Advent: welcome and re-storied

Preached on: Sunday 6th 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 20-12-06 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:6b-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:6b-11
Sunday 6th 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.

I wonder what Christmas films you’re looking forward to watching in the coming weeks? Do you have a family tradition of watching a particular film each year? Maybe it’s ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Elf’, ‘Meet me in St Louis’ or even ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’ – there’s so many to choose from! Why don’t you put up your favourite in the Live Chat.

In each of these there is a story of fortunes overcome, struggles faced, and battles won. Often the stories we go back to, are those that are stories of change, of freedom, of redemption and a new life, a new future secured.

Last week, we began a new sermon series that will see us through to the end of December, focusing on the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, which began with these words: ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ (v1) We dug in to some of the names and titles here: Messiah, David and Abraham. We saw that Jesus was the fulfilment of promises made long ago by God and that the initial people listed by Matthew show the welcome of God to one and all, that no one is written off. In those opening verses, we saw more of the identity of Jesus…
as the promised Messiah but also the identity we are to have: followers of Jesus, who are welcomed into the family of God and sent out to invite others to share in this good news as well.

Today we move on to the next portion of the genealogy and as you look over that list – as you take a wide-angle view of who you find there – what do you see? I see story after story filled with dysfunction. In the family line of Jesus there are a lot of skeletons in the cupboard!

Many of the individuals listed here were wicked kings of Israel and Judah, and even going back to last week’s portion of the genealogy, we find broken people there as well: Jacob who was a deceiver and thief; Judah who sold his brother into slavery; David who was an adulterer… and murderer; Tamar who engaged in incest; Rahab who was a prostitute. Time and time again, the individuals listed here are not the folks you would expect to have in the family line of the Messiah; the people here – both this week and last – are flawed, weak-willed, selfish individuals with some seriously shady stories. A real bunch of misfits.

So, what are we to make of this list? What are we meant to see about the family line of Jesus? Well, first off, I think it shows, once again, the welcome of God, but this time amidst all of our brokenness. Because not only does the family line of Jesus have a back story, we each have a story as well. In each of our lives, there is brokenness, there is imperfection, and still God calls us home to Himself and He is ready to welcome us.
One author, Brennan Manning, wrote: ‘The heart of Jesus [which is the heart of God] loves us as we are and not as we should be, beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity. He loves us…without caution, regret, boundary, limit or breaking point.’

This is the love of God for you and for me. This is the welcome of God extended to you and to me. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God loves you and is ready to welcome you home into His family. Just look at the list of individuals in the family line of Jesus – and yet
God chooses, Jesus chooses, to be born into that particular family line. God knew what was coming, none of their stories took Him by surprise, and yet He still chose to identify with them, to become part of that family line.
Friends, as another author put it: ‘the grace of God is…lavish, excessive, outrageous and scandalous. God’s grace is ridiculously inclusive. Apparently God doesn’t care who He loves. He is not very careful about the people He calls His friends or the people He calls [family]…the grace of God is indiscriminate, foolish, impractical, unrealistic, crazy and naïve.’

I also wonder, friends, I wonder what’s in your story– I wonder what you are facing just now, or what you have faced in the past – and whether it has sown a seed of doubt about whether God would ever welcome you home, whether God would ever delight in you and value you? I wonder if there are skeletons in your cupboard, which maybe you keep hidden from others, and maybe even try to keep hidden from God?…
Well you don’t need to, and you don’t need to doubt – because we see in Jesus the welcome of God and His love of broken people, like you and me.

