Midway Mini Message (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 19th January 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 message..
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody, welcome to our Midway Mini Message. It’s midway through the month and hopefully it’ll be a mini message but, when preparing for tonight, I had a load of ideas, so I’ll try and keep it as brief as I can!

Tonight, is about helping us engage with the 2021 New Testament Reading Plan. Hopefully many of you have begun to read through this. We’re currently in the book of Mark, the Gospel of Mark, and it’s been encouraging to hear how different people have begun to be engaged with it, forming little groups to support one another even, which is amazing!

But maybe, like other new year’s resolutions at times, you’re beginning to feel “Like okay, halfway through the first month this is becoming hard” and some of the initial enthusiasm is a waning a little bit. Maybe you’re even finding a little bit more difficult than you thought, that you’re reading through, you’re being diligent, but maybe not getting as much as what you hoped you might from it; and my plan, my hope is that tonight, and in future sessions, we might equip you in that, and encourage you through this this year as we read together through the New Testament.

The Psalms remind us that those who dwell, meditate, chew upon the Word of God can know the blessing of God. Psalm 1 says “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law, day and night.” That blessedness is not about protection from all perils and hardship, but it does include peace and well-being, includes growth of character, stability, delight, joy, even in the midst of hard and difficult times, and many much is the testimony that I and others could share of the benefit of digging into God’s Word and how, through it, we have met with the living God, and our faith has been sustained, maybe especially in the difficult times.

Now this way of reading scripture, that we’ve begun one chapter a day, is a particular way and it may be quite different from what you’ve ever done before, and many of us have maybe used things like Daily Bread or other resources like that, where someone has prepared things in advance for maybe three or four months and you read a bit, and they’ve got some thoughts to read, or you might use an online reading plan from the Bible app for example. Often it can jot around different parts of the Bible, maybe following a theme hopefully. Some of the reading plans maybe do work systematically through a portion of the Bible and again, though there’s often some people’s thoughts on that and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve used it myself, as you know as I’ve said often, I’ve used the Lectio 365 app a lot last year. Pretty much it was my main source for devotions but this year I thought I’d do something different. Go back to a method I’ve used a lot and invite you to give it a shot and journey with me in this, that we might know more of Jesus and more of the teaching about Jesus, and how we are to live as Christians. And so, we’re focusing there on the New Testament.

There’s a couple of things to bear in mind to try and get the most out of this. I guess, first of all we need to remember what Paul said to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all scripture is god breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and righteousness” and so, if we approach the Bible in that way, then it will change how we receive things and how we expect things will come more expectant. I think expecting to hear from God and the less nice bits, the less glossy bits, the bits that we think “Oh, it’s just a Sunday School lesson” we might take more heat off it. Might not be, as you’re reading through, the thing that initially jumps off the page that you’re meant to hear. It may be something else and so, just bear that in mind, as you come to it, that you’re coming to God’s Word, that it is from the heart of God and there might be something there, will be something there for you, even in those days where it’s like “I’m just not getting anything”. Maybe in that time especially, is when you see that you have to love your neighbor – Sunday School lesson – “Oh, I know to love my neighbor!” well maybe take some time to think about that and see where God takes you by His Spirit.

So, that this is a method I’ve been using for years. It’s been used by billions of Christians, probably most Christians, probably in other countries who don’t have access to other resources. I assume that this is just the way that they’re doing it, they’re just reading through the scriptures and then learning about God, and then learning what it means to follow Jesus. As they read through, and God is speaking to them, and it’s been used from the day the Church began, it’s just how they’ve been using it and through that their faith has been sustained, has been grown, and I pray it would be the same for us.

You’ve probably already begun to realize that, as you read through chapter by chapter, there’s stuff you don’t understand and it’s the same for me. I’m reading through things I’m not always understanding everything and that’s okay. It’s okay not to understand everything that day, that you can come back to another time, another year, maybe another decade, and maybe at that point it’ll be then that it falls into place for you. So, it’s okay not to understand stuff. I’m not getting everything, I don’t expect you to get everything either, okay and that kind of thing is maybe more for Bible studies or maybe for Sunday preaching, or maybe some more intensive kind of Bible reading routines, that you can use in our benefit, but it’s not this.

