Preached on: Sunday 6th November 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Mark 7:1-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Tradition helps to ground us and also leads to
– Prejudices
– Priorities
– Misuse
– Misunderstanding
– We need discernment on what to retain and what to change

Our loving Heavenly Father, we come into Your presence this morning and, in so doing, we thank You for the privilege of being here. You are the one who created us, the one who created the world in which we live and move and have our being, You are the one who is all-powerful and yet, You have made it possible for us to come into Your presence. As we have just heard, there are many challenges within our world and sometimes we can be so discouraged, so disheartened, so dispirited by all that we see and hear, we seem to lurch from one crisis to another so, frequently, that the word perma-crisis has entered into our dictionaries. We feel our own weaknesses, the frailties of our minds and bodies, the transience of what is around us. We face so many challenges through our faith and we often falter and feel that we fail. Strengthen us, we pray, and renew a right spirit within us. We ask You, by Your Holy Spirit, to create within us a heart for worship, a heart that is glad to be open to You and not a heart which desires, constantly, its own comfort zone. It’s all too easy for our worship to become a war and blanket around us and for us to shut out the real needs. Help us not to fall into that trap and, as our hearts are opened, we ask that we may have a renewed vision of You, our God, as You reach down to us and the person of Your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ made real to us through Your Spirit. He walked this earth before our time. He experienced the pains and aches of human existence yet, He did so gladly, setting before us a divine example and opening for us a new and living way into Your presence. We ask that we may meet Him here this morning and now we ask you to forgive our sins. Close in with Your Word, for we ask these things in Jesus. name and for His sake. Amen.

There’s a tradition, isn’t there, that The Guild at Brightons Church has a special Sunday every year. Have you noticed? We’ve been here before. We’ve been at The Guild Sunday and today we’re observing that tradition. By now I think you’ve worked out what the T-word is for today, it is the word ‘tradition’. It’s great to be made aware of the work of The Guild and to be reminded that The Guild has changed with time. We think, perhaps, as Maggie said, that it’s something very old and fixed and it’s just a certain sector of the church that come along dutifully and do various things that are not perhaps relevant to this world. Well, if that’s the way we’ve been thinking, we’ve been well instructed this morning. When I first heard of The Guild it was the Woman’s Guild and it dropped that bit of the name. Now that was a big change and I’m sure it didn’t come easily, there would have been voices for and voices against because that’s the way we handle the T-word, tradition. Yes, that’s how it is but now it’s just The Guild and men can come too. Men can come along. Now, I don’t exactly see a rush on the part of men here and, I would have to say, that I am as guilty as anyone else. But a week ago, I went along to The Guild and I was very encouraged, inspired and I had a spring in my step as a result of being there.

When I heard about the projects, so interesting, and one of them in particular, they’re both equally worthy, but one I thought ‘How wonderful’, Unida. Why did I think that? I thought that because I spent my working life in higher education, and third level education, and to those of us in this country it comes so easily as Elspeth Reid reminded us on that Monday evening. We have, in Brazil, a tradition, keyword again, where women are just kept in a corner, where they are despised and so often injured and one of the cities where this is, the city where this has been set up has a very high murder rate of women and Unida is trying to change tradition, trying to give people a chance and, particularly, to give women a chance. We struggled with that one in our own society much earlier on, still struggle with it, but, in places like Brazil, there are even more challenges. So, tradition is on the move. The Guild is on the move and the way we handle things in this world, that’s on the move as well and that’s great.

Tradition then, what is it? I have to confess that when I thought of this sermon my first idea was ‘I don’t know what tradition is.’ It’s such a difficult word to define and, funnily enough, we all think we know what tradition is. That’s the problem. We’ve all got our traditions which we hold dear and yet, if I asked you to define tradition so that it was convincing and all-embracing and real, I wonder what we would arrive at, the definition of tradition.

I was brought up in the islands, as some of you already know, and I often talk about my background there, I was brought up within Gaelic tradition. I was a Gaelic speaker first and foremost and the first sermon I ever preached was in Gaelic within a Gaelic context, and I learned pretty quickly that there were traditions associated with Gaelic tradition wee ones inside the big one and that I had to be very careful if I wasn’t right about this or that I might feel are we tug here and there, and after I would finish the service somebody would say ‘Oh, you didn’t quite do that the right way.’ and I learned the Gaelic way of doing a service. And then I moved on to doing it the English and Scottish way. Some of us know Gaelic tradition in another way, the songs, the music, the stories, the tales and they’re all wrapped up in that word ‘tradition’. But then we can move to Scottish tradition, Irish tradition, English tradition, Welsh tradition, British tradition. We can have our own traditions. Remember, remember the 5th of November, which was just last night with all its explosions and bangs. And that’s another tradition.

But then, of course, we have church tradition and that is a difficult word as well, isn’t it?
We can talk about what the Church of Scotland does traditionally and we can talk about what the church in Scotland does traditionally and it’s also variable and within each individual building, each individual church. We have our own wee traditions, don’t we? And what are they? There are ways of doing things. We’ve done them down the years and probably they’ve held us steady. Tradition does that. Sometimes some would say it holds us too steady and we don’t move as we ought but, to be honest, some of our traditions change gradually, so gradually that we hardly notice others are harder to accept but eventually we get around to accepting the change. The changes are difficult. I remember when they were rows going on and whether we should address God as ‘Thou’ and not. We had that one. We then had difficulties with the move from the King James Bible to the New International and, in the course of time, the New International changed as well, the text moved on to be more inclusive.

And so, change comes. Traditions change and sometimes we don’t notice and sometimes we get a jerk. Suddenly we’ve got to change our ways. Something big comes along. Didn’t Covid do that for us, moved us along, gave us a great bump and we had to go over to new methods, new ways of reaching out because we couldn’t meet within the walls. It was a strange time and yet we’ve learned a few things through that. Doing church is different now. As I speak to you, others are watching me and this live stream is taking this message far beyond this church and I’m not aware of it. It doesn’t bother me in the least, and nobody here is very much aware of it either, but it has come and it too has become part of what the tradition is. It has moved in and we are grateful for it. There’s an expanded view of what the church actually is and I think Covid did for some of us to think along these lines.

No, I have been asked to speak on tradition because of a book that Scott recommended to us. It is The Anatomy of a Revived Church by Tom Rainer. And, in that book, in one of its chapters Tom Rainer looks at tradition in the church. It’s very interesting what he sees as tradition which is difficult to manage.
Worship music and styles, possibly, yes.
Order of worship services, well we run to a certain order don’t we. But, even today’s, one has been moved about. Nobody noticed.
The times of worship services, we can some of us know churches which meet at midday, others which meet in the afternoon and so on. But, if you move them, sometimes there’s quite a bit of friction.
The role of the pastor. Well, I’ll leave that one to the pastor. I don’t think I would want to say too much of that.
About that the role of committees, ministry and programs.
Church buildings, rooms.
In church business, meeting staff positions.

Well, there they are. And recently we ourselves have been asked to think about the role of children in the church and matters pertaining to communion. And I’m quite sure we’ve all had our wee thoughts about this in terms of ‘T’ tradition haven’t we? If we’re really honest, we have, I have and this is what goes on.