Friends, this advent season, do you know the welcome of God? Do you know His grace? All of us are broken, all of us are flawed, just like the individuals in the family line of Jesus – all of us are undeserving, we’re all on the same level – and yet we are all welcomed home as well. (P)

Nevertheless, the grace of God is not only there to welcome us, but to save us, to redeem us, to restore, even re-story our lives. You see, the people in the family line of Jesus were broken people – like you and me – but they were broken people because of sin, because of a deep darkness and sickness that is in each of us…
Jesus came, not only to reveal the welcome and grace of God, but to do something about our underlying condition. In fact, it’s so key to the identity of Jesus that it’s part of His name. Matthew began by saying:
‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah …’ (v1)

To us, a name is little more than just a word, but in the culture of the time a name carried meaning, and ‘Jesus’ meant ‘the Lord saves’ and as we’ll see in a few weeks’ time the angel also said to Joseph: ‘[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mt. 1:21)

God not only wants to welcome us, He wants to save us, He wants to restore and re-story our lives, in fact He wishes to do this for the whole of creation…
When Matthew says, ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus…’ the original Greek literally reads: ‘This is the book of the genesis of Jesus…’ and that would have made the Jewish readers of Matthew’s time think about the start of the Old Testament, where God began another ‘genesis’, the genesis of creation itself. Matthew is trying to tell us that the coming of Jesus is a new beginning, a new creation, a new genesis and that this is for all the nations, for all broken, sinful people. This coming Messiah came to save, to restore, to re-story our lives and the whole of creation. The Apostle Paul would one day say, ‘…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Cor. 5:17)

Friends, Father God accepts you as you are – back story and all – but now as part of His family, part of the family…

line of Jesus, He wants to re-story your life, weaving a future – your future story – into the great and cosmic story of what He was up to at Christmas: that Jesus, the Messiah, had come to bring about a new creation, starting with the broken people of this world.

Friends, your past, your back story, doesn’t need to define who you are or your identity or your value or your future – because Jesus came to save, to restore, to restory your life and mine. I will never tire of retelling my story, of how God broke into my life at the time when the darkness of my soul had gone too far. And in that moment, I met with the grace and welcome of God – He welcomed me as I was, but since then, He has re-storied my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in all the world.
Maybe you’re wondering: how can I know the welcome and grace of God? How can I let God re-story my life and save me? Well, later in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus began teaching about the kingdom of God, He said this:
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
(Matthew 4:17)

Repent. That’s how we let Jesus re-story our lives. It’s more than simply saying sorry. To repent, is to have your thinking changed about Jesus that it affects the core of who you are and how you live your life. When you repent truly, you make the choice to follow Jesus – His teaching, His ways, His example – you seek to follow Him first and before all. Now, you won’t get it perfect, because none of us are, we’re still broken. But if there is genuine repentance, then there should also be a desire in us…
to allow Jesus to shape and lead our lives.

Friends, if we want saved, if we want our lives restored and re-storied, such that we know the welcome and grace of God, then it always begins with humbling ourselves – repenting – and calling out to Him for help. If we do that, then God always responds, He always welcomes home anyone – no matter their story – God welcomes home such a person to be part of His family.

Brothers and sisters, every season of Advent is a time to remember the greatest of stories – not captured often by Hollywood – and yet, in this story, the story of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, we find a story of struggles faced, and battles won, a story of change, of freedom, of redemption and new life. Because…
in the story of Jesus, in His family line, we see the grace of God extended to broken humanity and the invitation for us all to find ourselves in His family, becoming a new creation and so having our futures re-storied.

I pray that each of us, whether for the first time, or the hundredth time, may we all repent and come into the life that can only be found in Jesus. May it be so. Amen.

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 2019
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.

Last week we began our new sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and we read from chapters 1 and 2 of
Genesis, where we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

We saw that God made mankind in His own image, and then placed humanity in a garden, to tend it and care for it, and with only one rule, under which they were to fulfil their mandate, thus living within God’s ways and under His care, enjoying His blessing, His presence, and His rest.

Life was perfect, there was perfect relationship between humanity and God, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and the wider creation. It was a perfect creation, described as ‘very good’, and it gave the pattern of the kingdom.

But, can I ask – do you feel that perfection? Is life a bunch of rosy relationships and experiences for you? Are you living the dream? I do hope life is good for you, but even if it is, not one of us escapes the brokenness of our world.

There may be tensions at home, or in the family – it’s easy to roll out of bed and straight into an argument at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you are on your own, with a
different kind of brokenness, with a yearning for companionship, maybe where there has never been one, or maybe where one has been lost.
You may experience that brokenness in your place of work, or in the community, with the people you see and interact with. There’s that individual you just don’t get on with; there’s that feeling you don’t matter, or you’re being overlooked; there’s that guy down the road who’s in a dark, dark place; there’s that young family who come to the foodbank.

