Grow: in fear and love

Preached on: Sunday 19th September 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there id no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Deuteronomy 6:1-6
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Were you listening out for those feeling words? Can anybody tell me what they were? Can you put up a hand if you think you can remember it?

First one, Fear, yeah, and there was a second one? Did any of our young people listen, now any of our adults, you want to shout out together? One, two, three, Love, yeah, fear and love.

Now hands up if you think that sounds a bit odd, that we’re called to fear God and love God. Hands up if you think that’s a bit odd. I think that’s a bit odd. I’m like ’What is this all about? What are you talking about here God?’

So, I brought something along from home to maybe help us think about this a little bit. So, in my bag here I have my drone. So, in lockdown last year, I got a drone. It’s a Mavic Air II which basically means it flies really fast and really high, and then I really enjoy it. It’s got the wee camera on the front that means you can take pictures and video and as I say it does fly very fast and very high. Now, I’m not going to put it on in here you’ll be glad to know, I’m also not allowed to break the rules, but I’ve got a wee video just to show you something that I did during lockdown last year with Hope, so we’ll see that just now.

Wow, so you can clearly tell that I like having a bit fun with my drone. I also like the editing process at the end, it gets the creative part of me out and about. So, this is my drone and I’ve on my birthday this year, I got out for the morning and did a wee bit flying and videoing and video and stuff, and made a video last night too, but as much as I feel a sense of fun when I’m out with my drone, I also feel fear. I sometimes feel fear when I’m flying my drone. Boys and girls young people in our organizations, why do you think I sometimes feel fear when I’m flying what do you think?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, sometimes birds do go for it and I really don’t want the birds to go for it. Another reason Emily:

it could crash and so both these methods by bird or me just doing something silly, I could crash it and it’s not cheap so I’d rather not crash it and damage it. Can you think of anything else? There’s one more reason I can think of but I might sometimes be a bit scared what do you think? Might fall on me or someone else, yeah exactly, and these blades they go really fast and they could really hurt someone and it can do quite a rate or not so if it was to hit someone I’d be quite worried that they’d get injured.

So I feel this fear in me sometimes when I’m using my drone and but it’s a good fear, it’s a fear that makes sure that I use my drone properly, that obey the rules, that I look out for people, because I value the drone and I value other people, and it’s the same with this fear that God talks about. It’s not a bad fear, it’s a good fear He’s talking about, He wants us to respect Him, to value Him as our Heavenly Father and so we might have that fear that we might not be showing the love we should, that fear of letting Him down or hurting Him because God can be grieved by our actions, and our passage today there were a number of things that said to do a number of things to learn so that we might show God this love and respect.

What did, young people, what did we, what did the reading say we were to learn? What were we to learn? Can you remember? Anybody? Commandments, that’s right, God’s commandments, His teaching, His ways. Now we might wonder, why does God want us to do that? Like is God a killjoy? Does God just want life to be boring? Is that what God’s about?

Well, to help answer that question we’ve got a picture here from the Beginner’s Sunday School. Are any of our beginners in here just now, any other beginners in? A couple. They’re mostly through next door. They did this picture and you’ll probably know this Bible story I would think, on this side we’ve got the man who built on the rock and the other man built on what? Shout it out. Sand, that’s right, and the rain came down and which house fell? It was the wrong one on the rock wasn’t it? You sure? I was sure it was the rock. The sand, okay! Okay, it was the sand wasn’t it. It was the sand, yeah, so the rain came down and the house build on the sand fell down, and Jesus was saying not that life would always be easy or go well, but he was saying, if we will listen to His teaching then we will make the best choices in life because God knows what is best for us, He knows what is good for us. So, if we want to do good we need to learn His commands, His ways, His teaching, but there’s a problem with that, I reckon, because there’s an awful lot in here. Sometimes it’s also really hard to do so.

How are we meant to live this out? How are we meant to show God this love and this respect that we’re supposed to, this fear? Well, we need to learn, we need to grow and one of our values as a church is that we want to be a people who grow, who grow in our faith, we get to know God better, we get to know His ways better and we grow in character so that we’ll learn to be more like Jesus in our character as well.

Now, I reckon you all know how to learn things don’t you? Hands up if you know how to tie your shoes? Do you know how to tie your shoes? Hands up if you know how to brush your teeth? Yeah, can you eat your food with cutlery yet? Yeah, some of you, I struggle sometimes! So, we can all learn things, yeah. So, I reckon since our officers are like adults they should be able to learn things really quick don’t you think? Yeah? So I’ve asked two volunteers from each of the uniformed organisations to come forward and I’m going to get them to do something, just like on the spot, they’re going to have one minute to learn something.

So if I can get our two volunteers to come out, and in your bag you will find three juggling balls, and you’ve got one minute to learn to juggle. Okay, over to you.

If you face that way then everybody can see you. Keep going, have another shot, keep going.

Come on, your officers you should know what to do! Oh right, we’ve got one on the go here,, yep one at a time, we’re getting there. How are we doing, oh yeah right, one hand to the other that’s a good start, definitely. Right I think that’s nearly half your time gone come on, come on.

Oh great, I think that might be enough well done, well done, thank-you. Well done.
Please, you can leave them there and I’ll get them at the end, thank-you so much.

Now, that was a wee bit unfair don’t you think. One minute to learn to juggle, that’s just not fair, even if we are adults, because you know sometimes it takes time to learn to juggle and when I was younger I was in a high school play and I was asked to take on a role where I had to learn to juggle and with this jacket on and I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to do it but I was asked to juggle and it was like in front of everybody, all the adults all the young people, I’m thinking ‘Am I going to be able to do this?’ and I had to walk at the same time, oh so much, but my teachers helped me and by practicing and repetition and although this was 25 years ago hopefully …….

There we go. The amount of times I dropped those in practicing.

We can learn new skills but it takes time, takes repetition, takes the help of others and there are many different ways to learn to juggle.

Our Bible passage says all these things too. It says the sooner you start the better, because the sooner you start and the more you do it the more natural it will become, and it will just become a way of life. Our Bible says we need all the generations together so that the older learn from the younger and the younger learn from the older, but we also need to do it in different ways. The Bible passage said to write it and to talk it and to make stuff to help us learn these commands in this way of life, and you know we’ve got tons of ways at church to help all of us from all the ages:
you might come to church; you might go to Sunday School, Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade; you might be part of a Fellowship Group or go to Alpha if you’re an adult; you might do the New Testament Reading Plan or get a copy of the Bible reading notes; there are so many ways and the question is ‘Will you use them? Will you use them?’ because you won’t grow by leaving the juggling balls, the Bible in the cupboard. I was really rusty this week, the amount of times I got a couple of balls going and it fell on the ground. If you want to learn God’s ways, if you want the good He wants for you, you need to learn His ways and put it into practice because also He calls us to love Him and respect Him by doing that, and that’s what our next song is all about. It’s a new song for us it’s called Revelation Song and it’s about singing our love and our respect to God. Now the Band are going to sing through the first verse and we’ll remain seated and then towards the end of the first chorus we’ll stand, look for my lead, and we’ll sing verses two and three together.

Family: Belonging and Purpose

Preached on: Sunday 12th September 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-09-12 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Exodus 3:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and reveal to us the heart of God and be a balm to our heart if we need that today.
Holy Spirit, come among us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

If a friend or colleague or neighbor was to ask you why they should bother about church what would your answer be? Could you give an answer? What would your answer convey to them and do you think it might resonate with them in any way at all?

