankfulness because it’s there in the passage, and we’ll come back to that soon. But this idea of Jesus being asked for mercy, and of the one leper coming to Jesus, when all the rest go seeking their priest, does call to mind what the writer to the Hebrews wrote: ‘…[Jesus] shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ (Hebrews 2:14-17)

There’s a lot packed into those few verses, but did you notice that the writer speaks of Jesus as a merciful high priest? In the Old Testament, the high priest had the role of once a year going into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle, or temple, so as to make atonement for the people. This was part of the wider system which secured their forgiveness of sin such that they were in right standing with God.

The writer of Hebrews makes a lengthy argument that Jesus is the eternal, perfect high priest, bringing in a new and eternal covenant between God and humanity, such that any who will put their faith in Jesus can have their sins forgiven, once for all, remembered no more, and then given unrestricted access to God’s presence because they are made children of God through the Son of God who died in their place, even though He Himself was perfectly sinless.
But to establish that new, eternal covenant, Jesus had to be both fully man and fully God, which is what the writer said in the passage we read. As such, Jesus is then our merciful high priest, He is able to represent both God and mankind, and stand in the gap between us, offering us mercy, loving kindness, through His own sacrifice, and welcoming us into the family of God with right standing before God.

It’s in that place, as the writer outlines, that we are then freed from the fear of death, because eternal life is secured for us by Jesus, our merciful high priest.

Now, coming back to the story of the ten lepers, it’s interesting that the one leper who cannot go to the
Jewish priests, because he’s a Samaritan, comes instead to Jesus. Does that individual realise that he needs no other priest, for Jesus, the God-man, is priest enough?

Friends, we’ve spoken tonight of developing a faith which has substance by learning of the person and promises of God, such that it matures and is maintained. I wonder, if the example of the Samaritan, is not only one of thankfulness, but of recognising something of the person and promises of Jesus: that He is merciful, overflowing with loving kindness, ready to forgive and welcome us into the family of God, if only we will bow the knee and respond in faith to Him. That kind of faith has a measure of substance, and by such faith we can be freed of fear and as we sung on Sunday, having a hope which is steadfast and sure.

I think, as we recognise more of the person and promises of Jesus, that a real depth of thankfulness will overflow within us, and so let’s close with some reflections on that idea from the passage.

It’s clear from what Jesus says that thankfulness is important, especially thankfulness to Jesus Himself, and that’s something we are taught again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us, as we saw, to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

So, are you someone who’s thankful? I really valued those words from Tom Wright, who said: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

I wonder, have you begun to do anything about that yet? Because being a people of thankfulness, not only makes us less prone to anger or bitterness, it also guards against that common human tendency to think God “owes” us or that God is some kind of “genie in a bottle”.

I think that’s part of the reason behind Jesus’ words in verses 7 to 10: that nothing we do, or experience, can put God in our debt, because He has been generous already, and immeasurably added to His generosity through the death of His perfect Son, our merciful high priest.

Again, as our faith develops substance, rather than size, by appreciating the person and promises of God, then we are freed from unhealthy perceptions of God, we are enabled to see His goodness, His grace, His loving kindness, such that He owes us nothing and we owe Him everything.

So, how are you going to develop a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity? When I was in training, I came across a spiritual discipline called Examen, and it’s a form of prayer that helps us realise the many good gifts of God throughout our day. We don’t have time to go into it just now, but I’ll put up some links on our website and Facebook page if you want to dig into that, because it’s a practice that I’ve found helpful, even though I’m only beginning now to cultivate in my own life.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, may we be a people whose faith grows in substance as we see more clearly the person of God, that He is full of loving kindness, that He comes close, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. May we also, appreciate afresh the promises we have from God, particularly the promises secured for us through Jesus, who gave Himself for us upon the Cross, that we might be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times. To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 29th March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-morning-message.
Bible references: Luke 17:11-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sunday 29th March 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Today is our final service before Palm Sunday, and our passage this morning, is the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about. Boys and girls, can you remember: did the people in Jesus’ day like Samaritans? Did they? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down! The right answer is: “no” – they did not like Samaritans! No one in Israel had time for Samaritans; no one would give them attention or help.

So, in our story today Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He comes to a village and He is met by a group of men. How many people were in that group – can you remember? Was it 5? Was it 8? Was it 10? It was 10!

Ten men were needing help, so they came looking for Jesus. But they kept a little distance from Jesus because they had leprosy. That word was used for a whole lot of different conditions, because back then it was pretty hard to tell what people had. So, a rule was given that anyone with a particular skin condition had to leave home, they had to leave the village because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated, they had to be removed.
I wonder, does that feel familiar at all? Can we relate a little to the idea of being cut off, isolated, alone?

