Justice: called to change

Preached on: Sunday 22nd 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 20-11-22 Message PPT slides multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 61:1-9
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 61:1-9
Sunday 22nd November 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.Today is our last week in our series focusing on justice through the book of Isaiah. Over the previous weeks, we’ve seen time and again that justice is a priority for the Lord because it is central to worship and core to His plan for bringing hope and light to the world, so that the norm changes and there might life for all. Each week, we’ve also had input from members of our church family, sharing with us ideas for seeking justice.Of the passages we explored, several may be less well known to us, but today’s passage could be familiar, or the beginning at least, because these words were quoted by Jesus. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus is in the synagogue at Nazareth and He reads this very passage, then says: ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ (Luke 4:21) This passage of Scripture foretold of someone who would come, anointed in the Spirit of the Lord, to set the world right, to bring life and healing of soul and of society. In that synagogue, Jesus was claiming to be the person referred to in Isaiah, the promised Messiah who would come to suffer and to serve, that God’s promises and plan would be fulfilled. Many of the promises in this passage should be familiar to us by now because they echo many earlier passages that we read and more besides.
Yet, there is something else in this passage, which I think helpfully rounds off our series on justice. Isaiah said:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations…
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
you will be named ministers of our God.’
(Isaiah 61:3-4, 6)

In these verses, we see that, whilst the principle agent of change and restoration is the promised Messiah, the people who benefit from Him, the people who receive…
His deliverance and salvation and help and grace, these same people are then called to be His ongoing agents, His ambassadors, His priests and ministers, such that they stand in the gap on His behalf and share what they have received from Him with the wider world. These people are called to change, they are called to change the world – to rebuild a world that has been devastated by sin, a world marked by a lack of love and too much cruelty and a way of life that says to take care of yourself first and at all costs. To all who have met with the Messiah, who have met with Jesus, there is a calling – we have a calling – to play a part in rebuilding lives and even rebuilding societies. It addresses the spiritual dynamics of life but also the material, for the earlier verses in the chapter speak of the Messiah transforming the full range of human reality and experience.
So, I wonder friends, as we heed last week’s message, that simply returning to normal is not viable and so we must look forward and look out, where are our resources being invested? What are we rebuilding or restoring? Are we simply maintaining the old structures and institution? Or can we learn the way of Jesus, to look outward and see the brokenness all around, and in love and compassion – where ‘compassion’ literally means ‘with suffering’ – can we love and suffer with this broken world for their benefit, and so play our part in what Jesus, the Messiah, is doing in our world? Friends, we are called to change, to change the world, so how is that seen in your life? How is that seen in our congregation’s life?

But this calling to change is not only external, it’s also internal. Isaiah did say:
‘They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendour…
For I, the Lord, love justice;
I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
and make an everlasting covenant with them.’
(Isaiah 61:3, 8)

We are called to change, but not only to change the world, we are called to change within ourselves. The Lord through Isaiah says that those who experience the ministry of the Messiah will be called ‘oaks of righteousness’, they will change in character, in their nature, such that they ‘display…his splendour’, His glory, His likeness – they will pursue justice, because He…
is the Lord who loves justice. So firm is His commitment to our change, that it is in fact part of the everlasting covenant He makes with us, His people. And this is key friends, because we shouldn’t fall into a false understanding about these matters – we don’t grow in righteousness by trying harder, that would be man-made religion. Instead, we are ‘a planting of the Lord’ – it is He who will nurture and grow this righteousness in us.

It’s a theme picked up in many places across the New Testament. Paul will say to Titus: ‘…our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ,…gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.’ (Titus 2:14) God through Isaiah, God through Paul, God across the Scriptures invites us into relationship and through that relationship into a calling to change, to change on the inside. It’s something we see in the life and ministry of Jesus: He transformed a tax collector into a disciple, a prostitute into a missionary, a sceptic into an apostle, a madman into a family man, and a thief into a friend.

Of course, it takes time – the Scriptures don’t speak of us becoming perfect instantaneously – because an oak matures slowly, it doesn’t become great overnight. But nevertheless, this is part of God’s plan, part of His calling upon our lives – and He will help make it possible. He promises to give us His Spirit to dwell in us and enable us to change. Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit…put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) and the fruit of the Spirit – not the fruit of our hard labour – is ‘…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Gal. 5:22-23) God will do what we cannot do for ourselves – change our nature, change us on the inside.