Most likely your answer will be dependent upon your experience of church so if you think church is boring your answer’s probably going to be a pretty dull or you might struggle and start her to try and say something because there’s something in there that says you have to have a good answer and you’re just waffle something of course on the other hand if church has been beneficial to you may have something positive to say but again I wonder would it resonate with today’s culture one analysis of today’s culture suggests that people across the age ranges yearn for belonging and they yearn for purpose the yearn for belonging and for purpose so I wonder have you experienced either of those when you’ve shared in church

I know I have I have I’ve experienced a depth of belonging that is so very rare in our culture today at one time I was part of a small group of young adults when I was in my 20s at a church in Edinburgh and some of them Gill and I are still in contact with now they know the depths of who we are they have journeyed with us through some of the darkest times in life they have encouraged us they have spurred us on and picked us up we’ve hung out we’ve had meals together in each other’s homes we’ve had a cuppa at the latest time of night you can imagine we were family and it really was and as a gift so that even though we are in different countries now we still make the effort to book a holiday once a year and go see them and be with them and keep in contact across the year that’s the experience of church that I’ve had so that when church is at its best there is true belonging and it really functions like the best of families but the same writer goes on to say that today’s generation not only wants to belong they want purpose indeed they yearn to be part of a community that lives and works for a purpose higher than mere survival its own survival a purpose higher than its own survival yet sadly too often how often does that feature in the church sure we’re a place you can belong but we are very focused on our own survival particularly when things seem threatening and many a church lacks a sense of belonging to something greater and maybe that’s because we end up making church about us about me about I sadly too few of us have a sense of belonging to something greater something that is worth living for even something that is worth dying for either literally or metaphorically so by now you know that we’re working through this new teaching series on our purpose and values and today’s value is the value of family we’re a family of all sorts of people journeying in community towards wholeness our passage has much to say about this value but before we dig into it it’s helpful i think to recall some of the story of Moses he was an Israelite part of the Israelite nation that grew up in Egypt and became slaves to the Egyptians and his life was a threat because of the command given by pharaoh to suppress the growth of the Israelite nation but his mother saved him and he actually ended up living in pharaoh’s household we might say as a prince of Egypt but then as a young man he intervened in an altercation when he helped uh try to help a Jewish slave that was being mistreated and that led to him fleeing Egypt fleeing into the wilderness into Midian and living there as a shepherd for 40 years and that’s where we find him in today’s passage Moses is out tending his flock on the far side of the wilderness and that’s where God meets him God catches his eye with a burning bush a bush that is con not being consumed by the fire and so Moses thinks to himself well that’s pretty strange I’m going to go see this yet before he can even take a step God intervenes and says Moses, Moses do not come any closer take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground Moses meets with God this holy God that we were thinking about last week and again we see God keeping that distance because of his holiness so Moses has this personal and life-changing meeting with God which was our value last week if you recall but there’s something we need to see in this passage something else as Moses encounters God he receives a calling a calling into something greater something greater than merely personal faith or personal benefit and let’s pause and think about that for a moment because as i said already we often make church we often make faith or following Jesus about ourselves how does it benefit me does it meet my needs does it take enough of my boxes what am I getting out of this do I really have the time for this

yet Moses story shows us that when we meet with God he calls us into something bigger something that has both belonging and purpose God goes on to say I’m the God of your father the God of Abraham the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt God in meeting with Moses is calling Moses into this people again into this family the family of God and so we should be quite familiar with us by now because I’ve said it so often in the last couple of weeks God has a heart to have a people of his own and he’s going to relate to them now we see as a family with him being the perfect father to them and but in the very next people he reaffirms this he says in the next chapter even he says when you return to Egypt say to pharaoh this is what the lord says Israel is my firstborn son and i told you let my son go so that he may worship me the firstborn son his pride and joy his heir and so God has his heart for our people but he has his heart for our family he will treat them as his children and he calls Moses out of the wilderness out of estrangement out of distance and back into this place of belonging when we meet with God when we meet with God it is meant to lead us to something more than just a personal faith yes God wants you to know forgiveness and he wants you to know peace and he wants you to know hope and he wants you to know life but as we’ve seen biblical faith is meant to be more than merely me mine and I we’re called into something greater we’re called into belonging to something greater and that carries over into the new testament we read there see what great love the father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God and that is what we are it’s what we are does it is it core to your identity I hope I remember talking to hope about this the idea that we talked about this morning it’s a hard concept for a five-year-old to get our head around this idea that as deep as your family roots go you still have a family that goes deeper and for all eternity and Paul carries that on he says you’re no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household members of his family with God as your father we’re called into something greater we’re called to belong to something greater to something that can never be lost never be taken away from us even after death

have we allowed this to grip us have we allowed it to shape our mind and our heart to shape our living the sense of belonging to the family of God to something greater because when we do church is no longer an event that we turn up to once a week and it’s no longer just a club or a loose group of people it’s your brother and sister someone you love and it really does become family in church we becomes the best it can be God was calling Moses back into this family he’s called us into this family and do we allow God’s word to shape our thinking in this way because it sounds a simple lesson something you tell kids till they grow sold enough that they’ve heard it so many times but do we live it out do we live it out do we see one another as our sisters and brothers in Christ so our family value says we’re a family of all sorts of people but it doesn’t stop there and it didn’t stop there for Moses either God goes on to say i have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt I’ve heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering so i have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land a land flowing with milk and honey God has his people his family and he now tells Moses he’s going to take his children on a journey a journey out of darkness oppression and strife and to a place that is full of joy and life and goodness so when God speaks here of a good and spacious land a land flowing with milk and honey he’s simply using the language of the time he’s using the language of a shepherd and he does so that he might paint a picture and help his people understand a concept that we’re familiar with I’m sure but it’s still hard to get our heads around it’s spoken of in many ways throughout scripture often referred to as peace or in the Hebrew shalom maybe our best contemporary word would be wholeness, wholeness and shalom has this idea of a wholeness that’s both individual but collective it’s meant to ripple out across society in the wider world it includes wholeness both physically so that there’s no more suffering or death it’s meant to affect us emotionally and intellectually no more brokenness in those areas of life it’s meant to be part of our spiritual wholeness as well and speaking of shalom across the scriptures this is what God speaks of wholeness and its greatest extent that you can imagine that’s the peace that’s the wholeness that God wishes to give to his people is this is the wholeness he calls them into that would affect every area of life every area of brokenness and so when Jesus says i’ve come that they may have life and have it to the full he’s not limiting this to forgiveness

his death on the cross was not just so that you can get forgiven that’s the tip of the iceberg God’s intent through Jesus is yes for you to be forgiven because you need that we’re all a bunch of sinners as we thought about last week but that forgiveness is simply an entrance point into something greater a greater destiny a greater future God intends for his people to know this shalom his peace his perfection his wholeness and so that’s why our family value says we’re a family of all sorts of people journeying in community towards wholeness as a family we’re on a journey and we do it in community because we need one another but we’re journeying towards somewhere we’re not journeying aimlessly we’re journeying towards life in all its fullness as part of the kingdom of God into that new heaven and new earth that will one day come

now at this point I can imagine that there’s either two objections or struggles with this first of all you might think this sounds kind of selfish again Scott this me mine and I thing maybe it’s too earthly minded maybe it’s sinful maybe I feel I’m a bad person that I want this but then also remember please all I’ve done is quote scripture so God wants this for you more than you want it God wants this for you more than you want it he is a good God he came to save that you might have life, life in all its fullness life and all its wholeness but I suspect the other struggle that will come to mind as I say this is a struggle that every one of us faces from time to time and we are facing it even again today with the news that I’ve had to share because you hear this chat about a God a God who yearns for a people of his own a family of his own that he came to die that they might have life in all his fullness and yet this world is still so broken and it’s just getting worse isn’t it you know Gill and I were in for our 20-week scan the other week and when the doctor found out I was a minister lead came off is about all I can say because suddenly we faced with all these questions about these very issues it’s where he went to second time we saw him so maybe as i share God’s heart his heart to bring us on a journey to wholeness you struggle with that because maybe in your life or in the life of someone you love all you see is brokenness and the more you see of it the more brokenness comes about because then it ends up breaking your heart and maybe even ends up breaking your faith

and friends there’s no silver bullet to that there’s no answer that fully resolves the pain

in some ways i believe there shouldn’t be because when we try to have an answer the answer it probably just minimizes the dark and difficult realities we face

yet know this God is not unaware nor is he unaffected in the verses i quoted earlier God said i am concerned about their suffering now to you and me concerned probably sounds pretty cold distant about as caring as a politician pick the one you’d most want to fill in the gap there but that’s a fault of our English because the Hebrew word that’s translated here concerned it involves the idea of knowing of knowing with certainty of knowing with intimate knowledge even knowing with experience so we could even paraphrase God as saying I have experienced their suffering i have experienced their suffering just as a parent may experience a genuine degree of suffering as they see their child struggling so too does God yet God sees all suffering so the hardship that you and I know in our lives and what we feel as we watch a loved one struggle these are multiplied a billion-fold time a billion-fold for God who has experienced the suffering of every life of every moment of brokenness in this world at least from the beginning of time but as an eternal God maybe he’s always experienced it

and a day and a year can seem a long time in our lives what’s eternity like carrying all that suffering

