Hope and Friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Request and Response

Preached on: Sunday 1st August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 21:28-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today’s hero is the older son because he shows us the gift of having a changed mind.

This little parable packs a punch. Here we have the vineyard owner again, but instead of looking for hired workers, he’s asking his own sons to help out. The two sons both react very differently in the moment. They both tell the truth one says ‘No’ or perhaps ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to’ but the other obeys in that moment. The good son is obvious as we see in the passage, the words are empty, much like the religious leaders in the faith it encounters. The challenge of this parable goes two ways – to act on our convictions and to make us willing to recognize our errors and to put them right.

If you perhaps have older kids about your lives, you delve into the questions that the religious leaders hit and pass on the things. We so often ask and the Yeses and the No’s we get are perhaps even just the grunts or the groans. The religious leaders at that time were trying to trap Jesus but He kept asking them questions and they were too scared to answer those questions. and then he had another question for them in our parable this morning.

‘There was a vineyard owner’, says Jesus, and Jesus liked to tell stories about vineyard owners there were lots of vineyards about lots of people drank wine and this vineyard owner had two sons two sons who were sitting near his house not doing anything at all to help, and of course there’s a shout from their father, as he spots them, and he says ‘Those vines, they need tending. Go and help the workers.’ He goes right over to the elder son where he’s sitting and he asked him to go and help and the son looks down at the ground, he really didn’t want to help today, he was hoping that some of his friends were maybe going to come round, but yet, he didn’t want to lie to his father he says ‘I’m sorry father. I don’t want to today.’ The father looked sad but decided to ask the younger son ‘Will you go and help?’

‘Yes sir.’ he replies knowing that was what his father wanted to hear he thought that he would go and help and as soon as he finished the game he was playing. Now we find hours later the younger son was still sitting playing. He knew he should be in the vineyard but he was having too much fun, and his father didn’t seem to be too upset, he wasn’t chasing about after him, and his older brother had said no, and so he didn’t move all day until the evening meal had been called. Meanwhile the older brother feels terrible, when his friends arrive, he sends them away so he could go and do his work as the father had asked. He changes his clothes and he goes to work and make up for the time he’d sat around the house. ‘Which of the two did what his father asked?’ says Jesus.

It was an easy answer; the older son because the older son saw that his choice had been wrong and he changed his mind, yet the religious leaders didn’t want to change their minds even when they realize that they might be wrong. Jesus said that because of this they would be the very last to enter God’s kingdom.

Like any parable, we have different aspects of symbolism for the listener. The Jew of that day, they would have understood the vineyard to be Israel and the work to be God’s work, and the father would be God, and the sons would be two different classes of people, the good son who agrees to work would be the Pharisees and the religious Jews, who outwardly would affirm their relationship with God, and yet inwardly did nothing to further His kingdom, and the other son would be the sinners, those who had rejected God in the past, but through the good news of the gospel preached by Christ and by John the Baptist, they’ve repented and they began to do the work that God calls them to do.

In this short story you can see the frustration of Christ at the long history of the Jews who have seen God’s work, Tasted god’s goodness and favor, and yet, still turn away. For us today, the symbolism is similar, the good son could be those who can talk a good game when it comes to God and religion, those good people who believe in God and try to be good but it stops at that, the commands of God and the work of the kingdom have no place in their lives, the rebellious son would be those who have turned from God rejected Him at various points in their lives, and have that heart change, and now become active in the kingdom obeying His call and His commands

It makes you think – which one describes you better?

Now we know neither of these sons are perfect and that was not the intent of Jesus to say that one or the other is how we should be. There are those who say ‘Yes’ to God and they follow through and the intent of Christ here, the big idea is to impress upon His disciples that a relationship with God is about more than just words, and a theme that we’ve seen repeated over and over as Christ has dealt with the Pharisees it’s not about the outside, the way we look, and the ceremonies we engage in, and the trappings of religion, it’s about that heart change, it’s about obedience and about being, and before His ministry is done Christ wants to make sure that there’s no doubt at all about this fact. In God’s kingdom, it’s not enough to talk the talk, you’ve got to back it up by walking the walk. So let’s pull a few things out of this little passage.

First of all, there’s a request; he says ‘Son go work in the vineyard today.’ Not much has changed over the years, fathers are still having to get after their sons and their daughters to be somewhat more productive. All of us can remember our mums and dads asking us to do something that we absolutely didn’t want to do, maybe because of the kind of work it is, maybe it was because we had other plans, and we all know what it’s like to be doing a job we don’t want to do. We’re not going to spend much time here rather than to point out that the request and the call is there. It’s identical to the call given in the parables in other parts of the New Testament, God has not and He won’t change. He wants us to be active out there in the fields, active in the harvest, active in the work of the kingdom here in Brightons Church, and far beyond it. Ooften times, for us, the that work is not something that we want to do, maybe we’re shy, maybe we’re busy, maybe we’re preoccupied with other things. God’s call comes at the most convenient time for us in our lives but yet that call is consistent, it’s work in My fields, get out there and do something, and perhaps as we start to move out from this pandemic it’s even more important to get out there amongst those, and get that work done because they haven’t heard about God and the wonderful things that He can do for us in our lives.

And then we have two sons that respond in very different ways.

The response of the first son was nothing short of open rebellion. We don’t know if he was angry about being asked, and that’s not important, but we do know that he was certainly stubborn. The moment he heard the request he says defiantly ‘I will not!’ Those two great words that are used there are as defiant and as resolute responds as could be in any of the gospels. There is no precedent in the Bible for such a short and sharp reply in the same way it’s constructed together, he didn’t care to argue with his father, he just said it, the message was clear ‘I don’t care. Don’t bother me – get someone else.’ It was pure, open rebellion, and maybe sometimes we know perhaps ourselves or others that can fall into that category, openly defying God’s call and His offer of that relationship, openly living in a way that displeases Him, and while that may only describe a few, now the reality is at that point that we often find ourselves in these positions. Many do.

In Colossians 1 21 it says ‘You were once so far away from God you were his enemies separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.’ All of us become separated from God at one point, all of us have shared the mark of this first son being rebellious by virtue of the sins that we’re born into, and now there would have been very little good that we could take from this story if rebellion was the only thing that marked out the son but there was something else, because this son was also marked by his repentance.

The New International Version use of the phrase ‘changed his mind’ is rather a weak and inferior translation. The Greek is ‘regretted’ or ‘repented’, it’s the same word Matthew used for Judas’s repentance, literally being seized with remorse. The son came to the point where he wished his rebellion had never happened and he had changed not only his mind but his attitude, his whole heart, his priorities and his actions changed, he came to the conclusion that he was wrong, and he expressed his remorse and repented, and understood that the father was right, and he went out and he did what was asked of him, and of course repentance leads to forgiveness, allows us, those who were once rebellious and sinful, to stand before our God, holy and clean and pure.
Again, it’s an amazing truth and the first son’s story was marked by rebellion but then repentance, led to his life being marked as a life of obedience. For each of us is the end result of that repentance. True repentance involves turning from our sin and heading in the opposite direction. That direction is the way that God calls us to live. aul says in Acts 26:20 ‘First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem, and all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.’

The proof that repentance has happened is in our actions and the way we live and in the way we obey and follow God’s call in our lives. The first son’s change of heart would have been rather hollow if it had not been followed by obedience of his actions.

And then we have the marks of the second son. On the surface this one sounded like he would be the good son. He hears the request, he immediately replies, a whirlwind and for good measure he throws in a ‘Sir’. How many parents would pass-out if this was the immediate response they got from their teenage child. Now, when asked to do some work, the first son agrees to the request, Unfortunately, where things got better for the first son, they didn’t go well for the other, and while he agrees initially, we see that he’s also marked by his inactivity. He agrees but then nothing happens. He accepts the call but no activity on his part. He may look good on the outside, he may look like there’s an issue of repentance, but not like that rebellious brother of his, on the inside,

Unfortunately, today there are too many Christians who fall into the category of this son. Come to church, they sing the songs, they do a few more things along the way, and throughout the week, but when God says ‘Work in my field’ they decide they’re quite comfortable where they’re at. Yet God’s call requires commitment to Him and to His Church. It requires stepping out and being uncomfortable at times. God’s call is not a call to sit and look good, it’s a call to get dirty and messy and to be involved in the lives of those He puts in our path.