Does this mean we have no part to play? Do we simply lie back and allow God to work some magic on us? Well no, in that same quote from Romans, Paul says: ‘…by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…’ (Romans 8:13) You, with the Spirit, but without the Spirit you haven’t got a chance; for our brokenness, our darkness, the captivity within us because of sin is too powerful for us to overcome alone. But by the death and resurrection of Jesus, and because He has ascended into heaven and sent the Spirit, we can now know the healing and transformation promised in Isaiah and so increasingly grow as oaks of righteousness.
In our culture today, there’s that practice of taking a picture or selfie and adding a filter to make you look better or jazz things up a bit. Sometimes it’s just for fun, but other times I wonder if it points to a wishful desire in us, or a discontentment with who we are – so we end up putting on the filter, we fake it, and whilst the outside changes, it does nothing about the inside. We’re still broken, we’re still insecure or easily angered, because we need outside help to change on the inside.

Friends, we’ve been exploring God’s call to seek justice. That call requires us to change, it requires us to put others first, and like every call and command of God, if we see it as optional, we will never change. When I first became a Christian, I knew I had to stop getting drunk, I knew I had to stop swearing, I knew I had to treat girls better,… because the Scriptures teach us these things and I knew it wasn’t an option. And so I wholeheartedly said “yes” to God’s way, and change came, much quicker than I ever expected – but I had to choose, I had to choose to submit to God and not see it as optional. By taking that step, that step of faith to trust God’s way over mine, He then gave power by His Spirit and I did change on the inside.

Brothers and sisters, we are called to change, to change this world and see it rebuilt and restored. But for that to be – for our future to be different from the past – we must also heeds God’s call to change on the inside and allow His Spirit to grow and mature us in His character and in His ways, which includes the seeking of justice.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Justice: changing the norm

Preached on: Sunday 15th 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 20-11-15-Message-PPT-slides-multi-page.
Bible references: Isaiah 56:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 56:1-8
Sunday 15th November 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.Eight months today was our last Sunday service here in the sanctuary at Brightons – it was the 15th of March. Numbers were already down at that stage, people were starting to stay home because of the spread of Coronavirus, and from the Sunday after we have been primarily online. Eight months of waiting. Eight months of waiting to return. Eight months of waiting to get back to some form of normal.

In our passage today, the people being addressed have been waiting. It’s not obvious straight away, but chapter 56 marks the start of a new section in the book of Isaiah. Up to chapter 40, the people were still in the land of Israel and God was calling them to change their ways and warning them what would happen if they did not. Sadly, Israel didn’t change its ways and so they were taken into exile, to Babylon, the whole nation was upheaved and marched hundreds of miles away. Chapters 40 to 55 speak into that time and share promises and hopes of what would eventually come: that the people would return to the land that God had given them and the scattered exiles would be gathered home.

By chapter 56 the Israelites have returned, or at least a portion of them have, for many chose to stay in Babylon… and so the mass return of exiles has not been realised – the great hopes and dreams and promises shared through Isaiah and other prophets are far from complete. The people are waiting. They live in an interim time. They are waiting for a new world to dawn.

And into that waiting, God spoke. I wonder, in our waiting, has God been speaking to you? Have you been seeking to listen? What might you have wanted Him to say? It strikes me that these words from Isaiah may not have been anticipated by His people. Here they are waiting, hoping for other exiles to return and complete the promises God made, of there being a people who belong to Him, living in His kingdom and living by His values. Yet, what God says here is startling:

‘To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant –
to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will endure for ever.
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants… these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer…’ The Sovereign Lord declares – he who gathers the exiles of Israel:
‘I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.’ (v4-8)

God is going to gather ‘still others’ – others beyond the Israelite exiles – and not just any others, but eunuchs and foreigners, people who up till now have been excluded from worship in the inner places of the temple. This is unexpected! To a people who are waiting, who want to return to the glory days by having the exiles return, this is startling news. In the midst of their waiting, God directs their attention out and forward, rather than back.