So, here are these lepers, social outcasts; they draw near to Jesus seeking His help, but they have to maintain social distancing, probably more than two metres. They cry out to Jesus, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ ‘Pity’ here is what we might call ‘mercy’, or ‘loving kindness’.

Somehow, these lepers knew that Jesus was someone of loving kindness, and so they seek Him out. Jesus then says a bit of a strange thing and we’ll get into that more with our Tuesday Evening Sermon.

But notice what happens next – they’re healed, they’re cleansed. Now, boys and girls, at this point in the story, how many return to Jesus after being healed by Him? Why don’t you hold up your fingers to tell me how many returned? Just one! Only one returned to Jesus and said thank you, and he was a Samaritan! Those people who everyone else shunned and thought was worthless – that’s who returned and thanked Jesus.

What do you think Jesus felt at that point? When He says:
‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’ (Luke 17:17) – what was Jesus feeling? Why don’t you tell whoever you’re with what you think Jesus was feeling?

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit sad – sad that more people had not figured out who He was, that here was God, right with them, and He cared and listened to isolated and broken people.
So, what are you going to take away from our story today? I’ve got two quick ideas for you!

First of all, it’s really clear that thankfulness is important, thankfulness to Jesus, and that’s something the Bible teaches again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

I wonder, are you someone who’s thankful? We shouldn’t fake thankfulness, so if some of us are grieving, then our thankfulness will be different. We’re also living in difficult times, uncertain times, is it possible to be thankful just now?
Well, we’ve got to remember, that the folks who wrote the Bible were writing in hard times themselves, yet, they were still thankful.

A man called Tom Wright, who is a Christian and writer, said this: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

In this time of isolation, in this time of food being harder to get, and the normal things being disrupted, maybe it will help us become more thankful for the things we often taken for granted.
So, why not, get into a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity, maybe at the start or end of your day. Because the more we are people of thankfulness, the less likely we are to be people of anger or bitterness.

And if you’d like a new song to sing along to, one which is full of thankfulness, then try out Matt Mayer’s song, ‘Alive and Breathing’ – it’s a great song and really lifts my soul!

So, let’s be a people who are thankful. Idea number two – let’s be people of faith yet honest about our doubts. I’ll get into this a bit more in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, but in verse 5, we see that the apostles, the close friends of Jesus, say to Him: ‘Increase our faith!’

Here are the people that Jesus is training up, and they’ve seen lots of miracles already, yet they are struggling, their faith is not quite big enough. Then we read of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It is that man who has the greatest faith – He recognises in Jesus that the God of all creation is here, He is near, and is full of loving kindness.

Having faith just now is hard, we have questions, but hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. I think it’s possible to be honest with our doubts, and yet still be people of faith.

This week, I read a story out of Italy, of doctors in a hospital facing the most difficult situations, and into their midst came an elderly priest, vulnerable himself…
What that priest did, and how he did it, powerfully touched some of the staff in this hospital. When he arrived, they did not believe in God, but within two weeks faith arose within them because of that priest.

We all have doubts, we all like the disciples, have moments when we cry, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’ So, in this time of isolation, why not invest a little time in your relationship with God? One idea is to join our online Bible reading plan – you can do it on a website or in the Bible app, and details will be on our website and Facebook page. There’s going to be one for adults, and another for older children and younger teens, so consider getting involved, encourage your children to get involved, and let’s be honest about our doubts, yet seek to grow in our relationship with God and so be a people of faith.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, we see that He is the God of loving kindness, who comes close, ready to hear our doubts, increase our faith, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. Jesus is the God who gives Himself to us, He gave us Himself upon the Cross that we might not remain isolated from Him but be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times.

To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore.
Amen.

Living Hope (Passion Wk.2 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 24th March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-24-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon.
Bible references: Luke 10:25-37
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Tuesday 24th March 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

As I introduced a few Sunday’s ago, in the weeks leading up to Easter, we’re journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We started at that point in the story where Luke says Jesus ‘…resolutely set out…’ (Luke 9:51), He set His face towards the purpose He had come to fulfil. There is a great deal of material contained within the journeying phase of Luke’s gospel; Jesus does not enter Jerusalem until halfway through of chapter 19. So, we’re going to focus on three encounters Jesus had with Samaritan people, because that was really unexpected of Jesus.

As we heard two Sunday’s ago, the Samaritans were Jews who intermarried with their Assyrian conquerors, people of non-Jewish nationality, and that brought about a mixed race who became known as the Samaritans. They were viewed as “half breeds” and “renegades” by the more “purebred” and loyal Jewish people, and in turn the Samaritans developed a hatred for the Jews.