If our relationship with our Father is definitely by inactivity, I hope this story might make us sit up, make us a bit uncomfortable, and, maybe, lead us to a change and realize our disobedience.

Matthew 7:21 says ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.’

Doing nothing is a sin in the same way that openly rebelling is conforming to what God expects outwardly but refusing to do it inwardly, is empty and hollow and doesn’t please God.

I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories of a conversation perhaps with a toddler or a little one and you’re asking them to do something or perhaps rather to stop doing something and eventually they do stop doing it but you get that little mumble but they’re still doing it on the inside.

Was that obedience?

Well, it’s conforming outwardly but rebelling inwardly, it was disobedience and it was sin and, in the same way, the second son conformed and agreed on the surface but in the heart he rebelled and remained inactive and disobedient.

Two very different responses give us two very different results. The results are clear and simple. Repentance led to the work of getting done. Christ said that those who are like this son, who turn away from their sin when they’re confronted with the truth, they enter the kingdom of God ahead of those who produced the second result, and their lip-service led to the work remaining untouched. When you consider that the work we’re talking about directly influences the eternity of all those around us, it’s quite a sobering thought of what we’ve been left to do, and yet, even this reality is not enough for some to change their focus from what they look like on the outside, or what ministry looks like on the outside, or to whether or not that heart is clean and obedient and the work is there on the inside.

As we close, why not take three things away with you as we apply them in our lives:

Firstly, there’s always hope. God is not looking for the ones who look perfect on the outside, He’s not asking us for unattainable perfection, H just wants us to obey His call no matter where we’ve gone or what we’ve done, no matter how much rebellion there’s been in our lives, there’s always hope through the forgiveness of our sins, and we only have to ask for it, and we can join the others in the field and build God’s kingdom here on earth;

Secondly, repentance is a right response to our sin when we see a rebellion for what it is. Repentance is the only right response before our God. We need to have that remorse over our sins, turn away from them, and back to God.

And with repentance comes this third truth: our obedience is shown through our actions. Some of us say ‘Yes’ in church every week, ’Yes’ in Bible study, ‘Yes’ in prayer meetings, ‘Yes’ in our small groups, we become like the Pharisees looking spotless and holy on the outside, but like that child rebelling still on the inside. Jesus says in John 14:15 ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ it’s as simple as that, He wants our hearts, He wants our obedience, and if the external is not flowing out from inside, and our lives are not marked by our obedience, then we’re just playing at being religious, missing out on that relationship with God. Obedience is shown through our actions.

Hope, repentance and obedience, these are the lessons of this short story this morning; these are the truths that Christ wanted His disciples then and wants His followers today to grasp hold of; every word, every action contains the truth that can transform the way that we think and live today.

Amen. Let’s pray:

Father God we ask that indeed we can say Yes and our Yes will mean Yes rather than a firm No that means No. You give us the opportunity to change our minds changes from this day forward that we continue to work and serve You in our in Your kingdom. That our hearts are open and obedient to you so that we can trust and obey because there’s no other way to be happy and serving You. Trust and obey. Amen.

Rejoice

Preached on: Sunday 14th February 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-14 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 3:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us come to God in prayer before we think about His word:

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

Amen

What I’m about to say by introduction will come as a surprise, but there are times when I envy Winnie the Pooh, so carefree, so focused on the moment, and in one of his more memorable lines he says “Life is a journey to be experienced, not a problem to be solved.” and yet, I know that I and probably we yearn for solutions to the complexities, to the hardships that come our way, for life is a journey, yet it’s full of unexpected twists and turns, of situations that break our hearts and which we’d rather not experience at all.
I wonder friends, I wonder if you’re facing a hard time at present? It may be in the context of Coronavirus and its impact on you. It could be something else, a situation, a difficulty, that is now part of your life’s story and the words of Pooh bear just seem empty, or they irk. So, is there another perspective? is there another place to go where we might find hope for the journey and strength amidst the questions?

Well, the early Church knew real hardship, maybe greater than we’ve ever known. Paul himself knew such trials, indeed, just before our passage today, he spoke of Epaphroditus whom he almost lost, which would have been sorrow upon sorrow for him, and then, in the change of topic in chapter three, Paul seems to anticipate difficulties ahead for the Philippians and so he seeks to safeguard them.

So, what is it he shares? What gives Paul such hope for the journey of life? How is it possible, even for this man locked in prison, facing the potential of execution, how can he keep speaking in chapter after chapter about rejoicing?

In our passage today Paul speaks of the trust and hope he has in Jesus. Here is a man who achieved and displayed high moral spiritual religious attainment, his rank, his status, his exemplary life were beyond compare and yet he came to realize that they were a false basis for any hope or confidence before God, even a hindrance. We often think that the Good News of God’s word about Jesus and His kingdom might be just for the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the sinners that we read about so often in the Gospels and yet, here is Paul, a model citizen, a model man, in need as well, and so, we see in his life, that we’re all in need, we’re all in need of this Good News, the Good News that says that we can have a right relationship with God, we can have righteousness through simple faith in Jesus, the Jesus that we read about in chapter 2, who is God in human form, the Jesus who gave up the perfection and glory of heaven to be born as a babe in squalor, to know the grief of losing a loved one, and then to be abandoned by His friends before being unjustly tried, mocked, tortured and crucified.

This is the Jesus that Paul now puts his trust, his confidence in. He says “… whatever gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” Those old attainments, they are worthless. Paul describes them like garbage and the Greek gets literally “dung”! Paul had been striving, Paul had been seeking to live the perfect life, Paul thought he might attain a right relationship with God through his own effort, and yet, he came to realize it was all folly and that instead God was offering him the gift of a fresh start, in a right relationship with Himself through faith, simple faith, and that astounded Paul!

It turned his world upside down! This wasn’t the way God was meant to behave. This wasn’t how God showed His power and holiness, surely? and yet it was, because in Jesus coming, and as a man, and his death on the cross, God showed His true power, His true holiness and the depth of His love for us.

Paul came to experience this for himself and says “I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.”

Knowing here is more than knowing about facts. To have knowledge of something, especially from a biblical perspective and to have knowledge of a person is to have an intimate personal relationship.

Paul came to know Jesus, to know God through simple faith, and this became the foundation of his life. His confidence was now in Jesus, both for this life and for the next. No longer was Paul putting his confidence in ritual, ethnicity, rank or tradition. It didn’t matter to what group he belonged and no longer did it matter about his rule-keeping, his zealousness for his faith, or his obedience to the law.

His confidence, his trust, his hope, was in Jesus, by having a relationship with Jesus.

Friends, have we come to that place yet? Have we each come to the place of finding, possessing and treasuring Jesus for ourselves?

Because he promises to be the rock upon which we can cling in the storms. He promises to be the good shepherd who journeys with us through the valley of the shadow of death. Because hard times do come. There are unexpected twists and turns but Jesus is still there. Jesus is ready to hold you fast no matter the smallness of your faith.

I had a friend at a past church and she shared one time that she’d wandered from the way of Jesus, but life had got hard and she knew she should turn back to Jesus, yet she struggled with doubt and was put off following Jesus by a number of things, and yet she started to pray “Jesus help me to want, to want to follow you” that’s how far she felt from Jesus. She didn’t even want to follow Him. That’s how little faith she had, and yet she prayed that prayer, and kept praying that prayer, and in time she found her way into a powerful and life-changing relationship with Jesus.