And, of course, round about us Presbytery changes. There was a time when every church had its Parish, every Parish had its church then amalgamations took place, the world began to move in other directions and that process is still going on, making us feel very uncomfortable at times, wondering what’s around the next corner. We’re human and tradition sometimes helps to ground us, keeps us safe, we can hold on to it, solid. And then things, that’s what we think, and then it begins to change. Now, I could spend this sermon digging into the debates. I’m not going to do that. I want us to dig into God’s Word and see what happens when Jesus talks about tradition. That’s what’s important for us today and the passage that we read together from Mark’s Gospel highlights this.

I was reading through Mark’s gospel when I suddenly realized that I had committed myself to talking about tradition and, somehow, it had just moved away, as tradition does, out of my brain, and then Scott reminded me and I thought ‘Where will I get something about tradition?’ and I was reading Mark’s Gospel, that very place, that very chapter that we’ve read here this morning, and there’s a wonderful example of Jesus taking on tradition, graciously, firmly, and not without a touch of dry humor which Jesus was very good at.

He encounters the Pharisees and the way they see the world. Now, I want to analyze this very briefly using two P’s and two M’s so, if you come back to the passage that we read, that Sandra read so beautifully for us, chapter 7 of Mark’s Gospel we’ll work it out and we’ll use this to guide us through our attitudes to tradition.

So, the two P’s first of all. What do we see here? We see Prejudices, that’s the first thing. We note this is all about prejudices. The Pharisees are engaged in ceremonial washing it’s not about this, not about doing that, or whatever else you do, it’s about ceremonial washing and the Pharisees are keeping a close eye on the disciples to see what they’re going to do. They’re washing their various items. They’re going at it in the way that is right for them and let’s remember all that. Let’s be fair to Pharisees, sometimes, I think, we’re not all that fair, they’re doing the right thing by their book and they were very good at that and sometimes we would do well to take a leaf out of their book.. So, Jesus handles them very wisely. They want to see if the disciples somehow step out of line, and they do. ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean hands?’ And tradition can lead us into criticism of other people and it’s not helpful sometimes. As I’ve said, I was brought up in the highlands, I was brought up entirely where we had a fairly open approach to the faith. My father was a Baptist Minister and he preached every Sunday morning in Gaelic in the Baptist Church but he also helped the Church of Scotland whenever there was a vacancy, whenever there was difficulty, my father stepped into the bridge. And for us there is a continuum between the Baptist movement and the Church of Scotland one which, I suppose, represents to this day. But if I went to the northern highlands I might find things that are a little different, and some denominations like to attack the others, they like to run down the alternative denomination, point out its faults, its failings. The Presbyterian Church may just point to the failures of the Free Church, and the Free Church may just point to the failures of the Church of Scotland. It happens occasionally, believe me, in the highlands and often it’s through because we’ve got our own way of doing things. Stand to praise, sit to sing. That sort of thing happens. But then there are doctrinal issues as well. Not doing it the right way. Westminster Confession. Are we close to that, is that church further away from it than our than our way of doing it. And very easily we have prejudices.

Jesus challenges that by asking the Pharisees about their Priorities. And that’s the second P. Jesus counters the Pharisees complaint with the words ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men’ or, as the newer version says ‘onto human traditions’ so it’s all inclusive, it’s not just male that’s female as well, as with the Woman’s Guild. And so, we have to ask ourselves what is really important in being church? Are we here to fight denominational battles? I think of what we are here to do, as I often have these challenges with the Church of Scotland. What am I here to do? Support the Church of Scotland? What is it we’re here to do? We are here to proclaim the Gospel as a living community. That’s what we are here to do. ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men (human traditions).’ It’s so easy to do. I’ve seen so many flash points along the line because priorities are not honored as they ought to be. When there’s to be physical change in a church, move a pew, anything, and you can often spark just a little debate, just a little, because great grandfather endowed that pew and great-grandmother sat on it for X number of years. We don’t remember how long but she did so you mustn’t move the pew. And so, it goes on, and the most divisive disputes that I’ve encountered in the time are often about material things, try moving something that’s material. People will react in a way that they might not react if you’re moving spiritual things. That’s the irony. Priorities – sort them out. Our more inclusive concept of church demands change, very often, to bring in people who have needs, difficulties, challenges, that we don’t necessarily have but the inclusivity of the Christian Gospel demands a response.

Now, how about the two M’s? We’ve done two P’s and we’ve not done two M’s.

The first of the two M’s is Misuse. Jesus points out to the Pharisees that they have ways that they can bend tradition and they do it in the area of family responsibility. If they call something Corban i.e., devoted to God, then they don’t need to devote it to looking after their parents. And tradition can have ways of cleverly getting out, getting us out of difficulties, responsibilities we have. We appeal to tradition all around so we don’t do it. I do it this way, and it is safer doing it that way so, I’m not going to get involved. I know it because I’m the chief sinner in that respect. that’s going on in my own head so often. Not quite the way I would do it so I’ll keep away. And so, Jesus challenges this mindset, this excuse for inactivity and I would plead guilty to it even in today’s Church. If we don’t like what the church is doing, why not get involved and make it better? Surely that’s the way to go rather than to say ‘Oh, my tradition is the one that’s important and if they don’t do it. well, out.’ Not a good way to go.

And the second ‘M’, misunderstanding. Jesus tackles that beautifully in terms of the externals. He says it’s not what goes into you that’s going to make you unclean, it’s what comes out of you. And we need to remember that tradition is often an external matter. What really matters is the internal one. Where are we going spiritually? That’s the issue, certainly the issue for me. And it’s easy to do the tick on tradition isn’t it? Done that one, done that one, okay. Externals. But how are we in here? What’s our relationship to God? What’s our relationship to the one who created us? Where do we put Him? In a pew or high above us, exalted and glorified? I love the little verse that’s actually omitted in there, in the translation we read from. ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let them hear.’ I’m often challenged by that because sometimes, we can hear things and not hear them. We can be very selectively deaf. ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.’ And in that spirit, we have to think about tradition. Is it the be-all and end-all or is there a greater, a better calling.

I’ve been in so many different churches. They all do things differently but the thing I rejoice in the fact that I can talk to you about Jesus and what He means and says and does to this moment. That’s what’s important.

Warnings though. We must never assume that tradition is automatically bad and that it has to be broken simply because it is tradition. I know people and for them the very word tradition is like a red rag to a bull. Whoom, they’re at it! and they want to change it – Wheech!. We didn’t mention it in case there’s a huge reaction but remember folks, changing tradition and substituting something untraditional in its place is not necessarily a good thing. There’s no silver bullet that we can just invoke and fire as Brent Haywood reminded us a couple of weeks ago. Novelty and newness may be part of the answer. It often is because we have to match the needs of society with the ways we’re working,
and we have to change our ways. But novelty is not the remedy. It can only ever be part of it. We have to get our priorities right.

And, above all, we’re back to the ‘D’ word. We had the ‘T’ word, tradition and we’ve now got back to the ‘D’ word which we heard a few times in the course of this year’s sermons. What is the word? Discernment. We have to be so careful what we’re going to put away, what we’re going to keep. When we were renovating the house in Tiree my daughter was in charge and when we were doing the needful, I would be asked ‘Dad, what are we going to do with this? Are we going to keep it or are we going to throw it out? and nine times out of ten I would say ‘Mach!’ in Gaelic which is the word for ‘out’. But then, there were things that we had to keep and I’m glad we kept them. Discernment was needed.

