Let Christ change you

Preached on: Sunday 13th November 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above AVAILABLE SOON. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here AVAILABLE SOON.
Bible references: John 13:1,3-5,12-17,34-35
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:


Our response to the call

Preached on: Sunday 2nd October 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. 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 here22-10-02 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 9:57-10:2 & 10:17-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– accept the call
– prioritise the call
– ground the call

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the Word of God.
Come Holy Spirit to renew our minds and our sense of call.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder, do you like telling stories? Do you like telling stories? Are you any good at telling a story? Do funny stories seem to happen to you a lot or embarrassing ones? I wonder if you’ve got a story that you’ve not managed to tell anyone yet, maybe from this past week? So, I’ll give you 20 seconds, 30 seconds, turn to your neighbor. Have you got a story you’ve not managed to tell yet, anyone this week? And, if not, you can always have a blabber about the week that you’ve had. So, over to you for 30 seconds.

Thank-you so much!

Well, sounds like there’s a lot to catch up on. Feel free to get into the gory details later on if there’s a story worth telling there.

And our passage today, Jesus appoints 72 others and He sends them off on an adventure. He sends them off on a week or longer, of mission maybe and He sends them with a message and with power. And then, when they come back, we read at the end of our passage ‘The seventy-two returned with joy and said ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’’ The seventy-two returned with a story, with joyful testimony to share.

I can almost imagine the stories they told that night around the campfire: ‘Oh Liz, you remember that lady that you spoke with and you talked about the Messiah and the kingdom of God and how her eyes just brightened up and so much life just seemed to come to her.’; ‘Hey Joe, you remember that kid you prayed for it and just how he was set free of something and he was jumping out of that place.’ You can just imagine the stories that are around the campfire that night.

I wonder, what are the stories we’re telling one another just now? What are the stories we are hearing from one another or other places? Only stories of gloom and decline. It’s only our stories of the good old days and how things were when the church was at its peak. Maybe it’s only stories of complaint and bitterness. I wonder, can we see anything of what God is doing in our day?

I was recently listening to a podcast when I heard something of the story of the Iranian church and it just grabbed my attention because so much of it gave me hope for our situation, gave me ideas for what our path forward might look like and I want to give you the opportunity to hear just a little bit of that story, just a few minutes and so I’ve got a snippet of the video interview for you to listen to just now.


What’s interesting is that for years, though they had that prayer and it was that was the 50’s, they didn’t see a massive growth and there had been some missionaries. The first missionary had come to Iran in well modern was the 1812 Henry Martin came translating the Bible into Persian then the late 1800s guy called Robert Bruce I believe went from Scotland to Iran and you had the Anglicans you had the Presbyterians came in the early 1900s, the Assemblies of God came in the 1960s and missions like OM – excuse me – were there and there’s quite a lot of work going on but very few people came to Christ. So, by 1979, there were about 500 Christians from a Muslim background after all those years of mission and work and prayer for years. Can you imagine praying for years you expect the revival to turn up and I’m sure God did hear those prayers and it was part of the process but by 1979 only about 500 Christians from a Muslim background so Khomeini comes back with the you know hardline regime and all the missionaries are kicked out. Everything’s gone. Literally everybody’s kicked out of the country and so people think that that small church is just going to wither away and die, and then the persecution increases that at that time with a few pastors were killed and obviously then pastors are spied on. Evangelism eventually it’s banned. Churches are very limited and restricted. In 1990 The Bible Society was closed down. So, multiple crises really for the church and so you know people waiting for that to happen for the church just to wither and die. But somehow the opposite happened and Iranians became the most open Muslim people to the Gospel. There was hunger, there was just a deep hunger for it that began to grow and then the courage of the church. So, you had these two things come together. One was the reality that the Iranian space they began to see the true face of that religion. The government, their system, they began to see and there just was a new hunger that wasn’t there before 1979. So, the crisis wasn’t just a crisis for the church, it was actually a crisis for the people and there and I think that’s something very important for us to remember. We think the church is just going through a crisis in the west, the whole world was going through a crisis. So everybody’s facing some kind of crisis, and so for Iran, that the crisis was for the people saying what is true, what’s reality, where do I find hope? And then, on the other hand, you had the church even though it was tiny, and you’ve used the word ‘remnant’ many times in your podcast, but they there was this remnant of people who believed in Jesus, who Loved Jesus and thought ‘Okay, we’re gonna go for it.’ you know and with conviction did what they could. They preached the gospel, they shared their faith and so, remarkably, this tiny withering, small Church began to flourish and today many people say it’s one of the fastest growing, possibly the fastest growing church in the world, Whatever the story is, I can tell you that every single day, all across Iran, people are coming to Christ just in remarkable ways. Beautiful testimonies as people share their faith. They come across the gospel online or on TV. They find Bibles, divine appointments, dreams and visions, these types of things are happening and it really is a remarkable story.

It really is a remarkable story. The Iranian church was on the brink, it was expected to die out and now, is the fastest growing Church, apparently, and according to some analysis. and their story actually has many of the hallmarks, themes that this little book talked about. I encourage you maybe to pick up a copy of it. And if we were to listen to their story, if we were to learn from their testimony and from the research conducted by others and then turn to the teaching of Scripture might we then also be able to have a story to tell? A joyful story to tell?

So, what does their story, what does this book, what does our passage today teach us for our day?

Well, we read at the beginning of chapter 10 ‘After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him.’ Jesus appointed 72 others, just some regular folks, not worthy enough to get their names written down in scripture, not on the level apparently of an apostle but nonetheless, given power and authority, given a message and a purpose, and Jesus sends them out. And what’s almost more striking in some ways as they said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, they accepted the call of Jesus, and in our video, we heard the same of the Iranian church, in our day, that there was this small remnant, a small group of folks, very few after so much labor and persecution, but they resolved to do what they could to make Jesus known. They accepted the call from Jesus as well and, do you know brothers and sisters, we too are called. The Scriptures have many ways of putting it across: ‘go and make disciples’; ‘you will be his witnesses’; we are Christ’s ambassadors to implore people to be reconciled to God. That’s what we are called to be about. We are called. And I wonder, do you know that? Have you accepted that call? And if you’re maybe not nodding externally but nodding internally, going ‘Yeah, I know that. That’s old news to me, Scott!’ But what are you doing about it? What are you doing about it?

As a Kirk Session we some years ago now said that our purpose as a congregation was to be a people who would seek to invite, encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus. So how are we each playing a part in that purpose to invite encourage and enable? And a mature disciple would be looking to find ways that they give to all of those areas, to invite, encourage and enable. Not just saying ‘Well, that’s for, that’s for other people to do that bit, and I’m going to focus on this bit because that’s what I’m comfortable with,’ Well, that’s not what Jesus says. He says we’ve all to be witnesses, we’ve all to be ambassadors, who have all to go and make disciples. And that might not be a lot of time needs to be given to that. It might just be, who are you building a relationship with in the community? who are you seeking to encourage? how are you speaking to one another on a Sunday morning? It doesn’t need to take up a lot of time but we all need to be playing our part in this if it’s to be more than just a nice idea or words on a screen or something we nod our heads to. Have we accepted this call, and what are we doing about it? If we are going to have a joyful story to tell then we each, we each must accept this call.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of that research that was done, it’s actually referenced in the book, of people who were presented with a choice and they were presented with, I think it was particularly in kind of health situations with some of the research done, and they were said you’ve got this diagnosis but if you change your lifestyle in these variety of ways then this diagnosis will radically change, and the research found that more often than not people would choose to do anything else than change. To put it very bluntly, more often than not, people will actually choose death than change. And the same is true in the church sadly, because, if we don’t accept the call of Jesus, then we’re prioritizing something else.

And that principle can be seen in our passage today as well. Prior to the 72 being appointed we read just the end of chapter nine and in that little portion, three people encountered Jesus, three people as far as we know choose never to follow Jesus. We read earlier ‘A man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied ‘foxes of dens and birds of nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Let’s pause there. It can seem like some very strange words of Jesus. Why does he say that? Why doesn’t he just say ‘Great, come, let’s get going!’ Why does he respond this way? Well, I think Jesus can see his motives, He’s God after all. He can see into the human heart and He sees this man’s heart. He sees that this man is wanting to follow Jesus for the wrong motives because, actually, if you were a disciple, a disciple of a Rabbi, that brought a certain degree of prestige and comfort with it, because only the cream of the crop, the best-of-the- best of young Jewish men got to be a disciple of a Rabbi and so, it brought that element with it. He’s bringing that expectation with it. He’s thinking ‘Well, this will meet my needs and it’ll be just a life of cushy blessing.’ And Jesus is saying ‘Well, I’m not experiencing that. My way is the way of sacrifice, of love for others, that pays a great price and so, don’t expect following me to be any different. It’s not about meeting your needs.’ I wonder, do we bring that to our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus?