Friends, who is Jesus to you? Has He yet become a person you relate to directly and personally? or are you still trying to add something to simple faith in him? Because, when you add something to the Good News of Jesus you lose the Good News completely. The only thing that counts is faith in Jesus, and when you have that, truly, then you have a rock that is secure even in the storms, and so you have hope for the journey.

Yet Paul not only knew hope by trusting in Jesus, he was able to say again and again Rejoice in the Lord. But what does he mean by that? Because it’s really hard to rejoice in the midst of suffering and loss, especially when it’s a loved one that’s going through that?

A few things to note, I think, in passing,

Firstly, Paul knew sorrow and anxiety. Just read the end of chapter two, and faced even more when Epaphroditus was near death. So, Paul is not saying Christians should only feel joy. Furthermore he addresses a community of faith, not simply individuals, and so some will rejoice in joy and some, I think, will rejoice in sadness, because, here’s the thing, I think we’re conditioned to think that rejoicing must mean we can, must be happy, or that we can only rejoice when we’re happy. But to rejoice in the Lord could simply be to cling to the Lord in those hard times. To rejoice in the Lord can simply be to declare again and again the promises of God, and the hope we have in Him. Like the hope we have that there is a resurrection from the dead, or that Jesus is with us in the midst of the storm, and that our God will never leave us nor abandon us.

Friends, to rejoice in the Lord is to appreciate Jesus for who He is and what He has done. It is to find a measure, even a small measure, of satisfaction in the Lord, and yet, too often, I think we cultivate an ingratitude or, sadly, even apathy or coldness towards the Lord along the journey of life.

So, if your satisfaction with the Lord is low or missing, then it simply means you have more to learn about the Lord, you have more to appreciate of Jesus still.

And the Good News is that he always extends an invitation to know Him better.

Over the past few months, as I’ve walked the dog, I’ve been listening to the audiobook The Hiding Place. It’s the life story of Corey Ten Boom, that lady I mentioned last Remembrance Sunday. She lived through World War 2 in Holland and then was taken to a concentration camp where she lost her sister. It has to be one of the hardest books to read or listen to, and yet I was struck by individuals who, time and time again, found and kept hope and even a measure of rejoicing in the very darkest of journeys.

Friends, I don’t know all that you are facing just now. I know one message can’t speak to all situations yet, I do pray that like Paul, like Corey Ten Boom and her sister, might we too have hope through trust in Jesus, might we too have a steadfast rejoicing in Him as we get to know and appreciate Him more in each of our life’s journey.

May it be so, Amen

Forward with hope

Preached on: Sunday 27th December 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 20-12-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 2:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Sunday 27th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church


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

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Last weekend I was chatting with some of the tech guys about various bits and pieces including some great songs from the 80s, and so when I was listening to the music later in the week, it got me thinking: what songs would sum up 2020? This kind of thing is often done when we approach the start of a new year and so I did some research on the internet and via Braes Blether, and here’s a video with some of the ideas that came up.
(PLAY VIDEO)
Feel free to add your own ideas in the Live Chat at home. Obviously, what was shared there is meant to be slightly humorous, echoing some of the feelings that we’ve probably all felt in this past year. Music has the capacity to capture some of what we feel, and we can often link a piece of music to a particular season or event in life, and whenever we hear that music it brings back the emotion and the memories of long ago. Music can even give us a sense of articulation in what we are feeling.

Nevertheless, there have been other feelings this year, feelings of genuine isolation, of grief and loss, of anger and frustration, and of fear and worry. In the face of such emotion, no song can truly capture this; no song, can speak to the rawness of our emotions and of our pain. Because songs come and go, they’re here today and… gone tomorrow, and so don’t we need something more than a song as we reflect on 2020 and prepare to enter into the new year? I think we do, and that’s where Matthew chapter 2 comes in.

It’s a tough portion of Scripture; it’s not one we’re going to use much in Sunday School. We often forget the next part of the Christmas story – we stop at the magi bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus, because it’s cute and it’s heart-warming, and so we tend to gloss over how their story ended, that they too were forced to flee. But there is that one final part of the Christmas story, captured in what we read today: Jesus, the promised Messiah, is born in a land and at a time full of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Before He had even learnt to walk, Jesus was a homeless refugee with a price on His head.
So, what are we mean to see here today? What do we see here of the identity of Jesus and what has that got to do with us on the cusp of 2021?

Well, firstly, let’s remember what we read last Sunday: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
(Matthew 1:23)

This is Jesus, He is Immanuel, God with us and His coming into the brokenness of our world is how He will go about changing the world; the promised Messiah will not live in pomp and ease, instead He is with us. For there’s no point in Him arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; there’s no point in Him having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice. If He is to be truly… Immanuel, God with us, then He must be with us in our pain and in our brokenness; He must know what it is to live in fear, in need and in isolation.

Friends, we have more than a song, we have a Saviour who is with us in the struggles. Not that those struggles always miraculously disappear; after all, Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew real hardship, even though they also knew moments of God’s protection and provision. But God was with them and God is with us; we have more than a song, we have a Saviour, Immanuel, who is here, with us, in every moment of our brokenness.

In addition to this, our passage today also points towards something else. Because not only does Jesus experience the reality of this world, He is also the hope of this world… Three times Matthew says that Jesus is fulfilling Scripture in what happens here. But Jesus is fulfilling these Scriptures in a different way to what we read in chapter one. There Jesus was fulfilling what was predicted, but here, Jesus and the events surrounding His birth are seen as fulfilling what already happened 1,000 years before. In Matthew chapter 2, Jesus is seen as embodying once again the story of God’s people, Israel, from long ago. In the Old Testament we read that Israel went down to Egypt to seek safety and they came back under God’s protection. Likewise, Jesus finds safety among the Jewish colonies in Egypt, where His people numbered in the millions. Additionally, when the time was right, Father God brought His son Jesus safely out of Egypt and to the promised land of Israel.

What is more, the sorrow that 10 to 30 families would have experienced because of Herod’s actions, that sorrow is seen as echoing the sorrow Israel would have felt when families were scattered by the Babylonians as they took Israel into exile.

In each story, including the account of Jesus being a Nazarene, we are meant to see solidarity between the story of Jesus and the story of God’s people and in that solidarity, find hope once more. Because when those families wailed at the time of exile, the prophet Jeremiah also spoke about how God would fulfil His promises and bring life out of death and hope amidst darkness. We are meant to see in Jesus that He is the fulfilment of Israel’s story and thus that hope is still alive, because Jesus is still alive. He is the promised Messiah…
and the mission He came to fulfil will not be thwarted, He will bring life and justice and peace, He will bring freedom, and so we can have hope because of Him.

Friends, this year has been so hard, and as we enter 2021 we face a future of tighter restrictions and questions about this new strain of the virus and still we wait for things to “go back to normal”. It’s essential to know that Jesus is with us in the struggles, but we need more than as well, we need hope, we need to know that hope is still alive. And it is alive, friends, because our Saviour is alive. He is with us, not only in stories from 2,000 years ago – but in the here and now, for the babe that came at Christmas, grew to be a man, and yes He died upon a cross, but after 3 days, Father God raised Him from the dead, and so for 2,000 years this has been the testimony… and hope of the church: that Jesus conquered death, he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay, instead, Father God vindicated His sacrifice on the cross by raising Jesus to life.

Brothers and sisters, as we go into 2021, let us also look forward, look forward to a year in which Jesus will journey with us in every moment, in every season, in every high and low, because He is the Saviour who is Immanuel, God with us, for He is alive even today.

To help nurture this perspective, to help nurture this hope in us, I’d like to invite you to consider joining me in doing something this year.

It’s my practice, to start my day by reading some Scripture and thinking about its meaning for myself. Often in those moments, God speaks, bringing hope, encouragement, sometimes a challenge. On the 1st of January, I am planning to begin reading through the whole of the New Testament again, rooting myself in the accounts of Jesus and the teaching passed on to us.

