The vision is Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 24th December 2023
The sermon text is available as subtitles in the Youtube video (the accuracy of which is not guaranteed). A transcript of the sermon can be made available on request. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 23-12-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 2:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
The vision is Jesus-
– Humility
– Humanity
– Honour
– Harmony

Malachi: honour God

Preached on: Sunday 24th October 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 21-10-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 2:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let us pray.Holy Spirit, please come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, please give to us wisdom and revelation.
Holy Spirit, be present here amongst us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it
in Jesus’ name. Amen.Across the centuries, the church has had to make decisions that have been uncomfortable and sometimes which stood against theology or practice that had become popular. So, for example, in the fourth century when those people were deciding about what material to include in the Bible, they decided not to include the Gospel of Thomas. You can check the index if you like, it’s not there, you didn’t miss it, it wasn’t included. We must assume that because there are copies available still even to see nowadays, we must assume that it had a measure of popularity, that it made the rounds, it was available, maybe people even knew what his content was, never mind that it existed. But those who compiled the Bible decided not to include the Gospel of Thomas because it taught things about Jesus which were contrary to the teaching passed on by the Apostles the church, made a choice, made a choice to follow what God had revealed to follow God’s way rather than these other writings and it did that so as to safeguard its life and its purpose because those other writings would have taken the church down a unhealthy route, ii wrote contrary to God’s teaching, and I would think that by rejecting those other sources they made some people uncomfortable and those decisions might well have been unpopular in their day.

I say this by way of introduction because this coming Tuesday the Presbytery of Falkirk will be meeting as scheduled and the ministers and elders who make up the Presbytery will talk about two important issues. Firstly, a document that would allow ministers to conduct same-sex marriages and secondly, how to go about forming a new mission plan, and a mission plan basically says which buildings are we keeping, which congregations are we keeping, and which congregations are we closing. And, to my mind, we partly have to deal with the second, the issue of decline, because of matters like the first, and to help extend my thinking on that let’s turn to today’s passage.

We’ve just begun the series in Malachi and we know from the previous two weeks that the Lord is sending Malachi to speak to a people He loves, a people He loves so deeply and thoroughly and yet this people they question His love and in questioning His love they have spiraled down into a way of life where they are engaged in practices that are far removed from the ideal set out by God. And so, today’s passage takes us to another one of those areas of life that has gone wrong, and it’s specifically addressed to the Priests. The Lord focuses upon them. So, what’s the issue with them?

Well, the Lord says this to them ‘Now you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen and if you do not resolve to honor My Name, you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble. You have not followed My ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.’ The heart of this portion of Malachi’s prophecy is a charge against the priests, that they have given way to popularity rather than seeking to honor the Lord above all. We’re told at the end there that they’ve shown ‘partiality in matters of the law.’ They’ve shown favoritism, they’ve tried to carry some favor with the people by letting God’s ways, letting God’s law slide. We see here that they’ve courted popularity rather than resolving to honor the Lord above all and, in doing that, they’ve not only turned from the Lord’s ways, they’ve caused others to turn from the Lord’s ways as well, they’ve caused others to stumble, which is a way of saying, they’ve caused others to sin.

Now, maybe you’re thinking ‘Well Scott, it’s addressed to the priests so surely this is aimed at the elders and ministers of today’s church?’ and the elders amongst us might be feeling a bit uncomfortable right now, and I can see why you might think that. You know the Church of Scotland, The General Assembly and the Presbyteries are made up of ministers and elders and their leadership does have an impact on local congregations, but let’s also remember what we read in the New Testament where Peter says ‘but you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, the holy, God’s special possession.’ and the you hear that Peter is addressed to a vast group of people across a vast area of the known world in his day, and so Peter’s saying that every Christian is now a priest in the Kingdom of God. There’s no distinction between individuals like there was in the Old Testament, we are all a royal priesthood and so, when we hear these words of Malachi, they’re relevant for all of us. We’re all to honor God above everything else. We’re all to honor God above popularity and when we make decisions it is God we are to honor rather than doing maybe what’s popular or comfortable.