And so, my dear friends, that’s tradition. We live with it all the time. We make it, we then think it’s been there since Noah was a boy, and it hasn’t. And we need to be flexible in our approach to the world that we live in. Remember, the church’s mission is to the world, not to itself. Our mission in Brightons is out there and it’s so important that we think in these terms. The Guild shows us the way. They’ve been changing the traditions quietly, beautifully, so quietly and nicely, that some of us haven’t noticed and we need to notice, because they’re exemplary in that way.

Amen, and may the Lord bless to us these few reflections on the theme of tradition.

Vision and discernment

Preached on: Sunday 7th August 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is
no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 7:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints: AVAILABLE SOON

Just a brief prayer now, as we come to think about God’s word in the passage that Norma read so beautifully to us:

Heavenly Father, we ask that, as we listen to the exposition of Your word now, nothing will destroy our peace. It’s so easy, as we said already, for all sorts of things to come in and worry us and, as we reflect on this passage in a complicated world, we ask that Your Spirit will give us great wisdom. give it to the preacher as well, to the people, because it is a searching passage and few of us pass the test on this one. Father, be very gracious to us now as we think about Your Word, in Jesus; name we ask these things. Amen,

If you were here when I last spoke in January you will probably remember what I spoke about

I spoke about my glasses and I spoke about eyesight to the young people. And, if you watched me coming in here, what did I do? I cleaned my glasses first and foremost, constantly looking for the speck on the glass and trying to make my vision as clear as possible. And here we are today again, and the eyes have it once more, if I can borrow a well-known phrase. The eyes are back. Vision and discernment are at the very heart of the passage we are looking at. The human eye is central to the passage that we’ve read. it explains the passage and without it, the passage falls flat.

Did you ever think, do you ever think that Jesus has a sense of humor? I think He does. When I was preparing and thinking about the eye I thought, how interesting that I’m being asked to speak about a passage about eyes when I’m so obsessed with eyes. First point. But then, Jesus is using humor in this passage today. He’s full of wit which is gently slipped in. So gently that we perhaps, don’t notice it or we’ve become so familiar with the passage that we don’t think about it or we’ve lost the context. And we’ll look at that in due course.

Before, however, this passage, if we were here last week, we would have noticed that Jesus does have a lot to say about the eye. He points out to us that the eye is extremely important and it is the lamp of the body. In chapter 6 verse 22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness.’ And then he comes back to the eye again here ‘Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye.’ Now then, just imagine trying to find a speck in someone’s eye when there’s a plank in your own. You get that wee joke?

Now, have you ever tried to find a speck in somebody’s eye? When I was a boy in Tiree, I knew a lot about what we in Scotland call ‘stoor’ or what our English friends might call just ‘dust’. But i think the Scottish word, the Scots word ‘stoor’ has something about it and Gaelic it’s ‘stour’ and that’s even worse I can assure you. On a croft or on a farm where I was brought up, stoor was an occupational hazard. It arose quite literally from just about everything. A gust of wind would lift tiny particles of sand from a sandy surface and before you knew it you had a particle in your eye. Or when we would be thrashing corn what would happen? Particles would rise and we could get something in our eye. Or when we were sawing a wee speck of sawdust would come and lodge in the eye and what trouble that little speck would cause. My father had particularly sensitive eyes. Very, very sensitive indeed and he battled with eyes that seemed to catch every speck that was going. So, you can imagine what happened – he would summon me and say ‘Can you see the speck in my eye?’ and I would have to open my dad’s eye like this and look in and see if I could detect the speck. And sometimes he would have to do it for me. How did we get it out? Well sometimes we didn’t get it out and the eye would water and water, but if we did see the speck we would find something like a match, one of these and put a wee bit of cotton wool on the end and try hard to lift it out and many of you can identify with that. I’m sure you did it. Nowadays we’re protected probably from it because we can go to a hospital but in Tiree you didn’t have that. It wasn’t easy so you had to do everything yourself. And what if you didn’t find it? You would have a go with an eyeglass. Do you remember the eyeglasses? They looked like little egg cups with a special bit in them so that you could cover the surface of the eye. We would have a go with that and try to bathe the eye to see if we could clear the speck. But what a job it was trying to find that speck and what trouble the speck caused. And I used to see my father reduced literally to tears by the speck in his eye and he couldn’t do the work. We were stopped. Now imagine if that were a plank, a railway sleeper. Yes, and it’s in your eye and you then go off to see if you can see the speck in somebody else’s eye. Well clever you if you can do that. You certainly are somebody in a million, probably 10 million and more. And that’s the joke, right at the heart of this passage.

It’s so easy to see the speck in someone else’s eye, is it? And yet, some people are experts at it. If we move the metaphor to the way that we judge others, we’re not a minute finding the spec in somebody else’s eye but for some reason we can’t see the plank in our own. The plank allows us to see through. I ponder this passage as I say. It’s humorous, it’s clever and it’s absolutely true to life. This was the supreme teacher at work and sometimes folks, a wee bit of humor helps the teaching to stick.

Now, if we’re foolish enough to take this passage just at face value, and remember Jesus was taking people to another level as He taught, He was turning the world upside down, He was forcing them to think just a little beyond the surface of things. Now, if we take it as it comes ‘Do not judge or you too will be judged. For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged.’ you might think that Jesus is saying stop judging, never ever judge anything, nothing at al. Don’t, because all too often you are simply not capable of doing it or the way you judge is below the quality that would be expected. And the image that’s behind this is of measuring out something. Remember the old days when you had scales on a shop counter and the grocer or whoever would put a weight in one and he would put your particular item on the other and try to get a balance. Yes, well that’s the picture about the measure, of the measure here. And sometimes our judgment falls short. And the point is, if we’re giving judgments that are short measure then somebody says, Jesus will measure it back that way to us. So, we’ve got to be careful. But the point here is that we have to judge anyway. There are certain judgments we can never get away from. We’ve got to use this thing up here and we’ve got to try to reach some sort of judgment as to what we do. I’ve heard people say ‘Oh, I mustn’t judge.’ so that excuses them from saying anything in a particular context. You’ve heard that and I’ve heard also ‘Oh, I mustn’t judge.’ But and then you get an avalanche of criticism about the person concerned. So, we use this. We can be a bit equivocal in the way we use such passages and a bit two-faced and we excuse ourselves and so on but the point is, judgment is essential. It’s the kind of judgment we do that can be the problem. We have to reason. We have to think through.