The passage goes on ‘He said to another man ‘Follow me’ but he replied ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father …… Still another said ‘I will follow you Lord, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ And here we see the call put off for a different reason, not taken up because they’re attaching conditions, they’re failing to see the urgency of the situation, there’s something else they’ve got to attend too first. But Jesus goes on to say just a little later in chapter 10 ‘The harvest is plentiful’ it’s urgent, get involved come now, but there’s other things that they want to attend to first and as far as we know these three individuals choose not to follow Jesus.

But, if they had, they might have been part of the 72. But by choosing not to follow Jesus, they miss out, they choose death over change, they prioritize something else over the call to follow Jesus. And in the little book the research shows again and again that so often the church will choose to prioritize something else over the call of Jesus. He particularly focuses on two little things – Denial and Blame. So often we choose denial or it’s not that bad, like, church is busy enough, it’s noisy enough on Sunday, like, oh just there’s so much going on we don’t need to fill up the place anymore. We deny the situation, we deny the need to change, we deny that we’re called Oh, I’m not called not little old me – we have a false sense of humility. Or we deny the need around us. You know, only two or three percent of the Upper Braes population goes to any church on a Sunday morning, any church, not just the Church of Scotland, any church, two or three percent. Literally thousands of people that don’t know how great Jesus is, don’t know how much He loves them. But too often we choose denial over prioritizing the call of Jesus.

But sometimes people don’t choose denial. Sometimes we say ‘Okay, okay, I can see the situation, Scott. You know, there’s plenty of room here, there’s a whole bank of pews up here. No one’s sitting in them,’ or we say ‘Well, I can see the stats. Yep, we need to kind of share in the message and see more folks come into faith sure, but, you know, I don’t need to change, I don’t need to change, I’m doing my part, I’m busy enough, Scott. You have no idea and the amount of things that I’m juggling right now. I don’t need to change. It’s those other people that need to change. As those lazy members who need to change, who never come to church or who don’t get involved or who just warm a pew, they need to change.’ or ‘The denomination needs to change.’ You know, if it just threw more money at it, we could fill this place.’ or ‘If it didn’t cut all the buildings, we’d be fine.’ or we blame the minister ‘He preaches too long.’ Possibly true? or ‘He’s not doing the right things, he’s not out there enough, he’s not visiting enough. You know, if he followed up those 400 members that never come to church, then they’d all come back.’

We will choose blame so often, if we’re not choosing denial, and sometimes we choose both. If we’re going to have a story to tell, we must prioritize other things, we must prioritize saying yes to Jesus, not choosing blame or denial, not choosing procrastination or comfort. If we want to see the Kingdom of God come in our day then we must choose life over death, change over how we’ve known to follow Jesus up to this point. Because, let’s admit, what we’re doing just now isn’t cutting it. There needs to be change. Much more rather. You think the last three and a half years has brought radical change? We’ve steadied the ship, we’ve weathered the pandemic, but there’s thousands of people who know nothing of Jesus other than just a bit of a myth. So, if you think there’s been a lot of change so far, there’s got to be so much more to come and it’s going to have to get a lot more personal, you and me changing on the inside because the church could throw thousands of pounds at us but if we don’t change on the inside, it’s all for nothing, because we need to prioritize the call of Jesus.

I was going to use the story in another a week but just to go back to the Iranian church, one guy came to faith and he was being discipled by someone from Elam Ministries in another country so they were doing over Zoom and within the first four months of him coming to faith he had shared the gospel 100 times and then seen 12 people come to faith. It’s just incredible. Or this little book, this little book just puts it in a maybe a more accessible kind of next steps. He writes of a church in Florida who were on the path towards death and it just seemed inevitable and they were there was all the blame-game going on, it was very pervasive, he says, and then he writes ‘five of the members, all senior adults, became weary of the decline and blame syndrome and they began to pray for God to direct them in a positive way. They all began to find places in the community to care and love for people they never knew. They became the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus. Three years later the church began to turn positively. No, there’s not been dramatic growth but the signs of life are evident. Hope has replaced fear, obedience has replaced blame.’

So, what are we choosing, brothers and sisters? Are we choosing to prioritize the call of Jesus or is it something else that’s taken precedent?

Our passage today gives us one final principle to take note of. It’s not in the research but it’s there an Iranian story. A final principle that, if we don’t take note of, we will seek to prioritize and accept the call of Jesus for the wrong motives. The wrong motives, because it appears when the 72 come back and start telling the story they’ve experienced, the wrong thing has got their attention and so, Jesus brings us a warning, ‘Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ I wonder if Jesus perceived in them that almost the power was going to their heads, that that was becoming the impetus, that spiritual high. ‘Oh wow, it’s amazing, the crowds around us and those people set free.’ and just ‘Oh, it felt so good and it was great to see that life change.’ but ‘Oh, look at me!’ and ‘Oh, let’s get out there again, let’s have that again!’ Maybe it’s the wrong thing is becoming the impetus for mission, the wrong driver, the wrong ground of their call. I don’t think Jesus is saying it’s wrong to have testimony or to share testimony or it’s wrong to want to have a joyful story to tell because, if that’s true, we’d have to rip out the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is just testimony after testimony of what happened through the new, the early church but these things cannot be, should not be the ground, the impetus of our call. Instead, it should be the love of God for you and for me. That God was willing to die on a cross, experiencing excruciating pain, for love of You and me, so that our names could be written in Heaven, that we could belong to the people of God. That should be the impetus, that should be the ground of our faith, that, in response to His love, we respond in love for Him and for neighbor and to take up this call, and make Him known. And that’s the same for us as what we hear in the story of the Iranian church. I had another clip but I wouldn’t play it just now, but basically if you were to go and listen to that story you would hear that what is really fueling the church there is a love for Jesus, that they have fallen in love with Jesus, they want to share Him and make Him known because they know the love of Jesus and they will love Jesus in response. That’s what grounds their call, that’s what is the impetus for their acceptance and prioritization of the call of Jesus.

And I wonder friends, is that the same for us? Do we appreciate the depths of God’s call or is our love of God, our awareness of God’s love for us become a bit cold, a bit distant, a bit old news rather than good news, that God so loved you He would die for you, for you and for me?

Well, if we can appreciate something of that then let’s accept the call. If we can appreciate something of the cost that Jesus paid, that He hung there in pain to face the judgment of God on our behalf, to go to the depths of hell for our sakes, then let’s prioritize the call, because He didn’t put you second place, He didn’t say ‘I’ll get to that later.’

And let me make this really concrete for you. You could, there’s three ways that you could begin to put this into practice. The first is in your newssheet, there’s details about our Alpha Course and it starts this Wednesday. Who are you going to invite to that? Now they might not make the first week because you’ve maybe not been thinking about it till now, but they can come along for the second week or even the third week, but they must be there by the third week or otherwise they’re going to miss out. So, who are you going to invite? Who are you going to pray for and invite to that?

And, if you can’t name someone that you’re praying for right now, then maybe that’s the second thing. Maybe you need to get praying, because, if you’re not praying for someone, you’ll never take that step of inviting them to Alpha because you don’t care enough. If you cared enough, you’d be praying. So, who are you praying for? You know, sometimes we need encouragement in prayer and so, why not come along to Thursday evening or Sunday morning prayer times and get praying? It’s lovely that we were quite filled this morning but there’s loads more of you, come along in prayer because, in my own life, I know what it’s like, you get so busy with the rat race and getting this job done and helping the kids and whatever, that you forget to pray and sometimes it helps to have those dedicated things in a diary that you tune in for online or you come in person on a Sunday morning and you get praying. So, that’s step two.

Step three is, on your way out, pick up one of the leaflets for and the Belong Light Party at the end of October, as an alternative to Halloween and be thinking ‘Well, who are the families on my street that I can invite? Who are the grandchildren, who are the nieces and nephews, I can invite along to this? And come along with them. And if you don’t have someone to come along with then come along anyway because it’s for all ages and rather than come along and be served, come along to serve, to get alongside people who are new to church and get to know their names and welcome them, because this is a whole church thing if it’s to really have an impact.

Nice easy steps: Alpha, prayer, Light Party. Three easy ways of putting this into practice right now. Because the anatomy of a revived church includes a people who accept the call of Jesus, who prioritize the call of Jesus, because that call is grounded in the love of God and of their response of love to Him as well. I pray that we may be such a people. Amen.

Prayer: gift of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 24th July 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-07-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 6:5-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– the kingdom is based on trusting relationship
– prayer is a gift of the kingdom
– get praying this!

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and captivate our hearts with the ways of the kingdom.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen

I don’t know about you but in my life, there are things that I’d love to see change, love to see ways that I would mature and grow in bits and pieces and the same is true in my faith. In my faith I’d love to mature and grow in different areas of life. And so, when we read passages like ours today, we instinctively think ‘Well, I need to get better at prayer’ or ‘I need to pray more often’ or something like that and I wonder, if you had a choice between growing in prayer or growing and reading the bible or just some other aspect of faith, what would you pick? What would you pick? If you feel brave enough, why not turn to your neighbor and share with them what you would pick. Would it be prayer? Would it be bible reading? Would it just be to know God is there? Whatever it is, if you can pick one of the two or go for something different. So, over to you just for 20 or 30 seconds. Over to you.