And in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there’s that question, that frustration which comes to mind: where are you God? Do you exist? Do you care? Because I just don’t feel you close right now.

I think we all know that we live in a broken world, that it’s not quite as it should be, that there is something deeply wrong, but not only around us, but it’s also within us.
Because if we’re honest, we know that we cannot live up to our own standards and hopes. We made that promise to change, and well…we’ve still not changed. We want to be more loving and gracious and kind…but, well, criticism and anger just come so much more easily. There’s something deeply wrong, and it’s not only in the world around us, it’s within us as well, and I’m sure you can put your finger on the things, where you feel the brokenness.

The claim of the Christian faith is that here in Genesis chapter 3, we see where it all began to go wrong, where that brokenness entered in. For in Genesis 3, we’re taken back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve in perfection, with only one rule, given in Genesis 2:
‘…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
And then, Genesis 3 comes along, where Adam and Eve are persuaded to doubt God’s word, it is distorted and questioned by the serpent, such that God’s motives are distorted as well:
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5)

And so, Adam and Eve give way to temptation, they take and eat the fruit of the tree, that fruit which was forbidden. But the thought might come to our minds, why was this so terrible? Surely it’s good to know the difference between right and wrong?

Well, what we need to understand here is that…
‘the knowledge of good and evil’ refers not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but rather to deciding what is right and wrong.

In taking the fruit, Adam and Eve were in effect saying to God, “From now on, we want to set the standards, God, we want to be the ones who make the laws.” It was a blatant act of rebellion to the King who gave them life and every good gift. And that has been at the heart of our
problem ever since, that is at the heart of what we call ‘sin’:
our rejection of God, and the establishing of our kingdom.

And maybe that seems like no big deal to you, maybe it seems quite trivial. But the brokenness of our world, of our lives, begins here in Genesis 3 and it ripples out. For with Adam and Eve, where there had once been complete trust and intimacy, that is now gone and replaced…
with shame and distance, they seek to cover their nakedness. And then the battle of the sexes begins, and relationships within humanity are broken.

Also, where once Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect creation, and life was very good, now God foretells that life will be very different, with greater pain, greater toil, greater wrestling with the issues of evil. Indeed, in the chapters after this, the world goes so horribly wrong.

But finally, Adam and Eve, who once enjoyed perfect relationship with God, wherein they experienced His blessing and rest, they are now told to leave the garden, they are driven out of God’s presence. And with the breaking of that divine-human relationship, what God foretold comes true: death comes into human experience.

The pattern of the kingdom is lost, for now no one is God’s people by nature, we’ve turned away from Him. We no longer live in His place; we are banished from the garden. And instead of living under His rule and enjoying His blessing, His rule is now rejected, we live in disobedience, and we experience the brokenness of our world.

That is where the Bible could have ended, it might have been only 3.5 pages long, with a perfect world destroyed by human rebellion.

But God is a gracious God, and whilst there is no reason He should do anything to help us, nevertheless He does.
And He does so even with Adam and Eve, there is still hope here in Genesis 3, for in the darkness there are glimmers of light.
In verse 9, we read:
‘But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’

This comes straight after their rebellion, Adam and Eve are trying to hide from Almighty God, and yet He comes seeking, He comes calling, He comes in grace.

At the opposite end of the tale, there is grace once more, for God takes those shabby, pathetic coverings of their fig leaves, and replaces them, we read in verse 21:
‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’

God gives a more fitting and proper covering for the life they will now live outside the garden. In this act of grace, a life is laid down, so that humanity can continue to live.

And then in between these two acts of grace, we read in verse 15:
The Lord God said,…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In grace, God makes a promise, hinting to a time in the future when a son of Eve, a human being, will destroy evil.

