Growth

Preached on: Sunday 7th February 2021

The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-07 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 2:19-30
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name, Amen.

This past week, not only have we said farewell to some of our church family, but as a nation we said farewell to Captain Sir Tom Moore. I think we all can remember the valiant effort he put in to fundraising for the NHS and how the nation got behind him, helping to raise £33million to pay for every day small things – not protective clothing, actually – but small, important things nonetheless, things that made a big difference, in particular, to NHS staff amidst this pandemic.
For a brief period of time, Captain Tom’s life was an example and we rallied behind him, and for a brief period of time we also did Clap for Carers last year and we rallied behind that. Yet eventually, it seems, our enthusiasm does wane, we lose interest in each new initiative, and we go back to “normal”, huddling down and turning in. It’s good to have these individuals, these and campaigns, that help us turn out again but part of me wonders: how do we nurture long-term change? Not only within society, but within the church as well?

Last week, Jim gave such a powerful and encouraging sermon on “becoming”, on growing in the way of Jesus. So, how do we grow in the way of Jesus such that it becomes core to our identity and we walk in it all the days of our life? Because Jesus, as we’ve seen earlier in the book of Philippians, is the most powerful example of someone giving away their life for others, and yet,… after 5 weeks in Philippians, where can you say your life has changed, where have you grown in the way of Jesus? Or, what about our children? We tell them of the love and death of Jesus, which was for them as much as for us, and yet, how many walk away from the faith and have nothing to do with the way and the community of Jesus? I wonder, do you wonder about these things, in you, ever? Do you long for things to change? I hope you do. I hope there are many of us that wrestle and wonder and question these things; and, Yes, long for change, both in your own lives and in the lives of our world and community, that together we might pursue our core purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’.

So, what has all this got to do with our passage this morning? Well, in Philippians today we’re introduced to Timothy and Epaphroditus, two individuals who served alongside Paul, and he highly commends them both.

He says of Timothy:
‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.’ (Philippians 2:20-22)

Timothy has grown in the way of Jesus; Timothy is not only looking to his own interests, but to the welfare of others and to the cause of Christ.

Epaphroditus also walks in the way of Jesus, and is described by Paul as:
‘…my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier…he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died…he almost died for the work of Christ.’ (Philippians 2:25-30)

In Timothy and Epaphroditus, in the life of Paul as well,… we see individuals who have grown in the way of Jesus, and part of what grabs my attention here, is that in the pairing of Paul and Timothy we see growth across the generations; we see that the way of Jesus is relevant for all the generations and that the generations need one another. Equally, in the pairing of Paul and Epaphroditus we see something else: we see that no matter your background, the way of Jesus can change your life for the better and also bring great unity, even to two people who would have written one another off normally – Paul the strict Jew, Epaphroditus the Gentile – two completely different backgrounds, two completely different ways of life, and yet brought into unity because of Jesus.

In these three individuals, I see a deep and lasting change that led them to give away their lives for the sake of others…
and for the sake of Jesus, and it leads me to ask : how? How did this happen, Lord? And what can your church today learn that we might not simply turn up to church here in this sanctuary or at home, and never change, or simply share the faith with children and young people and yet never see them grow-up and own that faith themselves? How, Lord? How can this be?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a 2- or 3-point sermon to give us a nice easy solution by the end of this morning. Because these are huge seismic issues in our church, not just at Brightons, not just in the Braes not just the Church of Scotland, but the church across our land, Yet, I do want to highlight a few things, because for me they raise more questions than answers.

Firstly, we know that core to growth in the way of Jesus, is to know Jesus for yourself; to have met with Jesus and to keep meeting with Him. I think that’s why Huddle, that I talked about earlier, excites me, because the core question within Huddle each week is:
“what is God saying to you?” and then, “what are you going to do about it?” Imagine the growth we might see in ourselves, and in our young people, if we all could answer those questions and then go and help other people answer those questions for themselves as well. But how do we nurture that? How do we facilitate that kind of learning? Because clearly, what we were doing before the pandemic, even what we’ve been doing these past 12 months, isn’t fully nurturing this yet? How Lord? How can this be?

Secondly, it’s true that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus knew Jesus, but none of us learns within a vacuum and none of us thrives within in a vacuum as we’ve been finding these past 12 months; we all need community, we need one another, and much recent research suggests that for the generations to thrive need one another, both in the church and outside. Clearly, this is limited in our present circumstances, but it’s been great to see the church launch this intergenerational penpals idea ,…
and it’s been encouraging to hear of Pastoral Groupings being in touch with one another and maybe even meeting together, even by Zoom or for outdoor recreation within the restrictions. What else could we do just now? It’s only limited by our imagination and willingness. You don’t necessarily have to add more activity. What are you doing that you could just do with someone else? You’re going for a walk, could you invite someone else to join with you? And when that great day comes and we can at last all be together again, what can, or should, our life be like together then? Are we just going to return to “normal”? Because remember what the Moderator of the General Assembly said, returning to normal is returning to a church that is declining, and that’s true for Brightons as much as for anywhere, that our membership numbers are dropping and in five, ten years time we might end up going off a cliff and not being able to continue doing what we do just now, even in this lockdown. How might we create the means for all generations, and peoples of all backgrounds, to experience a degree of community, a degree of family, that truly nurtures them in the way of Jesus?
How, Lord? How can it be?