So, I’d like to invite you to consider doing this with me. Later today, we’ll email out and put on our website a copy of this reading plan, and we’ll also post a copy to those on our mailing list. The reading plan gives you something to read five days a week and then some questions to think about, as a means of meeting with God. Because if we want to be a people who keep our faith in Jesus, who have hope because of Jesus, and who know Jesus…
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with us in our struggles, then the testimony of Christians across the ages is that we need to be regularly in the Scriptures. And maybe if we do this, and do this as a community, then we might also find support and encouragement from one another, and together, stay connected to Jesus, knowing that He is alive and journeying with us in all the struggles of life, not only in 2020 but forevermore.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Justice: God has a plan of hope

Preached on: Sunday 8th November 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-11-08-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 25:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 25:1-12
Sunday 8th November 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

What did you feel when you woke up on Wednesday morning and saw that the US election was still rumbling on and hadn’t been decided? What did you feel when it seemed a legal battle might ensue? What have you been feeling as the events of this year have developed, improved, worsened and continue to change and roll on? What did you feel when you heard of terrorism in France, racism in America, or conflicts around the world?

I wonder, in the face of any – and all – of these events, did you feel any hope? Has your level of hope begun to wane as 2020 plays itself out, particularly if you’ve faced a difficult year personally?

Ancient Israel was no stranger to difficulty and was only too familiar with losing people in war, as they suffered from invasion and defeat time and time again. I wonder, what did they feel? What was their level of hope? We may be two and a half thousand years on from Isaiah’s time, but we still live in a world full of oppression, arrogance, hatred, conflict, death and mourning. So, the message from Isaiah is just as relevant and powerful for us as it was in his day.

Isaiah came with good news for the Lord’s people, good news that God has a plan. He said:
‘Lord, you are my God;
I will exalt you and praise your name, for in perfect faithfulness you have done wonderful things, things planned long ago.’ (v1)

God has a plan, a plan for wonderful things, deeds beyond mere human ability, and this echoes that promise made in chapter 9 of a king who would be ‘Wonderful Counsellor and Mighty God’ (Isa. 9:7).

Yet, this plan will not simply be for ancient Israel, because from a heart of overflowing love and grace God says through Isaiah that:
‘On this mountain [He] will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples…’ (v6)

All peoples! Everyone is invited to the feast. Everyone is invited to share in the good and abundant provision of God. So, what will this include? Isaiah goes on:
‘On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death for ever.
The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces;
he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth.
The Lord has spoken.’ (v7-8)

God’s plan, the plan He invites everyone to share in, is a promise to utterly destroy death itself. God holds out hope to all the nations so that they can share in that day, when it comes, when He will pass from one individual to the next and wipe away each tear.

It is a grand plan and a grand promise, but not a wishful promise – it is a promise guaranteed and verified as truly available to each of us, because that promised King came, it was Jesus and Jesus truly rose from the dead, confirming His claim:
‘‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” (John 11:25) Friends, we have such a hope, offered to us by God Himself, but how do we share in that hope? How do we take up the invitation of God? Isaiah says:
‘Surely this is our God; we trusted in him, and he saved us. This is the Lord, we trusted in him;
let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation.’ (v9)

Those who trust, and continue to trust, in the Lord will share in this promise, will share in this hope. Yet, on the other hand, if we, like Moab, that country which bordered ancient Israel, if we are like them and with pride keep our distance, then we will not share that hope and not share that promise. For it’s not enough to belong to a group who stand on the threshold of God’s kingdom, or to have known some who crossed over into it. So, it’s not enough to watch this service today, or simply come to church, or have your name down as member – it’s not enough! You could do all that and more besides and still be on the threshold, you could still be holding back and not trusting the Lord, not trusting His promise and plan.

Friends, is your trust in the Lord? Is your trust in His promise? If your hope is low, if it’s beginning to wane, then renew your trust in the Lord. Come to Him afresh, confess where you’ve put your hope in other things, and talk with Him about how you want to put your trust in Him and His promises alone.

Isaiah came with good news, good news that would have inspired hope. But might it also have inspired bewilderment? For Isaiah also said:
‘…strong peoples will honour [the Lord]; cities of ruthless nations will revere [Him].’ (v3)

Isaiah is saying that the very people who have invaded and defeated Israel, these same people will be invited to the feast, to this glorious hope. Can you imagine what the people might have felt? Is it any wonder that they might have felt bewilderment? How could God do such a thing? How could He forgive? How is it enough that they simply repented? Where is justice?

Isaiah, will respond to such questions, but not for many chapters. So, let us instead turn to the New Testament, where read:
‘God offered [Jesus], so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith [their trust] in him. God did this in order to demonstrate that he is righteous. In the past he was patient and overlooked people’s sins; but in the present time he deals with their sins, in order to demonstrate his righteousness. In this way God shows that he himself is righteous and that he puts right everyone who believes in Jesus.’ (Romans 3:25-26)

God doesn’t overlook sin – not yours, not mine, nor the tyrant or the oppressor – every one will be judged, there will be justice. But anyone who puts their trust in the death of Jesus will be forgiven, and they will be invited to the banquet, where together they can rejoice in the love and grace of God, and there be unity.

You may wonder, if this is possible. You may wonder, if this is just fanciful nonsense. So, let me play you an old recording, wherein Corrie ten Boom, a Dutch Christian, who was captured and sent to a concentration camp by the Nazi’s, shares a little of her story.
(PLAY VIDEO)

In Jesus Christ, we have hope that God has a plan, including to conquer death itself, and in this same Jesus Christ, we see that there will be justice, but there will also be mercy, if we will but trust in Jesus. Friends, I pray that you will know the scandalous forgiveness and grace of God, such that you have hope for the storms of life, and love for the least, the last and the lost, no matter who they be, or what they may have done. May it be so.
Amen.

Justice: light in the darkness?

Preached on: Sunday 25th October 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 20-10-25-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 9:2-7
Sunday 25th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

In the last few weeks, we’ve watched or read much about local, national and international government. As our politicians seek to respond to Coronavirus, we saw tensions mount between representatives in Manchester and Westminster. And in less than 10 days, we will know whether the United States has a new President or not. Looking in upon both these scenarios, and even our own issues of government here in Scotland and Falkirk, we may well agree with Winston Churchill, who famously said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” In every era of history, humanity has tried various forms of government, but none are perfect, and none can be.

None can be, because they are made up, of human beings and we are not perfect. There is a darkness to all our souls, a selfishness, a brokenness, and so we find ourselves looking out upon a world and see this brokenness played out before us on an international scale, with such horror and brutality and evil that human trafficking and other injustices continue in our day.

We may ask: what is there to be done? Is there any hope? Does God care? But God has not been silent, for the Scriptures never dodge the darkness in our world, even in own lives, for through the Bible we’re helped to see that the darkness of our world in not the only, nor the fundamental, reality of things. The darkness is not all of the story, it is not the end of the story – there is more to come, there can be hope, there is hope.

In our passage today, we are at the end of a portion in which God has been trying to persuade Israel to put their trust in Him. Yet, they have not listened, they have rejected God’s ways, and so now find themselves surrounded, overtaken even, by the Assyrian army.
Darkness appears to be on all sides, and yet despite Israel’s rejection, despite their lack of trust, God, in His grace, draws near once more and brings a message of hope, a message that the story is not finished, the story will not end in darkness, for there is hope of a future king and His kingdom.

We read today: ‘The people walking in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned…
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called…
Wonderful Counsellor,
Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.’
(Isa. 9:2, 6)

In the midst of darkness comes light, and Isaiah is so sure of it coming about that his words speak of it as if it had already happened: ‘…for to us a child IS born.’ Yet this child will be no ordinary king, for the first three names designate divinity ‘Wonderful counsellor’ speaks of one who can work wonders and whose wisdom is far above any human’s, and so this individual is described in Hebrew terms which convey a ‘supernatural’ quality.