And all three of these acts of grace are most fully completed and displayed in the life of Jesus. He is that son of Eve, but also that son of God, who came to destroy evil, who came to destroy sin and hell and death itself.
In Jesus, we find provision, a covering, wherein guilt and condemnation, wherein shame, are dealt with completely, and we are restored to right standing with God. In Jesus we also find freedom from bondage to sin, to our rebellion and disobedience, for through faith in Jesus, God promises to begin a new life in us, to overcome our internal brokenness, and bring forth the character of Jesus. What’s more, God promises in Jesus, God evidences in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, that death is conquered, it does not have the final say, in Him there is a means to return to the garden, to the place of life, and share in life eternal with God. In Jesus, life can and does begin again, and it does so because He laid down His life for us on the cross. Finally, in Jesus, God comes to us, He comes seeking, He comes calling. He comes inviting us back into relationship with Himself… that even amidst the brokenness we feel, there might be hope, there might be promise of a future day wherein all will be made right once more.

And to share in that hope, we need do nothing more, than what Caroline has done – not in becoming a church member, that’s not how we share in the promise. No, we share in the promise through faith, through faith in Jesus, through confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour, to which Caroline testified this day, as she confirmed her faith.

Friends, I hope you share in this faith, in this hope. But if you don’t, it’s only a step away – all you need do is put your faith in Jesus. If that’s something you’d like to do, please come have a chat with me.

To all who claim such a faith, there is hope, and there is the invitation to share in the meal of the Lord’s Supper, for here, we feast and rejoice in all we have in Jesus, for He is the embodiment of God’s grace amidst our brokenness, and the means by which the pattern of the kingdom of God will one day be restored.

To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.

Can I really know the affection of this God?

Preached on: Sunday 16th June 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-06-16-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-20 and Ephesians 3:14-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20 and Ephesians 3:14-19
Sunday 16th June 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchYou’ll be glad to hear that we are on the penultimate week of our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, and next week’s Sunday School Closing Service will round off this series.

Last week we explored the robe and ring in the parable of the prodigal Father, and we saw that these symbolised pardon and position for the younger son. We asked ourselves whether we, as adopted sons or daughters of God, were sharing in the great adventure of faith? Are we living out our pardon and position, or have we tamed the life of faith to something comfortable, something familiar, but something less than God wants for us?

We asked those questions amidst a “Weekend of Invitation”, where we were all encouraged to invite someone along to church, and it was heartening to see around a dozen or so newer faces, which is about 9% of our weekly adult attendance here on a Sunday morning.

We did that “Weekend of Invitation” within the “Thy Kingdom Come” prayer movement, which is an international, interdenominational season of prayer, where the church at large is encouraged to pray and especially to pray for others to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

And we partnered in both these initiatives because to introduce people to Jesus, to be part of their journey of faith, where they come to trust and follow Jesus as Saviour and Lord, well that’s one of the greatest adventures we can participate in – because as we heard last week, God is on an adoption adventure and by that He seeks to heal our broken world. This isn’t about evangelism and conversion for their own sake – this is about participating in the very mission of God, at the heart of which, is people coming to know Him and being reconciled to Him through Jesus. And so, helping people to know and follow Jesus is a key way of sharing in the adventure of God and a key way of sharing in a process takes us beyond comfort and what is familiar.

The “how” of doing this in our current society…
is one of the greatest quandaries of our time, and we often do not feel equipped or ready to participate in this part of the adventure. But I’m reminded of a colleague’s third year theological project, which was about mission in the 21st century. She explored a variety of issues, but within that project she included this quote:

‘The challenge for the church is to recognise that while not all of what postmodernity stands for is good, there are values that this generation holds that provide a key for how the church could communicate the message of Jesus Christ to a very post-Christian generation.’
(Brian Krum, The Missional Shift of Youth Ministry: from cookie cutter to incarnational ministry)

The principle thing I take away from this is that there are ways to engage with today’s generation, which could very well refer to anyone under the age of 50, but the key to engage with them is to know their values. Now, there are many values we could highlight but the ones of relevance this morning are: spirituality, the experimental (or experiential) and authenticity. So, these young folks are not interested in religious duty or more knowledge or good morals or acts and forms of religion. But what they are open to is a faith that makes a real difference in life, and which is also experiential. Now, when it comes to their desire for an experiential spirituality, I wonder if we sometimes scoff at that, or denounce it as part of hedonistic Western culture, a culture that appears to simply seek one experience after another. But you know,…
I wonder if we have always sought this out? For example, we have our well-loved Psalms:

‘My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?’ (Psalm 42:2)

‘The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.’ (Psalm 23:1-3)

If we’re brutally honest, to attempt to understand these Psalms without involving some experiential dynamic simply guts all meaning and relevance from the them… So, if we’re honest, we also want to experience God – we want our souls refreshed by God, we want led and helped and provided for. But I wonder if we actually expect God to come through on these ideas, or do we just settle for the comfort of nice words but without the comfort of God Himself? If this is the case, then maybe today’s generation is not as hedonistic as we might think; maybe they simply are not willing to settle for concepts and flowery words, and instead they want to see and know God as a true being and presence.

And maybe all this terrifies you or confounds you? Maybe you appreciate that this is what young people seek and expect, what they (and we) hunger for, but you don’t know how to join up the dots? You’re not sure how that hunger and expectation might be met?
Well, I have some good news for you – our very familiar parable, the parable of the prodigal Father, reveals a God who wants to provide the very answers and needs of our moment in history, our missional moment.

In the midst of the parable we read these words:
‘But while he [the younger son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ (Luke 15:20)

Now, we have looked at just about every part of this verse – the watching and waiting of the Father; the compassion the Father felt at the son’s return such that He ran towards His child; and we have looked at what comes after this moment, with the robe, the ring and the response of the elder brother.
But we have skimmed over the words: the Father…‘threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ The Father…‘threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ In these very words we see a God, Father God, who is ready to draw close, embrace us, and be affectionate, be demonstrative in His relationship with us.

Now, you may wonder if I am making a mountain out of a mole hill here, or whether I am turning parable into allegory? But as we have seen, Jesus is very deliberate in His storytelling, for He draws on the customs of the day and ensures that this parable is as loaded with meaning about Father God as possible. So, I don’t think it stretches the purpose of the parable to focus on these words in a little more detail, for in truth,…

their meaning is picked up and expanded upon again and again elsewhere in the New Testament.

For example, we read in Ephesians 3 today:
‘I pray that you…may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:17-19)

Here Paul speaks of knowing the love of Jesus, the love of God, such that we are filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. “the fullness of God” in Ephesians refers to the way God makes his presence and power felt, that in experiencing Christ Christians experience the fullness of God, his presence, and His power…
For Paul is praying that they will experience a greater measure of the divine presence in their lives such that they partake of God’s own being and are made like him. Now, as Paul makes clear, here and elsewhere, this is an ongoing process, but it is an experiential process nonetheless, yet we tend to gloss over such nuances and uncomfortable truths. However, once again we see that we have a God who is ready to draw close, embrace us and be demonstrative in His relationship with us.

Or take the prayer of Jesus in chapter 17 John’s gospel: Jesus prayed…‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they [current and future disciples] know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’ (John 17:25-26)

Again, we must gloss over or twist these words if we are to take away any sense of God being close, embracing us and being demonstrative in His relationship with us.

Or, what about Paul’s words to the Romans:
‘And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5)

Now, Paul is not simply meaning here that we are to love like God, that we have a loving heart, for then it would have little relevance to having hope – you don’t have hope because you have a loving heart towards others… No, you have hope because you have something within you that sustains you, and what sustains the Christian is God’s very own love – a love, which Paul says here, is poured into our hearts, the centre of our being, not simply into our minds, where it can be kept as a nice concept, but rather, it is poured in here, so that it is known deep in our being and able to nourish true and lasting hope.

So, once again, we see that the wider teaching of the New Testament is of a relationship with God wherein He is close, embracing and demonstrative; He is not distant, He is not cold, He is the Father who threw His arms round the younger son and kissed him. And likewise, God wants to come close, embrace us and be demonstrative…
[STORY OF PRAYER IN CAR FOR WEDDING]
So, how is it that Father God draws close, embraces us and demonstrates His love? How will today’s younger generations come into that experience of God which they expect or yearn for?