Think of doctors. ‘Oh, I can’t judge possibly judge to do a diagnosis.’ Think of lecturers, teachers, lawyers, captains of ships. Hear that one often, Caledonian McBrayne blaming the captain because he’s had to make a judgment about the weather. And we think we know better than the captain. Oh, this passage is very subtle. How often I’ve done that. I think ‘Why has he not sailed today? I would have sailed if I was in that bridge.’ And so, it goes on. Would I? They have to make decisions and they have to judge. Aircraft pilots, when to land, when to try to land, when to take off. Ministers have to make judgments too. Our minister here, Reverend Scott Burton has to make judgments. And Kirk Sessions, yes, there’s been a big judgment here about the manse and the grounds and so on they’ve had to do that. We all have to judge at one point or another. And the great question is how we do it? That’s what this passage is about. What’s your spirit when you judge something or someone? Is it censorious? Is that the way it’s done. And do you have roast preachers for dinner because you could have done better? And really it’s because the preacher has said something that’s got you. That’s the problem. Very often it’s a problem, that’s the problem. It’s a warning, this passage about rushing to judgment without being aware of our own faults and failings. Otherwise, as this passage puts before us very simply, we are hypocrites. ‘You hypocrite? First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’ Oh, just so!

So, who does this? Who’s the number one culprit? I am, let me tell you! Like me, I’m sure you all love tailbacks. I’m sure you just glory in them and when you see red lights ahead you say ‘Ah yummy!’ I know you don’t. I was going down old Redding Road the other day and there was some work being done on the bridge parapet and there was a system there, single lane system and a notice that said when the red light shows what does it say – wait here. And, as usual, I turned up when there was a lot of cars ahead of me and I thought, by the time that one is through its cycle, I’ll be stuck again. So, I was ready and off I went keeping my eye fixed on the light and, of course, when I got there, when the cars had moved it was just about going to red again so I thought ‘Oh no bother, I’ll just jump in behind the previous one’ and off I went. That was fine and through I went and I thought ‘Oh, terrific!’ and I was glad to get through. But then I looked behind me and three or four other cars were doing exactly the same thing. And what did I say. I said ‘What drivers they really are! Terrible, terrible! Oh, do they never read the Highway Code? Do they never think about the driver in front.’ And then when I reached Spinkill something happened inside my own mind and a wee voice said to me ‘You hypocrite! If you had stopped at that light, you would have saved three or four others from breaking the law in the way you did, going through a red light.’ It’s just so easy to start judging others and forget about your own failings. I’m culprit number one. How often have you done things like that and then blamed the person behind you?

In my own job I judged all the time. I was a lecturer, a teacher. I had to reach conclusions about students work. But there was a wider judgment as well of other people, colleagues, folk around and quite often when somebody new came as a boss that was difficult and people would talk and I would talk about the qualities of that person. What a bossy, bossy person that was and then, occasionally, it would dawn who really likes to be boss. I had a wee phrase which I used to use when the managers annoyed me and it was ‘I was trained to fly solo.’ and the fault that I was seeing in others was one that I had myself see. It’s such a subtle, subtle, subtle thing this, and you don’t notice it. And even as I preach to you, I think to myself I have any real right to be here. You know, it gets to each and every one of us, right through into us, this passage, and we have to be so careful.

I have a friend, Dr Michael Haiken, who works in one of the colleges in the United States and I keep up with his posts because he is a man with considerable discernment. And just a couple of weeks back, when I started to prepare this and think through what I was going to say, a post from Michael appeared and it showed another aspect of this problem. This was what Michael wrote:
‘Years ago I knew Christian brother more than double my age who helped me enormously in some areas of doctrine but as I spent time with him I noticed that his speech was invariably very critical of others indeed, he was biting in his criticism. I found that after I was with him for a while, I felt polluted in mind and heart.’ Now imagine that. ‘I am not sure how to even express how I felt. I just knew that it was not good for my soul to be with him so, over time, I allowed our friendship to die. I did confront him about one issue but to no avail.’

See, he didn’t see the plank in his own eye and quite often in matters theological I’ve seen people falling out about trivia and then dismissing people wholly because of that one point of difference and quite often they don’t see that they have a real problem in the way they’re criticizing others.

Now, if we move on in this passage, there is some salutary teaching about how and when we should apply judgment. ‘Do not give dogs what is sacred. Do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces.’ When we’re passing judgment on people, we need to be aware that we need discernment and to be aware of context. There are times, places, contexts in which judgment or a word in season, is timely, required and right, but there are other occasions when it is not appropriate to start lecturing others about their faults or whatever they do. Various commentators have discussed the pearls here. Some relate it to the preaching of the Gospel that there are certain contexts in which you don’t go, if you’re being mocked and so on. I don’t really take that one. I think that what is being said here is that we have, if we have good things to say to people, wise things, things that will steer them through their problems, then there are places and times when it is appropriate to say them. Times when it’s not. If you’ve got pearls, use them wisely.

Pearls and pigs? Well, I was brought up with pigs and I knew a lot about pigs and many a time I prepared their food in a great big boiler. They liked potatoes, they liked oatmeal, they liked whatever you could give them. And you brought it along to them and as soon as they got it they would rush to get it and put their foot down like that to keep the other pig out. One would keep the other, elbowing all the time, and they absolutely loved their foot. But imagine coming to them with a bucket full of pearls? I don’t think the pigs would have been at all happy and this is what the passage here is about, if I see, if I understand it correctly, and I may not. If you throw your pearls to pigs, they may trample them under their feet. And you have to be aware that dogs don’t want them either, from time to time. Be very careful with dogs. So, there are warnings here.

And we live in a world today where we have to be extremely wise about how we handle people. Never has there been more in the way of sensitivity. My mother used to talk about people who had, who had hides like a rhinoceros and you couldn’t get through to them. She wasn’t talking about me I know that. But nowadays the problem is that we’re all thin-skinned, or quite a lot of us are, and we are very sensitive to criticism. It’s a difficult world. And also the ethical and moral dilemmas with which we have to deal are very, very sensitive and hard. Never has it been harder. There was a time when black was black, white was white but now, we live in a very, very much in a grey area and we have to find our way through in a God honoring, God glorifying manner so that we are effective. Sometimes, if we are not wise, what we get back is (a punch) and we have to watch it, be very, very careful. And discernment’s at the heart of this. We’ve got to know who the dogs are. We’ve got to know when, or in the context of pigs, we’ve got to be able to distinguish them from pink unicorns or whatever. I’ve got to use this and be very, very wise, with God’s grace and God’s help. A hard-hadt world.

And just imagine if you threw the law about in a bullying way. Suddenly you pulled something out of the law book and said Stop! How would people react? In a very, very difficult world, such wisdom is needed. God-given. And I think particularly of lawyers who work to maintain Christian values in the kind of society that we live in today. They’ve got to judge. They can’t leave it, and the judges and the courts have to judge and the society we live in is just so difficult.

We have to be light to folks, but we also have to be salt, and we have to know what context we need the salt. We can’t just throw the salt in wherever. No! That doesn’t work. That leaves bitterness. It leaves a bad taste. But if we know when to drop in a little particle or two of salt as required, it helps and sometimes, later down the line, we discover that that particle has indeed gone in and it has begun to do its transforming work. People, you think, weren’t listening, completely closed to your advice, they come back and say to you ‘I was very grateful for that word.’ A word in season, in the right place, at the right time. And so, discernment goes through this passage all the way. When you look at this passage – I’m not going to go into all of it today, I don’t have the time, and I was very grateful to Judith Norton for taking on the theme of asking, seeking, knocking again, – you see the wisdom here, the question of discernment, even when we ask God for something do we know what we’re asking for. We’ve got to be persistent. Ask, seek and then knock. That we have to know what we’re asking for. We struggle with what I sometimes call and others call, the age of entitlement. When people think they should have everything. We get infected by the spirit of the age. As I was saying earlier, it affects judgment, it affects how we do things, but this sense of entitlement that lots of people are and then they go to God and suddenly their prayers they realize the prayer wasn’t answered, they pick a quarrel with God. It’s very easy to do it, very easy to do it. How many of us have not done it and said God ‘Why didn’t you give me this, that and the next thing’ and this passage warns us about that sort of attitude. ‘If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly father give good gifts to those who ask him?’ This spirit of discernment, we need it when we’re judging, we need it when we’re praying for ourselves, we need it in every aspect of life and we should be people who are distinguished for clear judgment, words in season, prayers that are appropriate for ourselves and for others.