No wonder then, that this future king is described as ‘Mighty God’, a mighty warrior who leads the hosts of heaven, and yet He is also ‘Everlasting Father’ for He loves with such perfect and parental love. This is no ordinary child, but it is a human child nonetheless, as confirmed for us by the title ‘Prince of Peace’, where ‘prince’ is always used in the Scriptures of human leaders.

Through Isaiah, God brings a message of hope, that the story is not ending here, the darkness will not prevail, for the odds will be overcome by this future King. Indeed, that is why we read here of the reference to Midian in verse 4, which points us back to the book of Judges. At that time, Israel was once more surrounded by a vast multitude of the enemy, swarming over the land, and yet the Lord defeats this foe with a mere 300 individuals led by the trembling Gideon. Israel felt powerless at that time, Israel thought the darkness would win out, but the
Lord brought a different ending, ‘for as in the day of Midian’s defeat…’ the Lord broke the rod and broke the bar. Isaiah is saying the same thing will happen through this child, that the odds will be overcome, there is good news, there is hope, the story does not end here and the Lord will turn our darkness into light, our conflict into peace, our loss into abundance and our despair into joy.

And He will do this in the coming of a child, a child who was no mere human being, a child who would then grow up and one day begin to fulfil these words of prophecy, such that we read in the book of Matthew:
‘[Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali – to fulfil what was said through the prophet Isaiah:
‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles – the people living in darkness have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’
From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’’
(Matt. 4:12-17)

In the person of Jesus, this prophecy began to be fulfilled – the King had come and so His Kingdom was breaking into this world, it had come near. As we read through the four gospels of the New Testament, we see signs of God’s Kingdom breaking in, we see signs of the One who is
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He came with power to work wonders; He came with wisdom and teaching that has lasted the ages; He came revealing the love of God in His life and most powerfully in His death. Jesus was this promised King, the One who ensured that the story would not end in darkness but that light had dawned, and yet, this Jesus is not dead, He is not a myth or a child’s story or a relic of history, but He is the Living One, Everlasting, for He was raised to life and He will return to bring the fullness of His Kingdom into reality.

I wonder friends, do you know this Jesus? Do you know this living King? Because without faith in Him, without relationship with Him, all we are left with are the worst

forms of government that we as a species have tried from time to time. But Jesus came saying, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ (John 8:12) Darkness does not need to be our only or fundamental reality, for in Jesus there is hope, He is our living King and one day His Kingdom will be all that there is.

Now Isaiah’s prophecy also gives us some details of that kingdom, for we read today:
‘Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing
and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.’ (Isa. 9:7)

There are some very key words in this verse, for ‘peace’ is the Hebrew word ‘shalom’, referring to a well-being or wholeness, which impacts all of an individual’s life, and all life between individuals. In that future kingdom, where shalom exists, all things are whole, healthy and complete. The experience of shalom will be spiritual, physical, psychological and social.

It should be no surprise then, that in the next sentence we read that this King will uphold His kingdom with justice, ‘mishpat’, and righteousness, ‘tzadeqah’. Tim Keller, in his book on Generous Justice, argues that when we see these two words close to one another, as in this verse, then the best English expression of our time, to convey its meaning, could be ‘social justice’. If that’s accurate, then the hope of this future King and the hope of His future Kingdom brings a message that darkness will not prevail, that the darkness of human trafficking will not prevail, there will be right relationship between God and humanity, and right relationship across humanity, from one to another, and rather than treat one another as commodities or as slaves, there will be social justice.

But is it all just future? Is all that we have to offer simply a message of hope? Well, Jesus said:
‘This, then, is how you should pray:
‘“Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth
as it is in heaven…”’
(Matt. 6:9-10)

God’s Kingdom, this Kingdom which will have peace and social justice, we are to pray for this kingdom to come in greater measure in our day, that on earth we would see the kingdom of God. But is all we have to offer a prayer?

Well, I don’t think so, because as we said about prayer and the Lord’s Prayer, part of prayer is about changing us – that as we focus on God, as we understand more of His Kingdom and pray and yearn for this, then we change, and more often than not, we are then the answer to this prayer, for we realise we are to embody His character and ways, and so must live differently. Yes, let’s pray “Thy kingdom come”, but we better get ready to be the answer to that prayer as well, for through you God might do a work of bringing justice upon the earth.

Friends, this Halloween, let us replace darkness with light, let us scrap the costume and take up justice, let us forget the stories of witches and mummies or superheroes, and instead be a people who say that darkness is not the end of the story, that there is hope, there is Good News of a King, His Kingdom is breaking into this world, and so we will stand alongside the oppressed, for our God and His Kingdom is one of justice and of light. May it be so. Amen.

Justice: central to worship

Preached on: Sunday 11th October 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 20-10-11-Message-PPT-slides-2×2.
Bible references: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Sunday 11th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchIntroduction to Reading
Today we begin a new teaching series and similar to this time last year, we’re going to work through one of the Old Testament prophets, in particular, the prophecies of Isaiah. This is a book within which we find some of our favourite passages, like, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…’ or ‘…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…They will soar on wings like eagles…’ and finally ‘…he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brough us peace was on him.’ Great passages laden with significance and pointing us to Jesus.

But there is much more to the book of Isaiah, much that we never read or dig into, and so for seven weeks, leading up to Advent, we’re going to focus on some unfamiliar passages. Since March, we’ve had many a sermon, in fact a couple of series even, that have spoken into our current situation, encouraging us to look to God and look out for one another. This will continue in many ways through the life of our church and even in our Sunday worship. But nevertheless, there are issues beyond coronavirus, issues that make people’s lives desperate and truly hard, issues that many of us are simply unaware of. And so, part of the aim of this series is to help us look out and to do so by turning to those passages which talk about the issue of ‘justice’.

I don’t actually know what to expect from this series, I don’t know what particular issues may arise, but I hope that as we give time and space to this, especially amidst restrictions, that God might use this time to help us mature as His children, so that when one day we can again be together physically we will go out into the world with His light and hope and good news.

Today, we read from Isaiah chapter 1, which serves as an introduction to the rest of the book. It is set around the 8th century BC, roughly 700 years before the coming of Jesus, at a time when Israel was being invaded by the Assyrian Empire.

So, let us turn to God’s Word, which is read today for us by Donald Meek.
(PAUSE)

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

May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever wondered what gets under God’s skin? Ever wondered what bothers God? If you were to go and ask the average person on the street – socially distanced of course – what do you think they would say? Feel free to share in the Live Chat. I suspect many people would talk about God being bothered that they don’t go to church or they’re not religious enough, maybe they would name the “big issues” like sexual immorality.
In our passage today, God is very bothered by His people, in fact there’s a surprising rejection here by God due to a rebellion by His people. He says through the prophet Isaiah:
‘“I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me…” Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.’

But what is the nature of this rebellion? What is so grievous that it brings a rejection by God? Are they not religious enough? Do they not attend church enough? Are they too promiscuous? What have they done which bothers God so much?

Well, it’s not their level of worship. In verses 11 to 15, we see that the people are being very regular in worship, meeting the requirements of the ‘offerings’ and special festivals like ‘New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations’, and they are bringing ‘many prayers’. In fact, they are offering their ‘fattened animals’, which would have been costly. So, their worship is meticulous, it is plentiful in time and outrageously sacrificial in terms of money. They are more than religious enough, so what’s got under God’s skin?

Let us read on:
‘Wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong.’

Again, we might ask, what are these evils deeds? What is the wrong they are to stop? We read:
‘Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.’

At the heart of what is bothering God is their lack of justice. Not their lack of religious attendance or giving, not their lack of sexual purity or fidelity, but justice. I doubt very much, that this would have been the answer from people on the street – I wonder if it would have been an answer given by ourselves?

Yet what is ‘justice’? Is not caring for the fatherless and widow more an issue of charity, than justice? In preparation for this series, I read a few helpful books, one being ‘Generous Justice’ by Tim Keller. I’d highly recommend getting a copy.