I’m not going to ask you to do a hands-up or anything like that, but those are maybe a conversation to carry on afterwards and just explore that a bit. Often when we get asked these kinds of things I probably, if you’re anything like me, ends up making you feel a bit guilty, a little bit like ‘Oh, I’m not as good a Christian’ or whatever, as you maybe think you should but, as we’ve been seeing throughout this series on the Sermon on the Mount, behind everything Jesus teaches is an invitation, an invitation to more, know more of the life of God’s kingdom, that He wants good for you and for me. So, yeah, today might include one or two challenges. You wouldn’t expect anything different from me after three and a half years, after all. But there’s invitation here. There’s invitation into the life of the kingdom and last week’s passage, at the end of it, we saw that Jesus brought a particular challenge to one practice that the hypocrites were doing and He flows now onto the next couple of practices where the hypocrites are abusing the ways of God, in different ways.

And so, he says ‘and when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. When you fast do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others their fasting.’ And so, Jesus brings this critique of the hypocrites of the Jewish leaders of His day to say ‘Well, they are turning the practices of prayer and fasting, they’re turning them inwards, they’re turning them into a show, a pretense by putting on this mask and faking it before God so as to be looked at and esteemed by others.’ They’re corrupting these practices through their selfishness.

But Jesus also has a critique for the pagan practice of prayer and he said earlier ‘and when you pray do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many word,’ One of the most convincing comments I found on this, doing my reading during the week, was one commentator saying that there was a pagan practice where you would try and find just the right name of God and so you would keep repeating names of God to try and get power over that God or pronounce the name just in the right way so as to again get that power and then have control over the God. And so, it was all about manipulation again, taking prayer and corrupting it for self, for selfish purposes and Jesus holds up both these practices to say well, neither is what you should be about.

There’s a third way, the way of the kingdom and so we read earlier ‘but when you pray go into your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. Do not be like them for your father knows what you need before you ask him. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting but only to your father.’ There are a few things we need to note here in passing. The ‘you’ that’s used here is not meaning a group of people but an individual and so this is about our individual practices. It’s not a ban on public prayer so, Rachel, you didn’t do anything wrong here sister, you’re not sinning, good job so you’re fine, Also Jesus is not banning us repeating our prayers nor is he banning us having long times of prayer around a particular issue. I know this because He did it. Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane, prayed three times for the same thing so, it’s obviously allowed. He prayed through the night before choosing the apostles so, that’s allowed too. It’s not a ban on either of those practices when it comes to prayer and clearly, when He mentions fasting, He has an expectation that we’ll fast but for all you foodies amongst us I’m not going to speak about that today so we don’t need to worry about that so much. All these things aside, what is this passage revealing about the kingdom? Because, remember, we saw a few weeks ago that everything that’s going to come here has got to reveal something about the kingdom. It’s about the ways of the kingdom. So, what is Jesus revealing?

Well, he reveals that the kingdom is based on trusting relationship. He says ‘Your father, who is unseen’ is about relationship. It’s not about reputation and status, like the Jewish hypocrites. He says ‘Your father knows what you need.’ It’s about trust, not about manipulation, like the pagans. And so, core to the kingdom, is this basis of trust, of having a trusting relationship. It’s there within the Godhead. It was there at the beginning of creation but lost this trusting relationship that we’re called into. Called into a trusting relationship with God as our Heavenly Father. With a Heavenly Father who knows what you need before you ask. A Heavenly Father who sees you in the secret hidden place and knows the deep hidden things of your soul, of your heart, the aches and the joys, the worries and the stresses, the questions and the griefs. He knows it all. H sees you like no one else sees you. He sees you to the depths of your being. He sees the things you hide away and the mask that you put on. He sees behind it such is His love for you and He calls you into trust and relationship with Him. So, can I ask you this morning, do you know that? Do you have that kind of relationship with God? Or are you keeping God at arm’s length? Are you keeping Him at arm’s length? There might be many reasons you do that. Maybe it’s something from your past. Maybe there’s something there maybe.

I was watching a program, it was the Chosen program, I’ve mentioned it before, and I was mentioning a recent recording, I’m watching a recent recording they did with some Gen-Zed young people, whatever that is, what? early twenties, late teens, that kind of age range, and they were speaking not only about the pain of fathers but also the pain of mothers and so, I don’t want to assume that it can just be one or the other that actually it can be either, that we’ve maybe had a difficult background and it warps our picture of God and we end up seeing God in what was portrayed to us by parents or by a faith leader or by whoever it might be, and we get this warped picture of God that matches nothing like what Jesus teaches. Or maybe you’ve been to church before or it was religion at school, with school assemblies and school times of prayer, whatever it might be, and it just left you cold and unmoved and it just seemed like people were just going through the hoops, but it meant nothing, and it was empty, and it’s just you think ‘Well, I want nothing to do with God.’ If that’s what it is. But that’s not what it is. That’s not what Jesus comes to reveal. He comes to reveal a God who wants a personal relationship with you, who wants to be in that place of trust with you, and has tried to prove that to you by dying for you and for me, and that’s the invitation of Jesus this morning, to take up that invitation into trusting relationship again.

Now, we might wonder ‘Well, why did Jesus teach it at this point in the Sermon? Like, ‘Why did he not include it earlier in the Sermon? After all, if trusting relationship is so important, why not after the Beatitudes? Why not include it there? So, cuz you’ve got that great high of the of the Beatitudes, of this great welcome into the kingdom and the blessed life, why not include it at that point, this great invitation to trust in relationship.’ Or, why not include it at the end because well, You know Jesus, if I was Your PR agent, You’ve ended on a bit of a downer? Like, if I don’t trust You if I don’t follow Your teaching it might not be the best. Like, that’s a wee bit morbid. So, like, let’s end on a high. Let’s end on this trusting relationship thing.’ Why, why does he have it in the middle?

Well, maybe it’s exactly where it needs to be. Maybe it’s in the center of the Sermon because of all that came before and all that’s going to come next because, after all, if you scan through this Sermon, you can’t be salt and light without God’s help, you can’t seek to try and follow the ways of the kingdom with a righteousness greater than the Pharisees without God’s help and, when you mess up, you’re going to need to know His forgiveness and, rather than seeing these as a bunch of laws that just weigh you down, to see it as an invitation into the goodness of God’s kingdom you need to know the Father’s love. Maybe that’s why Jesus puts it there. And then, if you go on into chapter six and seven it’s all about trust and so, this prayer is a springboard into that whole section of trust because prayer is that expression of trust. So, it’s right where it needs to be. It’s right in the center. And maybe that’s where it needs to be in our lives, in the center, in the center of our lives and the rhythms of our days, of our weeks, of all the rhythms of life and maybe that too is the invitation of Jesus to see prayer as this gift not as a burden, not as an obligation, not as just another tick box exercise or an empty religious practice but to see it as a gift, a gift of love for you to open and to have at the center of your life, not as something that He beats you up with, not as something to wear you down with, but a gift to bring you into life. And so, maybe there’s an invitation to be vulnerable again with God, to be vulnerable in that place of prayer with Him and carve out some time to be in that place now, if you’re ready, if you’re ready to pursue God in either the secret place, maybe in your room or in a walk or you’re ready meet with God in times of corporate prayer. What might we pray? How might we pray?

Well, Jesus gives us this prayer but you can pray in different ways. Did you know that? Did you know that because Matthew says ‘This, then, is how you should pray…’ like, here’s a model, here’s an example, here’s a rough structure and some kind of kickstart. A kickstart for you. If you look at, look he says ‘When you pray say ‘Our father who art in heaven.’ Nuance difference there. Are they contradictory? Well, No, because both examples can lead to life and we’re going to look at that just in a moment. They’re not contradictory. One is a model and one’s a set prayer, and both can lead to good things. But let’s look at the specifics of this prayer and this is going to be a whistle stop tour. I’m going to get through it pretty quick and you might want to go back to the recording just to pick up on some things that can’t catch your attention.

So, Jesus says ‘Our father in heaven’ and I don’t know about you but father feels a bit formal. I don’t know about you, I never called my dad ‘father’ and if I did, as I say, it feels quite formal. And, actually, the word that Jesus uses here doesn’t have quite the same connotations that His Hebrew word would have been Abba. Abba, as I was saying to the children earlier, Daddy, Daddy God and that would feel a bit maybe too informal for us but Abba might work. That intimate relationship with God and in heaven well, we end up thinking ‘Well heaven, in heaven means up there somewhere. He’s so distant and far away’ but that’s not what it would mean in the original, in Jesus’ day. They didn’t picture God in that way and ‘in heaven’ it was their way of saying that He had authority and power that He was omnipotent, God Almighty. So you might want to change the language here to ‘Our Abba Almighty’ that would be a more fitting way to capture what He means there. ‘Our Abba Almighty, hallowed be your name’ is to honor, is to treasure something and we treasure God’s name because His name represents His character, His person much more than you or I’s name. My name, Scott, means from Scotland, which, okay, is technically true but not every Scott is from Scotland and so it often doesn’t carry any great meaning for us but not the same with God. Every one of His names reveals something of His character, something of how He wants to relate to us and so we hallow His name above all other names.