God is not unaffected friends and now of the overflow of his love for you and me in this broken world he desires for all of us to belong to his family and then journey towards his peace his new kingdom the new heaven and earth that we might know life in all its fullness

there’s much more that can be said on this the tensions of the now and the not yet the tensions of waiting but this is God’s heart for us he calls us into family and he calls us on a journey to wholeness but he also does something quite strange with Moses he says to Moses so now go I’m sending you to pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt God has this people his family and his plans and purposes for them and yet for some unfathomable reason God wants to involve Moses this guy who messed up he messed up so bad he had to flee when he was younger and yet God still wants him to be involved i think he does it so as to rewrite Moses story so that the the future that Moses has is different from what he has had because God is calling him into something bigger into family towards wholeness into a new story by being involved and Moses responds not only this one time in verses 11 and 12 if you go on and read he responds four more times to God saying God who am I mean come on God you might be God you may have all wisdom but this just seems crazy why be no way but God says i will be with you and he later provides Aaron and others to journey with him towards these purposes so brothers and sisters God has called you into his family he has called you towards wholeness and he is calling you to be involved that the future story of this place the future story of an individual’s life the future story of our community might be different you’re part of a bigger story you know I’m I’m journeying with someone who came to faith about a year or so ago and it’s a real privilege to journey with this individual and I’m getting to know this individual story and there are hard parts to the story but I believe that God has got better in front of her than what she’s known that there will be joy again there will be peace and purpose because God is calling us all into that and he’s calling us to be involved but maybe as you hear that you’re thinking uh that sounds a bit scary I couldn’t do that I can’t do what you do Scott I can’t do what Jean or Ann did today well maybe you’ve got a different role to play you will have I’m sure and you need to know that God will be with you as well his grace and power will be with you to further what you might do in your life to help us be a place of family to help us be involved in the purposes of God there will be others of us however who need to drop the excuses just like Moses had to because God calls us all to be involved for the sake of others for the sake of his purposes for the sake of his family because if this family value is to be realized more fully we need everyone brothers and sisters we need everyone to play their part and if we do then maybe maybe when someone says to you why should i bother about church your answer certainly won’t be dull and you might still stumble and stutter a little but what you say won’t be from a place of trying to come up with the best answer possible you’ll just speak from experience and that might be captivating to them because you’ll be speaking of something greater I’ve been called into something greater I’ve been called into the family of God where you belong and into a purpose that is about more than mere survival it’s about inviting encouraging and enable people of all ages to encounter and follow Jesus Christ such that their lives change for the better and they too journey with us as a family as a community towards that wholeness and peace which he promises and which we will experience one day when His kingdom comes in all its fullness and we share in that new heaven and new earth

I pray it may be so, Amen

Meet with God

Preached on: Sunday 5th September 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 21-09-05 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Leviticus 16:1-10 & 29-34
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and reveal to us the heart of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

Can you remember the last time you were at the cinema? Long time ago eh? Probably more than a year ago/ There might be some people, anyone brave enough to have been brave enough to go in the last year? A couple people. Oh, I am impressed!

So, a couple people, but most of us have not been since probably before corona virus. I loved going with my Dad especially, it was one of the things that we did Father and son kind of days, we went to the cinema but if you were to go sometime in the near future when maybe you felt safe enough to do so I wonder what type of film you would go see? Would it be a rom-com? Anybody want to admit to that one? I like a rom-com as much as anybody. An action-based film maybe? Maybe Marvel? There’ll be a few of us amongst them. Maybe a film with a bit of suspense or drama, or a film based upon a real life story, maybe that ticks your box.

Well, whatever your preference of film, maybe I would think we only gauge it good if it has a story that grips us in some way, and the very best films tell a story that touch our hearts, they move us in the deepest part of our being, and most often this happens when it tells a story that connects with us. it maybe shows us something that connects with our life even, or maybe in the telling of the story we see our lives in a new light, maybe we ask new questions and the horizon has opened up and we see the world more clearly, or it grips us so much we’re moved to action and response. The telling of story through drama can be a very powerful medium and can impact us and open our eyes like very few other things.

Our reading today takes us back into the life, the rituals, the story of Israel, and it can seem pretty irrelevant, weird even, maybe barbaric too, but their story of what God did in them and through them and with them is meant to help us see things differently, it’s meant to help us see God differently and to see ourselves differently.

We’ve just begun a new teaching series, a series to help bring us back to the purposes and values we have as a congregation, and last week we saw that part of our purpose is connected to the heart of God and we saw how that is that God’s heart is to have a people of his own God, is seeking for all of us to have relationship with Himself and He seeks to be near us and for us to be near Him. So, God’s not interested in mere religion, He’s not interested in being a God that we forget about because he’s so distant and far off. That’s not what God’s after. He’s not after us just getting on with some religious stuff here on a Sunday morning. God wants to be involved in your life and mine so it’s completely fitting that one of our values, one of the ways of working out our purpose is about helping people Meet with God. We want to be a place, a community, we want to be a means by which people can meet with God in a personal and life-changing way. That is what we mean by the value of Meet, it’s meeting with God.

Our passage today reminds us of this because the tabernacle, the tent of meeting was a living picture of this reality. God was in the midst of His people, He was surrounded by them, He was near them, He was central to their lives and to everything they did.

Now the tent of meeting had an outer courtyard but then within the tent it also had various parts to it. There was the holy place and there was the most holy place, the holy of holies, and it was in the holy of holies, the most holy place, that God’s Ark, the Ark of the Covenant, was there and it was a symbol of God’s presence. It was almost like the foot stool of His throne and so the most holy place was the throne room of God Almighty and he presenced Himself among His people because He wanted close, direct relationship with them.

Do you know He still wants that today, with you and with me? Do you know that? Do you really know that? Like, really have your eyes been opened to that reality? Can you see in the story of Israel that God wants to be involved in your life? Do you know He wants to meet with you in a personal in a life-changing way?

Just last Sunday I was chatting to some people on the doorstep after the service and one lady stopped to spend just a few minutes with me because she wanted to share something encouraging. Over the last year she’d started to tune in again to church, she hadn’t been interested in church for a while, but she started tuning in at home on a Sunday and mid midweek as well and, lo and behold, God met with her, God spoke to her in ways that are beyond mere coincidence, and it really encouraged me, and it reminded me that God wants to meet with us, with us all, with you and with me, in a personal and life-changing way. Do you know that? Do you know that? But the drama played out in our passage today is also to open our eyes to something else, it’s meant to open our eyes to a dilemma, a dilemma, because God’s heart, as was said, is to have a people of His own and to be near them, but God is holy and that means He’s perfect, He is completely separated from evil, He’s truly righteous and good and so that holy God cannot be as close to the people. He yearns to be near and He cannot allow them to come too close to Him for their own safety, either because we, you and I, Israel as well, we’re a bunch of broken, messy people. Who amongst us can say we’re perfect? We do wrong stuff every day, every week, as part of our nature, there’s a darkness inside us. We’d rather not admit it but it’s there, and that darkness, the Bible calls sin, and sin to holiness is like oil to water, it doesn’t mix, or it’s like gas to a naked flame and so it will be consumed by the dynamic, powerful, pure holiness of God if sin comes too close, and that’s what we read about,

The start of our passage where the two sons of Aaron had approached the Lord when they weren’t supposed to and they died, and it’s also why in our passage today there are restriction, after restriction, after restriction, and ritual, after ritual, after ritual to emphasize this issue, to emphasize that this holy God has to keep a safe distance between Himself and His people and so only, the only the high priest could enter, go into the most holy place, only he could go through the curtain that separated the holy place from the most holy place, and he could only do that once a year, and he could only do that when he’d offered sufficient sacrifices. Only him, only him. And we’re meant to see the dilemma we all face but which God faces with us too, because His heart is to have a people of His own and to meet with them in a real tangible way bu,t because of sin, there is distance and there is danger.