But maybe you might be wondering ‘Well Scott, why should I bother to honor God? Why should we honor God?’ Well, we could go back to the previous chapter where in those two weeks we thought about the love of God and we thought about the greatness of God. Those are reasons to honor God, but our passage gives us some other reasons to honor God, and to lead us into those other reasons it begins by talking of the discipline of God.

We read earlier ‘I will send a curse on you and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them because you have not resolved to honor me. Because of you I will rebuke your, I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices and you will be carried off with it.’ Hard words! Hard words to hear hard words to explain. There’s part of me thinking ‘Why did I pick this book at times?’ and that’s very honest. They’re meant to be startling words. They are meant to make the original people very uncomfortable because, let’s remember, this is a people who have grown cold and hard towards God and the priests in particular have grown in pride and self-sufficiency such that it’s led them into wickedness, and so, God uses a range of language and warnings to break through to His people and to break through to His priests in this passage because sometimes only such language, only such a denunciation, will pierce our hard hearts, our sinful hearts.

And so, God begins by saying He is sending a curse but in the original Hebrew the wording here is actually the curse and if you look at most other English translations it more accurately shows that, the curse. Because when you and I think about a curse we often think about witches and such like – don’t we, think about Harry Potter and bits and pieces but God when He’s speaking here is not speaking of a curse in that sense, He’s not speaking of a bad spell, it’s not something evil done to another, it’s not done for impure motives because when God entered into a covenant relationship with His people, a covenant that was akin to a marriage relationship. He wrote out both the good that they would receive when they obeyed Him, as well as the discipline they would receive when they disobeyed Him and the people said ‘Yes, we accept these terms.’

Now God on the discipline side of things has several layers and so he worked up the layers depending on what they did. He didn’t start right at the top because He’s not capricious. He’s not vengeful, and this is the people He loves but He calls His people to a certain way of life. He calls them to be holy as He is holy and so when they wander from His ways, He promises to discipline them, to bring them back into His way and He does it for good reasons which we will come to. So this curse that He’s talking about here it’s not a spell, it’s not something done in vengeance, it’s not done with bad intent, it’s about Godly discipline and so when He says ‘I will curse your blessings’ this probably means and it’s probably in reference to the food the priests received. Because let’s remember the priests did not have a land of their own, they did not have a means of farming or having produce, and so, because the Lord was their portion, and so what happened is, part of the sacrifice was given to the priests so that they would have food provided for them, and the rest would be used as a sacrifice to the Lord. And as last week’s passage reminded us, the priests were saying to the people ‘It’s okay to give substandard offerings’ and that would then have an impact on the priests because if they’re receiving substandard offerings then in their cupboard is going to be substandard, there’s going to be less and it’s not going to be as good food. There’s not going to be as bountiful provision in their cupboards and that’s simply how God is going to curse their blessings. He doesn’t have to do anything else/ It doesn’t cast a spell or whatever else. He just allows their poor choices to impact their life and their lives will be all the poorer for their choices and that’s how God is going to discipline them. Likewise when He says here that He’s going to ‘rebuke your descendants’ it’s about discipline because God is wanting to clean up the worship of His people and so rebuking has descent, their descendants is a way of God saying He’s not going to allow these priests and the generations after them to continue serving Him as priests. He’s going to sweep away these evil priests and those that might follow in their footsteps and I’m partly led to that conclusion by what comes next. This bit about ‘dung’ and the sacrifices.