‘Your kingdom come’. There’s two parts to this prayer. One is asking for more of God’s kingdom to come into the present, to change our world, to make our world less broken than it has been and we saw that, when Jesus comes, He comes preaching saying that the kingdom has come near and so, we’re asking for more of that to come. The other side, that the more long-term bit, is actually saying ‘Well God, we want you to end this current age and for Your kingdom to come in all its fullness. And, I don’t know about you, but that feels like a pretty radical prayer but sometimes we need to pray that and want to pray that because of the brokenness we see in our day.

‘Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’ And when we speak of God’s will here, we’re meaning His divine purposes, of what He is seeking to accomplish through all of human history. We’re praying that for that to be done on earth as He’s promised, as He’s outlined, as it is in heaven and we can see here that the start of this prayer is very God-focused. It starts with praise and adoration and moves on to kind of God’s agenda, God’s concerns and that might be a helpful place for us and we’ll come back to that in a moment.

But then He goes on and gets very personal about our own lives. He says ‘Give us this day our daily bread’ and sure, this does include food and I’m sure in the day of Jesus folks would have been thinking ‘Well, we’re needing food’ because they lived from day to day, literally. But it was Martin Luther, the reformer, who said that this could mean so many other things. It could include all that’s necessary for life. He included things like the weather and, in Scotland I’m certainly praying for slightly less heat, but you might prefer it. But we could also include home and family here. We could include peace and government. All that’s necessary for life is what we could be praying here.

‘Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ I don’t know about you but I mess up and I need God’s forgiveness but, as we, as we receive that forgiveness, if it’s more than just a casual asking God to forgive us, then it should change our hearts, it should change our hearts and enable us to be more forgiving towards others, it should overflow and so this bit and the later verses in verses 14 and 15 it’s not about earning forgiveness, because you’ve been forgiven, but Jesus is talking about someone who has become so bitter that they refuse to forgive and they want to hold on to a grudge and so they haven’t really appreciated what God is offering them and His forgiveness and so we pray ‘forgive us as we forgive our debtors.’

And then ‘Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.’ And the more traditional phrases ‘deliver us from evil’ but, actually, saying the evil one is quite a helpful translation because, we know from the book of James, that God does not tempt us. He doesn’t do that. He’s a good God, a loving God and so, Jesus is not implying that but saying ‘lead us not into temptation’ is about asking God’s help for us not to succumb to temptation. That when the evil one tempts us with things, that we don’t go into rebellion, we don’t distrust God and break our relationship with Him because we listen to the lies of the enemy and so we ask to be delivered from his influence when those temptations arise and that looks like the good life rather than the good life of God’s kingdom.

So, that was the whistle stop tour and I’m sure there’s many questions. There might be three questions I want to just tease out with you very briefly.

You might be wondering ‘Well, do I just pray as it’s written?’ You can do. It might be exactly what you need to pray. You might just need to pray ‘God, Your kingdom come’ but, you know, you might want to just use it as a launching board into other things. ‘God, Your kingdom come. Would healing come in a situation. God would Your kingdom come, would You bring reconciliation. God would Your kingdom come, would You bring peace amongst the nations.’

Another question might be – Do we pray in this order, and only in this order? And again, you can do because, I don’t know about you, but my so many of my prayers are quite selfish, quite me-focused, God help me, help mine, that kind of thing, and it can help at times to start somewhere else, to start with God and His priorities and set our issues in the context of that, of what He’s doing and not only to us, to get good priorities but it helps us be hopeful when we get on to praying for ourselves and our loved ones but, equally, like the Psalmist, you might begin with what you need. God, I need daily bread, the daily bread of wisdom and you might pray into that and eventually you might come right around to praise and say ‘Our Father, You’re the God who provides wisdom. You’ve promised to provide wisdom and I thank you for that. I praise you for being this faithful God who promises to be with me, to be my good shepherd and lead me through into green pastures’, and before you know it, you’re praising God, but you started with what you needed. There are different ways to pray.

Final question is ‘Well, can I pray anything else?’ Of course, you can. Of course, you can. The Bible is full of other prayers but equally it has been said that everything you might want to pray about, every concern, every situation you can come across in life there is something in this prayer. You can pray every situation. So, here’s a challenge for you this week – as you go about praying for stuff, your day, your loved ones, situations at work or in the world, come back to The Lord’s Prayer and see if you can find something that fits and let me know if you find anything that doesn’t fit. But, I’m pretty sure you will.

At the beginning of this week just as I was beginning my preparation, I came across a news article and in this news article it was of a 16-year-old lad and he is now this international DJ. He goes off to Ibiza and plays there in front of thousands of people at the age of 16. and it in the story, in the article he shares that he’s only been doing this for about four or five years. Clearly has, I guess, clearly has applied himself to this but what started it was that four or five years ago, for his birthday his dad, not making this up, his dad bought him his first DJ equipment and it has led to this incredible life, this incredible joy in his life, but it began with that purchase, that gift. And imagine if he got that gift, and I imagine a lot of teenagers like what I was like, were like ‘Hmm, not sure about that? Just put that to the side, thanks very much. What’s next?’ Or imagine he got a gift and he tried it for a wee bit but, you know, all the dials and all the faders and just too complex, I’ll just put that to the side as well. Imagine he’d done that. He would have missed out on this great life. He would have missed out on something that brought him great joy. And the same is true of prayer. If the kingdom is based on trusting relationship, if prayer is a gift, then we need to get using it. We need to get praying. We need to get into that secret place with God and sure, at times, it doesn’t come easy and it raises so many questions but He invites us into it just like that young lad was given a gift and I don’t know what that looks like for you. Maybe it’s as you walk somewhere or as you drive somewhere. Maybe it is set aside some time and you close the door just to get away from distractions. Maybe it’s setting some time to join in to the Thursday Live Prayer and I know it’s online but you don’t need a smart device or a computer to join online, you can literally use your telephone to join in and listen to that and you don’t have to pray out loud. Maybe it’s coming to the 10:15 prayer on a Sunday morning and again, you don’t have to pray out loud, you can just sit in there and listen and as you listen you’re encouraged and you learn what to pray as you listen to others and be in that environment.

But if the kingdom is about trusting relationship and if prayer is a gift, we need to get praying, we need to press in and really appropriate what God has given us that we might know that life and that others that we know and care for, might know the life of God’s kingdom as well, So, may we be that kind of people. May it be so. Amen.

Called to change the world

Preached on: Sunday 3rd July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-07-03 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:13-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share in His Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 20th February 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 22-02-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Colossians 3:1-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Holy Spirit, breath of God, come soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come and reveal truth that life and freedom might flourish.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder if you can think of someone either living or deceased who, to you, embodies Jesus? Can you think of someone whose character, whose life, whose faith just meant that they shone Jesus to you? If you’re sitting next to someone why not for the next 30 seconds just turn to them and see who comes to mind for you. Over to you for 30 seconds.

Well, feel free to pick up those conversations afterwards and maybe I think that the weather’s a little bit less windy than it was so maybe, afterwards, outside you can also see who else came up with different ideas and I would love to hear the names and the folks that you thought of. I’m sure I’ve got some similar ideas to you but actually some ways, what’s more upon my mind, is how did they get like that? How did they grow in such a character, in such a way that they embody Jesus, that you noticed and that you remember? There’s another thought that I wonder about also, could it be that you, me might be there one day? That someone might look at us and see Jesus in us? Could the next generation see Jesus in you already?

And our passage today, Paul continues to build on all that he’s written in chapters one and two, his great prayer for the Colossians, of Jesus and Jesus is supreme over all, this Jesus that Paul seeks to make known, the commission that Jesus gave to Paul and so, he’s right into the Colossians, to strengthen and safeguard their faith from these false teachers, from this false avenue of worship. But now, going into chapter three, things change. He’s beginning to now say ‘Well, if this is who Jesus is, if this is who you have faith in, and it’s a real faith, and a genuine faith, then there should be a way of living a lifestyle that is congruent with that, that should accompany that faith. But even then, Paul is going to have a few surprises for us. Surprises that make Christianity different from those false avenues of worship and, as he’s done throughout this letter. he’s going to get the Colossians to look up to Jesus but also so that they can see the truth about themselves as well.

And so, he writes in the first portion ‘You have been raised with Christ who is seated at the right hand of God. For you died and your life is now hidden with Christ and God when Christ who is your life appears then you also will appear with him in glory.’ And, as is typical of Paul, he fits enough into four verses that really could do with four sermons but you’re not gonna get that thing instead, I’m gonna give you my best summary thoughts of what I can condense this down into and it’s this – you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus, you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus. But let me explain where I got that from in this these verses.