Okay, so let’s bear that in mind as we come into it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that we’re going to come across a couple of different genres in the New Testament. So, we’ve got the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and they’re very different from the epistles, the letters by the Church fathers like Paul and John and Peter – so, the early apostles. Okay. And it can be helpful just to be aware of that dynamic, that in the Gospels the focus is very much on Jesus, on who He is, what He came to do what He did, and some of the teaching He passed on, and that those Gospels are written for all the Church to read, and know, and apply. The epistles are a bit different – they’re as relevant for all the Church, but in a different way, because they were written to our particular audience, sometimes a particular congregation or a group of congregations. And then we’ve got the Book of Revelation, and we’ll talk about that nearer the end of the year, because that’s a whole other different type of genre. And what you take from the different genres, how you approach the different genres, will be different, and it’s worth remembering that ,and if you’re not familiar with that, or you just want a bit more help, I’ve got two resources for you to consider getting a copy of.
Okay. now if you’re listening back to this message on the telephone we can get either of these resources printed off for you although one will probably be more helpful than the other. The more helpful one and useful for everybody, is the Bible Society resource and they’ve produced online resources, that you can either read online or downloaded and printed off, for each book of the Bible, and each book of the New Testament as well, and so, it gives you a bit of an introduction to the book, it tells you who wrote it, gives you some inspiring quotes from it, it gives you a bit of a structure to maybe help understand. In that way it gives you ideas of what this might mean for you as well as some maybe discussion questions to think about yourself or talk about with others, and I’ll put a link to this resource in the description of this video.

The other resource is by a group of people who come under the title The Bible Project, and most of it, they’ve got a website and a Youtube Channel, and for each book of the bible, as well as loads of other ideas and themes and issues. They’ve produced videos and the videos take you through a bit of a cartoon drawing that they’ve done, and so we can print off this cartoon drawing for people to read but without the commentary it might not mean quite as much. So, we can get that for those that are not on the internet but again, as I say, it might not mean as much without the commentary, and these are five to ten minute introductions.

That was the book of Mark. There’s also the book of Galatians just to give you a very quick overview to remind you what to maybe expect or be having in the back of your mind as you’re reading through. So, the Bible society and The Bible Project really helpful as you come to the scriptures as well as simply knowing that it’s the word of God and approaching it with that kind of heart and disposition.

Now, when you’ve been reading through hopefully you’ve been engaging with the questions and with the prayer stuff because it really needs both for these to be truly meaningful. I think Tim Keller, in his book on prayer, he talks about how prayer and the reading of scripture just have to and should dovetail so closely together and that one needs the other and vice versa, and so, don’t skip on that, don’t approach it in a peripheral way. You’re coming to God, you’re coming to hear from Him as he’s spoken through His word. and use the questions that are there. So, for example, going through the gospel of Mark, I’ve been thinking “What does it show me here of Jesus?” and I’ve just been reminded of His power and the dynamism He carried by the Spirit and that lives changed and there was an expectancy with Jesus, and Have I got that expectancy? Have I kept that expectancy? and that’s, in part, what prompted the message and following prayer time on Sunday, that as I read through the scriptures, that’s what arose in me; as I saw more of the person of Jesus but equally those other questions “Is there a sin to confess? There’s been a couple of, as I’ve read through things, thinking “Oh Lord, I don’t live that way!” or I see something and that how that person responded to you and my life too. “Forgive me Father, forgive me.” Or maybe there’s been a command to follow or something you’ve needed God’s help with. Who knows, maybe what it’s been, but again there will have been things for me and there’s so many thoughts going around our heads just now and in general. Isn’t it so.

One of the other things that I find helpful is to take some notes in a journal. Literally a sentence is all you need to write down, one sentence. Turn it into prayer if you like – I often do that nowadays. Rather than just here’s a thought, I write down a prayer with the thought and with that kind of heart. Or it maybe with the verse that has jumped out to me. And then, at the end of the week, you can, on a Saturday, if you’ve done all your five readings Monday to Friday, on a Saturday you can just take some time to look back over the week and see if you’ve got any more thoughts. Talk to God about it a bit more and then on Sunday you’ve got Church so no need for a reading that day. Yeah?