Now, we might wonder ‘Well, why didn’t God just continue with this old system, the old system He gave Israel?’ Well you have to go into the New Testament to find the answer for that and in one of the New Testament books, The Letter to the Hebrews, the author describes the old system in this way, he says ‘This is an illustration for the present time indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper.’ What had been before under the old system had kept the relationship between God and His people, it had facilitated forgiveness but it didn’t go far enough, didn’t clear the conscience, it didn’t mean that people could come into God’s presence whenever, wherever, it just wasn’t possible, there was limitation. There was limitation because the old system was not enough and so as he says it acted as an illustration or picture and drama to help us see the dilemma. A dilemma we all face and which only God could solve and solve what He did through Jesus, because the same author goes on to say ‘Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant unlike the other high priest he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins and then for the sins of the people, he sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves but he entered the most holy place once for all by his own blood so obtaining eternal redemption.’ On the cross Jesus offered himself, he sacrificed himself for us so as to secure our forgiveness and provide a way for us to come back into right relationship with God. He’s like the scapegoat in our passage today, the scapegoat. The priest would have laid his hands on the scapegoat and confessed the sins of the nation upon the scapegoat and then the scapegoat carried that sin away as a sign as a reenactment of what God had done and in a similar way, in the words of Paul, God made Jesus, who had no sin, to be sin for us or in the words of Peter ‘Jesus bore our sins in his body on the cross.’ Jesus bore our burden, the burden of our sin, and he bore our sins away, He sacrificed Himself for us to take away the sins of many and clear the conscience of the worshipper, but friends, it’s almost like that is just the tip of the iceberg because there’s so much more, there’s so much more through Jesus, because through Jesus we now have confidence to draw near to God and any of us can have an intimate relationship just like that woman told me last week. Now we don’t enter into a sacred place like the most holy place in a temple or a tent, we don’t even have to be in a church building for this to happen, as her story told us, because, through faith in Jesus, through relationship with God through Jesus, we can meet with God anywhere, anytime, we can have direct immediate access to God to our Heavenly Father whose heart is for you to know Him, for Him to have a people of His own and to meet them, with them personally and in a life-changing way, and it’s all available because of Jesus.

This isn’t made up friends, this is not made up, this is not some silly Sunday school story. If this sounds fictional or make-believe it really isn’t. He’s changed my life. I could point to any number of people and I won’t pick on you in here, but I could pick to any number of people and God is working in their lives now, their lives aren’t perfect and their lives are really hard, but God is there, God is there, He is at work, He is changing our lives and He’s made that possible because of Jesus.

We’re going to be celebrating, this morning the Sacrament of Communion and it’s another picture, I might say it’s another drama, to help open our eyes and remind us of the heart of God that He loved you and me so much He was willing for His body to be broken, He was willing for His blood to be spilt and that’s what we remember through the bread and the wine. We remember this in His sacrifice. God was making a way for His people to draw near and know Him now and for all eternity.

Friends, have your eyes been opened to this reality? Do you see the character of God? Do you see the heart of God? This isn’t a God that wants to be kept at arm’s length, this isn’t a God who’s a fable or a made-up story, or who just wants you to be religious on a Sunday morning, He wants to be involved in your life, but for that to happen you need to realize that this is who God is, but you also need to realize you need Him and you need His sacrifice because friends, nothing you do can cover that distance, nothing you do can remove the danger of sin in your life except the blood of Jesus.

So, maybe you’re beginning to wonder. I hope you’re beginning to wonder how can I share in this scope how can I share in this? How can I benefit from the death of Jesus? Well, Paul reminds us he says ‘God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement through the shedding of his blood to be received by faith’ to be received by faith, it’s all by faith, it’s not actually by turning up at church or being baptized or been a good person, none of it counts, none of it counts, it’s all by faith, faith in Jesus, and if you want Him to be your Savior, if you want that distance to be removed, if you want God to be involved in your life you have to come to Him in faith and faith in Him alone.

I said last week that I also wanted our teaching series to help us think about sharing our faith too, and we heard last week that Biblical faith must be lived out, it must be seen, it must be known, it must be shared and yes, the sacraments of baptism and communion are two ways of sharing our faith, of making it known and it’s lovely that Callum and Emma stood today with Lewis and they made their faith known and they committed themselves along with the God parents to pass on this faith to Lewis, and we rejoice in that but if all the ways of making our faith known simply happen within these walls then the wider world will never know of the heart of God, they’ll never know of the depths of God’s love and the lengths He went to, they’ll never know that there is a love which died for them and for us. Our God is the most captivating, loving being there is, more than your spouse, more than your kids, more than your family or friends, but do you know that? Do you know His love?

Because His heart is to have a people of His own and for them to meet with Him in a personal and life-changing way and He sacrificed Himself to make that possible.

Now, I’m not saying, hear me, I’m not saying you have to go out there and talk to the first person you meet about Jesus, you’ll be glad to hear again, and I’m not saying you have to tell them about sins straight away and that we all need forgiveness, I wouldn’t do in the first conversation, and eventually maybe, in this series, we’ll think about the how of sharing our faith but I think what God wants for us, in this series especially, is to renew our hearts and renew our minds, more than necessarily equip us in the how of sharing our faith. He wants your heart to be stirred by what He has done, He wants your heart to be stirred by His purposes, He wants your eyes to be opened to see a greater vision of who God is of who God really, really is. He’s a God of love and of holiness and He sought for you to be part of His people that you might meet with Him personally even if it meant His own death. I wonder, can we allow these old words, these old stories of Israel, can we allow their story to stir in us such adoration, such wonder, such commitment to God, that it maybe increases our courage and we might step over our fear, and maybe think about sharing our faith? I think that’s what God’s seeking in this series, to stir in us and do in us, and you’ve got a choice of whether to allow Him to do that or not, or to shut Him down. The choice is yours and I pray that you will respond to Him so let us pray.

Friends, how do you need to respond today?
Do you need to allow the sacrifice of Jesus to stir your heart afresh?
Do you need to know that you’re forgiven and received to the Father, that there’s
nothing you’ve done that can keep you from Him?
If you’re putting your faith in Jesus, His death can make you clean in His sight and He welcomes you back with open arms.
Do you need to allow these words to rise up in your courage?
What is it you need to do today?
And the stillness, why don’t you jus,t the quiet of your thoughts, share that with God.
I do wonder, I do wonder if there’s some here today, you’ve come into church this morning, you wouldn’t say that you’re not a Christian, that this God is just a made-up old story, and I wonder if you felt your heart stirred,
or you felt maybe a conviction of your way of life, that there’s distance between you and God because of choices you make day by day,
and if that’s you, maybe today is the day you become a Christian, today is the day you say ‘God come into my life and forgive me’
and if that’s you let me lead you in a prayer just now.

Lord Jesus, repeat after if that’s you,
Lord Jesus, please forgive me,
please come into my life.
Thank-you that You died on the cross for me.
Thank-you that You offer me a life with You.
I receive that gift today.
Thank-you Lord Jesus.

Lord, if that’s, if someone’s prayed that prayer today, I pray that You’d surround them, that You keep them safe, that You’d fill them afresh with Your Spirit and You’d help them to know Your love and to walk with You all the days of their life.
And Lord, whatever it is you’ve stirred in our hearts, would You, would You seal it over, would You take it deep, Lord, would You stir us up, would You convict us where we need convicted, when You free us where we need freed, Lord, would You give us hope where we need hope, would You pour out Your love where we need to know that, deep in the depths of our soul, and we pray that for our kids as well Lord, we pray for all the children and young people that are amongst us and through in their groups just now.
Lord, reveal to You, reveal to them Your love, astound them with Your love, captivate them with Your love Father that they may follow You all the days of their life and so we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

If you decided to become a Christian today, if you decided to respond and pray that prayer with me, then please get in touch with me, just let me know that you made that choice, you can either tell me on the door, you can drop me an email, because we’d love to journey with you, we’d love to equip you and help you follow Jesus, so do let me know if you did respond. We continue in response to God.

Series introduction Purpose and Values: sharing our faith

Preached on: Sunday 29th August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILANBLE SOON. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this clicking.
Bible references: none
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Got a battery change there so it should be a little bit easier to hear me now!

So, today we are beginning a new teaching series and this will see us through to about the October. And it’s about one year ago that we had our Elders agree what our Purpose and our Values should be as a church congregation and so, probably once a year or so, I’ll teach a little series on that just to bring us back to our core DNA, to remind us what we’re about as a congregation,

Now, our Purpose and Values are rooted in Jesus which is clearly important and foundational, yet, what Jesus came to fulfill, is rooted in the heart of God from the Old Testament too so, we don’t just ignore the Old Testament.