And in all of that we’re asked to persevere, even in our judgments. I think we should, if we’re wise enough, and we know when to put in the salt, we know when to apply the word in season, then we should persevere in that. We shouldn’t just say ‘Oh, nobody’s listening. God’s not listening.’ No, that’s not the way it works and that’s not what this passage is saying.

It’s a sobering passage my friends, and few of us really measure up. The number of times I’ve judged others and I’m just as bad myself. I stand condemned by this passage. How do we solve the problem?

Well, we do so by removing the plank to give us greater wisdom as we judge and as we pray. And how do we remove the plank? Well, the answer is to go to God and ask Him to remove it.

A good friend of mine the Reverend Dr. Don Carson has written this ‘The kingdom of heaven requires poverty of spirit, purity of heart, truth, compassion and non-retaliatory spirit. A life of integrity. And we lack all of these things then, let us ask for them. Such asking, when sincere and humble, is already a step of repentance and faith. For it is an acknowledgement that the virtues the Kingdom requires you do not possess and that these same virtues, only God can give.’ I’m sure Don could have added, clarity of spiritual vision, to the list and I think he could also have added the plank. We all need a plank removed somewhere along the line and when we remove it, and when we act like this, we behave as members of the kingdom. The golden rule of not doing to others what you wouldn’t like them to do to you, it’s not because you want them to,, you know scratch your back because you’ve scratched theirs, no ,it’s because you are living within the rules of the Kingdom of God and Jesus says in this passage that such an ethical code fulfills the law and the prophets and that’s what He said He was doing in the Sermon on the Mount and what He Himself was doing.
It’s a searching passage, my friends. It applies to me first and foremost and I leave you to think about it yourself. Not comfortable, but God give us, in this age in which we live, a responsible, sensitive awareness of when we can say things, judge correctly, apply the judgment and help others so that, they too, when they see us operating, will seek the Kingdom of God,


The Inner Room- Tacking (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 2nd February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no Powerpoint pdf accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Act 15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody and welcome to our Tuesday night input here on our Youtube Channel for Brightons Parish Church kind of dubbed it The Inner Room. Wasn’t really sure what else to call it to be honest, because tonight is a little bit different from what we’ve done on other occasions, and it’s a bit like, I guess, a mini message, but at the same time I hope it to be have a little bit of a kind of bible teaching element

and as well, as just a little bit more of sharing, I guess, what’s going on inside me about what maybe the Lord has been saying to me, or what I think He’s saying

and so, I kind of just want to share a little bit from the heart. I in that way I just want this to be kind of a safe space and a place where it’s just that “inner room”. It’s the kind of an inner sanctuary, the safe place where I’ve been able to be real and honest, in one way or another with you, So, The Inner Room.

If it ever happens again it might get a new name, but I had to come up with something so that’s what I came up with.

Welcome, anyway, to this time together and it’s really great to have you. Please do say HI! if you’re there on the live chat, and have the means to do so, and if you’re listening back to this on a recording or on a telephone, thanks as well for putting in the time to tune in and have a listen or watch to this particular video.

So, tonight, as I say, is meant to be a little bit of a heart-to-heart, a little bit of sharing from the Scriptures.

I guess, what has led to this has been a journey for me over the last well six to eight weeks. I guess it started before Christmas and I think was prompted a little bit by being aware that towards the end of January I’d be coming up to the end of my second year, going into third, and there are developments on the go with the Braes Hub and there are lots of changes coming for us as a Congregation, as an area, Even things being planned or put on hold because of Covid, and lots of different things, kind of on the go, and so, I guess, it got me in a bit of a reflective mood, thinking “I wonder what is next Lord?”, because what’s been really encouraging for me is to be able to look back over the last two years and see some of what we’ve changed, what we’ve done differently, some the impacts that we’ve had in different places.

If you want in the live chat and feel free to put up things that you see or you’re aware of, for what you would give thanks to God for.

The things that come to mind for me are seeing people come to faith – I’ve been so encouraged by that one guy who got in touch recently saying he came to faith during one of the sermons in January – someone came to faith during the Alpha Course – we saw other people come to faith along the way in previous year’s Alpha Course and different things like that.

I am so encouraged when people say “I have chosen to follow Jesus” and that’s great to see, because not every Church is seeing that. It’s a great encouragement.

I’m encouraged also that and we’ve made some changes in some of our identity and things.

So, we’ve said part of what our Purpose is to “invite, encourage and enable all ages to follow Jesus Christ” It’s really clear, it’s really bold, and it’s really deliberate, and it’s really biblical, So, I’m super excited about where that might take us on a journey together,

and as part of that we’ve also said well here are four Values that go with this, that kind of put some flesh on the bones, and that kind of say well this is part of our DNA. We know what our Purpose is but what’s also part of our DNA, what’s some of the essence of Brightons and where we’re going within that broad purpose, and so we have our four Values and it’s been great fun just to tune into to that, to talk it through with the Teams and the different Teams we have in our Kirk Sessions and Deacons Court, as well as to hear people’s hopes and dreams for 2021.

We’ve also started the Pastoral Groupings, and that’s a big change for us moving from the Pastoral District to the Pastoral Groupings, There’s many more besides.

A Scripture Union group starting up at Wallacestone and the input in classes picking up again and since Murdo’s time, I know that he did that,

and there have been lots of things like Belong starting in the last two years – and Yes, okay, we’ve not been able to continue that and lockdown, like many things, but it got started. It gave us a flavor of things.

I was so encouraged just before we went into lockdown that we had our first Sunday morning where we had Prayer Ministry in the morning Service. I thought that was a huge step for us and it felt like we were in a good place as a Church family, because I didn’t feel like people were thinking or feeling “Not sure about this, Scott!” because I remember two years ago and I was asking you to respond to the Word and I did some things that were a wee bit out-there, even for me to be honest! A few of you, or probably a lot of you, were like “I’m not sure about this!” but a year on you allowed me to lead you into Prayer Ministry, and about six or seven people came forward that morning to be prayed for in the morning Service, about some really personal things and that’s just amazing! Amazing!

There’s much more besides and you can feel free, as I say, to put some things up in the live chat that’s encouraged you.

So, I’ve kind of been reflecting a little bit on the last two years and thinking about some of what’s been achieved, but there was a growing sense within me that there’s something else around the corner, and Yes we’ve done all these things, Yes we’ve seen Huddle start, an initiative through the discipleship team and you’ll hear more about that in the coming weeks so, listen out for Huddle, but my sense was there was something more, that and there’s more around the corner for us as a Congregation and part of what I want to share tonight is around that.