Well, whether it be in Ephesians 3, or in Romans chapter 5, or in John’s gospel from chapters 3 to chapter 20, in all these places and in every portion of the New Testament, it is by the person of the Holy Spirit that we are given help to know the Father’s love, to know His nearness and embrace. Romans 5 is maybe the most succinct:

‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5) Note here that Paul refers to the Holy Spirit, ‘who has been given’ – ‘who’…a person. It is easy to slip into referring to the Holy Spirit as ‘it’, because we are tempted to think about the Holy Spirit as a force, or energy or some kind of ghostly presence. But the clear teaching of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is a person, the Holy Spirit is God’s personal presence amongst us. He is one of the three persons of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – One God but three Persons.

Notice what else Paul says here about this third Person of God: the Holy Spirit ‘has been given to us’ – ‘has been given’, as in, this has already happened, and this has happened ‘to us’, to any person who claims the title
Christian and affirms Jesus as Lord and Saviour…
So, anyone who claims to be a Christian has the Holy Spirit, the personal presence of God residing in them, in our hearts; we have become a temple of God’s presence, as Paul says to the Corinthians.

So, why am I labouring this point? Well, as we have seen, the Holy Spirit is the means by which Father God helps us to know His love, to know His nearness and embrace. This is given to each and every Christian, as we have seen, and so to each and every Christian is given the means by which to know the Father’s love, His nearness and embrace, just like the younger son. And it will be by that same Holy Spirit, the third Person of God, that the Father’s love, nearness and embrace will be imparted to those younger generations who want a faith that is more than mere words on an old page or good moral and religious duty.
But here’s the thing: can we, each, speak of knowing the Spirit’s work in our lives? For young people today, it isn’t enough to point to an old book and claim it as truth – they want to know how these old words have come alive in your own life, they want to hear and see them in reality.

I came across a helpful illustration this past week…(pg99 of Mark Stibbe, The Father You’ve Been Waiting For.)

What’s the lesson of the story for us this morning? It is this: don’t settle for second-hand relationship, or secondhand religion; we each should and must pursue the real thing for ourselves. We each should and must pursue a real, authentic relationship with God, by His Holy Spirit, the third Person of God, His very presence amongst us…
Because a dynamic life of faith is not meant to be the reserve of the few; a dynamic life of faith, where we know the Father’s love, nearness and embrace is meant to be the bread and butter of all God’s people, for the Holy Spirit has been given to one and all who claim the title Christian, and so the Holy Spirit is ready to lead us into the Father’s embrace.

And if we want to help the younger generations see that the Christian faith meets their hunger and expectations, then we must be able to share our own stories of faith and be ready to point them in the direction of a God who is ready to draw close, embrace them and be demonstrative.

Now, there probably isn’t a quick fix to this, it will take time,…
it will take some learning and maybe even some unlearning of previous ideas. It will likely involve us going deeper in our own faith journey first, of being willing to admit that maybe there’s more to God and the life of faith than we ever imagined and maybe have ever experienced.

To help towards that, the Discipleship Team are planning an Alpha Course in the autumn session, beginning on the 18th September and running to the end of November. The Alpha course is a great way to explore, or re-explore, some of the core aspects of the Christian faith, so we are giving you 3 months’ notice in the hope you’ll make the time to come along and take a new step in the adventure of faith, by giving Alpha a try.

But the Discipleship Team also hope that some of us might consider inviting friends, family or neighbours to the Alpha course. The Weekend of Invitation was really just the beginning of a process: we all need to regularly invite others to come and find out more about this God who wants to draw close, embrace us and be demonstrative. And so, maybe the next step in the adventure of faith is for us is to invite someone to Alpha, to invite someone to come see that the hunger and expectation they have of God, can be found in this God, who has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and who is ready, so very ready, to throw His arms round and embrace all who return to Him.

May it be so. Amen.

The Father: compassionate and running

Preached on: Sunday 19th May 2019
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: Luke 15:11-20 and Romans 5:6-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20 and Romans 5:6-11
Sunday 19th May 2019
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.