There’s two people on display, there’s Jesus and there’s the Colossians, so, what’s the picture of Jesus here? Well, he is named Christ which is not His surname/ It’s not His surname, it’s His title. He is Jesus the Christ, the Messiah in Hebrew and that was a promised figure who would come to bring God’s Kingdom and to bring salvation upon the earth. And He is now seated at the right hand of God, which is biblical language, picture language, for saying that salvation He has accomplished. He’s not working and laboring at that. He has accomplished it so, he is seated. And He is seated at the Father’s right hand, He’s seated at the throne of God. And all this picture language of Jesus is showing us that that He is Hing, He is King of a Kingdom and although we don’t experience that fully yet, He has broken into this world in His coming. But notice what else it says of Jesus ‘when Christ appears.’ He’s coming back. He’s coming back to bring the fullness of His Kingdom into the creation. Created order, that’s a picture of Jesus.

So, what’s the picture of the Colossians, we have here? Well, they have been raised because they have died, and we touched on this in previous sermons, that they have died to old masters, as chapter 1 verse 13 said, they have been brought out of the dominion of darkness but they’ve been raised with Christ, they have been brought into the Kingdom of the Son, the Kingdom of Jesus and so their life is now heading up, wrapped up in Jesus and in His Kingdom, and it doesn’t maybe look like that sometimes but that is what the truth is. And so, it goes on, here’s your life and then you also will appear with Him, when He appears you will appear, when His Kingdom comes you will share in that Kingdom, you will share in the glory of that Kingdom. And so, we get the summary phrase ‘you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus.’ He is the King of all, as we saw in chapter one, He’s supreme and He has a Kingdom and you share in that Kingdom. It’s so crucial to biblical theology. It’s so crucial to the writing of the scriptures. It’s so crucial to this very passage. Is it crucial to your life? Does it shape your life day-to-day, week-to-week, year-on-year? Does it shape your purpose and your values? Does it shape your living and your choices? Does it shape the confidence you have as a Christian? You’re not just a member of the Church of Scotland, which is declining. You’re part of the Kingdom of God and one day that’s all there will be.

But really Paul is just echoing the teaching of Jesus. If I was to ask you to say what is the Gospel, what would you say? What is the good news? Would you come up with the same answer as Jesus. ‘Jesus went into Galilee proclaiming the good news. (the Gospel) The time has come, the Kingdom of God has come near.’ Now, that’s not to deny that the Gospel includes the cross, or faith in Jesus, both of those are essential if you want to share in the Kingdom of God, but the Gospel is about the Kingdom of Jesus. That’s the Gospel!

Two years ago a few months before the pandemic struck we had an end of year all-age service just at the end of 2019, hopefully you might remember back to that and that you were there, we asked you a question and gave you some post-it notes to write on – is this jogging any memories now – and on the way out you were asked to post it, post up your post-it notes and we would collect them in and we were doing this as part of our purpose and values – and if you don’t know what they are check out our website – now on the day we got 150, 200 plus post-it notes and the question we asked you was ‘What is important to Jesus?’ and we got answers ranging from the Bible to prayer, to church, to people, to love, to forgiveness but guess what wasn’t there, not one posting – the Kingdom of God – not once, not one. Now, why is that?

Let me say, I don’t think it’s your fault, I don’t think it’s your fault. If anyone is to blame for that scenario happening, it lies with the ministers, generations of ministers who’ve not taught that. Not just me, not just Murdo and Scott, but generations before that. That maybe we ministers have been so wrapped up by our culture, our individualistic culture, that we have focused so much on the individual, and not focused on the Kingdom, not focused on the fact that so much of scripture is addressed to our community, not just to an individual, or we get so wrapped up in the institutions and the congregation and the parish and, to be honest there ain’t anything of that in here! It doesn’t seem like God really cares much for denominations or a parish system or whatever/ It might be His focus is on the Kingdom, on unity. There is no them and us as Paul says in verse 11 ‘Christ is all and is in all Christ.’ is all that matters and He is in every person who calls himself a Christian.

But, wherever the blame lies, can we change our thinking now? Can we go forward from this point now, much more shaped by a Kingdom mindset so that it does affect our day-to-day life? Because, if we don’t, we’ll hit a barrier a glass ceiling or maybe not even a glass ceiling, a very solid ceiling of faith both individually and together because, without that theology of the Kingdom of God rooted deep in us, shaping our mindset, shaping our lives individually and collectively, we won’t have the right outlook on faith or life and we’ll just hit a ceiling. It would be like a barrier where the plants have just got a barrier over and they can’t flourish and grow and they just grow inward. Your faith, our collective faith, will just grow inward without that framework of the Kingdom of God. It’s so important to the scriptures and it’s so important to this passage, because Paul goes on now to say well if that’s true of you, if you share now in the future Kingdom of Jesus, there’s a lifestyle that goes along with that.

And so, he goes on to say ‘Put to death therefore whatever belongs to your earthly nature. You must also rid yourselves of all such things as these. You have taken off your old self with its practices.’ Again, there’s a lot in here and these three strands seem to again have a similar thought to them and I would summarize it this way – cast off what is not fitting for Christ’s Kingdom, cast off what is not fitting for Christ’s Kingdom. Because here and in the later verses of the same passage, he uses this picture of clothing that is or is not fitting for the Kingdom of Jesus and here he’s saying to cast it off. I’m pretty sure at one point I’ve told you that Gill and I got invited, when I worked with the Scout Association, to the Queen’s Garden Party in Holyrood, at Holyrood Palace. Lovely day, thankfully it didn’t rain and everybody’s getting really glammed up and there was Gil looking fabulous and hat and everything on, and there’s me less fabulous and my Scout uniform, now I did have my kilt on so we better dash of color, but imagine if we rocked up there and t-shirts on ‘Down with the monarchy’! I’m not really sure that would have went down so well, it would have been scandalous, it would have been an absolute mockery of things, it would have been ill-fitting. And the same is true with our lifestyle, with how we live our faith. There is a faith, a lifestyle that is fitting as someone who belongs to the Kingdom and there is a lifestyle that is ill-fitting and Paul wants us to put to death what is ill-fitting.

Now, because that makes us uncomfortable, we often shrug it off, we want to look at the positive rather than the negative, but we need to grasp the more negative and to help us do that I want to very briefly read out three analogies that I picked up in my reading because they between them they grasp some of the what is Paul is getting at here and what differentiates what Paul is teaching, what the Christian faith is teaching from those other false avenues of worship and the three pictures are: the house; the well; and the cage.

The house – When you ask God into your life you think He’s going to come into your inner house, look around and see that you just need a little cleaning and so you go along for the first week while thinking how nice life is now that God is part of it, then you look out the window one day and to your horror you see a wrecking ball outside. It turns out that God actually thinks your whole foundation is shot and you’re going to have to start over from scratch.

The well – A Tennessee farmer once said ‘What comes up in the bucket is usually what’s down in the well’. The list of vices Paul gives points to an inner pollution. No list of do’s and don’ts will ever change that pollution, the only solution is to change what is down in the well of our very souls.

The cage – The false teaching Paul opposed put the wild animals of lust and hatred into cages, there they remained alive, dangerous, beating at the bars, threatening to get out and capture their captor again, Paul’s solution is more drastic – the wild animals are to be killed. The old method of holiness attacked symptoms; the true method goes for the root.

Paul’s not really teaching a list of do’s and don’ts, he’s much more interested and you’ve been changed from the inside out, been changed in the depths of your being so that what is fitting for the Kingdom grows and exudes from you, that when people see you, they see Jesus, and we could spend literally sermons on this thought as well, but I don’t have the time and so I want to refer you to a resource that I found helpful not only on this particular topic but on several others as well. It’s a book by Timothy Keller called ‘Prayer’ and he’s basically bringing together his research and his life over many decades of ministry to say this, this is what I found useful and in that he has a chapter on finding the grace of God, the grace of God, and in it he talks about how you can put to death the sinful nature your earthly nature and what he writes in there is fresh and life-giving and really helpful. The whole book is great but even just for that one chapter it would be worth having a copy. Now, if you don’t want to particularly buy it I’m happy to lend out mine so first come-first served and you can take it away today. Because Paul is serious about this. We really do need to put to death what is ill-fitting so that we can grow in that lifestyle that is fitting but, as Keller writes, it’s finding His grace to forgive yes, but grace also to change. As we saw in our last series, our series on Grace before the summer last year, Grace is also in the scriptures synonymous with God’s power, God’s power to transform you, power to change you. But to access that power there first has to be something else that comes before and I briefly just want to touch on this because if you want to access this power you first need to be, need to have died and be raised to life as Paul says or in the language of Jesus, you need to be born again.

Now, some of us are going to say ‘Well, I didn’t have a clear conversion moment, Scott, so how do I know?’ and many people can say that, but they still know with certainty that they’re a Christian, that they have died and been and raised to have life in Jesus. Because none of us is born a Christian, coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian, being baptized or being a member doesn’t make you a Christian, the only thing that makes you a Christian is that you have died and been raised with Jesus. So, how can you know, how can you know with a degree of certainty and encouragement?