This is unscripted, other than some bullet points and notes, so we’ll see what comes but before we get into that before we turn to God’s Word let’s pray okay, let us pray.

My God and Heavenly Father, we do give You thanks for all that we’ve seen of You in the last two years that, even in the midst of lockdown and a pandemic, Lord, you’ve been at work in us and through us, and before this time, Lord, before this season, You were at work in ways that were great and so worthy of praise. And so, we want to lift our voice up and glorify You and give You the thanks and the honour.
But Lord, we’re on a journey, we’re on a journey together. That’s part of one of our Values of being Family – community journeying together towards wholeness – Lord, we’re never complete this side of heaven, so there’s always more, there’s always a next step, there’s also always something around the corner.
So, as I share, Lord, from Your Word and what you’ve been, I think, saying to me, Lord, give us ears to hear You, let me help us to hear You. As John said, John the Baptist, “May the speaker decrease and Jesus of Nazareth increase”, for we do say and pray all this for His glory and in His name, Amen.

So, if you will turn with me in your Bible, whether hardback or electronic, to Acts chapter 15, Acts chapter 15.

Prior to this point the Church has been going through phenomenal growth. Peter’s had that vision where how this has led him to Cornelius’s house the church has grown Peter’s miraculous escape from prison Barnabas and Paul have been sent off on a missionary journey and they’ve seen God do incredible things, and the Church has grown in different places and then they come back and to him to Antioch and they’ve spent quite a bit of time there and so, chapter 15 verse 1 we read this:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

And then we’re going to jump on to verse 24:
Prior to this in the in between time they’ve done a report and there’s been lots of debate and conversation and then James gets up and he says in response to this that and he thinks they should do certain things and say certain things to the believers in Antioch, and other areas, who have come from a Gentile background and so they decide to write a letter and what we’re about to read is part of that letter, verse 24:

“We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:”

and then detail some things and say Farewell, well and send these gentlemen off back down to Antioch with the letter and it brings great encouragement to the people if you read on into verses 13 and 31 so, Amen and thanks be to God for this reading from His Word.

I came across this passage as I was reading a book about discerning the will of God together. It’s by a lady called Ruth Haley Barton and I’d encourage you to have a look at it. It’s a phenomenal read in quite a revolutionary way really of doing discernment as a congregation. A lot to share. Not something you could implement straight away. I think it would take some time, months if not years, to get to that place as a community where you could put it fully into practice, but it gave me quite a bit of food for a thought.

And she points out in her book that in this passage, that circumstances arise which God utilizes for the furtherance of His mission, for the spread of the Gospel, for the building up of His Church, and it arises in the midst of a very difficult situation, even conflict, and yet it’s used, and it’s in the midst of that, and trying to decide how to respond, and what’s next, what’s the right way.

We were thinking about, in Jim’s preaching on Sunday, what is the way of Jesus? They were trying to think, what is the way of Jesus for these Gentile believers? and so they discuss and, I presume they pray as well, because in their letter and I think it’s also there in the earlier passage which we skipped over we get this these words “it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, I just think that’s incredible what they say. They have real sense that the Holy Spirit was teaching them, leading them, in that way and in the way of Jesus and guiding them in that moment.

I and Ruth Haley Barton says that we come across many situations in life, in Church life, where something arises, and we discuss, and we pray, and we wrestle about it, and, in the midst of that, God does something that we might discern the mind of Christ together, and move forward in His way and into His purposes for us,

and my sense is that we are coming into a season of trying to discern some of that, or at least I am, but I think it will involve many of us, or that should involve many of us. I’m not quite sure what that will look like or be like but I’m excited about it!

I was listening to a podcast and went out walking Hector, I think maybe during my Christmas break, and it’s a leadership podcast – really helpful – but, actually, this particular episode, was from early on in the pandemic maybe the Summer time, I’m not exactly sure, maybe June/July time, but in that podcast the speakers talk about how even at that stage the pandemic was what they called an accelerator and a revealer, an accelerator and a revealer, and what they were meaning by that was the onset of the pandemic has accelerated certain things, for example it’s accelerated the use of Zoom and virtual communication, and has accelerated issues within the NHS or within us as a nation, and even as a world, it has accelerated within the Church, it has changes too.

That we went online and I can remember having conversations with our IT guys, I said Well we eventually get to that in four or five years time! and not knowing what was around the corner, and I’m sure you can think of other things that have been accelerated – if you want put it up in the live chat.

It’s also been a revealer. It has revealed where we’ve maybe put our trust and, for the Church, has it really been in God? or has it only been in the good times. It has maybe revealed the insecurity of life or the fragility of life. Has maybe revealed just how insecure certain structures are within our nation and across our nations.

So much has been accelerated and revealed and, again if there are things revealed that could pop up for you then please do again share it in the live chat.

And what Barton was saying, what these folks were saying in the podcast, and I think tied-up together in Acts chapter 15 here, that things are revealed for the Church here. Revealed that there’s a kind of change needed and it’s really interesting that in Acts chapter 10 the Disciples already knew that things were permitted and certain practices were to go, and when Paul & Peter got that revelation from God by the Holy Spirit and went to Cornelius’s house, and the Gentiles came into the faith, and things have been revealed but I’m not sure exactly how much change.

Yes, Paul and Barnabas went out but they hadn’t pinned down, they hadn’t made some decisions yet, and that lack of communication, the lack of decision, the lack of kind of concreteness, ushered in some of these issues, and so, it kind of accelerated change, accelerated the need for a decision.

I think it also revealed that need to make a decision. It also revealed what were to be the Church’s priorities for Gentile believers. They hadn’t pinned that down before, they hadn’t pinned down What are we going to pass on from our Jewish roots to these new believers, and they were still wrestling with those things. They hadn’t figured it all out and so, there were things revealed. There are things accelerated in that story, and, as I say, this time of pandemic has accelerated and revealed things for us.

But, I wonder what’s next because?

Hopefully, at some point this year in the not too distant future, we will be able to return to worship in person,


I wonder whether we will seek to simply just return to what was and, remember that sermon where I quoted the Moderator the Church of Scotland, and he said we all yearn to get back to normal and he kind of questioned Why do we yearn to get back to normal, when normal was Church membership going off a cliff in churches without children. And then I don’t think it was that sermon but I think it was a Tuesday Evening Sermon in December, if you didn’t see it maybe go back and have a look, where I talked about the Brightons situation that, Okay, Yeah, we’ve seen people come to faith and we do have a number of contacts with children and families, but if you look at our demographics we are declining. Even within Brightons our membership is going down compared to what it was. Our demographic is getting older and if you look five, ten years down the road, unless things change dramatically, we’re gonna have some really tough times, and we’re going to have to think about what are we going to stop doing, because we just can’t sustain what we are doing just now. And so, maybe again, that’s part of why I was thinking What’s next Lord? You’ve taken us this far, we’ve reached this stage together what’s next?

and I don’t have an answer to tha.t I don’t know what you expect of my leadership as the Minister.

I’m certainly not what you’ve maybe had before, clearly. You’re certainly not what you maybe hoped or expected for.