So, what’s that all about? Because it feels pretty hard. And again, context is key here. As we know, the sacrifices were animals. Animals have internal organs. One of those internal organs and part of the thing is going to be a digestive system and so, when an animal is sacrificed, in that digestive system is going to be undigested food and God had said that that part of the sacrifice was not worthy of being given to the Lord and it had to be removed before the sacrifice was given. We might say the offal for shorthand, and so the offal was removed and it was taken outside the camp or the city and it kind of formed a dung heap, and God had said in the Old Testament that anyone who came into contact with that, anyone who would be involved in taking it away, became unclean, at least for a while, and by being unclean they could not come near to the Lord in the tent of meeting or at the temple. They were barred from that place. Now we might find the language here quite difficult to swallow and so did the people of the day and following descendants. We know this because there’s an Aramaic translation of the Old Testament called the Targum and the people who wrote that actually rewrote the wording here to get away with the offensive metaphor. They didn’t like it, even centuries after God had said it but let’s remember, God’s not capricious, He’s not vengeful, and so He’s using a metaphor here, a very striking metaphor, we must admit, but He’s using a metaphor to spell out what is coming their way, to spell out a picture to them and what He’s saying is very akin to our modern-day phrase of someone having ‘egg on their face’. We know that phrase, someone having egg on their face, they don’t literally have egg on their face but it’s a way of capturing a meaning. Well what Malachi says, here is a fifth century BC equivalent of our modern day saying. What God is trying to get across is this idea that He views these priests as unholy, as unclean, and so they are going to be barred from the place of worship, they’re going to be barred from God’s presence and because of that they can’t continue as priests at least for a while and by all intents I think God is saying, as long as they don’t repent. He’s basically going to remove them from office and that too is part of God’s discipline, He is going to discipline them. He’s going to do that for good reasons to safeguard something.

So, what is God trying to safeguard? Well three things: His person or name; His people: and His purposes. God says in verses two and five that He’s going to discipline the people, the priests, because they have not honored His name, and then in verse 5 He says that the good priest, the priest who He admires, is the one who reveres God and stands in awe of God’s name.

Now maybe we were wondering ‘What’s all this about a name? Why is that so important?’ Well let’s remember that in the scriptures a name is tied to a person’s character and reputation, so a priest who doesn’t honor God’s name is a priest who holds God in contempt, as a priest who belittles God and that’s a problem for so many reasons. We’ve seen some of the reasons in the earlier chapter of Malachi but I think there’s another reason that we have to consider.

Only when we honor God rightly do we order our lives rightly. Only when we honor God rightly do we order our lives rightly. And so, we make right choices and I could give you any number of examples but let me pick something that is very much on our radar probably from press and such like. We know that COP26 is coming up, we’re having to have such a thing because we have global warming and for decades and centuries human beings have pretty much done what they wanted and abused the planet as they wanted. We’ve taken it very much for granted but if you go back to Genesis 1 and 2 What does God say to do? Steward the earth, look after it but humanity in general with pretty much, including the church at times, ignored God. We’ve pretty much said ‘We’ll do what we want and God you can take a hike.’ We have not honor God rightly and so we have not ordered our lives rightly, and we’ve made some poor choices and we’re facing the consequences of that. When we honor God rightly we there are in a better place to order our lives rightly, and from that comes better choices and better living and God is disciplining His people here so as to safeguard His name so that He’s honored properly and part of the reason for that is for our benefit.

The Lord also seeks to discipline His people, to safeguard, to safeguard His people because the priests as we saw have been showing partiality. There’s been injustice and so He does it to safeguard His people but He also does it to safeguard His purposes and at first that’s not very obvious in the passage but in verse 5 He says that He is entered into a covenant so as to bring life and peace or in the Hebrew life and shalom which we know from week one means life and wholeness and so, partly, God is about protecting His purposes of bringing life and wholeness and that is not only for the people themselves, it’s not only for Israel, because we know from chapter 1 verse 2 that Israel, Jacob, has been chosen by God to accomplish something, to bring blessing for the world and we could go back to other chapters like in Genesis chapter 12 where God said to Abraham ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’ What they received from the Lord was not just for them, it was meant to flow out to others, to the wider world and so God is seeking to protect the purpose He has for His people, Because, how can His people be a light to the nations when they are rejecting the light He has given through the law? How can they be that light? And so, as to safeguard His purposes, He disciplines His people.