Well, what I’ve found really helpful in discerning this is Paul’s writings in second Corinthians and he says in chapter 5 ‘and he (that is Jesus) died for all that that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ and what Paul is saying is that, someone who has died and been raised to have life in Jesus within them, as a desire to no longer live for themselves but to live for Jesus. Now, none of us gets it right perfectly, even the minister had a very clear conversion experience and I’ll go into some detail on this in a moment, he doesn’t get it right, go ask my wife, every day there are issues, but at the core of a Christian should be that desire for this to be true of their life, that they don’t want to just live for themselves, they want to live for Jesus, and increasingly so. If you can say that’s true of you then you know you have died and been raised to life, and if you haven’t, and if that’s not there, there might be reasons for that. I’d happily talk that through or maybe we can ponder it at home on our own, because, if you desire to live for Christ rather than just for yourself, if you are have died and been raised to life then you share in Christ, you share in His Kingdom. And so, because of that, there is a lifestyle that is fitting and unfitting for that and God wants to help us grow in that by accessing His power, accessing His grace. So, that’s putting to death what’s ill-fitting and first accessing the grace of God by knowing that we’re in Christ.

So, how can we put on what is fitting and what does that even mean ‘to put on what is fitting’? Well, Paul says ‘set your hearts on things above ….. set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…. you have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator therefore ….. clothe yourselves’ That middle sentence I have practiced it so much because they just trip over it quite easily, it’s a bit tricky there. And there’s two things I want to highlight for us.

‘Earthly things’ – first of all I think it’s very possible that we could read this and get the wrong end of the stick with Paul because when you think of earthly things on a first read we might begin to wonder well is Paul talking about some form of escapism like have I not to be bothered about what I wear, or am I not allowed to enjoy a glass of wine, or company with friends, or the chocolate bar? What is it that he means like by ‘focus your minds and hearts on things above and not on earthly things’? Like, what is that about? And for me, what helped this week, was to realize that in verse 2 ‘earthly things’ there’s a Greek phrase used there, ‘earthly things’ that’s the same Greek phrase in verse 5 for ‘earthly nature’. So, in verse 5 Paul is saying there’s this part of your earthly nature that is opposed to God, opposed to the will of God, that is ugly and just wrong, that’s your earthly nature, but earthly things in chapter verse 2 is just the same phrase and it’s the same thing. So Paul is not against you enjoying life, he’s not calling you to be so heavenly minded that you’re not involved in the day-to-day of life or not enjoying the day-to-day of life, that’s not what he’s about, ultimately he’s about saying that we need to change from the inside out about what we think about, what captures our hearts, that it wouldn’t be these earthly wrong things but other things, the good things of God, that he’s given us, that the good things in Him, the good things of His will.

And so we have the second phrase saying that we’ve to be ‘renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator’ and until this week if you’d asked me ‘What does that mean Scott?’ I probably would have waffled some nonsense, I’m pretty good at that not always maybe convincingly, but I can waffle as good as the next minister probably, but until this week, I had not a clue really what that meant.

But this week, I had an experience on Monday that I’m about to tell you and then in the midst of that I also happen to be researching and trying to understand the scriptures and the two came together and I’m just so excited to share what I got because I just find it so life-giving that God’s just perfect timing brought those things together! So, on Monday, Gill comes home from visiting her parents and she shares with me the news that her dad had spilt milk on her phone such that and left it for a while, I might add, such that that the earpiece of the phone wasn’t working properly. Now, she has a nice new iPhone not the brand new one it’s a couple of years older I think, but it’s pretty good, it’s not a cheap phone, and inside me starts bubbling a whole range of emotions. I didn’t say anything but my mood, the vibe I was giving off was a bit prickly, a bit moody, We term it, Gill and I, my passive aggressiveness which it is, it is passive aggressive. I don’t vent so I don’t go into a rage as Paul says but there’s this just exuding of my passive aggressiveness and at first Gill thinks ‘He’s annoyed.’ I’m annoyed at her that this has happened, but we’ve kind of learned to work through conflict, thankfully, over these many years of marriage, and we’ve got to that point so we talk it through and I say to her ‘Well, I’m not annoyed at you, what actually is going on is I’m worried. I’m worried about finances. I’m worried that here’s more that we’re going to have to fork out for and cost of living crisis and all, that just amalgamation of things and worried, and so my worry has generated this passive aggressive prickliness.’ We kind of talked that through but at the same time I’m reading up about this verse and this passage and it just jumps off the page with fresh life and just spoke to me because what I realized was this, my passive aggressiveness, my prickliness, came from my worry over finances but my worry was a sign that I didn’t trust my Heavenly Father didn’t trust His love and provision because, if you think about it, let’s go to Jesus, did Jesus ever show passive aggressiveness? No! He showed anger, injustice but not passive aggressive and that’s because He never worried and He never worried because He was perfectly trusting in the Father’s love and provision. And so, for me, what I’ve realized is, that I need to have my mind renewed, my understanding of God and His character, of what it means to be His child, so that I don’t worry, and, the next time her dad spills milk on the phone, which is bound to happen, then I’m going to respond in a more Jesus-like manner with gentleness and kindness and ‘Oh, that’s grand. No worries.’ whatever it might be, I have no idea, but it won’t be passive aggressiveness. I’m not there yet and there’ll be many more days of passive aggressiveness I’m sure, but I’ve realized this. But it all starts in the mind and being renewed in your mind of what you understand of God and of His character and of His will. And the same is true of the sin and of the lack of Jesus image in your life, of all the ways that you show what’s here or in the other scriptures, where you’re not showing Jesus or you’re going against the will of God. It all starts from what needs to change in your mind, and I want to give you just a few quick worked examples based on the passage.

So, chapter verse 5 Paul says ‘put to death your earthly nature’ which includes sexual immorality and I don’t know what that brings up in your mind but just to let you know what the scriptures teach, that sexual immorality is sex outside of marriage. Now we can debate and discuss that at another time but sexual immoral immorality, sex outside of marriage is the thing that’s the outward product. What is the thinking that leads to that? It’s either you don’t understand the Biblical teaching about sex and where that is to be experienced marriage, or you think you know better than God. And so, well that’s something that needs to change in your thinking too or something else maybe around temptation on and how-to walk-in God’s ways in the face of temptation. There could be a number of things in your thinking that need to change so that you walk in God’s will, and on the outward product is not sexual immorality anymore.

Let’s take verse 11 where Paul is talking that ‘there’s no longer Jew or Greek and Jew or Gentile’ and there should be no division. There should be no Brightons or Slamannan, Brightons or Polmont, Brightons or Maddiston Evangelical, there’s nothing of the Kingdom because what needs to change in our mind is that as verse 11 says ‘Christ is all and is in all’ Christ is all that matters. The Bible doesn’t give a jot about denominations. So, that needs to change in our thinking so that we have a much more Kingdom outlook and then we evidence greater unity and less about them and us and that we’re all one family wherever we’re based.

Or let’s take verse 13 where Paul talks about bearing with each other forgiving one another ‘forgive as the Lord forgives you.’ Now, let me first say that there are some elements of forgiveness, some things that are done to you that require a lot more nuance than I’m going to give just now and forgiveness can sometimes be a lengthy process, I’ve been there with some things, and they’re not even the worst things that you can experience. So, please bear in mind that, there’s lots of caveats around this. But it’s not uncommon for people in churches to experience stuff that peeves you off and so you just get really annoyed and you end up having a grievance against someone but then you don’t forgive and that grievance becomes bitterness. We’ve all probably been there. That stems, in part, there’s a process there and maybe that’s what you need to understand, the process of reaching forgiveness, but in part it can stem from thinking you’re better than the other person. So pride or not understanding that actually you were an enemy of God and yet He died for you so if He’s willing to extend you forgiveness why are you not willing to extend that other person forgiveness? There’s so much that could be wrong in our thinking or just not formed in our thinking, that is in line with the scriptures that on the other hand we end up displaying just bitterness and unforgiveness. You could do that with everything in here, lust, evil desires, idolatry, greed, everything stems from something that needs to change in our thinking so that, in us, has renewed the image of Jesus,

And I pray, church, that we would really take this on board. Take this on board so that our today’s generation sees that the Christian faith is not about just ticking a box and coming to church, it’s not about even being a nice person, it’s about knowing the living God whose grace you know, whose grace is at work in your life, such that you’re changing and you exude Jesus in your day-to-day life, because you’re part of His Kingdom and the grace and power of His Kingdom is at work in your life and you’re then embodying that Kingdom by casting off what is not of it and putting on what is.

I pray that that would be our testimony, our story and that we would share that with today’s generation. May it be so. Amen

Justice: called to change

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

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray it may be so. Amen.

The right heart

Preached on: Sunday 10th February 2019
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 19-02-10-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-website.
Bible references: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2 and Acts 2:36-41
Sunday 10th February 2019
Brightons Parish Church“When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

Between my first sermon in November last year and the first three sermons of my time here, we have begun to explore what the early chapters of the book of Acts might say to us at this time. In Acts we find the early church experiencing the winds of change – they are on the cusp of huge changes, changes like they had never seen nor expected. And so, Acts, especially these early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember in the midst of change.