In the opening chapter, Keller introduces us to the biblical idea of justice. He writes that there are two Hebrew words for justice, the first being ‘mishpat’, which we [red] in verse 17. Across the range of its use, mishpat means to ‘give people what they are due, whether punishment or protection and care’. (pg. 4) This is sometimes called ‘rectifying justice’, as in correcting or repairing. We see it in verse 17 today, where the fatherless and the widow need care and protection. But it is also possible, as the footnote in the NIV shows, to translate ‘defend the oppressed’ as ‘correct the oppressor’, and so we see that wider meaning of mishpat as well, to correct and punish. Justice, then, is about issues in society, that sin has a social dimension, and so to seek justice includes the transformation of the one inflicting oppression and the one who is suffering. This is mishpat.

The other Hebrew word is ‘tzadeqah’, sometimes called ‘primary justice’. This is about living in right relationship with God and right relationship with one another, and so it’s more often translated ‘righteousness’, but in our day we usually think of righteousness in terms of private morality and so maybe justice is more helpful. So,

tzadeqah, when talking about our relationships with other people, is about treating others with fairness, generosity and equity. If we lived out tzadeqah, justice, all the time then there would be no need for mishpat, for justice which puts things right. When you have primary justice, you don’t need rectifying justice.

But in Isaiah’s day, there were gross violations of tzadeqah, and so God calls them to seek mishpat, defending the oppressed, taking up the cause of the fatherless and pleading the case of the widow. Tim Keller argues that in today’s world, we should be thinking about any who lack social power, those most vulnerable, and so this might include the refugee, the migrant worker, the homeless, many single parents, even some elderly.
We see here that God is bothered about the lack of justice in Israelite society and He calls for justice because He sees a total divorce between worship and justice – the sacrifices keep coming, the prayers keep coming, but justice is completely ignored, it’s not even on the agenda of God’s people, and yet, it should be. For God had given laws about justice, justice is in the heart of God Himself and prompted the saving of His people, for He heard their cry in Egypt, their oppression, their lack of tzadeqah under Pharaoh, and so He brought them out, bringing mishpat, justice, to them and to the Egyptians.

But this has either been forgotten or completely disregarded by Israel, and so there is a divide between worship and how they live – they praise the God of justice and yet they live out injustice. As such their worship is ‘meaningless’ (v13), ‘detestable’ (v13) and God is ‘weary’ of it (v14) because genuine worship, real biblical faith, includes obedience to God’s ways. Indeed, in the New Testament itself, we [reed] in James, that ‘faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead’ (James 2:17) and it was Jesus who said, ‘If you love me, keep my commands.’ (John 14:15) Real faith leads to obedience and that includes justice, for as the Psalmist reminds us:
‘The Lord loves righteousness [tzadeqah] and justice [mishpat]…’ (Psalm 33:5)

So, I wonder friends, how high up our agenda, is justice? Have we divorced worship and justice? Are we in danger of keeping up external religious appearances and yet disregarding the Word of God and its call to ‘justice’?
These are hard questions, but let me end on a note of hope, because time and again Isaiah will bring a word of hope, a message of grace. The people of Israel had got themselves stuck in a rut, their way of life had become so deeply ingrained that the Lord says their sins ‘are like scarlet…red as crimson’. Now, this colour was a deep permanent dye, virtually impossible to remove, and so the Lord is saying that the injustice He sees is deeply rooted in His people, permeating not only their society but their very souls.

Yet the Lord also says:
‘Come now [come near], let us settle the matter… Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.’

Though the stain of their sin seems as equally permanent as crimson, God extends an invitation of hope – an invitation to forgiveness, an invitation to a new life, with a purer heart, and so the hope of a transformed society. But it is God who takes the initiative, the holy One; He always takes the first step – whether it be God searching for Adam in the garden of Eden, or Jesus coming ‘to seek… and save the lost’, the initiative is God’s and He does it for love of us all, for love of His people then and love for you and me now. In undeserved grace, God comes close and invites us to take heed, to hear the word of the Lord and so ‘Learn to do right; seek justice [and] defend the oppressed.’ (v17)

Friends I pray that we would respond to the Lord in this new series, even today, and not be a people who divorce worship and justice, but instead, as a people of prayer, we come to Him in the isolated place of prayer we receive His forgiveness and allow Him to changes our lives from the inside out, preparing us now for the life we are called to live when we can gather once more together.

May it be so. Amen.

No fake story! (Passion Wk.5)

Preached on: Sunday 12th April 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 20-04-12-Morning-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 24:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 24:1-12
Sunday 12th April 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.

Boys and girls, what school or nursery do you go to? Shout it out just now! (PAUSE) I can’t hear you! Shout louder!!…Oh, that one!

Well, I’m sure some of you go to Wallacestone Primary School and I’m usually in there every Friday morning and lunchtime to visit two or three classes, and then run the Friday lunchtime Scripture Union Group. Going into Wallacestone was one of the highlights of my week and I’m really missing it!

Now, just before we all had an early school holiday, I was in chatting with the Primary 7s about Easter – and most of them know the Easter story, so I thought I would share with them some of the reasons why I think the Easter story really happened.

One of those reasons is in our story today, but our passage also gave me two more reasons – which is fantastic! So, I’ve got 3 questions for you, to see if you can remember the story, OK? Each one gives me confidence that Jesus is alive. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

First off – what weight do you think the stone over the tomb was? I’ll give you some ideas. Would it have weighed as much as: two bags of cement; two of me; two sofas; or two cars? Make a choice…quick, quick!…the answer is…two cars! Well done if you picked the right answer.

The stone would have weighed about two tonnes, or the weight of two 1979 VW Beetles. That’s a lot of stone, so if Jesus wasn’t dead and maybe He had simply fainted, then there is no way He could have got out Himself, and no way His friends could have rolled the stone away without the Roman guards hearing something and stopping them. So, the stone being rolled away is a major clue that Jesus really did come back to life!

OK, question number 2: who first found out that Jesus was alive? Can you remember? Point this way if you think it was women…point the other way if you think it was the disciples! It was…the women! Good remembering!
And here’s question number 3, because question 2 and 3 are closely related: did the disciples believe the women about Jesus being alive? Did they believe them? Thumbs up for “yes”, thumbs down for “no”…the answer is… “no”, the disciples did not believe the women!

Now, why are these two clues important? Well, back in the days of Jesus, sadly women were not believed, they were not regarded as good enough witnesses, for anything. Which is part of the reason why in v11 we read, that ‘[the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’

It seemed nonsense to the disciples, the men, because no one was expecting this, and they weren’t simply going to believe the women, because they were…women. Exactly!
It came across to the men as a silly dream, the sort of thing that people back then would expect from a few women who are upset with grief and lack of sleep.

Now, sometimes people today think that the first disciples must have made up the story about Jesus, because, after all, no one comes back from the dead, right?

Well, if the first disciples were trying to convince people back then to believe a fake story, then they would not have picked women as the first people to find out Jesus was alive! That would have been a bad plan, and so this another clue for us today: Jesus really did come back to life because the story matches with what really happened rather than what people would have made up!
The third clue is very like that too: if it was a made up story, then the smart idea would be to show the disciples having faith straight away, because then the disciples would be examples of faith and the perfect people to lead the early church.

But that’s not what we read: the disciples did not believe, they were not expecting Jesus to come back to life, it was a complete surprise to them! In a fake story, the disciples should believe straight away, rather than doubt.

Now, there are many more reasons for believing that Jesus came back to life, but those are three reasons from the story today: the big stone; the women witnesses; and the disciples being surprised.

I wonder, do you like surprises? And if you were trying to give someone a surprise, what would say? Might it be: boo? Or maybe: ta-da?

I read a story this week, about another minister, and in this story the minister is talking with the children at an Easter service in church, and he asks the children: what do you think Jesus’ first words were to his friends after He came back to life? And one little boy sprang to his feet, spread his arms out wide and said, “Ta-Da!”