And so, today and in the series I’ll be starting in the Old Testament but looking to the New as well and I hope it will help us see that what we belong to has been in the heart and vision of God for a very long time, and that might give us a different glimpse of things, and maybe give us greater confidence and courage.

But, over this past year a number of the teams within our Kirk Session have been utilizing our Purpose and Values to look at the activities that they do as a team to say ‘Well, looking at this value, does that mean we should do things anything differently?’ It’s almost like wearing a pair of lenses with the Purpose and Values, and looking at things a bit differently and that’s been helpful because sometimes they have seen things differently. They say ‘Oh, we could contribute to this if we do something a wee bit different.’ And so, with this series, I’d like us to wear a pair of lenses, a pair of glasses and the particular pair of lenses I’d like us to bring to our passages is that of ‘sharing our faith’, sharing our faith. As we look at these passages what might it say to us about sharing our faith? What encouragement might there be? What vision might they help us see? What understanding of the heart of God as it relates to sharing our faith might they reveal, so we are encouraged and equipped. Maybe it’s too much to expect, but there’s a lot in this series, hopefully a lot of good, and so we’re going to hear our bible passage read for us now by Jennifer.

Hope and Friendship

Preached on: Sunday 22nd August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this message.
Bible references: John 21:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Well boys and girls, we’re thinking about this story in the Bible where there is a boat and our breakfast but I was thinking it might be quite nice almost to have a boat here in church if only we could make a boat here in church to help us imagine!

And so, I wonder if you might help me with some of these props. You’re going to have to really use your imagination because it’s going to be pretty basic but I wondered if using these blankets we might make a bit of a boat shape around this area at the front. Do you think you can help me? In a moment once the music starts we’ll do it.

Now, there’s not enough for everybody so we’re going to have to have some teamwork okay. So, everybody kind of working in teams to do this, make a nice boat shape and maybe our adults around the front can help with that too. So, we’re going to put on some music and get this going. Let’s see what we can do.

Make a nice boat shape on the ground. Can we put it on the ground? All right, make a big boat, make it big enough for everybody to get in, make it big enough for everybody to get in.

All right, all right can you have a seat in your boat put my seat in the boat. Right in the boat is everybody in time. Oh, we’ve got a few outside the boat. Let’s put it on the ground, use the blankets to, all right, we’re all in the boat. Are we in? Did we fit in? Just! Well, we just fitted in I think.

So, we’re inside the boat. We’ve got our boat, now I want you to imagine that you’re some of Jesus’s friends, the Disciples, and it’s been a crazy few days at this stage because just a few days ago Jesus has risen from the dead and the tomb’s empty, and He’s appeared to you. Now, maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, why are we in a boat if this amazing thing has happened? Why are we in a boat?’ Well, we don’t really know but well they are, some of them are fishermen and maybe it was just out of comfort they decided ‘Well, we’ll go back to fishing.’ So, I want us to imagine that we’re in this boat and sometimes there might be a big sail and there might be roads so can we roll out we’re going out fishing can you roll with me we’re rowing out, hard work getting out in the boat and we’re rowing out and because experienced fishing we know it’s best to go at night, so it’s night time the sun is setting, they rowed and they get to the spot so they stop rowing and then they throw out their net. Can you throw out your net? We’re throwing out our net now, all night long they’re throwing out their net and then what do we need to do with the net once we’ve thrown it out? Pull it back in! That’s right, pull it back in, pull it back in. Oh, it’s hard work but guess what? no fish were caught, no fish were caught and that happened again and again and again and as the sun began to rise these fishermen were tired.

Can you pretend to be tired? Can you pretend to be cold? So cold, and they were like How do you think they were feeling at this point? Can I see a face, to make up a face to show me how they were feeling? What faces are you going to go for? Oh, we’ve got some grumpy, we’ve got some tired, Oh, lots of scary faces here.

Oh, they were not in a good mood were the,y and they thought it was time to go back so they rowed back. Can you row with me? Oh, back, back and short and as they go closer and closer to shore they notice someone on the shore. So, you can, yeah look over this way see. What you can see?

“Throw your nets on the right side then you will find some.”

Oh,, so the someone on the shore said to throw out their nets again. Let’s throw out our nets. We’re throwing out your nets and then pull in your nets. Oh, oh, so much fish. Oh, and the boat fills up with all these fish. How do you think these Disciples were feeling now? How do you think they were feeling? Happy, excited. At that point they realized that this person, not Richard, but this person was Jesus – just to get that in there before you got any ideas – we’ll talk about that later I’m sure – and at that point they were like Wow, Jesus had made what was impossible and not working into something good and something possible happened, and they only did that because Jesus guided them and Jesus used His power to help them. And you know, this past year boys and girls, adults amongst us, it has been a tough year and we’ve missed so many things and we’ve missed and struggled with being in lockdown and being at home and stuck at home and feeling isolated and feeling alone and maybe feeling forgotten and maybe feeling scared and disappointed like some of the Disciples were feeling, but just like the Disciples we can hope and trust in Jesus. He is our help because Pslam 33 reminds us “So our hope is in the Lord for he is our help.’ Boys and girls, could you repeat that with me and our adults let’s say that together – So our hope and in the Lord, he is our help. Say it again So our hope is in the Lord, he is our help.

That is true. Jesus is our help and that’s what the boat reminds us today that Jesus is our help and so our hope, our trust should be in Him. But the story doesn’t end there, there’s also a breakfast and as soon as His Disciples realize that Jesus was there well Peter couldn’t contain himself, he just had to get to Jesus, and the rest of the Disciples they eventually came as well and when they got there, Jesus had prepared a fire and Jesus had prepared a breakfast as , and said to them ‘Bring more food’ because they were hungry and the fire would warm them up, but not only that, Jesus stayed with them and spent time with them, and He talked with them, and He listened to them, and he just enjoyed their company, and they enjoyed His company because these men were His friends because they followed Jesus and He loved them, and, boys and girls, adults here, we need to remember that too. Not only Jesus is our help. He is our friend and He loves us with an unbreaking love, He loves us such that He will never leave us nor forsake us.

But how much of that is just head knowledge, and how much of it is heart knowledge? We need it to go deep down to know He wants your company, He wants your company and He gives His company to us as well, because He loves us with an unchanging and unchanging love.

And so, our story today with the boat reminds us that Jesus is our help and so we have to hope in Him and the breakfast reminds us that Jesus is our friend and His presence and His power and His friendship is there for us as well, and as we go back to normal in some shape or form, either here at church, or at home, and at school, and nursery, boys and girls, or as we go on to do different things to fulfill our purpose as a church, we need to remember Jesus is our help and that gives us courage, but Jesus is our friend and we can celebrate that whatever the storm or situation. I pray that we know these truths for ourselves. May it be so, Amen.

No Excuse

Preached on: Sunday 15th August 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 21-08-15-Message-PPT-slides-multi-pages.
Bible references: Luke 14:15-24
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

Have you ever been at a meal with friends or family maybe and at some point someone slips in a wee comment that changes the whole atmosphere? Have you ever been there? Maybe it’s a comment about politics like independence or how good a bad our job our Nicola is doing. Maybe it’s in relation to a thorny family issue or a very delicate personal matter. Well, in Jesus day it doesn’t seem like they had the old adage that we have of never talking about politics, sex, or religion at the dinner table, and I guess if you’re meeting with a bunch of religious leaders you’re going to talk about religion it surely is going to be on the agenda, and so our story today finds Jesus at the table with a Pharisee, a prominent Pharisee and he’s surrounded by other guests probably other Pharisees maybe other appropriate people, no riff-raff at this special occasion, and already if you flick back in your Bible and look at the earlier part of chapter 14 Jesus has already done some quite startling and said some quite startling things and you could literally cut the tension in the air, it’s that palpable, and, I guess, that’s what prompts one person at the dinner table to say a wee comment that just jars a little bit. He says ‘Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.” We might paraphrase this guest is saying ‘Brothers, brothers, despite our differences wouldn’t it be nice for us all to experience that great feast when the kingdom of God finally comes.’ Oh, awkward comment, because it seems Jesus is ready to kind of pounce on that, He’s ready to point out a number of false assumptions there, and so, he tells another parable

and in this particular parable Jesus is speaking of a certain man who is holding a great feast and he invites guests to be there. Now, in the culture of that day, when you invited guests to dinner you told them the day but you did not tell them the exact time, and this was because the host needed to find out how many guests were going to be there and then he or she would make sure there was enough food prepared. There’s no just walking down to Tesco for your burgers or venison or whatever it happens to be that you’re ordering that day, and so, just before the feast is ready, the host sends his or her servant to each of the guests to say ’That’s the meal’s ready, we’ve had the proper time so now’s the time to come to the banquet room.’ So, in other words, the people who were first invited and go to and they’ve actually said ‘I’m coming.’ they’ve already said they’re going to be there, the host is expecting them to turn up, and yet we find each guest making an excuse and that in itself and that culture would have been highly rude, and it’s made worse by their very poor excuses.