So, the questions are there to be used. Please don’t just bypass them. I do try to use them. And approach it prayerfully, and, as I say, you’re not looking to understand everything but you’re trying to see “Well, what is God maybe saying to me today, here, now?” You’re looking for what grabs your attention or what strikes your heart or what encourages you, challenges you. But, as I say, there’ll be days, there will be days where you’re reading through and it’s hard work. I have been there myself, and in that day you’re maybe just need to take a pause, maybe say “God I need Your help. I’m not getting anything today.” and maybe it’s coming back to it later in the day, or it could be just seeing if there’s something that sounds a bit dull or bland or the Sunday School lesson “Love your neighbor” and maybe that’s the thing you should dig into because it’s all God’s word, it’s all beneficial, there’s something you can get from it if we seek God’s help and put in a bit effort, at times, as well.

So, I encourage you that and then just take it into prayer and pray about it and think if you approach it that way I think you can get something helpful from it each day.

But I am conscious that there will be things that come up you know like “What does that mean?” or “Does this mean that?” or “Surely no!” or “I’m really confused!” and so, that’s where this idea about having a question and answers session. The idea came up for a questions and answers evening, and so for the 16th of February myself and a couple other ministers from the Braes Churches will get together to record a video to upload for the Tuesday night where we answer some of your questions. Now, to give us enough time to do that and juggle that around everything else, I need your questions in by the 4th of February, which is a Thursday. Get them in. That gives us about a week to do some digging for you, think through some stuff and come prepared and get the recording done. Can’t promise we’ll do every question but we’ll try and do as many as we can. We just don’t know who’s going to get involved because it’s not just Brightons reading this plan, which is really encouraging, it’s also Slammannan and I think we’re sending it out to Blackbraes and Shieldhill, Muriavonside, which is great, as well. So, who knows what will come! So, get your questions in and help us all just to chew things over.

Nevertheless, as I say, the goal in this is not to understand everything, I don’t think anyone has understood all of scripture, and that’s okay, the goal of this primarily is to nurture your relationship with God and so you’re looking for What are You saying to me today, God? What’s the thing that encourages me or challenges me? What’s prompting me to speak and praise You? and sometimes the wonderful thing about this way of reading the scripture is that some days, not all the time, but more often than not, something will come along that maybe just speaks into a situation and that you’re particularly facing. It’s like I needed to hear that and it’s just really striking how God does that and I’ve known a number of seasons where that has been the case.

So, I pray that we get some of those for each of us as well going through this year but especially I pray and hope that as we go through this it’ll grow your faith that you’ll get to know Jesus so much more, you’ll get to see what this is about and the life He calls us to individually and as a Church, and I think, if we support one another, nurture one another, learn from one another, take on board these questions, and approach the Bible as God’s word, with that sense of expectancy, that He will speak to us, He’ll give us something day by day, our daily bread. Man does not live on bread alone but from the very word of God, and I pray that each of us might know that this coming year.

So, thanks for tuning in. I’ve tried to keep it as brief as possible, probably longer than a mini message, but nonetheless I pray it’s of blessing to you.

And so, as you go from , may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this night and forevermore, Amen

Worthy of the Gospel: Unity and Trust

Preached on: Sunday 17th January 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 21-01-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Sunday 17th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, draw near in this time wherever we may be. Come in power. Come, take the word of God and change our hearts and minds. Come Holy Spirit and make Jesus real to us help us to hear His voice today for we ask this in His name, Amen.

I’ve appreciated the way in which Gordon and Ian have helped us start our new series in Philippians, this very special letter within the New Testament, for they’ve helped us see its relevance for our lives today. We’ve seen how crucial it is to know that we, “you”, are a good work, to remember that God has done – and is doing – something within us and among us, such that we are to pray for one another and live with a perspective shaped by Jesus and the gospel, even in hard times.
Before the Christmas break, I was contacted by the Communications Department for the Church of Scotland because they are doing a series of articles this year about people coming into ministry. The questions they asked made me think about my faith journey and other events, moments that defined, shaped, my life. To help us get into today’s passage, I’ve a question for you to think about at home: what have been the defining moments of your life? Has there even been a defining moment? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that at home. (PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with – feel free to share it in the Live Chat. The man who authored this letter was the apostle Paul and before he became a Christian he persecuted the early church, dragging those early disciples of Jesus to prison and even to death.
But then we know from his story, recorded in the book of Acts, that he had a powerful conversion – an event that radically redefined his life, such that he put his trust in Jesus and gave his life away for the sake of Jesus, the sake of the gospel and the well-being of the church. His coming to faith, his coming into relationship with Jesus, defined Paul’s life because in that process of coming to trust Jesus Paul met with the love and grace of God and as such he sought to live his life in light of that.