In our passage tonight, we read of the Good Samaritan – it’s a story many of us have heard before, it’s a story children will still hear in school for Religious and Moral Education, because it’s a timeless story, teaching truths that now-a-days we hold as self-evident, a simple outworking of “the golden rule” – to treat others as you wish to be treated.

So, as I said on Sunday, we probably feel like we know what the parable means: we’ve to be a good neighbour; we’ve to look out for people who need our help; we’ve to love other people. And that’s certainly one important thing to take away because part of what Jesus showed us in His life and teaching was the importance of loving others as we love ourselves.

So, once again hear the call to sign up and offer your time in the coming months. Sadly, we won’t get out all our Easter cards now due to the lockdown – but it was fantastic that over 50% were given since Sunday afternoon. And I wonder, have you called anyone yet? Anyone outside your family? I’m sure we were all busy calling our mums and our grans on Sunday, and then we were back in to work on Monday, even if it was from home –
so, we might have forgotten that part of the message. But in our changing times, a telephone call is really going to make a big difference to people. So, let’s be the best neighbours we can during this time, and the more of us who join in, the more care and support there will be in our local community.

As I explained on Sunday morning, when I was thinking about the story of the Good Samaritan this week I was drawn to the other characters in the parable, particularly the priest and the Levite, those two who simply walked on past the man needing help. Now, we must remember that they walked past an individual who was part of their tribe; a people who were a persecuted people, so you’d normally stand up for one another, you’d normally be there for one another.
Instead they simply walk past and Jesus doesn’t really give us a reason, yet as you know, I’ve been wondering if they did it because of fear. Maybe fear of doing the wrong thing, maybe it was fear of the robbers coming back.

You see, they may have feared doing the wrong thing because God’s Word said that touching a dead body would make an individual unclean, it would create a disconnect between God and the person who became unclean. But even then, that’s just an excuse, because God’s Word, as we heard again tonight, says we are to “love your neighbour as yourself”. By failing to do that, the priest and the Levite are already unclean; by failing to do that, they are going to have to go through the steps to become pure again, to be right with God once more. They placed a higher value on something other than loving neighbour, and all for naught.
Jesus listeners’ would have expected the priest and the Levite to be the good guys in the story, but we see that they embody two things. Firstly, fear and maybe secondly, weariness.

On Sunday, we explored part of the issue around fear, and now tonight, we’ve seen another: that fear of becoming impure by touching a dead body. Were they letting fear motivate them to do the wrong thing? Because it’s easy to give in to fear, especially when it’s not to our benefit to do otherwise. So, the priest and Levite embody fear.

But secondly, do they embody weariness? Remember, these are people who are seeking to maintain spiritual purity at all costs, and if they were relying on their own strength to do this, then that’s a weary job –
the Pharisees had come up with hundreds of rules on how to know if you were breaking God’s Law or not, and you’d have to be constantly checking yourself to maintain that level of purity. They must have been so weary.

Maybe, these two individuals not only feared the robbers returning or of doing the wrong thing, maybe they were simply weary – weary of trying to keep hitting the mark, and so seeing this individual, was just too much for them, it was a step too far, a cry for help they couldn’t answer.

Are we feeling fear just now? Are we feeling weary just now? Because fear and weariness can cause us to be poor neighbours. We’ve seen how fear has motivated stock piling
– and we might not yet be feeling it, but to love our neighbours well is going to be draining, it might weary us, if all we’re doing is relying on our own strength.
So, what’s the antidote? Well, let’s go back to the start of the story, as I said on Sunday. Jesus tells the parable because He is asked a question, and in that conversation, we hear that we’ve to love God with all that we are – with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – and we are to love our neighbour. Jesus is saying that these are the two most important things, but He is also saying they’re connected.

Because as we love God – as we pursue a relationship with God, then we learn of His love for us, and then His love begins to change us. For God has promised to help us, to give us strength and wisdom and grace – if we will seek Him. That verse from 1st John chapter 4 has stuck with me so powerfully over the years, that “…perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) The antidote to fear is to know God’s perfect love and we get to know God’s love by spending time with Him.
So, what about weariness? Because, you know, to love is really hard work. Take those words from 1st Corinthians that we delight in hearing at weddings: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ (1 Cor. 13:4-7) Love is hard work; even in the normal rhythm of life, never mind amidst a pandemic.

The man who wrote those words about love, was no stranger to it. He was called the Apostle Paul and he went around starting new churches, helping people understand about Jesus and come to worship Jesus. It was hard work, Paul speaks about how hard it was…

in one of his other letters, he says: ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move…I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ (2 Cor. 11:23-27)

Paul went through all of that because of love – love for God and for his fellow human being, as he’ll say time and time again in his own writings. So, how did Paul keep on loving? Well, he also said that ‘…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…’ (Romans 5:5)…
It was God’s Spirit that gave Paul a heart of love and helped him to keep on loving.