Now, Jesus doesn’t go into every excuse that every guest gives, He simply provides a sample of the kind of excuses.

And so, the first one says ‘I have just bought a field. I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Now, in our culture buying a house takes ages doesn’t it, really annoying, it took a long time in those days as well, and so this man would have had many opportunities to go and examine the land it was about to buy, and what’s more feast happened in the evening and the call to come would have been in the evening as well, and so he doesn’t really have much time to go and visit this field before it gets dark. It’s a ridiculous excuse,

and the second excuse is very similar ‘I’ve just bought five yoke of oxen and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ now he’s very polite but you wouldn’t buy something before you tried it out especially oxen that you want to make sure have got the strength to pull through that field. Clearly this guest just does not want to be there.

Now, the third excuse sounds a little more sincere, a little more important, we might say. ‘U’ve just got married so I can’t come.’ but he’s not very polite isn’t he, and how often how many weddings do you know that happened just a little within days, none, they take weeks and months to organize and it was even worse back in those days because marriage feasts could take up to seven days, a seven-day party. This guest has known about the banquet invitation for a long time and yet they’ve chosen to disregard it, they’ve chosen to snub the host and take for granted this feast that they’ve been invited to. So, his excuse is pretty poor as well,

and friends, there’s much that we could take away from this parable today, but one of the first take home lessons and questions for us is whether we are making excuses towards God’s invitation. Again, and again Jesus issues us with an invitation to follow Him, to come to Him for forgiveness and new life, and by coming to Him and finding in Him what our souls desire, and need to lay down our lives for Him and, just in case you think I’m making this up, here’s some invitations from Jesus:

He says ‘The kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe the good news, come follow me’ that’s issued to every one of us without excuse. He goes on to say ‘I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never go hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ there is a hunger and thirst in your soul that you will not find met by any other source. Have you come to Jesus? Have you allowed him to meet that deepest hunger and yearning of your soul and, key to all is, to know His forgiveness.? Jesus says ‘My blood is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’. Could you say that you know your sins are forgiven, that you stand right with God? Can you say that, can you say it confidently? And then finally, Jesus says that if you’ve come to Him, if you know life through Him then actually, it will cost you. He says ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for me will save it.’

Friends, Jesus issues us all with an invitation and it’s not just an invitation that you can tick the box and just leave it aside until the time is convenient. Each day, every morning that you wake up is a new day to choose to follow Jesus, to choose to respond to Jesus. So, have you responded, have you responded and this is for every age from the youngest to the oldest, have you responded? and maybe you think ‘Well Scott, I’m in church, I’m in church, I’m watching at home, maybe that’s enough, that surely shows I’ve responded.’ Well Jesus says this elsewhere ‘Not everyone who says to me lord, lord will enter the kingdom of heaven. Many will come to me and on that day, the judgment day, and say lord, lord did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons in your name, perform many miracles? Then I will tell them plainly ‘I never knew you.’

Friends, it’s possible to be very busy in church, it’s possible to be very regular in church and religious things, and to be religious on the outside and yet never properly respond to Jesus, and, just like with that uncomfortable guest who makes that awkward comment, it’s not enough to just say something nice, religious sounding, to have some nice pious sentiments, Jesus is not after that. He is after a people who know Him, who follow Him, and so they are known to Him too. Does that describe you, friends? Does that describe you? Are we people who make excuses? Do we make excuses? Do we keep Jesus at arm’s length?

In the parable each of the three excuses is a prioritization of something else above Jesus and the first two it’s simple materialism and we’re like ‘Well, I’m not like that. I’m not that bad.’ The third one is a bit quirky because it’s a marriage, it’s really important, God is really for marriage and yet, as we heard last week, to prioritize anything above Jesus, to delay responding to Jesus in preference for something else, well, that is the sin of idolatry, it’s making God second, and it’s turning something good into something bad. Are we people, are we a congregation, are we individuals who make excuses towards Jesus or do we respond to Him? Do we know Jesus and does He know us?

Because, if we’re pushing Jesus aside, if we’re prioritizing other things above Jesus, and snubbing His invitation then the parable does carry a warning ‘I tell you not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ The invitation isn’t open-ended, it’s not open-ended, there is a time to respond.

Are you responding to Jesus and that might look like something different from your life, to my life, or to the person you’re sitting next to.

Maybe you’ve never responded to Jesus and said ‘Jesus I want you as my lord and savior’ and maybe today is the day for that. Or maybe Jesus is calling you to a deeper level of faith, maybe he’s calling you to make a particular choice, maybe he’s calling you to volunteer and serve in a particular way, something way outside your comfort zone or to make Him the priority of your life above everything else, and maybe today is a day to do that and so before we go on to one final point in our sermon today I want to take a moment to pause and to give us an opportunity to respond now, before we leave those doors and forget what God has said in this moment. So, let us take a moment to pray. Let us pray.

So, what is God putting upon your heart? Where are you needing to respond? What’s His invitation to you today, or in recent days and weeks?

And if you’re needing to come to Jesus for the first time or you want to recommit yourself to Jesus and ask him to be your lord and savior then in the quiet of your heart pray this prayer with me

Lord Jesus I’m sorry for the things I’ve done wrong

please forgive me as i name them in the stillness as i name my sins

I turn lord from everything that i know is wrong

I thank you, you died on the cross for me so that i could be forgiven and brought home that I could be a daughter or son of the living God

come into my life by your spirit fill me now that i might choose you each and every day

thank you, Lord Jesus

And if Jesus is already your Lord where do you need to follow Him? Where is he calling you to step out or prioritize Him? Do you need to share your faith with someone? Do you need to volunteer in a certain way? Do you need to turn from a particular area of sin?

Let me pray for you.

Lord, whether to acquire it ever it may be you’re saying to us individually and collectively we ask for your grace your grace that gives power to equip us to help us walk your way to following your footsteps to grow in holiness to give ourselves over to you in increasing measure pour out your grace fell as a fresh lord that we may have your power and love and conviction and all that we need that we might glorify you in our day and in our lives for we ask it in Jesus name amen

so one final point before we we finish up for this morning and Jesus he was speaking originally to the pharisees and through the pharisees not only challenging them but challenging the wider nation because despite all the demonstrations of power that we’ve seen time and time again over the summer as we’ve looked at different passages these leaders and these the wider nation are not responding to Jesus in the way they should they fail to see what God was doing in their day and it’s tragic really because this is the moment they have been waiting for 400 years since the last prophet and here comes Jesus and they don’t see him for who he is here is the man the pharisees are purifying themselves for they were doing so because they yearned for God’s kingdom to come they were sacrificing so much to usher in the arrival of the messiah all the quicker and yet they don’t see what is right in front of them they don’t see it in the parable those first guests that the host goes back to they are actually the Jewish nation, the original invitees in the parable and incar they caught they’re contrasted with who comes later in the parable we talk about the poor and the such like the blind the lame the crippled and so in contrast to the poor there is the rich the original invitees and Jesus is portraying him in monetary terms but he’s actually speaking in spiritual terms because as Paul later reminds us he says this about Israel my people the people of Israel theirs is the adoption to sonship theirs the divine glory the covenants the receiving of the law the temple worship and the promises theirs of the patriarchs and from them is traced the human ancestry of the messiah who is God over all this is the Israelites spiritual heritage they’re spiritually rich they’re spiritually blessed and yet they don’t respond to the invitation of Jesus they don’t see in Jesus their messiah