Friends, as I said in Tuesday night’s video, there is more change ahead, that we are called to tack, and if you don’t what I mean by that go and look at Tuesday’s video recording. I do realise that we probably want more messages of comfort and encouragement at this time and those will come. But the message of Philippians calls us to walk in the ways of Jesus, to grow in the ways of Jesus, maybe especially in difficult times both individually and as a community, sure we could leave these questions and the wrestling it produces till later in the year, till beyond pandemic, but that’s not the Lord’s call for just now, and I think that’s strategic so that when we come out of the pandemic we go forward. So, let us all lean in to this, I invite you to lean into this to where He is leading us just now, to engage with the questions, to engage with the process, that together we might chart a way forward so that one
and all, all generations, might grow, truly grow…
in the way of Jesus, in this place, and across the Braes, for generations to come. May it be so. Amen.

Prayer for one another

Preached on: Sunday 20th September 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 20-09-20-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Ephesians 1:1-18, 15-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Ephesians 1:1-18, 15-17
Sunday 20th September 2020
Brightons Parish Church
Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.We’re halfway through our series on prayer, responding to this call from the Lord to grow as a people of prayer, that His purpose for us – to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’ – might be realised in our day and in our community. We’ve seen the importance and value of the Lord’s Prayer, how it can shape us and help us know what to pray.

Then on Tuesday night of last week, I put into practice what I’d preached on, taking to the streets of Brightons and prayer walking, for about half an hour, as a means of praying for others If you missed the live event, you can still watch the recording on our YouTube channel, and it might give you ideas, or a flavour, of what prayer walking can be like.

In that time of prayer, it was my privilege to pray for the wider community, but I also got to pray for our church family, for people who identify with Brightons, who say this is their spiritual home This call from the Lord to pray, is also a call to pray for one another and that’s the focus of our reflections this morning.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul mentions “Father” and “prayer” more times than in any of his other letters. It seems that having God as our Father, and belonging to His family, should result in prayer. Later in the letter, Paul says: ‘…be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ (Eph. 6:18)

Part of the reason why Paul will again and again weave together having God as our Father with prayer for the family of God is because of what Father God was doing through His Son Jesus. Paul writes: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ…’ (Eph. 1:3-5)

Paul is saying that it is in the nature of God to draw people into relationship, into His family Before the creation of the world, there was Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing in perfect community and from the overflow of their love they sought to extend that community, to have a family, a people that were their own. And so, God made choices, God made a plan, God acted intentionally, with purpose, exerting His will so that one day you might have the invitation to come into the family of God.

Friends, in this passage, in the Scriptures as a whole, the goodness of God is revealed, for we have a heavenly Father who seeks us and pursues us. He is not distant, He is not cold or austere, but rather He delights in you, He loves you so greatly that His Son died for you. I wonder, do you have this relationship with God? Have you responded to God’s invitation?

If you have, you’re now part of the family of God, bought at a price, dear and precious to the Father, and so, we should treat each other that way as well. Often, we can misunderstand church thinking it’s just another club or a group to belong to. Because of that it’s easy to take one another for granted, or just to be surface level in our care for each other. But Paul models something different: Paul earnestly gives himself away for the church – Paul gives his time, Paul serves, Paul encourages and underpinning it all Paul prays for the family of God.
So, here’s the invitation for this week of prayer. Remember, I said each week we’d have something to pray or do. Well, this week I invite you to turn to Ephesians and use one of Paul’s prayers. You can find them in Ephesians chapter 1 verses 15-17, and Ephesians chapter 3 verses 16-19.

Take one or both of these prayers and pray them for our congregation and for our organisations. Pray them for your Pastoral Grouping. Pray them for our Boys and Girls Brigades, as well as our Sunday School groups. Because we are family, we are part. of the family of God because of Jesus, because of the love of Father God, and so He calls us all to reflect His love to one another, by caring enough to pray. May it be so. Amen.