Maybe it’s for this reason that Paul writes to the Ephesians: ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Paul prays for the Ephesians to have the help of God’s
Spirit to give them power to grasp the love of God…
I wonder, do we ever pray that? Do we even realise what Paul is saying here? His claim is that we cannot know God’s love by ourselves, or at least we cannot know the fullest measure of it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. So, if we want to have hearts full of God’s love, then we also need God’s Spirit, and we receive the help of God’s Spirit through prayer.

That might be new idea for us, we might have assumed up till now that we can simply know God’s love by our own efforts. But even Jesus needed the help of the Spirit, because the affirmation of the Father was as much communicated by the Spirit, in the form of the dove alighting on Jesus, as it was by the words of the Father from heaven. If Jesus needed the Spirit, so do we.

Once again, then, let me ask you: will you invest some time in your relationship with God during these coming months of isolation? And specifically, will you pray and ask for God’s Spirit to be given to you and to us all? For it is by Him, the Spirit of God, that we gain power to grasp something more of the fullness of God’s love for us and for this world, and through that same Spirit we can then have hearts full of the love of God, full enough to fend off weariness in loving neighbour, and fend off the fear we may feel in these difficult times.

Jesus knows all about fear and all about weariness – in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared what was coming, He feared dying on the Cross. But He did not let fear stop Him, He did not let fear make Him a poor neighbour – instead, for love of you and me, for love of His Father, Jesus carried on towards Jerusalem to secure for us a living hope.

And often Jesus would become tired, weary enough that He took Himself off to a solitary place where He could spend some time with His heavenly Father and become refreshed in His love to continue that journey He and the Father had agreed upon from eternity past.

For me, that’s part of what makes the story of Martha and Mary so interesting. It comes right after a story which is about doing stuff and helping people, about sacrificing ourselves and going the extra mile. The Samaritan paid enough money for two weeks of care at that inn, and those of us in self-isolation, can begin to appreciate something of how long two weeks can be.
But right next to that story, is another story where Jesus seems to say the opposite thing. Martha is busy serving, she’s busy being the good neighbour, and in fact she is so busy, and feeling so isolated, that she is at her wits end; she is weary, weary enough to lash out at Jesus. I mean, come on, if there’s anyone you don’t lash out at, surely it’s Jesus.

But Martha is run dry, she’s run ragged, she’s weary. Jesus, I think, sees that weariness, it’s maybe part of the reason why His response is so gentle: “Martha, Martha.” There’s genuine emotional concern in His voice. He doesn’t give her a lecture about losing her temper, or even the importance of better organisation and delegation to others. For love is patient, love is kind, and Jesus is love incarnate.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t leave Martha there, He doesn’t gloss over it completely, as we might be tempted to do, because true love nurtures, it brings life. Jesus knows that Martha has become distracted by many things, by doing things for others, doing things for Jesus, and all of this has taken the place of simply being with Jesus, of sitting at His feet, as Mary does.

Mary adopts the position of a learner, a student, what the Jews called in their time, a disciple, and a disciple learnt by spending time with their teacher, their rabbi.

Luke reminds us in these two stories, that we are called to a radical love, a love which crosses divisions and boundaries, and sacrifices for others. But love for
neighbour is only half of the life we are called to, there is also love for God, and in loving Him knowing His love for us.
The man who asked Jesus the question at the start of the story had forgotten this; he imagined that eternal life was wrapped up and secured in what we do. But as Jesus reminds us in His own words: ‘this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:3)

The expert in the law had forgotten this, Martha had maybe become distracted from this by the many things, but Mary knew, she remembered, so she spent time at the feet of Jesus and in that place, she found life, she found love, a perfect love, which filled her heart.

Friends, in these difficult times, God is with us. He knows our fears, He knows our frailty, that we are but dust. Yet
He calls us to keep loving our neighbours well…
and through loving Him to know His perfect love, a perfect love which can drive out all fear and restore the weariness of our hearts.

I pray that God will give us power by His Spirit, to know His love, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and for us to know this personally in our lives and so be able to show it others.

May it be so. Amen.

Living Hope (Passion Wk.2)

Preached on: Sunday 22nd March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-22-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Sunday 22nd March 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Normally, by this point on a Sunday morning, the children would be out in their groups and I would be in the pulpit, ready to share something on God’s Word, the Bible. I’d be looking out on the congregation – and this area I would maybe see: Rena, May, Molly; Margaret and Cathy; at the back Charles and Myra, Bill and Lena; or near the front George, John, Tom, and Bill, as well as Fiona, with Jean and Robert sitting over there.