and what does God do in the parable he goes to others he goes around those original invitees he goes around his people and invites the nations invites those who were less spiritually rich they did not have this heritage though some thankfully in Israel did turn to Jesus and part of the issue that holds them back is they expect God to behave in a certain way they had certain expectations because God had made rules and they interpreted those rules in a certain way and that as such the messiah had to behave in a certain way and Jesus doesn’t conform with their expectations if you go back in earlier and look Jesus heals on the sabbath and that was sinful in their eyes the messiah wouldn’t heal on the sabbath the messiah obeys the laws of God but it was the laws of God as interpreted by them and so they missed out on who was in front of them and what God was doing in their day and it makes me wonder brothers and sisters do i do we make ourselves blind to the activity of God do we only see God’s hand at work and as long as it happens within our expectations as long as God conforms to our self-determined limits

do we only honor God if we follow our rules in the box we’ve put God in I’ve been talking about that box for two and a half years

so for example this touches on all areas of church life and how the minister should dress if i was to rock up in a pair of white trainers one day would that cause a stir does that is that honoring to God or not in your frame of reference might do that one day just to see if it pushes your buttons and or in worship what we do here on a Sunday morning what is and isn’t honoring to God in your view how much of that actually conforms to the scriptures and how elders should perform their duties

in what we prioritize and spend our money on in the duties the minister should perform and then the number of pastoral visits he should do in x, y, z either this could go on

what happens if someone was to come up to me during worship and say i feel God’s given me a prophetic word to share and my preference would be i would share that if they told me and what happens if i said if someone feels there may be God saying this and i was to share that word could we handle that or would or can we only worship God within the boundaries we have set because of our experience or dare i say our tradition and speaking of traditions is it possible that the Church of Scotland is really the worst at this in some ways now I’ve grown up through the Church of Scotland and I’m committed to the Church of Scotland in many ways so I’m not just targeting us but we are quite bad at this we’ve got our way our presbyterian way we’ve exported it across the world and maybe it blinds us to what God might want to do in our day because we’ve got this rich spiritual heritage and it is a rich spiritual heritage is it in many ways a good spiritual heritage but does it blind us to what God might do does it inhibit does it undermine us even because i was listening to a podcast just this past week and the individual being interviewed said this sometimes a tradition will not pass on the flame it will hand you the ashes sometimes a tradition will not pass on the flame it will hand you the ashes

and it it wasn’t in reference to the church of scotland so this could be anywhere anyway any organization but we’re thinking about ourselves just now because i’ve said it before and i’ll keep saying it we’re a declining denomination we’re a declining church congregation despite recent members joining us and yet because of our inherited size it’s great the brightest is so big and because of our successes we’ve got youth organizations and we’ve got sunday school and we’re looking to have a youth worker because of these successes it can blind us to the reality that unless things change unless we discern what Jesus is doing and where he is leading us in our day then in a very short period of time we might have to make some very difficult choices just look at the volunteer needs that we emailed out this week nearly every section of sunday school needs help more than half of our sections across girls brigade and boys brigade need help pre-fives needs help i’ve just named every area of ministry that we do with children and young people and if we don’t invest in that we don’t have a church

now we could do something about that we could step out our comfort zone we could volunteer no matter our age or stage

but there’s a question in my mind is does something on our tradition hold us back our way of doing church because as i say we are declining nationally and still locally and we see churches in the braze facing the prospect of having to close

is it possible that our tradition is not passing on the flame of faith of passionate workers worshipers of Jesus who live in their community and speak of their faith in such ways that it captivates their neighbors and they want to follow Jesus or are we simply just passing on some ashes to the next generation

and that’s hard to hear

but you know church i believe i really do believe God is on the move i believe he wants to be on the move i believe he’s doing things in the last two and a half years we’ve changes have begun but they’ve been uncomfortable changes at times we’ve moved from from um elders districts to pass-through groupings and you might think that that’s just a name change but actually there’s much more that it could lead to and we tried to experiment a bit with that over the summer but you know what for whatever reason only a fraction of our congregation said they were up for that and there might be very good reasons we might not want to give our contact details to people we don’t know i understand that

but these are our church family

and yet we weren’t up for it and how many things in the last two and a half years could you say you’ve implemented from a sermon because i don’t just come up with hopefully some nonsense i try to pass on some things i think will help you that will equip us so like after last week’s sermon did you go and buy a book did you do anything with that sermon because that’s a really simple thing i’m not asking you to go and evangelize your neighbor buy a book read a story get inspired or four weeks ago just before my summer break i gave you two ideas for prayer one who are the two people you’re praying for to come to faith locally have you got your two people have you done anything with that because see if we don’t pray for people we’ll never care enough for people to invite them to church or the other prayer idea was um are you praying before you come to church because you’re coming with expectation did you pray this morning even if you’re at home by the way did you pray

or do you just take it as oh there goes scott again young annoying minister who keeps challenges and i’m getting really tired of the challenge does it go in one near and out the other do we forget it by the time we get to the church door because i think God tries to inspire me to talk on a sunday i’m hopefully not just waffling some war hot air so are we doing anything about it are we just ticking the box of the invitation

God’s i believe God friends i believe God is inviting us into something more to have faith we could never imagine and he’s trying to get our attention he’s trying to get us to change to take us deeper in faith and to fuller walk with him not only for our benefit yes he wants to to quench the thirst of your soul as Jesus said but through you through us he has got much in store for our parish and for the braze area and he wants them to come into the kingdom and know his loving grace he’s inviting us to partner with him and if we will not listen if we will not respond to that invitation he might do what he did in the parable and what he did in the life of Jesus in the church he might go round us he might go around us because his invitation must go out the kingdom seats must be filled

and so the choice is ours will we respond will we respond to what God is doing in our day and in our midst

i pray it may be so amen

Called and Empowered

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 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 here21-08-08 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:22-25
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God Holy Spirit come among us and help us to follow after Jesus Holy Spirit come among us with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen in the new testament we have four books on the life of Jesus Matthew mark Luke and John and they wrote it for a purpose I wonder what you would say their purpose was why did these authors write these books so if you feel able and you’re close enough to someone maybe turn to a neighbor and share with them just for 30 seconds the first thought comes to mind why did they write these books and if you’re at home and then do post something in the live chat so 30 seconds why did these authors write these books over to you


well I’m sure there are probably a many answers to that and we’ll see later on uh what comes up in the live chat about what people at home maybe thought if they feel able to share that but if I was to ask our wider community the parish I wonder what they might see I i wonder if they would describe these books as simply a means of passing on religious morals and stories I wonder if they would describe it as a kind of propaganda even I wonder even if I asked them do you think there’s any relevance in these books what they might say I suspect that many people would say no I suspect many people might say well there might be if you’re religious but there might even be some who say well this book is dangerous it’s oppressive even because over my summer break um I read this book it’s called a war of loves and it’s written by a celibate gay Christian and it partly describes his journey from hostile atheist to a passionate follower of Jesus and at one time he would have said the bible was dangerous and oppressive and he wanted nothing at all to do with Christianity but then he came face to face with Jesus and that changed everything friends we might summarize that the reasons for these books in the new testament as to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus and that is our purpose also as a church that the authors they wanted people to know about Jesus and by hearing about Jesus choose to follow Jesus and by choosing to follow Jesus recognizing then that needs some help to know how to follow Jesus and so they include material for that too they were willing to do this they were willing to prioritize this and to put their lives on the line because something changed their perspective just like that young author I read about the last two weeks they all met Jesus and by meeting him and learning to follow him their outlook on life changed forever our passage today is one of those moments one of those moments when the disciples themselves have their perspective on Jesus challenged and stretched if you look back in in the book of Luke chapter 5 that’s when Jesus called his disciples and since that point he’s mostly taught he’s done a couple of miracles and so probably in many people’s minds they’re beginning to think oh who is this guy who is this guy maybe he’s a prophet you know like prophets they challenge people and so Jesus is certainly causing a bit of a ruckus and challenging the religious leaders but prophets did miracles as well so maybe Jesus is just another prophet sure a great prophet but just another prophet but then one day Jesus tells his disciples they’re going to the other side of the lake and among these disciples are some experienced fishermen so the journey’s not unfamiliar and they know how to handle a boat and so off they go not giving it a second thought and at some stage in the sale things are so calm that Jesus he falls asleep in in the book and the disciples continue on with the task of getting them to the other side maybe they’re they’re talking maybe they’re thinking about all they’ve seen and heard and about this individual who now rests in their midst and then at some stage a squall a windstorm comes upon them and that wasn’t unusual in that particular area because the surrounding topography created those kind of events but it’s a particularly bad one these experienced fishermen are scared for their lives and so they cry out to Jesus master master we’re going to drown