We are now part way through our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, and we have been slowing down to really explore what these three parables of Jesus reveal to us of our heavenly Father.

We’ve seen that Father God loves with a seeking and prodigal love, that we are so precious to God that He seeks us out like a lost coin or sheep, and then in the example of the father and his lost son, we see a God who is extravagantly patient and recklessly generous in love.
We’ve also asked whether it is possible to hold onto belief in such a good God in light of the brokenness of our world.

To get us into this week’s focus, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour, and try to come up with a working definition for compassion. I’ll give you one minute. Go!
(PAUSE)

Compassion has been defined as suffering with someone in their pain and distress. It means to come alongside someone in their suffering and to feel what they feel. It means far more than just pity – it is empathetic love. It involves the engagement of both the heart and the hand
– the heart in sharing in another’s pain,…
the hand in reaching out to help. Compassion, in short, is about participation, not detachment. It is about actions more than words. It is about ‘suffering love.’

It can be hard to picture compassion sometimes but when we see it, it is so very powerful. During the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, British athlete Derek Redmond ran in the 400 metres semi-final, which was the fulfilment of a dream for him. But 100 metres into the race he fell on the track, having torn a hamstring. Here is a video of what happened – look out for the moment of compassion.
(PLAY VIDEO)

What was unknown to most folks at the time, was that the man who helped Derek reach the finish line was his dad, Jim…
His father, seeing his son’s distress, came alongside him – Jim refused to let guards deter him, he even pushed one over, because he was driven by compassion, by suffering love, to help his child finish that race.

We read today these words: ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ (v20) The father saw the younger son and was filled with compassion for him.

This father had watched his precious child rebel and go off the rails, shaming the father and disappearing off into the sunset, with no intention of ever returning. But every day the father had been looking. Whenever a merchant came into the village, the father would ask,…
‘Have you seen him? Have you seen my son? Have you seen him on your travels, especially in the far country?’

And every time he would see that blank stare, that look which signalled ‘no’. Every day the father lived with the gossip and the rumour-mongering in the village. Every night the father stayed awake and no one ever saw the tears that streamed down his face as he relived the agonising day of his son’s departure. No one saw the heaving of his shoulders as he gave way to quiet grief.

Yet, every day he patiently waited, he kept up hope, sitting on the flat roof of his house, looking towards the horizon. Then, one day, he caught sight of a familiar outline. He rubbed his eyes, blinked several time, and peered again. Could it be? Is it he?
At first the father feels shock, then momentary hesitation, but finally, certainty sets in, as he becomes sure it is his precious child, and with gut-wrenching emotion filling his entire being, the father can’t help himself anymore and he runs towards his son.

When we read that one little verse, we almost skip over it – we might be tempted to think, “well of course he did that, that’s obvious, who wouldn’t run to their child?”

But we need to remember the cultural dynamics at the time when this parable was told. As a general rule, distinguished Middle Eastern patriarchs did not run. There was a proverb around at the time: ‘A man’s manner of walking tells you what he is.’ Children might run; women might run; young men might run…
But not the father of the family, the dignified pillar of the community, the owner of the great estate. He would not pick up his robes and bare his legs like some boy. It was shameful and dishonourable for a man over 30 to be seen running in public, because quite literally you would be revealing your undergarments. No man who held honour highly enough would ever do that.

But this father does. He runs to his son – his feet move in response to his heart, to the deep well of compassion in the bowels of his very being; his love for his child is so deep that he will overcome all embarrassment and social conventions to reach his child.

So, what does Jesus hope to reveal of our heavenly Father in this parable? Well, we are clearly meant to see that our heavenly Father is filled with compassion towards us.

A few weeks ago, we saw that we each are like the younger son, we each have told God that He is as good as dead to us, that we want no part of Him, even though we want all the good stuff He has given us. We considered the agony that God would feel in response to such a rejection, a rejection, which if we suffered it, would result in a temper tantrum and the end of the relationship.