But here I am, sitting in these pews by myself. It’s a strange experience and yet it prompts me to think of you all, to think of the neighbours I would normally see.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, we’re journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and we’re focusing on three encounters Jesus had with Samaritan people, because that was really unexpected of Jesus, and you can hear more about that in the Tuesday Evening Sermon.

Today’s story is about the Good Samaritan – it’s a story many of us have heard before, it’s a story children will still hear in school for Religious and Moral Education. Have any of you children and young people heard it before? If you have, comment in the live video just now!

So most likely, we all feel like we know what the parable means: we’ve to be a good neighbour; we’ve to look out for people who need our help; we’ve to love other people.
And that’s certainly one important thing to take away because part of what Jesus showed us was the importance of loving others as we love ourselves.

So, sign up to help others by completing the online volunteer form, or come help us deliver the Easter card, or call up the people you would normally sit with in church or even your next door neighbour. Let’s be the best neighbours we can during this time, and we can all do that: from the little tots, to the young people and right up to our adult members. Just because we are to limit our face to face contact, does not mean we cannot be good neighbours and the more of us who join in, the more care and support there will be in our local community.

But as I was thinking about the story this week…
I was thinking about the other characters in the story. Can you remember who they are boys and girls? There were two other characters – the priest and the Levite. Now, did they go and help the man who was injured? No – they decided to walk past and leave him all alone.

I’ve been wondering why they did that? Why did they just walk past? Jesus didn’t give us a reason, but I’ve been wondering if they did it because of fear. Maybe fear of doing the wrong thing, which I’ll explain in Tuesday’s sermon. Or maybe it was fear of the robbers coming back?

Did they look around the road, up into the hills or the trees and wonder: “Am I next? Will they come for me too? Maybe I should get going – avoid this person – keep my distance.”
I wonder if they let fear motivate them to do the wrong thing? Because it’s easy to give in to fear, especially when it’s not our family, not our kith and kin.

Are we feeling fear just now? Is that fear causing us to be poor neighbours? I am not saying we should ignore the government guidance – because we do have to reduce our social contact, especially to keep our more vulnerable members healthy and safe. So, please follow the guidance.

But, have you seen the pictures online of empty shops? Have you struggled to get food and essentials yourselves? I wonder if part of the stockpiling is motivated by fear – and if it is, we are then allowing fear to impact how we treat others, we are being poor neighbours because of fear, rather than showing the care for others the Good Samaritan did.
So, what’s the antidote to fear? Well, I want to take you back to the start of the story. Jesus tells the parable because He is asked a question, and in that conversation, we hear that we’re to love God with all that we are – with our heart, soul, mind and strength – and we are to love our neighbour. Jesus agrees that these are two very important things to do, but He is also saying something else in these verses.

I think Jesus is saying that loving God and loving neighbour God hand in hand; they’re connected. We can, of course, be very loving to other people without God, but all of us have moments when fear or selfishness make us behave as poor neighbours.

But if we love God – if we pursue a relationship with God then God promises to help us, to change us, and to give us strength and wisdom and grace. As we love God, we learn of His love for us, and in another part of the Bible we’re reminded that “…perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). The antidote to fear is to know God’s love and we get to know God’s love by loving Him through prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time with Him.

So, why not invest some time in these ideas during the coming months of isolation? Get into reading the Bible, maybe start with the book of Luke or use the Lectio365 app, or keep joining us for Sunday worship, but engage with the Tuesday Evening Sermon, or come to the open prayer space on Thursday mornings, or engage with our “Prayer for the Braes” group on our Facebook page.
Because, there really is a God out there; He really is with us in all of the fear and uncertainty. We might, in these times, wonder whether God cares for us. We might, in these times, scoff at the idea of there being a God.

But two thousand years ago, God showed up – He was born in a manger and grew into a man, and that man set His face toward Jerusalem, He willing journeyed towards His death, for love of me and love of you.

That man was Jesus and Jesus knows all about fear – in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared what was coming, He feared dying on the Cross. But He did not let fear stop Him, He did not let fear make Him a poor neighbour – instead, for love of you and me, for love of His Father, Jesus carried on towards Jerusalem to secure for us a living hope.
Friends, in these difficult times, God is with us, He knows our fears, but He calls us to keep loving our neighbours well and through loving Him to know His love for each of us, because His perfect love drives out all fear.

May it be so. Amen.