Now, not all of us will have had Paul’s experience, but what he received, is what every person who calls themself a “Christian” has received as well: the grace, the love, the welcome and invitation of Jesus; your sin has been forgiven, you no longer stand in condemnation, you will no longer pay the penalty of your sin – you are free,… you are redeemed, you stand in right relationship with God and He adores you. All this and so much more is the inheritance of every person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. As such, what Paul says in verse 27 applies to one and all of us: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ This verse shapes Paul’s life and his letter, and it is there in his other letters as well: if you claim faith in Jesus, then live in a manner worthy of the love and grace you have received from God.

In our portion today, what does it mean to live in a worthy manner? I want to give us two points to take away and put into practice. Firstly, being ‘worthy of the gospel through unity’.

Paul says, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ (1:27; 2:1-2)

Paul’s not calling into question their status as followers of Jesus here – the “if” is more like a “since”: ‘since you have been united with Christ…since you have known His love…since you share in the Spirit’ then be worthy of the gospel, and for any group of Christians, being worthy of the gospel includes a concrete expression of unity.
Now unity is much more than acquiescence, it is more than mere consent or approval, it is more than turning up to church or having the status of a member – unity involves the heart, such that there is an overflow of love, the love of God nonetheless, through us to others, and so it must involve action, it must involve the weaving of our lives together. This unity also involves the mind, not that we have uniformity in all things, but there must still be a shared understanding, a shared understanding of the gospel, such that we are collectively motivated with a deep conviction to be worthy of the gospel, so that our lives together might point to Jesus. In both heart and mind, in word and in deed, Paul longs for these dear followers of Jesus to be worthy of the grace and love they have experienced from God.

What this looks like in concrete actions is spelled out for us by Paul: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:3-4)

When we know the love and grace of God, then our motives change and so our lives change as well: we look beyond ourselves, we look beyond self. So, when Paul speaks of ‘vain conceit’, literally in the Greek this means ‘empty glory’, a chasing after ambitions that are unworthy of anyone who has tasted God’s love and grace.

In some ways, our recently adopted values seek to remind us of this and prompt us to live this out: that we are ‘family’, a community who journey together, and… we seek to share ‘share’, to share our lives and share the good news of God’s love in word and deed. Last Tuesday’s video, about hopes for 2021, gives some ideas of what this could look like, and I’d encourage you to go listen.

Yet even just now, let us each ask ourselves: do we look beyond our own interests to those within our church family? Could it be said that the love of God is seen in and through us? Do we seek to serve others – are you serving in some way within and through this congregation? As one person said on Tuesday evening – it’s easy to sit back, to keep to ourselves, but as Paul says here, we need to intentionally look out for ‘the other’, and demonstrating love in that way will help us move towards a way of life that is increasingly worthy of the gospel, worthy of what we have received from God.
But this is a tall order, is it not? An impossible calling, surely? Well of course, it is; it is beyond our own human ability – the human soul is so broken, fractured, sinful, that more often than not we look out for self than for others, we are more prone to factions and division than unity, and we clamour for status, wealth, comfort, power – the empty glory of such things – much more than the way of self-sacrifice and humility. How can Paul call us to such a way of life? Well, he also says that we are to be worthy of the gospel through trust.

He began by saying: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (1:27-30)

Let’s be clear, Paul is not talking about all suffering in these verses. The suffering in mind here is that of persecution, of suffering because of your faith. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. But let us also admit there are many ways that our believing, or in the literal Greek, our ‘trusting’ may bring suffering into our lives. Believing here, is not intellectual assent to some doctrines; to believe, is to entrust ourselves to Jesus, to commit ourselves to Him. Paul is saying, that to be worthy of the gospel also includes trust; trusting in the hard times, trusting through sacrificial choices.
Now, in our society, the degree of persecution we face is minimal whilst many in our world literally face death for their faith. There are 10 Christians a day dying in Nigeria because of persecution against them. Yet even here, there is opposition, that are voices, forces, events that can undermine our trusting in Jesus, they can seek to rob us of our peace and joy. So, as one commentator said, ‘where is it important for you and your church to hold your nerve & remain unafraid in the face of opposition?’

It’s seen when we trust that God’s Word is true, and so that Jesus is alive, that He is Lord and God alone, that He is the way of salvation and the source life in all its fullness. This trusting is seen when we choose to obey God’s Word rather than go our own way. This trusting is put to the test in many ways, yes by persecution, but also in the hardships of life, or when God’s standards call us to live differently to the world’s ways.