For we are, ourselves, in the midst of change too. You have a new minister here and that will bring change, in time, maybe even already.
But more broadly, the Church, both the Church of Scotland and the universal Church, finds itself in changing times. As a denomination, numbers are falling and we struggle to know how to engage with today’s generation; indeed, we struggle to engage with any of the generations that don’t come to church, not just the young. In our denomination too, it is predicted that minister numbers will continue to fall, that in ten years’ time, maybe less, there will be around half our current number of ministers, meaning about one minister for every three churches. We are very much in changing circumstances, and Brightons Parish Church will not remain unaffected. What’s more, you also may be facing a change in personal circumstances. Change is everywhere.

So, what core things has Acts taught us so far? Well, we’ve thought about how Jesus IS risen and His ministry continues, even to this very day. We’ve seen that part of His continuing ministry is to challenge us, to force us to reconsider the box we have Him in, so that He can expand that box, or even blow it apart, leading us into a greater fullness of life with the aid of His Holy Spirit. And last week, we thought about how Jesus was shown to be the promised Messiah and that He is Lord and so in Jesus we see the reign of God.

In our passage today, Peter has covered the same material we have, and he reaches that point where he says: “‘Therefore…be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.’”

But the moment does not end there, for we read: “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to
Peter and the other apostles, ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’”

The people were conscience-stricken and convicted; they were convicted of their need for Jesus; they were convicted that their faith had not been in Him, but in other things and in other people.

Another translation puts it this way: ‘Cut to the quick, those who were there listening asked Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers! Brothers! So now what do we do?”’

So now what do we do? That question is as applicable for us as it was then. In the midst of change – so now what do we do? After we know whom Jesus is: that He is alive, that He is Lord and Messiah,…
that He His ministry is continuing by His Spirit through His Church – so now, what do we do? So now what do we do when we know He is challenging us and calling us to expand the box? So now, what do we do?

We read on: “Peter replied, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

First off, Peter says to repent and to repent is much more than saying sorry or feeling remorse for what we’ve done. True repentance is when our minds are changed about Jesus such that our attitudes towards Him change and consequently, the direction of our life changes too…
In essence, we need to know for ourselves what the Apostle Paul wrote: That ‘he [Jesus] died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

We see here that repentance involves two things. Firstly, we can’t truly repent if we don’t truly know who Jesus is and why He died on the Cross.

In the same passage, Paul writes in v21, ‘God made him who had no sin to be sin for us.’ It’s a strange sounding idea, but what Paul wants us to understand is that Jesus, the perfect, holy, sinless Son of God, was treated as a sinner and bore the penalty of all sin in place of us. But why did God do that?

Well, our God is a holy God – and thank God that He is! Imagine a God who could simply overlook sin? That God would not be righteous, that God would not be perfect – that God would not even be loving because love does not delight in evil. And so, sin offends God, it grieves God, it alienates God and ourselves, and so we need a Saviour – everyone of us needs someone to save us from our alienation from God and the brokenness we have brought upon ourselves. And Jesus is that Saviour, He is the Messiah. Jesus died, that we might be reconciled to God, that we might be forgiven for our sins.

But it is perfectly possible to know who Jesus is and why He died, but never to repent. And so, Paul’s second point about true repentance comes to the fore.

‘he died for all, [so] that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.’ (2 Cor.5:15)

That those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him. This is the true mark of repentance – do you live for Jesus? Does He shape your life? You will know you have truly repented when you see Jesus as He truly is and you can honestly say that He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for Him. That’s true repentance.

But as I say, it’s entirely easy not to repent because so often we only get half of the story. In the Church of Scotland, we have not been good in calling for a response to Jesus, we shy away from it and so we leave people short-changed…
Sure, we share that God loves you, that Jesus died for you, but we don’t tell people the next bit – that they need to respond. And so, they miss out on the whole package. My own story is a testimony to this very failure in our denomination but also of God’s grace.

I grew up in the Church of Scotland, being baptised within it, going to Sunday School and then to Youth Fellowship. I remember one time in my teenage years of being motivated to read the Gospel of Mark, and going to my minister with my questions, but he simply brushed over them. I could never really understand his preaching, and I cannot remember hearing much about the love God has for me, nor that I needed to respond…

And so, I went to Youth Fellowship until it stopped, and then to the Sunday evening service when I worked in the morning, and I thought I was genuinely a Christian because I went to church, I helped run my local Cub Scout Pack and I had a good public image.

But over the course of my teenage years I grew in confidence and with that I grew in selfishness, and that particularly impacted the girls that I dated, for it was all about me and what I could get from the relationship. It came to a head when I was out celebrating my 19th birthday, and the parts I can remember from that night continue to shock and horrify me. My selfishness was rampant, and I lived for me.

But in the small hours of the morning after, God met with me, as I lay in bed, and He convicted me of my sin, and I repented – I didn’t say anything, but I died to self, and I got up that morning, out of that bed, a new man, a new creation as the Apostle Paul puts it, and I no longer lived for self but for Jesus: He was the centre of my life now, His will and His call and His goodness and love shown on Cross were the things I would build my life upon.

Friends, we don’t all need to have such a dramatic change, but do all need to repent – to respond to the Good News of who Jesus is and why He died, such that He becomes the centre of our lives and we then live for Him. Hopefully you’ve heard that before, but if you haven’t, now is the day of salvation, now can be the day of your salvation – and so as Christ’s ambassador, I implore you: be reconciled to God. Humble yourself, truly repent; come to God anew, set your hope upon Jesus, and come in to that new life with God. Before I became a Christian, I thought I was living life to the full, I thought I knew what the good life was, but it wasn’t the whole truth; it’s only through Jesus that you can know life in all its fullness – not an easy life, not a perfect life – but a life beyond imagination, a life we all hunger for in the deepest parts of our souls.

Friends, if you haven’t repented, if you don’t live for Jesus, then today could be your day, and I invite you to come speak with me after the service and together we can help you find that new life in Jesus.

But if you have repented, if by God’s grace you are a new creation, then there is a call upon your life for Peter says: “‘Repent…every one of you…And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Now what is that gift given for? We’ve heard in recent weeks that the Holy Spirit helps us to know who Jesus is and assures us that we are children of God – but the Spirit is also given for another reason. As the Apostle Paul said: “All this is from God, who…gave us the ministry of reconciliation…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.”

So, there is call for all of us to live for Jesus by being His ambassador, His witness, and so you are called into the ministry of reconciliation;…
you are called to share your faith with others, to see everyone you meet through the lens of the cross, and to give of yourself for that ministry, the continuing ministry of Jesus.

Today, I want to focus on our hearts and outlook, because in all likelihood, some of us may shy away from this for any number of reasons. We might let fear, or feelings of inadequacy or awkwardness, or past negative experiences put us off. We might also shy away from it because we are not motivated to do so, that “Christ’s love [does not] compel us”. And that may have happened because of any number of reasons as well.

But whether you shy away because of fear, or for lack of love for God and neighbour, today God wants to help you have the right heart –
He calls you back to live for Jesus, He calls you out of fear and out of apathy, because today, now, is the day of salvation, and what you have received is not for you alone, but for every person that Jesus died for. Friends, if that is you – if fear or apathy hold you back from sharing in the life of this church, from sharing your faith with others – then you need to do business with God, and in a few moments, we’ll have an opportunity to pray about that.

So, we need to have the right heart for this ministry of reconciliation – but we also need to have the right outlook. We need to see, we need to appreciate, that “now is the day of salvation”. Now is the day, now is the time. Now is the day that people can come into a lifechanging relationship with Jesus; now is the time for broken hearts to be mended, and injustices to be challenged, and the poor helped…
Now is the day, now is the time, for the kingdom of God to come in our midst – and for that we need to have the right outlook, so that we can see the world as it is and see the world as it could be within the kingdom of God. With the right outlook we will see that “now is the day of salvation”, and we will do everything we can to usher in the kingdom.

Friends, we are in changing circumstances, and more change will come, and will need to come, if we want to know life in all its fullness, for ourselves, for one another and for the wider world. But for that to happen, we need to have the right outlook – that “this is the day of salvation” – and we need to have the right heart – that
“the love of Christ compels us” –
because then we will give of ourselves to that change, we lean in to that change, and before we know it, we’ll really be living for Jesus and participating in His continuing ministry, the ministry of reconciliation.

Brothers, sisters, what shall we do? First of all – have you repented? Do you live for Jesus? Secondly, will we commit to this ministry of reconciliation? Do we have the right heart? Do we have the right outlook?

Changing circumstances

Preached on: Sunday 18th November 2018
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 20181118 Powerpoint multislides.
Bible references: Acts 1:1-14

Rev.Scott Burton preaching as Sole Nominee
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer and let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, Oh Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen

The church in every time and in every place has found itself in changing circumstances and faced with that, the church has had to walk a tightrope between holding on to what is core and changing the rest, so that it fulfills its calling to make disciples of all the nations. I don’t know about you, but it feels like we are finally, finally starting to get that. That we need to change as a church. Now, I have my reservations about some of the changes happening at a national level but, here at Brightons, it feels like you are aware of the need to keep that tension between holding on to what is core and nevertheless changing other things.