Following the path (Passion Wk.1)

Preached on: Sunday 15th March 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-03-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Sunday 15th March 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

The metaphor of ‘journeying with God’ is used time and time again in the Scriptures, and often we talk of faith as being a journey. So, it’s this very idea which Luke draws upon as he writes these words in chapter 9: ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:51) Other versions talk of Jesus ‘setting His face to go to Jerusalem.’ With steely resolve, with a clear and fixed understanding of His purpose, Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem.

Earlier in the same chapter, Luke has outlined that Jesus knows His purpose and He knows what is coming:…
Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ (Luke 9:22)

Jesus knows what lies ahead of Him; He knows with certainty the suffering He will face so as to accomplish the purpose and will of His Father, and to that end Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem, He sets His face.

So, over the coming weeks between now and Easter, we will journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and along the way we will see some of the people He met and explore as well, the teaching Jesus shared along the way. This will give us the opportunity to reflect upon the reaction of people towards Jesus and see if we react similarly…
We’ll also have the opportunity to hear what Jesus taught about being His disciple and weigh up if we are walking in His way today. But primarily, I hope that in this season, as we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, we will also see the heart of Jesus, the character of Jesus, and so grow in our own love of Jesus.

Now, this isn’t some nice mental exercise, this isn’t divorced from reality, because what we see of Jesus, what we see of His way and of His calling upon us as His disciples, is relevant for today and for the issues we wrestle with as a church family.

It’s been some time since I’ve mentioned the issue, but we must remember that from this year we will start to see an impact upon our church life as things change within the
Braes area…
Likely I will become Interim Moderator for another Kirk Session on the 1st of July this year, so my available time here in Brightons will reduce. Also, we were meant to have a meeting tomorrow as the Braes Churches to explore some of the issues, but that has been replaced with an alternative process, not because of coronavirus but simply a more participative approach, and in all likelihood, God-willing, there will be a meeting in August when we might need to decide as a group of Kirk Sessions what the future shape of ministry will be in the Braes area. This will ask us to sacrifice things, we will have to give things up, and change from what we’ve known to a model that’s only now beginning to be piloted. What guidance might the way of Jesus and His example have upon our thinking and our planning as we follow His journey towards Jerusalem?
But even within our own congregation we are wrestling with significant issues. The elders are seeking clarity on what our purpose is as a congregation, as well as the values that underpin how that purpose should be worked out amongst us. We need to do this because we don’t have clarity on this, we don’t know what we are about or the manner we seek to accomplish it. And in case that sounds a bit vague, then let me try and make it a bit more concrete.

At present, the Kirk Session have made a plan, Godwilling, to meet on the 31st March for an extra meeting, and we’ll be discussing then the place of children, the place of adults, the idea of us being all generations together and we will seek to come to resolution of this, because we know there are differing perspectives about this matter…
For example, we need to make a plan about the summer services: will they be all age, or will they not? Other than personal preference or who shouts the loudest, we do not have a way to answer that questions, because we are not clear on our purpose and we are not clear on our values, and we’re not even necessarily on the same page about how we do life together as all the generations who make up Brightons Parish Church.

Once again, what guidance might the way of Jesus and His example have upon our thinking and our planning as we follow His journey towards Jerusalem? I don’t really know yet, I don’t have it all planned out, but I know today speaks a powerful word to these very issues and questions.
So, let’s dig into our passage for today. Jesus is resolutely setting out for Jerusalem and He first comes to a Samaritan village. It’s helpful if we know some of the background here. Around the year 700BC, the Assyrian Empire invaded and conquered the northern land of Israel, and Assyria resettled that land with its own people, such that the Jews who were left there intermarried with those of non-Jewish nationality, which brought about a mixed race who became known as Samaritans. They were viewed as “half breeds” by the more “purebred” Jewish people, and in turn the Samaritans developed a hatred for the Jews. Indeed, such was the tension between the two peoples that Jewish travellers would walk around Samaritan territory rather than go through it, even though this would lengthen their trip considerably. To these people, Jesus goes.
But ahead of Him, He sends an advance group, to get ready things for His arrival because at this point it’s not just Jesus and the 12 disciples any more, as Luke chapter 8 reveals, there is now Jesus, the 12 apostles and ‘many others’. Such a large group will need special preparations for accommodation and meals, and so Jesus sends some of the people head.

However, they seem to let slip that Jesus is heading for Jerusalem and the reply they get is that Jesus and His followers are not welcome in the village. We don’t really know why and Luke’s focus is not so much on the response of the Samaritans, but on the disciples’ reaction. James and John, who are brothers, call out to Jesus and ask: ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from
heaven to destroy them?’ (Luke 9:54)
There is a degree to which their reaction makes some sense. For example, earlier in chapter 9, we reed that some people thought Jesus was a prophet akin to the prophet Elijah, and everyone knew the stories of Elijah – he was the one who called down fire on Mount Carmel, he was the one who called down fire on enemy soldiers sent to capture him. So, to some degree, we might argue that the reaction from James and John is one of great faith – faith that Jesus is a prophet like Elijah, even greater than Elijah, because enough fire might be sent to burn a whole village!