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well Scott, this is a nice history lesson. This is nice detail. I’m sure it would be a great lecture at Bible college or something, but really, what does this have to do with today?’ Well, we might then ask the question – Does God still discipline today? Does God still discipline today? Does he still seek to safeguard His person, His people and His purposes today? Will he allow our poor choices to impact us today? Might he even seek to remove that which is not honoring of Him in our time?

So, let’s turn to the New Testament and in the book of Hebrews we read this ‘have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son?’ It says my son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline and do not lose heart when He rebukes you because the Lord disciplines the one He loves and He chastens everyone He accepts as His son. There’s more verses you can go on to read, just after that little portion, but it gives you a flavor of the passage. God does discipline His people, even today.

So, going back to my introduction and talking about the issues that are coming up at Presbytery this week, on the one hand we have a discussion about a practice that has no biblical support whatsoever, and on the other, we have a discussion about decline. Is it really a coincidence that we’re talking about both issues at the same time? Because, let’s remember, the Lord has called us to a purpose that is beyond our human capacity to do alone, and those who labor without the Lord labor in vain. We need God’s help. But why would ever God bless our labors if we are pursuing ways contrary to His word?
and for many years there have been voices saying that the Church of Scotland is declining because of our waywardness from God’s word. And so, it does raise the question – Is the decline we are facing partly linked to God’s discipline? Is He exercising a form of disciplining us, so as to safeguard His person, His people and His purposes? Maybe he is allowing our poor choices to impact our communal life as a denomination maybe he is even seeking to remove that which is not honoring of him by allowing things to decline and even to close and that’s not easy to hear certainly not easy to say and I’m sure you’re just jumping with enthusiasm right now in your seats as well! It’s a heavy word, it’s a challenging thing to consider and be reminded of, but let’s remember, God does it for good reasons. For good reasons. To safeguard us. To lead us into life and peace. And so, maybe as we take a moment just to pause and take a breath, I wonder – Is there in you a desire also to know? ‘Well, Scott if that’s the case if that’s the case, how then do we honor God? How then do we safeguard God’s person, God’s purposes and God’s people? How do we honor? God above popularity?

And Malachi leads us on because he goes on to speak about Levi who honored God in this way. Malachi says ‘True instruction was in his mouth Levi’s mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness and turned many from sin for the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty’ and people seek instruction from his mouth, the true priest, the true person who honors God is one whose mouth has within it true instruction or in the Hebrew, true Torah, the words of God, the ways of God. What is more, the true priest, Levi, walks with God, walks with God in peace and uprightness, or we might say, he walks in sync with God, his lifestyle is in sync with God.

So, if we want to be a people who honor God, even above popularity, then it must be seen in both our words and in our deeds. This week as I prepared for today a quote that I’d heard a number of years ago in a song came to mind and it’s from an author called Brennan Manning who said ‘The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.’

Now you might disagree with the greatest single cause of atheism but let’s take stock of these words because we’re a church that’s declining, let’s face up to that, and as such it can be tempting to choose ways that are contrary to God’s ways and this isn’t just about same-sex marriage, so please don’t get fixated on that, we could be talking about care for creation and the issue of global warming, as I’ve mentioned today, we could talk about care for neighbor and the issues of gender-based violence which too many of us men write off, we could talk about whether we are willing to share our faith like James did or whether we shrink back and we allow fear, we allow the desire to be liked and to be popular to curb what we do and so maybe, we have never shared our faith or not for a number of years. Every one of these examples has a scriptural basis and if it has a scriptural basis it means it’s important to God, just as much as the more controversial issues, and if we don’t take heed, if we don’t learn to engage with them, then we’re living contrary to God’s ways and so as Manning puts it we would be Christians who acknowledge Jesus with our lips here on a Sunday and we sing some lovely songs ‘Oh look at us, we’re very religious.’ and then we go out there the rest of the week and because we just forget what God says, we deny Him with our lifestyle and the wider world thinks Jesus is not important ‘Why should I bother with Jesus? He’s just about these Christians are just lip service, and they’re just being very religious and they just write Jesus off.’ But the ways of God are for the good of the world, all the ways of God are for the good of the world, and if we, His church, would learn to honor God more rightly and so order our lives more rightly, then the wider world might be taking a bit more notice of the church, they might think ‘Well, there’s actually something in this Christian faith. There’s actually something about Jesus which I need to find out about.’ And so, we don’t need to resort to being popular or give ground to popular opinion to see the direction of the church change, we just need to honor God.