The pattern of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 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 19-08-25-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Sunday 25th August 2019 (morning)
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

For one minute, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour and discuss what you think the answer to this question is: ‘what was the subject most taught about by Jesus?’ You’ve got 1 minute discuss – over to you!
(PAUSE)

One analysis of this question suggested that ‘love’ came #43, forgiveness #32, money #4, Father God #2 – and top of the list, the most taught about subject by Jesus was ‘the kingdom of God’! Yet, how often do we talk about the kingdom of God? Or, when did it last feature in your decision-making when you went to the shops?
It makes me wonder – is the kingdom of God quite low importance for us? Is personal preference, cultural norms or the survival of our denomination more important than the kingdom of God? Or when we come to decision making, what do we base it upon?

For example, last week we received 70 feedback forms regarding the summer services. The responses will be typed up, discussed within Session and eventually inform what we do next summer. Please do get one in. But let’s be honest – there are broadly two groups: one supports the format we had this year, the other prefers to reestablish the Summer Sunday School. There are competing values here – how is Session to make a
decision? It may be, though not guaranteed, that a kingdom focused analysis and discussion might help us discern what is the best way forward, even if it doesn’t suit everyone.
And so today we begin a new teaching series, which will run for 8 weeks in total, and it will focus on the kingdom of God. Each week will draw upon a different portion of Scripture, starting in Genesis and ending up in Revelation, and it is my hope that it will not only sharpen our kingdom-focus, but that we might also see the kingdom of God as a binding theme throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, although each part will add a distinctive contribution to our understanding.

Additionally, the series should also help us to see how the Scriptures hold together, that although there are 66 books written by 40 authors over the course of 2000 years, that in fact, the Bible really is one book, with one main author, telling one core story throughout. So, let’s get into today’s passage.
The phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ is never actually used in the Old Testament – it uniquely begins with Jesus in each of the New Testament gospels – and yet, the idea and the reality of the kingdom of God is found everywhere in the Old Testament as well. Take for example Psalm 47:
‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.’ (v1-2)

Clearly the Psalmist understands God as King, and this was upheld by the people of God across the millennia. But they got this from their theology, from what they understood of God, from the revelation God had given of Himself: that He is was King and as King He has a kingdom.
And that understanding of God as King has its roots all the way back into Genesis 1 – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “Let there be light…”’ (v1,3)

These words reveal that God alone is sovereign and eternal; He alone existed before all else and it was by His powerful word, by His kingly command, that our universe came into being – and so God is therefore the rightful ruler and King over all creation.

I wonder if that shocks you at all, or makes you a little bit uncomfortable? It might not, but it really should, and when it was first being taught about 4000 years ago, it was a truly shocking claim – because this teaching clashed with the religions and perspectives of the day.
In contrast to the other Ancient Near Eastern religions of the time, Genesis 1 is a shockingly controversial rejection of their claim about how the universe came into being. There were several creation myths around at the time, particularly in nearby Babylonia, but they claimed that creation may have come about after a conflict between good and evil beings, or that it came by procreation of such divine beings, or that all creation was somehow eternal.

But against all that, Genesis claims the Lord, Yahweh, does not produce or bring forth, He creates from nothing, for He alone is almighty and eternal – He has no equal, He alone is King of all creation. And this very teaching would have jarred with the thinking of the day, it would have shocked then, even angered some, just as it does today.
For in our day, we have twin pressures from our surrounding culture – there is on the one hand, that pressure from an increasingly forceful atheism, which seeks to limit the sphere of faith. And on the other hand, there is pressure to say that all religions are equal, that all paths lead to God, that no one faith is more true than another. But neither is wise, accurate or good for society.

For there is plenty of evidence from history that when a society removes religious freedom and pursues a purely atheistic culture that it is then on route to becoming an unhealthy society: examples could include Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China.

And as for an approach which says all religions are equally true…well that just doesn’t make sense. You can’t have one saying all matter is eternal, whilst another doesn’t; or one which says God cared enough for His creation to enter into it, whilst another would be horrified at such a claim. These are not differences we can, or should, gloss over – it cannot be both/and, it truly is one or the other. And in our culture, in our day, that can make us feel quite uncomfortable, it almost sounds unloving.

But claiming, as Genesis does, that there is one eternal King and He has no equal, is not arrogance or intolerance, for logic and reason demand that the different claims be weighed, they can’t all be equally true, and to allow the claim of Genesis to be given up so as to appease our postmodern mindset is actually to the detriment of others, for then they won’t bother to explore the Christian faith, why should they when everything is relative or equal? But to hold on to the claim, that they then might find Jesus…
as their Saviour, well that’s the most loving thing we can do for anyone. It is only when we hold on to the claim that there is one eternal King, do we then begin to lay a foundation for a faith that is robust and offers genuine hope to our broken world.