What is more, Jesus had earlier said in the same chapter, that if people did not welcome the disciples they were to ‘shake the dust off your feet’ and walk away. Maybe, James and John thought they were honouring Jesus even more,…

because not only are they willing to shake the dust of this village off their feet, they are also willing to reduce this village to dust, and surely such a response is fitting when people reject the coming of God in their very midst? In a culture of honour and shame, surely such irreverence towards Jesus demands the strongest of responses? Maybe it was this reaction from the brothers which coined their nickname, ‘the sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17).

Do you ever feel like James and John? Do you ever get annoyed with the disrespect shown to Jesus? Do you stand up to defend Jesus? Defending His honour, defending His praise, defending His rightful place? Well, James and John were just about to realise how different
Jesus was from Elijah – He might come in the Spirit and… power of Elijah, but these disciples still have much to learn about the way of Jesus, for Jesus ‘turned and rebuked them.’ (Luke 9:55)

He turned – maybe Jesus was already out in front of His disciples, heading for the next village, but here they are, calling Him back, pestering Him with their agenda, with their grand ideas, dictating to Jesus what they thought HE should be doing and how matters of religion should be done. Instead, Jesus rebukes them and they go to another village.

It’s a funny thought, because John is the apostle we so often associate with love, for he wrote, ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ (1 John 4:7-8)

And yet, here in Luke, John is advocating anything but love. He still has much to learn about the love of Jesus; he still needs to learn that Jesus, that God, is love and that divine love is full of grace.

Our second reading today, from the letter to the Philippians, spells out for us the depth and nature of the love of Jesus. It’s a love which does nothing out of selfish ambition; it’s a love that looks not to its own interests but to the interests of others; His is a love which made Himself nothing, becoming a servant, and with such humility became obedient to death, even death on a cross. The disciples of Luke chapter 9,…
perceive Jesus to be the promised Messiah, but they expect Him to be the triumphant, all conquering, resistance crushing King of popular opinion, even though Jesus had earlier taught them about love of enemy and that He came to die for the purposes of God. For as Jesus will later say, He came to seek and to save the lost, and to do that by the giving of His life. The way of Jesus is the way of grace, which is so strong, so wide-ranging, so patient, so self-sacrificing that it is surprising, shocking, even scandalous, to the disciples and especially to the religious people of His time.

I wonder: what’s your picture of Jesus? How wideranging, how scandalous, is His grace in your thinking?
And do you show that grace to others?

I remember reading a story one time that is told by a sociologist and pastor called Tony Campolo. In his story, Campolo was traveling to speak in Honolulu, Hawaii. He says that because of jet lag on the first night he got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and went to a nearby restaurant. It wasn’t the most desirable or upscale place you could encounter and when he went in an unshaven cook with a cigar in his mouth asked him what he would like and Campolo asked for a cup of coffee and donut, because that’s all he dared to try.

As he sat eating his doughnut and drinking his coffee, about a dozen prostitutes walked in and sat down. Campolo said he tried to disappear, but they were on either side of him and he couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. One of the prostitutes said,…
“tomorrow is my birthday.” Another of the women with her said sarcastically, “so what you want, a cake? You want us to throw you a party?” The woman responded, “I’m just saying it’s my birthday. You don’t have to hurt my feelings.” And then she said, “I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life.”

Eventually, they all got up and left. So, Campolo called over to the cook and asked, “Shall we have a party for that woman?” And the Cook responded, “That’s Agnes. That’s a great idea. That’s beautiful. We’ll have a party. I’ll make the cake.”

So, that’s what they did. Campolo came back the next morning at about 2:15 AM, with crêpe paper and a big sign that said HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGNES…
They put the word out on the street, and by 3:15, Campolo says, every prostitute in town was packed inside that restaurant. At 3:30 AM, right on time, in walked Agnes with her friends and everybody in the restaurant shouted out, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGNES.”

Agnes was stunned. She sat down on a stool, as the group sang to her ‘happy birthday’. When they had finished, the cook brought out the cake, but Agnes was in tears and could not blow out the candles, so the cook did. He handed her a knife and said, “cut the cake Agnes.” But she asked, “is it okay if I don’t cut the cake? I want to show it to my mum. She lives just around the corner.” Campolo said to her, “It’s your cake. Do as you like.” And she told the group that she would be right back and she left.
Campolo said that as she left the room, it was dead silent. Awkward. So Campolo asked, “why don’t we pray?” And hearing no objection, he did. He prayed for Agnes. He prayed that she might be sealed and delivered from all the pain in her life. He prayed that God would make her new.