So, you’re probably grateful you’re not involved in Presbytery conversations this Tuesday night, and that you don’t have to be there for that or say anything, but how is God calling you to honor Him in your life this week? Where are you to honor Him? What have you to stop doing? What have you to start doing? Is there an apology you need to give to someone? Is there a cause you need to find out more about or support or volunteer? In the week ahead, how are you going to honor God such that those around you see that the ways of God are for the good of the world and that following Jesus is more than mere lip service to you? How are you called to honor God this week?

Because I pray that we would take these words to heart, that we would resolve to honor the Lord, walking in His ways and be a people who safeguard His person, His people and His purposes. May it be so. Amen.

Following the path (Passion Wk.1)

Preached on: Sunday 15th March 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 20-03-15-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Sunday 15th March 2020
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.

The metaphor of ‘journeying with God’ is used time and time again in the Scriptures, and often we talk of faith as being a journey. So, it’s this very idea which Luke draws upon as he writes these words in chapter 9: ‘As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.’ (Luke 9:51) Other versions talk of Jesus ‘setting His face to go to Jerusalem.’ With steely resolve, with a clear and fixed understanding of His purpose, Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem.

Earlier in the same chapter, Luke has outlined that Jesus knows His purpose and He knows what is coming:…
Jesus said to His disciples, ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.’ (Luke 9:22)

Jesus knows what lies ahead of Him; He knows with certainty the suffering He will face so as to accomplish the purpose and will of His Father, and to that end Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem, He sets His face.

So, over the coming weeks between now and Easter, we will journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and along the way we will see some of the people He met and explore as well, the teaching Jesus shared along the way. This will give us the opportunity to reflect upon the reaction of people towards Jesus and see if we react similarly…
We’ll also have the opportunity to hear what Jesus taught about being His disciple and weigh up if we are walking in His way today. But primarily, I hope that in this season, as we journey with Jesus towards Jerusalem, we will also see the heart of Jesus, the character of Jesus, and so grow in our own love of Jesus.

Now, this isn’t some nice mental exercise, this isn’t divorced from reality, because what we see of Jesus, what we see of His way and of His calling upon us as His disciples, is relevant for today and for the issues we wrestle with as a church family.

It’s been some time since I’ve mentioned the issue, but we must remember that from this year we will start to see an impact upon our church life as things change within the
Braes area…
Likely I will become Interim Moderator for another Kirk Session on the 1st of July this year, so my available time here in Brightons will reduce. Also, we were meant to have a meeting tomorrow as the Braes Churches to explore some of the issues, but that has been replaced with an alternative process, not because of coronavirus but simply a more participative approach, and in all likelihood, God-willing, there will be a meeting in August when we might need to decide as a group of Kirk Sessions what the future shape of ministry will be in the Braes area. This will ask us to sacrifice things, we will have to give things up, and change from what we’ve known to a model that’s only now beginning to be piloted. What guidance might the way of Jesus and His example have upon our thinking and our planning as we follow His journey towards Jerusalem?
But even within our own congregation we are wrestling with significant issues. The elders are seeking clarity on what our purpose is as a congregation, as well as the values that underpin how that purpose should be worked out amongst us. We need to do this because we don’t have clarity on this, we don’t know what we are about or the manner we seek to accomplish it. And in case that sounds a bit vague, then let me try and make it a bit more concrete.