Your Parish Profile said that you wanted to ‘remain vibrant, relevant and accessible to all, and always true to God’s word’ and yet, you are also honest about the necessity of change because you wrote that you needed to ‘increase and enhance our prayer life and expand our outreach securing the future of the church particularly through creative work with children, young people and families’. When I spent a very powerful and informative two and a half hours with your Nominating Committee being interviewed by them, and returning the favour! They put me through my paces making sure the core would be core, and it was great to experience that, and as you just heard I was also upfront with them about a couple of challenging questions that I had, and it was great that they were honest about the needs of the congregation and receptive to those questions. So, even though you are a healthy, vibrant congregation, it’s really encouraging to see that you’re facing up to reality, that you are not content to rest upon your laurels.

At present I am a locum for a vacant link charge up north and I am a member of the Ministries Council of the Church of Scotland so I am aware that being in a season of change and facing even more change can be unsettling for us, even scary. It can raise all sorts of questions and uncertainties. So, what might God’s word say to us in such times?

Well, in the book of Acts we find the early church in changing circumstances. Too they are on the cusp of truly significant change, change like they have never experienced, change like they can never anticipate or expect, and so Acts especially, those early chapters, gives us insight into some core things to remember and hold on to, especially in the midst of change. Acts opens with these words ‘In my former book Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven.’ From the earliest times, the writing of the book of Acts has been attributed to Luke, that gentile doctor, who came to faith in Jesus and became a valuable helper and friend to the apostle Paul. So Acts is the second installment from Luke. In his former book, that is the gospel which bears his name, Luke wrote about all that Jesus began to do detailing the life of Jesus and his ministry on earth, but notice what that sentence says ‘all that Jesus began to do, not all that Jesus did but all that Jesus began to do, so Luke’s gospel details Jesus ministry on earth and Acts details the continuing ministry of Jesus then and even now, and Luke can write such a claim because of his confidence that Jesus is alive. He writes ‘After his suffering (that is Jesus) he presented himself to them the apostles and disciples and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.’ Luke is convinced of this. Convinced of its reality, that Jesus is alive and so the ministry of Jesus continues and continues even to this day. Can I ask you this – do you believe that do you have the confidence of Luke?

As outlined to our children and young people, there is great evidence to give us confidence in this and I feel and I know it is crucial for us to have this confidence because, in the changing circumstances as a church, and in the changing circumstances of life and all the struggles of life, to be confident that Jesus truly is alive changes everything. This core truth gives courage and comfort in difficult times, it sustains passion across the decades and it gives hope of a better future for our world, for our church, and for each of us individually. So, can I ask you – do you believe that Jesus is alive are you confident in this?

If you’re not, please be honest and please do something about that feeling. Please speak with your locum, speak with your elders, read The Case for Christ, for example, but I beg you, do something. For Jesus is alive and His ministry does continue now. that ministry can,, if we let it challenge us and change us. Luke goes on to write that ‘he (Jesus) appeared to them over a period of 40 days and spoke about the kingdom of God’ and that prompted the disciples to reply with a question – ‘Lord, are you, at this time, going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ They expected still,, a political and territorial kingdom, a national kingdom of Israel, and they hoped it would be established.

Now, in response the continuing ministry of Jesus brings a challenge to their thinking he says to them ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the father has set by his own authority but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.’

There’s so much in those two verses but let us for now notice this – the continued ministry of Jesus challenged them. It challenged their ideas about Jesus and the kingdom. For the kingdom of God is primarily spiritual in character, that as people submit to the reign of God in their lives, He transforms their hearts and He renews their mind. This kingdom is also going to be international says Jesus and it will grow gradually, so even after three years of intense discipleship and a further 40 days with the risen Jesus, the continuing ministry of Jesus is still challenging their thinking and way of life.

So, what about us? How is the continuing ministry of Jesus challenging our way of life and our thinking individually and corporately here in Brightons?

At the beginning of this message I spoke about the changing and challenging circumstances that we find ourselves in both nationally and locally, and so often we look on it negatively. The number of ministers is dropping, buildings are closing, parishes are expanding and the list goes on and on. But, what if we are in a divine moment? Have you wondered that? What if we are in a divine moment? A divine moment of opportunity when the continuing ministry of Jesus might challenge our thinking and our way of life so that the kingdom of God extends to the ends of the earth but begins growing right here too? Have you wondered that yet?

Returning to those early disciples, I’m sure some of them felt shock and horror as Jesus said those words. Maybe some of them thought ‘Jesus, are you nuts, there’s only 120 of us. How is this ever going to happen. You cannot be serious!’ but Jesus knew that by His continuing ministry in them and through them by the Holy Spirit, that this world would be turned upside down, that the words of Isaiah would come true that some would say ‘I belong to the Lord and become part of the family and people of God’.

Jesus has just challenged their thinking about the future so, how is the continuing ministry of Jesus challenging us? How is He challenging you?

With the Nominating Committee, as I said, I spent a good wee while with them which was great and I outlined a number of key principles in the midst of that conversation about myself and about any future ministry, and one is that I feel the church at large, and maybe some of us here, need to wake up to the fact that we are called to be witnesses. We each are disciples of Jesus. We each are to go and make disciples of others. We are to share our faith. We are to go and call people to follow Jesus, to repent and live for Him. And I was grateful in the midst of that conversation with the Nominating Committee, that one of their number was honest and said ‘I’m just not sure how to do that. I’m not sure how to do that. How do I reach out to my peers? How do I reach out to my peers who are successful and affluent and capable?

That member communicated a feeling, I think, that we all have. We can all be daunted by that call to be a witness. We don’t know what to do because we haven’t been discipled in that way ourselves so often, but that same person in literally the same breath, spoke about their confliction to lean into that call, that they wanted to play their part and it was so inspiring to hear!

As I say, I suspect she’s not alone. I suspect that many of us here have the same apprehension, but we are each called as witnesses as disciples who are to go and make disciples. And so my question is – are you up for that? Are you up for that? I’m being very upfront with you. If you call me here, I’ll lean into that myself, but I’ll call you to lean into that too. I’ll work with your elders, I’ll work with you individually, but we’ll lean into that, if you call me here, and it might change your life radically, and it’ll be costly. Are you up for that? Are you up for it?

The continuing ministry of Jesus brings challenge and that is but one, I’m sure there’ll be more, whether here at Brightons or for our church nationally, and you might say back to me ‘Well Scott, it was easy for the disciples. Come on! Jesus was right there in their midst’ but notice what happens after He leaves. They returned to Jerusalem, went upstairs to the room and joined together constantly in prayer. Prior to His leaving, the disciples had spent time with Jesus. They had listened to His teaching. They had soaked in the love of God, and so now it is instinctive for them to turn to Him in prayer, and that is how they will wait upon Him. That is how they will wait upon His provision and leading. Again and again, if you read through the book of Acts, the disciples come together in prayer and God leads and provides for them.

Maybe they also came together because of that commission Jesus gave them in verse 8. It’s hard to see in our English translations but when he says ‘you will be my witnesses’ he’s calling them to a costly future because the Greek word for witness is the exact same root word for our English word martyr.

So, Jesus has just called them to sacrificial way of life, to loyalty whatever the cost ,but these early followers of Jesus were so confident in the continuing ministry of Jesus, were so challenged and captivated by that ministry, were so aware of their need to depend on Him, that they came together in prayer.

Friends, can the same be said of us? Do we unite in prayer here? It can be so tempting to rush ahead. We prefer to get on with the job. We don’t like waiting and we really don’t like depending on another. Are you like that? I know I can be, but the truth is, we can’t do this on our own. The gaps in these pews are not going to fill by our own efforts.

If we are going to grow in confidence in the continuing ministry of Jesus, if we are to hear the challenge of the continuing ministry of Jesus, if we are to receive all that we need to participate in the continuing ministry of Jesus, then we must wait, we must wait upon Him and you can of course do that at home, individually, but the testimony of Christians across the ages is that the church needs to come together in prayer if we are to know His leading, if we are to know His providing, if we are to have the courage to take the costly choices and be His witnesses, then we must pray and we must pray together.

I’ve heard that your Nominating Committee is prayerful perhaps, overly prayerful if that can ever be possible, they pray a lot and I know that you have a midweek time together and hopefully you’re praying in your home groups and in other ways too, but if you are not personally gathering in prayer, some way, somehow, can I ask that you find a way. If the time is difficult, if the day is difficult, if you’re just unsure how to pray with others or even just how to pray, again, I encourage you speak with someone, be honest about that, talk to your locum, talk to your elders, talk to your session, feed it back to them and maybe together we can work out a way to help you gather together in prayer, but at some point you must make the choice, at some point you must see that prayer is enough of a priority that you fit it into your diary, but it’s only by prayer that you will find the confidence that Jesus is alive and it’s only by prayer that you will have the courage you need to be His witnesses and to respond to His challenge. The testimony of the early church, in the church across the ages, is that the people of God must unite in prayer if we are to participate in the continuing ministry of Jesus.

In these changing times, are you confident that Jesus is alive? Will you respond to His challenge at this present time and will we come together in prayer? The ministry of Jesus is continuing and to Him be the glory both now and forevermore. Amen