But Jesus is revealing something else entirely – Father God feels such compassion for us that He will pay a price to be reconciled to us. And that very price is summed up for us by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans: ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ (Rom. 5:8)

While we were still far off rebels, telling God to drop dead, He literally did – He laid down His life to make it possible for us to be forgiven. At the very moment when we were furthest away, the Father took the initiative. Even though we have sinned by rejecting Him, the Father decided to act. The justice of God said that human beings must experience the consequences of their rejection of God, and so experience separation from Him eternally. But the love of God said that this could not be the end of the story. So, out of this tension in the heart of God, the Father acted in history – He showed His great compassion for us by sending His one and only Son to die the death that we deserved…

Our heavenly Father, is a God who runs to rescue us, He is truly the God who saves, for at the Cross we see God’s love come running towards us, with outstretched arms, defusing the power of guilt and shame in any son or daughter who will return home.

If you feel far away from God, then remember the Father whom Jesus reveals in this parable – the Father who is waiting for you to come home. God’s heart is not filled with anger and hatred towards you, He loves you with a suffering love, with such compassion that He died in the person of His Son to bring you home, He is for you and His arms are opened wide. I asked a few weeks ago, friends, but just in case anyone was not here to hear it, I’ll ask it again – do you need to come home to God?

To be a Christian, is to come home to God – where God becomes the centre of your life, such that you build your life upon Him and He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for God, that’s when you know you’ve come home. That’s true repentance.

And God is lovingly waiting for us, my friends – if you haven’t returned to God, will you come home to God? If you’re unsure how to begin that journey home, then come speak with me after the service, and you can come home to God today.

But for those of us who have returned home, then there is the call of God upon our lives to grow up in the family likeness and take up the family business: we are to grow in the compassion of God and take up the reconciling work of God.
I know that you are a socially compassionate church – I have seen and felt it personally. I have seen you give of your time and of your money and of your love to help folks in desperate need and real sadness and brokenness. I am not speaking into these aspects of our congregational life, for there you do reflect the love of God.

But Jesus did not tell this parable to challenge us to be more loving in practical ways – that’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. No, Jesus told this parable in the context of helping His listeners understand the Father’s desire to be reconciled to us. In this instance, to reflect the compassion of God, is to take up the family business and help people come back into relationship with God, to come back home to God; that’s what Jesus was about here, that’s how the compassion of God was being displayed.
So, let me ask you, brothers and sisters in Christ: will we get out of the stands and get alongside others to help them finish the race? Like Derek Redmond’s father, will we get out of the comfort of the pew, or our homes, or our church groups, and will we break with convention, expectation, or even political correctness so as to come alongside others in compassion with the Good News of Jesus Christ? Will we wave off embarrassment, excuses of age or ability, or the apathy within our hearts and get out into our parish with the Good News of these very parables?

I realise it’s not easy; I am not a natural evangelist either.
Every time I stand up here and ask you to come home to God, I don’t do it well and every fibre of my being cringes.
But I know I’ve to do it because I know God wants as many as possible to come home to Him.

So, today I want to share with you in these closing moments, two initiatives to help us grow and show the compassion of God in this particular way.

The first is the prayer initiative you will have found in your news sheet. (READ SHEET) (WATCH VIDEO)

So, that’s the first initiative. As it happens, the time for Thy Kingdom Come, comes right before we are seeking to have our weekend of invitation here at Brightons Church on Sunday 9th June…

The idea with this initiative is for us to invite someone to church that weekend. To help with this, we’ve produced a simple invitation that will go out with the next copy of the Bright Lights magazine. The elders’ hope is that those who don’t regularly attend might be encouraged to come back. But also, that those of us who do come regularly, might take the invitation and use it to invite someone else along on the 9th June. This might be a neighbour, family member, colleague at work.

I realise that this is a big step for a lot of us – it’s a big step for me. So, that’s why we are coupling it with prayer – because we will never invite someone without deep compassion and conviction, and really, that only comes about as the Holy Spirit works in us and we talk with God in prayer about our fears, our hopes, our need for help.
So, please consider joining in prayer and using your invitation to share the compassion of our heavenly Father with those who are in your life, and invite them to not only to come to church, but to come home to God.