I’m not someone that’s going to steady the ship. I’m probably going to rock the boat more often than not, because that’s what I think is needed in the Church just now nationally, never mind just here in Brightons. But I hope, within that rocking, I can also be a catalyst.

I talked with the Nominating Committee, I think, about wanting to be a catalyst, that, rather than being the answer-man, I would be a catalyst, kind of question-man.

and again I was influenced by a book I read called Canoeing the Mountains, and the Elders have read a good chunk of that along with our Deacons, and we’ve not finished it yet, we might come back to that at some stage, who knows, but it’s been almost a year since we last dipped into that together, but that book again influenced that kind of way of thinking and I find great freedom in that, that I don’t have to have the answers myself, that this can be a team effort, a family effort, a community effort, that we all you all have a place to play in us, and I can act as a catalyst alongside the Kirk Session and the Team Conveners and the different groups that we have in the ministries we have within the congregation. So, you’re not going to get from me a grand vision – Oh, this is the vision for the next year or the next five years, you’re not gonna get that from me. Sure, you’ll get some principles and foundations which is probably in part what has led to our Purpose and Values but I didn’t come up with all that on myself, again it was a team effort, and it was taken to the Kirk Session and unanimously voted on by the Kirk Session, that these should be our Purpose and Values.

So, I want to be a leader that enables and champions ideas, rather than the one has to come up with all the ideas.

Nevertheless, I do think as part of that catalyst part of my job is listening out to the Lord so that both in the preaching and in other ways of leadership and influence, I can be part of kind of steering us forward. Because in crisis, not just in the pandemic, but let’s be honest folks, as a Church, as the Church in Scotland, not just the Church of Scotland but the Church in Scotland, we’re in crisis largely, falling numbers, as I say in bits and pieces and again in this podcast I was listening to, he said it is tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar, in times of crisis, rather than pivot or innovate.

So, in crisis, it’s tempting to hold on to what makes you feel secure and what is familiar rather than pivot or innovate, and I know places that have Churches that have really struggled in this time and Yes, we all have, but in some ways, they’ve struggled more because their ministers their members have not been able to innovate and or pivot in these times,

and the sense of isolation is much greater than what we have, and I think folks are so hungry, much more than we might be, hopefully, because we’ve been able to do certain things and provide certain things. We haven’t got it perfect clearly, there’s always things we can do better,

But I think this is in my thinking because this crisis makes us want to turn in and feel safe, and I wonder what happens later on in the year when we get back and Yes there’ll need to be a time of coming together, of being family, of reconnecting and of celebrating that, and valuing that, but the danger would be that we then get comfortable again and don’t look at what we need to be looking at, and even in this time now, to be looking out and I’m thinking “Well where next God? Where next?

and in all of this, just last week actually, I believe it was only last week, and I was sitting in this chair, I just read the bit, I think it was Mark, final chapter of Mark wasn’t it last Monday and I knew it was my Spiritual Director the next day and I thought he’s going to ask me if I’ve been spending some time in prayer and listening to the Lord, which is an exercise that I do every so often, and sometimes I’ll maybe get a picture or maybe get a phrase that’ll come to mind, and it’ll really help with my leadership. Actually, of late, it’s been really helpful for leadership. He can speak in other ways but I find, most often, nice speaking, into me about leadership,

and so, like the last two years there’ve been different things for my three or four months block so, I had my Bible reading, jotted down my thought or my prayer for the day, as I encouraged you in the Mini Message. I thought Right, I’m gonna spend some time preparing to see God says anything and he did! Surprise, surprise!

and I normally get a picture but this time it was more a phrase, and the phrase was “It’s time to tack” and I knew it was about sailing and tacking and I didn’t really know why this had come to mind.

At first I thought God was correcting me and that’s a bit of my own insecurity that I think as a young leader I’m till guessing half the time. I’m probably, like most ministers even with 30 years experience, probably still feel that they’re guessing, but I definitely feel that I’m guessing half the time, and that’s experimentation, and it’s life of faith and all that,

but Yeah, it kind of feels like I’m guessing half the time and with guesses can come wrong things, and Imake mistakes, and I have made mistakes in the last two years, and so I thought I’ve done something wrong, He’s correcting me. It’s time to tack. It’s time to change direction. It’s like What have I done wrong? What needs to change? but I decided to do some a searching on Youtube, actually, we’re all on Youtube aren’t we to some degree or another? and you get some nonsense on there, but I went looking for tacking, because I didn’t really know anything about tacking at all.

But I watched a couple of short videos about tacking and about the physics of sailing and some really startling and interesting things came up!

So, tacking is when the boat changes direction so as to be able to keep moving forward in a particular rough direction. So, if you’re wanting to go that way, you’re kind of tacking different angles to keep going in the rough direction but you’re cutting across and the rough path, so that you’re doing a kind of zig-zag to eventually get there,

but what’s interesting with tacking is, you’re sailing into the wind which I didn’t know you could do, like sailing into the wind just sounds mental, How is that even possible? but apparently it is, it’s apparently possible because the boat has a keel and forces and vectors, apparently, apply and the result of that is that you go forward!

A couple of things that jumped out to me that people said:

you can actually go forward faster than the speed of the wind when you tack. So, you’re going into the wind but because you’re going at a particular angle and all the forces and physics that are involved, you can actually go faster than the wind. I find that crazy! And you can go faster than the wind being blowing behind you. Which I just thought was really startling!

What other things kind of jumped out at me and just the general idea that it’s into the wind, faster than the wind, and it’s still going in a rough direction. You’re keeping your course but you’re changing slightly so as to catch more of the wind, and because you’ve maybe run out of distance, you’re getting near the shore, or you just need to change direction slightly, so it’s not actually about having done something wrong, it’s about keeping your course, but catching the wind so that you can do that, and you can maintain kind of maximum speed almost, and so, when thinking about this, talking about a few others, the sense of that it’s about aligning, it’s about God directing and guiding rather than correcting came to the fore, because he wasn’t seen to change direction completely.

So I think we’ve got our Purpose and Values. We know our overall direction but it’s time to tack, and that will feel difficult because, when you tack then, notes tell me, you go through what’s called the no-go zone.

Basically when you’re turning into the wind and that’s when the sail starts flapping because the wind’s on both sides of it, is not properly catching the sail, and the rigging is swaying a little bit, and you kind of lose a little bit of momentum, but then you keep going round and eventually you get past 45 degrees and you start picking up the wind again, and you go forward, and it sails and the rigging pulls taut, and you go forward in your direction with your crew, and you pick up speed to hopefully travel faster than the wind.

And, this next season, my sense is that there’s a season of perhaps three months maybe more where we need to do that tacking, and it might feel a bit awkward and the sails might flutter a bit, and we’re not really sure what’s happening, and we don’t really feel comfortable.