At present, the Kirk Session have made a plan, Godwilling, to meet on the 31st March for an extra meeting, and we’ll be discussing then the place of children, the place of adults, the idea of us being all generations together and we will seek to come to resolution of this, because we know there are differing perspectives about this matter…
For example, we need to make a plan about the summer services: will they be all age, or will they not? Other than personal preference or who shouts the loudest, we do not have a way to answer that questions, because we are not clear on our purpose and we are not clear on our values, and we’re not even necessarily on the same page about how we do life together as all the generations who make up Brightons Parish Church.

Once again, what guidance might the way of Jesus and His example have upon our thinking and our planning as we follow His journey towards Jerusalem? I don’t really know yet, I don’t have it all planned out, but I know today speaks a powerful word to these very issues and questions.
So, let’s dig into our passage for today. Jesus is resolutely setting out for Jerusalem and He first comes to a Samaritan village. It’s helpful if we know some of the background here. Around the year 700BC, the Assyrian Empire invaded and conquered the northern land of Israel, and Assyria resettled that land with its own people, such that the Jews who were left there intermarried with those of non-Jewish nationality, which brought about a mixed race who became known as Samaritans. They were viewed as “half breeds” by the more “purebred” Jewish people, and in turn the Samaritans developed a hatred for the Jews. Indeed, such was the tension between the two peoples that Jewish travellers would walk around Samaritan territory rather than go through it, even though this would lengthen their trip considerably. To these people, Jesus goes.
But ahead of Him, He sends an advance group, to get ready things for His arrival because at this point it’s not just Jesus and the 12 disciples any more, as Luke chapter 8 reveals, there is now Jesus, the 12 apostles and ‘many others’. Such a large group will need special preparations for accommodation and meals, and so Jesus sends some of the people head.

However, they seem to let slip that Jesus is heading for Jerusalem and the reply they get is that Jesus and His followers are not welcome in the village. We don’t really know why and Luke’s focus is not so much on the response of the Samaritans, but on the disciples’ reaction. James and John, who are brothers, call out to Jesus and ask: ‘Lord, do you want us to call fire down from
heaven to destroy them?’ (Luke 9:54)
There is a degree to which their reaction makes some sense. For example, earlier in chapter 9, we reed that some people thought Jesus was a prophet akin to the prophet Elijah, and everyone knew the stories of Elijah – he was the one who called down fire on Mount Carmel, he was the one who called down fire on enemy soldiers sent to capture him. So, to some degree, we might argue that the reaction from James and John is one of great faith – faith that Jesus is a prophet like Elijah, even greater than Elijah, because enough fire might be sent to burn a whole village!

What is more, Jesus had earlier said in the same chapter, that if people did not welcome the disciples they were to ‘shake the dust off your feet’ and walk away. Maybe, James and John thought they were honouring Jesus even more,…

because not only are they willing to shake the dust of this village off their feet, they are also willing to reduce this village to dust, and surely such a response is fitting when people reject the coming of God in their very midst? In a culture of honour and shame, surely such irreverence towards Jesus demands the strongest of responses? Maybe it was this reaction from the brothers which coined their nickname, ‘the sons of thunder’ (Mark 3:17).

Do you ever feel like James and John? Do you ever get annoyed with the disrespect shown to Jesus? Do you stand up to defend Jesus? Defending His honour, defending His praise, defending His rightful place? Well, James and John were just about to realise how different
Jesus was from Elijah – He might come in the Spirit and… power of Elijah, but these disciples still have much to learn about the way of Jesus, for Jesus ‘turned and rebuked them.’ (Luke 9:55)

He turned – maybe Jesus was already out in front of His disciples, heading for the next village, but here they are, calling Him back, pestering Him with their agenda, with their grand ideas, dictating to Jesus what they thought HE should be doing and how matters of religion should be done. Instead, Jesus rebukes them and they go to another village.