upon waking and assessing the situation Jesus calls out to the wind and to the waves he speaks to them and the storm suddenly dies down and all becomes calm the disciples are left feeling both fear and amazement and they say to one another who is this he commands even the winds and the water and they obey him is he just a teacher is he a prophet is he maybe something more because they would have known from the old testament that God is described this way you rule over the surging sea when its waves mount up you steal them who is this who is this amongst the disciples what appears to be God God in human form because he has authority and power and if you look on in that same chapter the next three stories reinforce this Jesus has power and authority over nature over the spiritual forces of darkness over illness and even over death and in time the disciples would journey with Jesus and see him die upon the cross be buried but then raised to life again and though this would convince them that he is the son of God in human form and they would be willing to share this at risk to their life even imprisonment and death because they were fully persuaded that Jesus is God he is God in human form with all power and authority and the apostle Paul would one day write about this to the church in Colossae saying the son is the image of the invisible God in him all things were created he’s before all things and in him all things hold together he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead so that in everything he might have the supremacy for God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him friends who is Jesus to you who is Jesus to you and might I ask what or who has supremacy in your life the disciples in our story were asked by Jesus where is your faith where is your faith basically in whom or in what is your faith we’ve all placed it somewhere our new members today they affirm that their faith is in Jesus that he alone is God he has supremacy in their life they take off the crown and give it to Jesus he’s their lord he’s their king he’s the one to whom they give control of their lives because he has all power and authority he’s more than a mere prophet or teacher so who is Jesus to you and what has supremacy in your life in our local community there were many answers to both of those questions some people might say that it’s work or success or popularity that has supremacy that’s the aim of life that’s what you have to aim for some people will prioritize family should have supremacy in your life for some individuals it will be circumstances or a particular experience which will define their identity a loss a an illness a really negative experience that’s what defines their life that’s what defines their values that defines their future and still others that I’ve met within our community they will turn and say supremacy is found in darker spiritual forces like tarot card reading or maybe a group that they belong to that group is the place that gives them identity and that group has the supremacy that group tells them what they can and can’t do so what are who is Jesus to you and what or who has supremacy in your life because the claim of the Christian faith is that Jesus is God he alone is God and as such he should have first place in our lives and to have anything else above Jesus is to commit the sin of idolatry and you know we can turn even good things into idols because as John Calvin reminds us the human heart is a perpetual idol factory we just turn out idol after idol even the good things and we put other things before Jesus so friends who is Jesus to you and will you allow him to have supremacy in your life now don’t think this is just for folks who are new to church or folks who don’t come to church because this was an important lesson for the disciples to learn to they needed to learn this to do what Jesus asked them to do next because if you go on in the book of Luke we read this when Jesus had called the twelve together he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill Jesus who is God in the flesh who has all authority and power he delegates some of that power and authority to his disciples now we might say well that was just a 12. well go on to the next chapter what do we see the lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go the 72 returned with joy and said lord even the demons submit to us in your name so he gives power and authority to the 12 and to the 72 and can you imagine being one of those disciples can you imagine it one of the fun things to do with scripture is to imagine yourself there can you imagine it Jesus comes along and says hey could you go and heal someone hey could you go and cast out that demon what would be your reaction would you be all cool calm and collected I think inside I’d be slightly freaking out I’d be like really me and when you left and you came across that first unwell or demon-possessed person how ready and willing would you be to do what Jesus has done to give it a show like imagine that standing in front of that person and knowing that Jesus has sent you to do what he’s been doing imagine that would you feel up for it if you do it right now

suspect many of us wouldn’t

and to for those disciples to be willing to follow through on that call from Jesus they needed to know that Jesus was more than a mere man and they needed to be committed to hem more than to their own comfort because they were going to have to get out their comfort zone and to more than what seemed possible because to the rational mind this is just crazy now why am I bringing this up well often I think our perception of what it means to follow Jesus is quite limited we limit it to verses or ideas that we are comfortable with and we push aside a greater vision of Jesus and a greater vision of what it means to follow Jesus one author put it this way it’s a wee bit jargony but it’s worth reading it is a tragedy that the Christian religion is in many minds identified merely with pious ethical behavior turning up to church saying prayers and vague theistic beliefs you know some weird ideas about God suffused with aesthetic emotionalism so it makes you feel better and a male glow of humanitarian benevolence so you end up doing some good stuff for your neighbor this is not the faith which first awakened the world like a thousand trumpets and made people feel it blessed to be alive in such a dawn at one time people knew what Christianity really was the entrance is the history of a force of immeasurable range

what does it mean to follow Jesus to you is it about morals is it about knowing some good stories and turning up to church is it about being a good neighbor is it about making you feel better what does it mean to follow Jesus because those things aren’t necessarily bad they’re just not the whole picture because Jesus later on by the same author says you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth the church apparently has power if you follow Jesus you have a power within you to be his witness now why is that important why am I laboring this well if we reduce Christianity to morals and old stories and religious duty and a warm fuzzy blanket then we rob Jesus of glory and we rob ourselves and our children of what we need to follow Jesus because today we heard one of our promises that many of us have made one of our membership promises and it says this do you promise depending on the grace of God to profess publicly your loyalty to Jesus christ to serve him in your daily work and to walk in his ways all the days of your life and in our last teaching series if you remember on grace we learned that grace is intrinsically tied to God’s power and here in this context of this promise is the power to equip us in the power to sustain us and without a greater vision of Jesus and without a greater vision of what it means to follow Jesus we will not publicly profess our loyalty to Jesus we will shy away from that oh I’m not a Christian I don’t go to church and we will never invite anyone else to know Jesus because we will shy away from it because we will not rely on God’s power and our children and our children’s children will not walk in his ways all the days of their lives if again we and they don’t learn to rely on the one whose power can steal the storms and his power now resides in you and me we need to recover a Christianity that is more than turning up to church being nice because if that’s all that is I’m walking out the door and not coming back because I cannot be bothered with that and you know too many of us are not like this with our faith we are timid and many of our young people are timid because we’re not passing on to them a faith that makes them anything otherwise we’re timid in our faith and it’s got nothing to do with being an introvert or an extrovert so please don’t give me that excuse it has more to do with our conviction of who Jesus is and who we are as his disciples do we really under believe he’s God with all power and authority do we really believe that we are called and empowered to be witnesses and make known the kingdom of God

will we keep our faith in Jesus and hold on to his promises and allow him to have supremacy in our lives even over our comfort or what seems possible or will we become fearful the disciples became fearful in this story because they did not hold on to the promises God made God in Jesus he said they were going to the other side it wasn’t a wish this was going to happen this was a promise but when surrounded by that storm they forgot what he said and they were gripped by fear rather than by faith are we a church who are gripped by fear or by faith are we laying hold of God’s word even the uncomfortable bits or do we minimize Jesus and what it means to follow him to what is familiar and comfortable and by doing that are we robbing Jesus of glory and are we robbing ourselves and our children of what we need to follow Jesus you know over the years i’ve learned different ways to help me have a broader vision of Jesus and nurture ways that help me understand more of Jesus and what it means to follow him and there are there are various things but you’ll not be surprised by now that I’m going to recommend you some books are my thing I like reading stories and usually once a year I try and read a book that is more about someone else’s story and so the recent book was a war of loves but I could recommend you book after book here or something chasing the dragon red moon rising God smuggling a war of loves as I’ve mentioned surprised by the power of the spirit or the hiding place these are real people’s stories across the decades across situations demographics countries but they all tell a real life story of how someone met with Jesus and by meeting with Jesus their vision of Jesus was enlarged and they were helped to hold on to the promises that are there in scripture friends maybe your one take away from today is to go get one of these books and have a read and then come back to me with your questions because I’m sure there’ll be some there’s more to Jesus there is more to following Jesus than what any of us know and if our perspective of Jesus is to grow if our self-understanding of what it means to follow Jesus is to mature if we are to have boldness to live for Jesus and our readiness to let him have the supremacy in our lives then we need to get to know Jesus better and we need to get to know his promises and his word better and hold on in faith to him and to those promises. I pray


Preached on: Sunday 18th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-07-18 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, which type of heart or soil are you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great reversal

Preached on: Sunday 4th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-07-04 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 18:9-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank-you Lord Jesus. Amen.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and the choice is ours, the choice is ours.

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

I pray it may be so. Amen