The story of Easter, the story of Jesus coming back to life, was a surprise for the disciples. It wasn’t announced with a “ta-da” or a “boo”, but it was still a surprise, and it was a surprise to people who were sad, who were afraid, and who were doubting.
The story of Jesus coming back to life is a story which began in the real world of sorrow and uncertainty but with a message for that very same world. Don’t we also live with sadness, or fear, or doubt just now?

And what is more, when Jesus came back to life, many things remained unchanged: the Romans were still in charge; the religious leaders were still bullies and bad people; people were still sick and scared.

But here’s the thing – on one level the wider world was still the same after Jesus came back to life; but on another level, everything had also changed – everything! Because in the wonderful events of Easter, there is a dead man who has come back to life, Jesus has conquered death and the grave, and that’s the kind of surprising good news which rewrites history, and not just for a year, a decade, or even a century…no, this is the kind of surprising good news that rewrites history for everyone, everywhere, and for evermore.

Friends, my prayer this Easter, is for us to know the risen Jesus journeying with us in these difficult days. Because as the Apostle Peter later reminds us: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (1 Peter 1:3)

Brothers and sisters, we not only have hope, we have a living hope, living because Jesus lives. And it’s hope, not wishful thinking. It’s hope, because it’s certain, we have strong and confidence assurance….

But we only have this because of Easter Sunday, which is summed up so well in our final hymn today:

“Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus, Yours is the victory.”
(Living Hope, Phil Wickham & Brian Johnson)

Friends, our passage today, reminds us of the surprising story of Easter, a story that was not faked, a story which rewrote all history, and a story which suggests that even in our present darkness, uncertainty and fear, when all around seems to remain unchanged because of Easter, well, this story suggests we can still…
encounter Jesus today, because Christ is risen, He is risen…indeed! Praise be to God. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 31st 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 20-03-31-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 17:5-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:5-19
Tuesday 31st March 2020 Brightons Parish Church

Let 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.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem. On Sunday we had our final service before we reach Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We’re hoping to have some online prayers and reflections then for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, led for us by ministers in the Braes area, and more details will be available on Sunday.

In our passage for this evening, we have the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about and it follows on after a lengthy teaching portion, which began back in Luke chapter 15. In the particular section we heard tonight, it began and ended on the topic of faith, and that’s where we’ll start this evening.

As I said on Sunday, having faith just now is hard, we have questions, some people may even scoff at the idea of faith, scoff at it having value and relevance. But I think that hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. It is possible to be people of faith even amidst uncertain times.

But as the example of the disciples teaches us, it’s OK to be honest with Jesus about our doubts. In verse 5, we see that the apostles, those close friends of Jesus, said to
Him: ‘Increase our faith!’
Here are the people that Jesus is training up, training up to be involved in His continuing ministry, and despite having seen so many miracles already, they are now struggling, they perceive their faith is maybe not quite big enough for what Jesus asks of them.

And what does Jesus ask of them? We didn’t read those particular verses tonight but if you open your Bible, you can see in verse 1 that Jesus speaks of keeping faith even when things come along that might cause some to stumble, then in verses 2 to 3, Jesus speaks of living in such a manner as not to undermine another’s faith, then finally in verses 3 to 4, Jesus teaches that we are to forgive as often as repentance occurs.

What’s quite striking here, is that the things which provoke the disciples to say, ‘increase our faith’, are not great wonders or undertakings which we might normally associate with needing faith. We may more naturally think of deeds such as praying for healing, or being asked to preach, or give up something that is dear to us.

Yet, what Jesus shares here, are every day, normal activities. Keeping the faith, building others up, and forgiving as often as needed. Doesn’t sound very grand, but aren’t they just as hard? Even now, amidst this pandemic, don’t we face all three to some degree? Keeping the faith when events around us might seem to belittle our beliefs. Building others up when it’s so much easier to jump on the bandwagon of criticism, doubt and moaning. And as we face lockdown, maybe for weeks upon weeks, and we get grumpy with one another because we’re living in such close proximity all the time, or we get bitter because we are alone and we feel forgotten, is not forgiveness needed in such times?

I wonder, as time passes and the lockdown extends, might not we also be inclined, with the disciples, to cry out, ‘Lord increase our faith’ because these otherwise mundane tasks are actually quite demanding.

So, what is Jesus reply? He says, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’ (Luke 17:6) Clearly, Jesus is using hyperbole because He and the disciples never did such a thing themselves.
Instead, Jesus is trying to highlight that it’s not the amount of faith that is important, but rather simply its presence and what underpins or defines our faith. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of Systematic Theology, reminds us of this: ‘…our spiritual forefathers used to say that little faith gets the same Saviour as great faith, but it may not get his greatness.’ (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save, page 66)

What he’s saying, as with Jesus, is that what is important is not the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith. Often, we are tempted to say, “I don’t have enough faith”, or “He or she has more faith than I”. But such statements reveal that we think faith is dependant on us, that what we feel, what we can muster up, is what defines the character and strength of our faith.
But Jesus, as with our spiritual forefathers, is saying something else. They are revealing that faith should have its character and strength defined by God, rather than ourselves. This means, argues Ferguson, that ‘faith should be described as the extent to which our trust in the Lord is in keeping with the greatness of God’s person and the certainty of His promises.’ For example: if I trust, that Jesus is always with me unto the end of the age, as He has promised to be, and I trust this because I know Him to be alive, then this shapes my faith and so defines my living, my choices, and my perspective.

But, if I believe Jesus to be God but quite distant, detached from our experience, then I do have faith, I do have access to Jesus, but I do not appreciate His greatness as fully as I should, and so my faith is diminished and its impact upon my life is equally limited.

Faith, which can tell a mulberry tree to jump into the sea, is a faith which appreciates the greatness of God and lives accordingly. It’s not about the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith, and the substance of our faith is matured and maintained by the extent to which we grow in our relationship with God, and we do that by appreciating more of His person and His promises.

So, that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to invest time in their relationship with God during this time of isolation, and we principally grow in our relationship with God as we dig into His Word, because it’s in His Word that we learn of His person and promises. We’ve offered a couple of ideas for this in our Sunday services, with an online reading plan begun yesterday, exploring faith and doubts. It’s not too late to get involved and details are still available on our website and Facebook page.

But, whether you join the reading plans or not, please invest some time in your relationship with God by getting into His Word. Then, the substance of your faith can be matured and maintained in line with the true revelation of God, as you learn of His person and promises.

On Sunday, I also mentioned that this issue of faith among the apostles is followed on after with the story of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It was that man who evidenced a faith which had substance – He

recognised in Jesus the God of all creation and that Jesus the God-man was overflowing with loving kindness.

I said on Sunday, that loving kindness was one way of unpacking the words ‘pity’ or ‘mercy’, which is what the ten lepers asked of Jesus in the first place. Jesus did heal them, He granted what they asked for, they experienced His loving kindness. But they do so, after following His command to: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ (Luke 17:14)

I deliberately skipped over that part of the passage because our service was seeking to be all age. But now, I’d like to give you a little more context for those words. In the Old Testament, the people of God were given instructions regarding various skin conditions, and as I outlined, it was pretty hard back then to tell what people had. So, anyone with one of these particular skin conditions had to leave home, they had to leave the village, because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated and removed.

But it was also possible for someone to be welcomed back into the community if their condition changed or went away. At that point, they were to go to their local priest, for only they could legally declare a leper “clean” and healthy, and so able then to return to a normal life.

What’s striking in the story of the ten lepers, is that one returns to Jesus, rather than going on to find the priest. Clearly, we’re right to talk about gratitude and thankfulness because it’s there in the passage, and we’ll come back to that soon. But this idea of Jesus being asked for mercy, and of the one leper coming to Jesus, when all the rest go seeking their priest, does call to mind what the writer to the Hebrews wrote: ‘…[Jesus] shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ (Hebrews 2:14-17)

There’s a lot packed into those few verses, but did you notice that the writer speaks of Jesus as a merciful high priest? In the Old Testament, the high priest had the role of once a year going into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle, or temple, so as to make atonement for the people. This was part of the wider system which secured their forgiveness of sin such that they were in right standing with God.