It’s a funny thought, because John is the apostle we so often associate with love, for he wrote, ‘Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.’ (1 John 4:7-8)

And yet, here in Luke, John is advocating anything but love. He still has much to learn about the love of Jesus; he still needs to learn that Jesus, that God, is love and that divine love is full of grace.

Our second reading today, from the letter to the Philippians, spells out for us the depth and nature of the love of Jesus. It’s a love which does nothing out of selfish ambition; it’s a love that looks not to its own interests but to the interests of others; His is a love which made Himself nothing, becoming a servant, and with such humility became obedient to death, even death on a cross. The disciples of Luke chapter 9,…
perceive Jesus to be the promised Messiah, but they expect Him to be the triumphant, all conquering, resistance crushing King of popular opinion, even though Jesus had earlier taught them about love of enemy and that He came to die for the purposes of God. For as Jesus will later say, He came to seek and to save the lost, and to do that by the giving of His life. The way of Jesus is the way of grace, which is so strong, so wide-ranging, so patient, so self-sacrificing that it is surprising, shocking, even scandalous, to the disciples and especially to the religious people of His time.

I wonder: what’s your picture of Jesus? How wideranging, how scandalous, is His grace in your thinking?
And do you show that grace to others?

I remember reading a story one time that is told by a sociologist and pastor called Tony Campolo. In his story, Campolo was traveling to speak in Honolulu, Hawaii. He says that because of jet lag on the first night he got up at 3 o’clock in the morning and went to a nearby restaurant. It wasn’t the most desirable or upscale place you could encounter and when he went in an unshaven cook with a cigar in his mouth asked him what he would like and Campolo asked for a cup of coffee and donut, because that’s all he dared to try.

As he sat eating his doughnut and drinking his coffee, about a dozen prostitutes walked in and sat down. Campolo said he tried to disappear, but they were on either side of him and he couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. One of the prostitutes said,…
“tomorrow is my birthday.” Another of the women with her said sarcastically, “so what you want, a cake? You want us to throw you a party?” The woman responded, “I’m just saying it’s my birthday. You don’t have to hurt my feelings.” And then she said, “I’ve never had a birthday party in my whole life.”

Eventually, they all got up and left. So, Campolo called over to the cook and asked, “Shall we have a party for that woman?” And the Cook responded, “That’s Agnes. That’s a great idea. That’s beautiful. We’ll have a party. I’ll make the cake.”

So, that’s what they did. Campolo came back the next morning at about 2:15 AM, with crêpe paper and a big sign that said HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGNES…
They put the word out on the street, and by 3:15, Campolo says, every prostitute in town was packed inside that restaurant. At 3:30 AM, right on time, in walked Agnes with her friends and everybody in the restaurant shouted out, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY AGNES.”

Agnes was stunned. She sat down on a stool, as the group sang to her ‘happy birthday’. When they had finished, the cook brought out the cake, but Agnes was in tears and could not blow out the candles, so the cook did. He handed her a knife and said, “cut the cake Agnes.” But she asked, “is it okay if I don’t cut the cake? I want to show it to my mum. She lives just around the corner.” Campolo said to her, “It’s your cake. Do as you like.” And she told the group that she would be right back and she left.
Campolo said that as she left the room, it was dead silent. Awkward. So Campolo asked, “why don’t we pray?” And hearing no objection, he did. He prayed for Agnes. He prayed that she might be sealed and delivered from all the pain in her life. He prayed that God would make her new.

When he was done, the cook said, “You said you were a sociologist but you’re a preacher. What kind of church do you preach in?”

And Campolo said it was one of those times where he got the right words at the right moment. He replied, “I preach in a church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3.30 in the morning.”

And the cook said, “No you don’t. No, you don’t. Because I’d go to a church like that.”