When he was done, the cook said, “You said you were a sociologist but you’re a preacher. What kind of church do you preach in?”

And Campolo said it was one of those times where he got the right words at the right moment. He replied, “I preach in a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3.30 in the morning.”

And the cook said, “No you don’t. No, you don’t. Because I’d go to a church like that.”

Brothers and sisters, are we a church like that? Are we a congregation of radical grace, of scandalous grace? You will only show that grace if you see Jesus as the God of such grace and know that grace for yourself. Are we a church of scandalous grace? A church of such grace that the love we show is a love which does nothing out of selfish ambition; a love that doesn’t look to its own interests but to the interests of others; a love which calls us to be servants of all, and embody such humility that we are willing to became obedient to death and take up our cross daily. Are we that church? Are we the church of scandalous grace? And in this time with coronavirus, will we show that grace to our neighbour and community?
Now, it’s such grace and love, which underpins and fuels the second part of our reading in Luke’s gospel today. Jesus encounters three would be disciples and with each their commitment is shown to be lacking.

The first is full of enthusiasm, confidently asserting that he will follow Jesus wherever Jesus may lay his head. Maybe the individual thinks of Jesus as an itinerant teacher who will open for doors for him, teach him the ways of God that life might then be good. Along the way, there will be comfortable places to stay, respect will be experienced because this man will be following in the shadow of this famous Jesus.

But Jesus points out, that to follow Him, is to follow a prophet who calls people to faithfulness to God…
For Jesus knows no comfort, He will depend on the generosity of others; the Lord of the whole universe is made poor, is humbled to the position of a servant, all for the love of mankind, because for them He comes to give His life to seek and save the lost.

The second individual first asks to go and bury his father, which was the sign of highest respect in Jewish culture and even commanded by Scripture. One commentator suggests that if the father had actually died already, it would be more likely that the man would be at home, rather than with Jesus, the man would be busy with funeral preparation, too busy to be with Jesus. So, in all likelihood, the man was asking to stay at home until his father had died. This might have meant a significant delay and the call of Jesus being put off until a more opportune time. The man is saying, “yes, I’ll follow You Jesus…but later.” Once again, commitment is lacking and failure to understand Jesus and the importance of His mission is apparent.

Finally, the third individual, who seems to ask a fair request, a request also raised by Elijah when Elijah was called by God, and Elijah was allowed to go home and say his farewells. But Jesus, once again, says that such a request is not fitting for the times we now find ourselves in. We’re not to look back, we’re not to plough with one eye behind and one eye out front; instead full commitment, full focus upon the priorities of the kingdom, is crucial for disciples of Jesus.

In summary of these three individuals, we see that Jesus is looking for disciples who are willing to follow His example,…
giving up comfort, giving up tradition and family expectation, even what might appear religiously correct, and giving up life as we knew it, so that we, one and all, may follow Jesus wherever He leads and share in His purposes to make the Kingdom known.

Do we share the urgency of Jesus? Are we willing to give up comfort, tradition, expectation, life as we know it, to fulfil the mandate given to us by Jesus? Because, imagine if Jesus had done that? Imagine if Jesus had said, “You know Father, I’d rather not; the comfort of heaven, it’s rather good; and I’d be breaking tradition for angels not to worship me; and the idea of pain, crucifixion, becoming a man…seems a bit undignified, I think I’ll pass.”

I mean – come on!?! Imagine if Jesus had been like that, and thank the Lord He wasn’t!
Instead, He did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, humbling himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

He gave up comfort; He gave up all that was rightfully His; He gave up life as He knew it and entered into our pain and suffering and world – for love you and love of me, to seek and to save the lost. He calls His disciples, He calls us, to walk in His way, and show such commitment as He did to the Kingdom of God.

I wonder, is being a Christian, is being a disciple of Jesus, merely another commitment, another title, which we add to the long list of our other commitments?
Because Jesus is calling for Him and His kingdom to become our number one commitment, and our lives to be ordered around that.

Or when it comes to clarifying our purpose as church, or what our values are, or how we might relate with our sister churches in the Braes area, will Jesus and His Kingdom be the deciding factor? Or, is it going to be what makes us comfortable, or our traditions, expectations and even life as we knew it? Are we going our way, or are we following in the way of Jesus?

As we begin this journey with Jesus towards Easter, with Jesus setting His face and resolutely following the path to Jerusalem, that place where He would give His life in sacrifice for us,…
I pray we might learn His way the way of scandalous grace that calls us to give our all for the sake of the Kingdom of God, that God who gave His life for you and for me.

May it be so. Amen.