The writer of Hebrews makes a lengthy argument that Jesus is the eternal, perfect high priest, bringing in a new and eternal covenant between God and humanity, such that any who will put their faith in Jesus can have their sins forgiven, once for all, remembered no more, and then given unrestricted access to God’s presence because they are made children of God through the Son of God who died in their place, even though He Himself was perfectly sinless.
But to establish that new, eternal covenant, Jesus had to be both fully man and fully God, which is what the writer said in the passage we read. As such, Jesus is then our merciful high priest, He is able to represent both God and mankind, and stand in the gap between us, offering us mercy, loving kindness, through His own sacrifice, and welcoming us into the family of God with right standing before God.

It’s in that place, as the writer outlines, that we are then freed from the fear of death, because eternal life is secured for us by Jesus, our merciful high priest.

Now, coming back to the story of the ten lepers, it’s interesting that the one leper who cannot go to the
Jewish priests, because he’s a Samaritan, comes instead to Jesus. Does that individual realise that he needs no other priest, for Jesus, the God-man, is priest enough?

Friends, we’ve spoken tonight of developing a faith which has substance by learning of the person and promises of God, such that it matures and is maintained. I wonder, if the example of the Samaritan, is not only one of thankfulness, but of recognising something of the person and promises of Jesus: that He is merciful, overflowing with loving kindness, ready to forgive and welcome us into the family of God, if only we will bow the knee and respond in faith to Him. That kind of faith has a measure of substance, and by such faith we can be freed of fear and as we sung on Sunday, having a hope which is steadfast and sure.

I think, as we recognise more of the person and promises of Jesus, that a real depth of thankfulness will overflow within us, and so let’s close with some reflections on that idea from the passage.

It’s clear from what Jesus says that thankfulness is important, especially thankfulness to Jesus Himself, and that’s something we are taught again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us, as we saw, to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

So, are you someone who’s thankful? I really valued those words from Tom Wright, who said: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

I wonder, have you begun to do anything about that yet? Because being a people of thankfulness, not only makes us less prone to anger or bitterness, it also guards against that common human tendency to think God “owes” us or that God is some kind of “genie in a bottle”.

I think that’s part of the reason behind Jesus’ words in verses 7 to 10: that nothing we do, or experience, can put God in our debt, because He has been generous already, and immeasurably added to His generosity through the death of His perfect Son, our merciful high priest.

Again, as our faith develops substance, rather than size, by appreciating the person and promises of God, then we are freed from unhealthy perceptions of God, we are enabled to see His goodness, His grace, His loving kindness, such that He owes us nothing and we owe Him everything.

So, how are you going to develop a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity? When I was in training, I came across a spiritual discipline called Examen, and it’s a form of prayer that helps us realise the many good gifts of God throughout our day. We don’t have time to go into it just now, but I’ll put up some links on our website and Facebook page if you want to dig into that, because it’s a practice that I’ve found helpful, even though I’m only beginning now to cultivate in my own life.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, may we be a people whose faith grows in substance as we see more clearly the person of God, that He is full of loving kindness, that He comes close, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. May we also, appreciate afresh the promises we have from God, particularly the promises secured for us through Jesus, who gave Himself for us upon the Cross, that we might be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times. To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 29th 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 20-03-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-morning-message.
Bible references: Luke 17:11-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sunday 29th 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.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Today is our final service before Palm Sunday, and our passage this morning, is the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about. Boys and girls, can you remember: did the people in Jesus’ day like Samaritans? Did they? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down! The right answer is: “no” – they did not like Samaritans! No one in Israel had time for Samaritans; no one would give them attention or help.

So, in our story today Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He comes to a village and He is met by a group of men. How many people were in that group – can you remember? Was it 5? Was it 8? Was it 10? It was 10!

Ten men were needing help, so they came looking for Jesus. But they kept a little distance from Jesus because they had leprosy. That word was used for a whole lot of different conditions, because back then it was pretty hard to tell what people had. So, a rule was given that anyone with a particular skin condition had to leave home, they had to leave the village because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated, they had to be removed.
I wonder, does that feel familiar at all? Can we relate a little to the idea of being cut off, isolated, alone?

So, here are these lepers, social outcasts; they draw near to Jesus seeking His help, but they have to maintain social distancing, probably more than two metres. They cry out to Jesus, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ ‘Pity’ here is what we might call ‘mercy’, or ‘loving kindness’.

Somehow, these lepers knew that Jesus was someone of loving kindness, and so they seek Him out. Jesus then says a bit of a strange thing and we’ll get into that more with our Tuesday Evening Sermon.

But notice what happens next – they’re healed, they’re cleansed. Now, boys and girls, at this point in the story, how many return to Jesus after being healed by Him? Why don’t you hold up your fingers to tell me how many returned? Just one! Only one returned to Jesus and said thank you, and he was a Samaritan! Those people who everyone else shunned and thought was worthless – that’s who returned and thanked Jesus.

What do you think Jesus felt at that point? When He says:
‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’ (Luke 17:17) – what was Jesus feeling? Why don’t you tell whoever you’re with what you think Jesus was feeling?

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit sad – sad that more people had not figured out who He was, that here was God, right with them, and He cared and listened to isolated and broken people.
So, what are you going to take away from our story today? I’ve got two quick ideas for you!

First of all, it’s really clear that thankfulness is important, thankfulness to Jesus, and that’s something the Bible teaches again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

I wonder, are you someone who’s thankful? We shouldn’t fake thankfulness, so if some of us are grieving, then our thankfulness will be different. We’re also living in difficult times, uncertain times, is it possible to be thankful just now?
Well, we’ve got to remember, that the folks who wrote the Bible were writing in hard times themselves, yet, they were still thankful.

A man called Tom Wright, who is a Christian and writer, said this: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

In this time of isolation, in this time of food being harder to get, and the normal things being disrupted, maybe it will help us become more thankful for the things we often taken for granted.
So, why not, get into a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity, maybe at the start or end of your day. Because the more we are people of thankfulness, the less likely we are to be people of anger or bitterness.

And if you’d like a new song to sing along to, one which is full of thankfulness, then try out Matt Mayer’s song, ‘Alive and Breathing’ – it’s a great song and really lifts my soul!

So, let’s be a people who are thankful. Idea number two – let’s be people of faith yet honest about our doubts. I’ll get into this a bit more in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, but in verse 5, we see that the apostles, the close friends of Jesus, say to Him: ‘Increase our faith!’

Here are the people that Jesus is training up, and they’ve seen lots of miracles already, yet they are struggling, their faith is not quite big enough. Then we read of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It is that man who has the greatest faith – He recognises in Jesus that the God of all creation is here, He is near, and is full of loving kindness.

Having faith just now is hard, we have questions, but hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. I think it’s possible to be honest with our doubts, and yet still be people of faith.

This week, I read a story out of Italy, of doctors in a hospital facing the most difficult situations, and into their midst came an elderly priest, vulnerable himself…
What that priest did, and how he did it, powerfully touched some of the staff in this hospital. When he arrived, they did not believe in God, but within two weeks faith arose within them because of that priest.

We all have doubts, we all like the disciples, have moments when we cry, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’ So, in this time of isolation, why not invest a little time in your relationship with God? One idea is to join our online Bible reading plan – you can do it on a website or in the Bible app, and details will be on our website and Facebook page. There’s going to be one for adults, and another for older children and younger teens, so consider getting involved, encourage your children to get involved, and let’s be honest about our doubts, yet seek to grow in our relationship with God and so be a people of faith.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, we see that He is the God of loving kindness, who comes close, ready to hear our doubts, increase our faith, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. Jesus is the God who gives Himself to us, He gave us Himself upon the Cross that we might not remain isolated from Him but be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times.

To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore.
Amen.