Brothers and sisters, are we a church like that? Are we a congregation of radical grace, of scandalous grace? You will only show that grace if you see Jesus as the God of such grace and know that grace for yourself. Are we a church of scandalous grace? A church of such grace that the love we show is a love which does nothing out of selfish ambition; a love that doesn’t look to its own interests but to the interests of others; a love which calls us to be servants of all, and embody such humility that we are willing to became obedient to death and take up our cross daily. Are we that church? Are we the church of scandalous grace? And in this time with coronavirus, will we show that grace to our neighbour and community?
Now, it’s such grace and love, which underpins and fuels the second part of our reading in Luke’s gospel today. Jesus encounters three would be disciples and with each their commitment is shown to be lacking.

The first is full of enthusiasm, confidently asserting that he will follow Jesus wherever Jesus may lay his head. Maybe the individual thinks of Jesus as an itinerant teacher who will open for doors for him, teach him the ways of God that life might then be good. Along the way, there will be comfortable places to stay, respect will be experienced because this man will be following in the shadow of this famous Jesus.

But Jesus points out, that to follow Him, is to follow a prophet who calls people to faithfulness to God…
For Jesus knows no comfort, He will depend on the generosity of others; the Lord of the whole universe is made poor, is humbled to the position of a servant, all for the love of mankind, because for them He comes to give His life to seek and save the lost.

The second individual first asks to go and bury his father, which was the sign of highest respect in Jewish culture and even commanded by Scripture. One commentator suggests that if the father had actually died already, it would be more likely that the man would be at home, rather than with Jesus, the man would be busy with funeral preparation, too busy to be with Jesus. So, in all likelihood, the man was asking to stay at home until his father had died. This might have meant a significant delay and the call of Jesus being put off until a more opportune time. The man is saying, “yes, I’ll follow You Jesus…but later.” Once again, commitment is lacking and failure to understand Jesus and the importance of His mission is apparent.

Finally, the third individual, who seems to ask a fair request, a request also raised by Elijah when Elijah was called by God, and Elijah was allowed to go home and say his farewells. But Jesus, once again, says that such a request is not fitting for the times we now find ourselves in. We’re not to look back, we’re not to plough with one eye behind and one eye out front; instead full commitment, full focus upon the priorities of the kingdom, is crucial for disciples of Jesus.

In summary of these three individuals, we see that Jesus is looking for disciples who are willing to follow His example,…
giving up comfort, giving up tradition and family expectation, even what might appear religiously correct, and giving up life as we knew it, so that we, one and all, may follow Jesus wherever He leads and share in His purposes to make the Kingdom known.

Do we share the urgency of Jesus? Are we willing to give up comfort, tradition, expectation, life as we know it, to fulfil the mandate given to us by Jesus? Because, imagine if Jesus had done that? Imagine if Jesus had said, “You know Father, I’d rather not; the comfort of heaven, it’s rather good; and I’d be breaking tradition for angels not to worship me; and the idea of pain, crucifixion, becoming a man…seems a bit undignified, I think I’ll pass.”

I mean – come on!?! Imagine if Jesus had been like that, and thank the Lord He wasn’t!
Instead, He did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, humbling himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!

He gave up comfort; He gave up all that was rightfully His; He gave up life as He knew it and entered into our pain and suffering and world – for love you and love of me, to seek and to save the lost. He calls His disciples, He calls us, to walk in His way, and show such commitment as He did to the Kingdom of God.

I wonder, is being a Christian, is being a disciple of Jesus, merely another commitment, another title, which we add to the long list of our other commitments?
Because Jesus is calling for Him and His kingdom to become our number one commitment, and our lives to be ordered around that.

Or when it comes to clarifying our purpose as church, or what our values are, or how we might relate with our sister churches in the Braes area, will Jesus and His Kingdom be the deciding factor? Or, is it going to be what makes us comfortable, or our traditions, expectations and even life as we knew it? Are we going our way, or are we following in the way of Jesus?

As we begin this journey with Jesus towards Easter, with Jesus setting His face and resolutely following the path to Jerusalem, that place where He would give His life in sacrifice for us,…
I pray we might learn His way the way of scandalous grace that calls us to give our all for the sake of the Kingdom of God, that God who gave His life for you and for me.

May it be so. Amen.