It was interesting reading a blog about the analogy of tacking with ministry and I’m often encouraged, the encouragement was that’s a time to be still and be in God’s presence, and you know what I’ve been talking about with my Spiritual Director, the need for retreat, the need for solitude, and silence, with God, and to grow in that discipline, and just how many things can come together at the one time – I was just blown away!

and so, I feel like God was just saying, It’s time to tack! and it’s funny, I had been talking to the Kirk Session back in December and thinking Well, I’m not quite sure when next I’ll share with them directly so I’ll give them their New Year’s message before Christmas, and the message was there’ll be more change on the horizon and who was to know that God would give this Word at this time to tack, that in my reading I would come across Acts 15, that in my time off I would listen to a podcast talking about this time being an accelerator and a revealer, and in times of crisis we want to buckle down and feel safe, but actually we need to pivot, we need to tack, we need to innovate, and just all that’s coming together,

and I want you to know where I’m at as your minister, as your leader, and some of you will find that really hard because you want a pastoral leader, you want to be made to feel safe, and there are times when I can do that and do do that, there are times when I bring a measure of encouragement, or try to at least, but we also need to pivot. We need to tack, we need to innovate. We’re not out of this as a Church, Yeah, we’re not out of our time of crisis even when the pandemic goes away, we still are faced with the situation that our membership numbers are going off a cliff. We’re barely seeing anyone come to faith, numbers of children are dropping, it’s going to be even harder. Younger people and children have been away from Church and Church groups for so long – Will they come back? – who knows. Will the adults that we’ve been reaching out to come back? Who knows.

So, it’s not time, I don’t think, to buckle down and feel safe. It’s time to tack, and we do that together.

As I say I’m not going to be your answer-man. I’m not going to come up with a grand plan. We need to do this together.

What does that look like? Here’s a couple of ideas:

I was chatting with some folks recently kind of about the bits and pieces of this and one part of the conversation led to send to someone You know if you’ve got ideas and you want to contribute to the life of the Church, then get involved in some of the Teams and in the Church, and I think that’s an avenue If you want to help shape the life of the Church, if there’s something that’s bugging you, or if you see that there’s an opportunity, then get involved in the Teams of the Church and those teams.

There are teams on the Kirk Session: Pastoral Care, Discipleship, Community Outreach and Up-and- Coming which looks after the under-25s. Information about all those Teams is on our website on the Get Involved page. So, go and have a look there.

There are also Teams within Deacons Court: Communications, Property, Finance and a few other minor pieces, but those are the kind of major teams. Maybe you could lend some of your support there, to help us move forward.

So, or it might not be one of those bigger Teams. It might be a team that reports to one of those teams for example the Sunday School Leaders Team

or it might be within, as I was saying recently, your Pastoral Grouping. Remember I talked about this recently in a sermon. Getting involved there, speaking to your Elder and saying How could I play a part in this Pastoral Grouping? Are there some people that I could phone or I could visit? And are there ways that we could be together?

My Pastoral Grouping and one of the people said
Well in a previous existence in time we had this thing where we would do like a kind of trip around people’s houses and share one course together and then you’d move on to someone else’s house for the next course

Clearly we can’t do that just now but let’s have a Zoom call, and an hour of fun, and we’ll do a quiz, and maybe do some games, and bits and pieces, and there was quite a few a party cracker jokes, Christmas cracker jokes. It was a great hour! Someone else’s idea, largely organized by other people, and I just facilitated it, and it was such an encouragement to be together, and I have a sense within my pastor of grouping that we’re becoming a bit like a kind of mini family within this wider family of the Brightons family. I’m really enjoying seeing just how that’s kind of growing.

Maybe you could lend your time and your love and your gifts there, if it’s not part of one of the wider teams.

Another idea for you is that hopefully you’ve watched the video from the start of the year, I think it was the second week in January, where we shared some hopes for 2021 from different people, and maybe there’s some stuff that’s resonated there, for you. I’ve certainly taken notes of things to pursue potentially, pursue the year ahead, but you might, you may have a hope for 2021. We couldn’t ask everybody. So, get in touch, send a message to our Facebook page or drop us an email, and say Hey, I was listening to this message and Scott invited us to share one hope around one of the values maybe, and this is what I hope for in 2021,

and clearly if it’s the same as what’s been repeated in that video, there might be no need to email, but if there was something different, or else you wanted to add to someone’s idea, again, drop us an email saying this is one of my hopes for 2021 for the Brightons Church family, and again we take that on board,

and I’m not saying that we’ll pursue all these ideas but it’s starting to do that discernment together of What does it mean to tack? Where is God calling us to tack in these coming months that we might be ready to catch the wind as we come out of restrictions, and hopefully come back together.

Yes, we’ll come back, and we’ll celebrate, and we’ll love seeing each other. I really miss you, I miss you all. I miss that Sunday morning –

one of my favorite points on the Sunday morning was around about half past 10 to 10 to 11, I go around and I talk to people and that people had come early so, if you never got that opportunity you clearly know that you didn’t arrive in time, and for that I’m sure you’re right on time for the service just not in time for me going about, and I really loved that time, it was just a really special time. I’ve missed that. I’ve missed that. Live Chat doesn’t equal it, not everybody’s on there that I would normally talk to at that point. I’ve missed that and I’m looking forward to that starting back as I say.

As many people are saying if we don’t allow God by Sis spirit to work amongst us so that it reveals and accelerates and that, so that we pivot, so that we tack, then we are just gonna run aground or we’re gonna just get comfortable and kind of bunker down or we’re gonna get kind of stuck in that no-go zone and the sails just gonna flutter and we’re gonna lose momentum,

and we really can’t afford to because, we have a community, we have a Parish that needs to know Jesus, needs to know that He’s real and living and active, needs to know the love and grace of God, and we’re called into that ,we’re called to invite others to share, we’re called to encourage one another in the way of Jesus, we’re called to enable all ages, the youngest to the oldest, to follow Jesus, and to know what that means, and to know and play their part.

So, I look forward to the next year, to the next two years and more, and I wonder what’s on the horizon for us next, as we tack,

and there’ll be more tacks along the way, but we’re entering into that season of tacking. Now and I pray that we would have the boldness, and the courage, and the sensitivity that the early Church showed in Acts 15 as well, and then from that see the Church of Jesus flourish in this place, and the Kingdom come like we’ve never known.

May it be so let us pray

My God and Heavenly Father, we thank You that You promised to never leave us nor forsake us, to journey with us by the Spirit. Jesus You promised that Your sheep will hear Your voice and that the Spirit will lead us into truth and into life, that He will reveal You and Your way.

Help us Lord, to be sensitive to the Spirit and to hear what You’re saying to us as a community, to us individually, by Your Word, and in the place of prayer.

Lord, where things have been of me, just pull them away, let them not linger in our hearts and minds, and cause unrest, or lead us in the wrong direction. But where things have been of You Lord, take it deep, keep it safe and bring forth a harvest that would be to Your glory.

Lord, we seek Your way and Your will. Help us to be bold where we need to be bold.

We ask this in and through the name of Jesus, Amen

Friends, thanks for being with us tonight. I realize it’s a bit of a longer message or session than normal, that’s the danger when I don’t have notes or detailed notes, and I just kind of keep going a bit, but I’m excited and passionate about what’s coming. So, hopefully, forgive me in the midst of all that.

It’s been really good to share in this time together. Look forward to our next time and in one way or another, and next week we’ll have Testimony Tuesday, so join us then, as folk share about their faith journey, and various different ways and forms. We’ve got our Thursday Prayer back on Zoom this Thursday as well as well as on our Youtube Channel and then I’m back in preaching this Sunday morning, as we continue in Philippians.

So, as we go from here, the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you, my dear brothers and sisters, this night and forevermore. Amen