Your answer to this question might be quite specific to your circumstances, yet nevertheless, in our day, in our society, one of the greatest fears for most Christians, is the fear of others, of what others might think of us, or how they might respond if we were to share our faith or admit our faith or prioritise our faith. Another kind of fear, that can undermine our trust, is a fear that Jesus seems to ask too much, that we are afraid to give over control of our lives to Him, and allow Him to reign over our choices and our priorities.

These two fears are probably two of the greatest ways we experience a measure of suffering for following Jesus and yet to be worthy of the gospel, we are called to trust – to trust for the first time and then to keep on trusting, to keep on following Jesus and His way, yielding to His call upon our lives, individually and collectively. And when we do that, when we yield, trust, orientate our lives around Jesus, He then gives us His Spirit individually, and as a community, to help us live in unity and for His glory.

This trusting happens at the beginning of our faith journey, but it’s also a daily part of following Jesus. Every day is a new opportunity, a new invitation, to keep trusting Jesus; every Sunday, every message, every time you read your Bible, is another opportunity to trust, by responding to what God is saying in His Word.

So, in light of that, I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. I want to invite you to respond in trust to Jesus, at home, right now. In a moment, I’m going to pray, and there will be a couple of different prayers.

First, I want to give an opportunity for you to trust Jesus for the first time and begin following Him by asking for His forgiveness and yielding to His way in your life.

Secondly, I’ll give space for each of us to respond to this message, the call to live lives worthy of the gospel in unity and at personal cost for the sake of Jesus.

Lastly, there will be space to pray a prayer of trust in the midst of trials, of suffering and hard times. So, let us pray.

So, for those that want to invite Jesus into their lives, today, this morning I invite you maybe even just to put out your hands in invitation to Jesus. You don’t have to but I find it helpful to embody my prayers and then repeat with me these words of a prayer. Speak them out yourselves, at home, right now if you can.

Lord Jesus Christ I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I take a few moments now to name this before You, to confess my sin, what I’ve done wrong.
Please forgive me Lord. I choose now to turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and You promise to help change my life, to put it on a different path by the gift of Your Spirit living in me, and so I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank You Lord Jesus

To those of us who claim the title Christian, who claimed to follow Jesus, what has been the prompt this morning from the Lord? What has been the challenge?
Is He calling you to give your life away for Him in a new way or to renew that.
Is He maybe bringing someone to mind that you have to show the love of God. So come Holy Spirit. Speak to our hearts. I’m not going to give you words to pray this time just just speak to the Lord in quiet or out loud. Speak to Him about what is upon your heart, what you’ve been challenged by, how you’re going to respond, how you want to live worthy of the Gospel.

Admit your incapacity to do this yourself and invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill you in this time. Come Holy Spirit, fill us to overflowing, fill us with the love of God, fill us with power, fill us with power to walk in Your ways, to choose Your ways over ours. Come Holy Spirit.

And for those of us in the midst of trials of really hard times let me pray for you.

Lord I pray for these precious ones. I pray, Lord, that they would know You close. I pray that they would know that You’ll never leave them, nor forsake them. I pray that they know that You know the depth of their pain and their anguish, that You know what it’s like to suffer and, yes, there will be the questions and there will be deep anger sometimes Lord, and You’re ready to receive them. And there might not be answers this side of heaven but Lord may they know that You weep with them. May they know that You care and may You help them Lord to keep trusting keep trusting You this day in the next day and the next day, be their light in their darkness, be their light for the path ahead. Lord and help us to wrap the love of God around them in real tangible ways even amidst limitations. Lord, may we overflow with love for these dear precious ones. Lord may we be like Paul who, from a distance, sought to encourage and strengthen. May we see the ways that we can do that Lord for them, that they would know that they’re not alone in this journey, that You’re with them, we are with them. Oh Lord, help them trust You

Help them to keep trusting You Lord hear all our prayers this morning before we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

Forward with hope

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Family Watchnight Service

Preached on: Thursday 24th December 2020
There are no text of Powerpoint pdfs accompanying this sermon
Bible references: Luke 2:8-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Advent: welcome and secure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent: welcome and remembered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent: welcome and re-storied

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advent: welcome and sent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justice: called to change

Preached on: Sunday 22nd November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

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

Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.

Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?

But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)

We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.

It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.

Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.

Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.

Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.

I pray it may be so. Amen.