Because in this world, which God created in love and upon which He established His Kingdom, the Lord also created all life, and the pinnacle of His creation was mankind – you and I. We read in Genesis 1: ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (v27)

Only humanity is described in this manner, only humanity is created in the image of God, and so men and women…

are set apart from the rest of creation, giving each one great dignity, for we bear the image of God within us.
And God places His image-bearers, this mankind, in a garden, telling them to be fruitful and increase in number, to fill the earth and enjoy the produce of the land. God gives them also a mandate, a purpose, and only one boundary, given for their good, it’s in Genesis chp2: ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”’ (v16-17)

And so, in the place He has given, the people God has made, can continue to enjoy His blessing as they fulfil His mandate and remain with His rule. This understanding of what is portrayed here in Genesis gives us a pattern of the kingdom of God and…
it has been summarised by Graeme Goldsworthy as: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

This is a phrase we’ll keep returning to during the series because in different parts of the Scriptures, different elements of this phrase are emphasised, or are seen to be out of place or marred. But the pattern of the kingdom is laid down here in Genesis 1 and 2: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

In these chapters, at the beginning of the story, we can see three important points of application. Firstly, we were created with a purpose, for we read: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Gen. 1:28) and then in chapter 2 we reed: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2:15)

As the image bearers of the King we are given the royal purpose of stewarding creation – we’ve to take care of it, rather than abuse it – and so matter matters to God for it is part of His kingdom, God is not only concerned with our souls; He is also concerned with our bodies and the whole material creation. And so, it is right to speak with our children, indeed all of us, and raise the issue of how our products and how our lifestyle affect the material world. We understand ourselves to be part of God’s people – are we living under His rule by heeding our call to steward creation well? If we are not, how could we steward better?
Secondly, these chapters also highlight that we were created not only with a purpose but with a need for community. We reed in Genesis 2: ‘But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God…made a woman…and he brought her to the man.’ (Gen. 2:20-22)

Until Eve was made, Adam had no companionship with another like himself, and earlier in v18 the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ We are made with a need for community – just as no man is an island, neither are God’s people – Genesis 1 and 2 make it clear that even within the perfection at the beginning of creation, God’s people, within God’s kingdom, need one another, and they were given to one another as part of the blessing of God. We have a need for community, we need each other…
and so, it is also right to emphasis the opportunity the Guild affords you and I, but we could also add in Friendship Plus, the coffee morning or the Fellowship Groups. Why not give one of these a try as they restart in the next month?

But can I also raise an issue I’ve become more aware of recently after some team meetings and pastoral visits? You’re probably aware, but we are quite a big church, and it’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy to be overlooked. And it’s easy to forget that some in our older generations have far fewer friends than they did a few years ago, or even this time last year, and they can start to feel isolated and undervalued. They too have a need of community. So, can we be on the lookout, not only for new people, but also for those that might be getting lost in the crowd?…
For they too are God’s people and they matter in God’s kingdom.

Lastly, in God’s kingdom, God’s people are to enjoy God’s blessing by living under God’s rule, but that is not only about living according to God’s laws and ways; living under God’s rule is also about enjoying God Himself and enjoying His rest. We read in Genesis 2:
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.’ (Gen. 2:2)

This is the climax of creation, that day upon which God rested, for His work was complete. We do not then hear of an eighth day, nor do we return to the first day, for we are meant to see that the seventh day continues,…
and so God’s rest continues – not that God is sitting with His feet up, for He sustains our very creation, but He has rested from creating, and so the seventh day continues. Within that rest, creation, and especially humanity, is meant to live. We are meant to live in God’s rest, to share in it, enjoying the perfect creation, and enjoying relationship with God. To live under the rule of God, is to live within His rest and to enjoy God Himself.

I wonder, do you enjoy God? Maybe you don’t enjoy God because you don’t know God yet, you don’t know Him as your friend and heavenly Father, nor as your good King. And that may be because you haven’t put your faith in Him yet, and if that’s you, I’d encourage you to go listen to last week’s message which you can get on the website or via CD.
Yet, there could be any number of reasons you are not enjoying God, and if that’s you, if there is distance, can I encourage you to tell someone, and if you can, tell someone whose faith encourages you.

A number of years ago, I got into a bit of a rut in my faith; I wasn’t reading the Bible, I wasn’t praying. But then in one church service I felt challenged by my minister and I decided to go speak with my good friend Ollie, whose faith is a real encouragement to me. We started to meet up, to talk about faith, to talk about life, and over the course of time my faith came alive again, and I started to enjoy God once more.

Friends, you were created to enjoy God and His rest, to live under His rule, alongside His people,…
sharing in His blessing – for this is what Genesis reveals about what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God, this is the pattern of the Kingdom.

I pray that as we journey through this series together, may we become more kingdom-minded, leaning into our purpose, helping to meet our need for community, and growing in our enjoyment of God.

May it be so. Amen.