Six weeks ago, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland met – largely in a virtual way, with a minimal few in the Assembly Hall. At its opening, the Moderator, Martin Fair, brought this message to the church.
(PLAY VIDEO)

In our waiting, what are we waiting for? A return to normal? A return to what we were doing, life that was marked, in many cases, by catastrophic decline? Could it be possible, that in the midst of our waiting, God might come with a message that directs us to look forward and to look out?

The Lord began this section with these words:
‘…my salvation is close at hand
and my righteousness will soon be revealed.’ (v1)

His people were on the cusp of something new; they were on the cusp of God bringing about His righteous purposes such that lives would be changed, transformed,… delivered, saved. But to do that, there could be no returning to the old ways and so the Lord directs His people to look forward and to look out.

Friends, in your waiting, which direction are you focussing on? Is it back, “back to normal”? It’s not easy to look forward and it’s not easy to look out when we feel vulnerable. But if our future is to be other than decline, then we can’t just look back to what was normal, we need to look forward and we need to look out.

Yet in the waiting time, the Lord also had another major point to raise with His people. Not only were they to look forward and out, they were also to evidence His kingdom through justice in the present time. He says to them:
‘Maintain justice…
and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. Blessed is the one who does this – the person who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath without desecrating it, and keeps their hands from doing any evil.’ (v1-2)

We see again those words, ‘mishpat’ and ‘tzadeqah’, ‘justice’ and ‘doing what is right’. It can seem confusing at first why God would string together justice, salvation and sabbath in these verses, but He has good reason. The Lord wants them to look forward and out, but He does not want them to neglect doing right in the present time either, and doing right involves, once again, seeking justice, justice for all.
Because Sabbath had to do with rest; not just for masters and Israelites, but servants and foreigners as well as for animals. To keep the Sabbath, meant, among other things, that you valued what God valued, that you cared for what He cared for. The Sabbath was not an end in itself, but a sign that you wanted your life to be lived in submission to God, such that you shared His values, including His passionate concern for justice.

In their waiting, the Lord’s people were to look forward and look out, but they were also to evidence the values of the Lord, particularly through justice. They were to be a visible sign that the Kingdom of God was breaking into the world and making itself felt, and not just for those on the inside, or those with status or the right credentials – there was to be justice for all.

I wonder friends, would our local community see this in us? Are we a visible sign that the kingdom of God is breaking into this world and setting things right? That’s part of God’s righteousness, His righteous purposes – He doesn’t just correct sin, He also sets things right.

We sang earlier:
‘Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.’

Do our lives evidence this? Or are they just nice words? Who is in ‘moral proximity’ to us and are we doing anything about their needs? Because in our waiting, there is a world out there who needs to know there is a God who cares, yet His plan is for His people to show His love and concern, and to do that we must share His values.
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Brothers and sisters, we are in a waiting time, but may we not simply wait for a return to normal. Instead, may we open ourselves to the Lord’s leading by His Spirit, that this time of waiting might equip us to look forward and out, and also to be a people who seek justice in the present.

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 and Mission (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 3rd November 2020
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.
You can download a copy of the sections from ‘The Mission of God’ quoted in the sermon here: The-Mission-of-God-Christopher-Wright-compressed
Bible references: 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Leviticus 25: 1-13, 25-28, 39-43; Isaiah 61:1-9; Luke 4:14-21
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everyone welcome to Tuesday Evening Sermon our once a month time where we dig deeper into God’s word and really try and tease out a little bit of maybe some of the recent teaching that we’ve had on our Sunday services uh just chew on the word of God just that little bit more and so tonight is likely to be a little bit longer and because of the subject matter because of where I want to go with things it is much more kind of teaching session and maybe more so than just a sermon or a preach so hopefully you can bear with that this might be something that you want to keep coming back to or you might want to even pause and come back to things because there’s bits of it that you might just want to mull over and refresh yourself with just as we go through it so get your bibles ready uh you might want a pen and paper even just to jot some notes down as we go through things because tonight we’re going to look at the topic of justice and mission and we’re kind of trying to tease out is justice part of the church’s mission because it could be argued that the focus in the new testament is very much on evangelism and that evangelism is what mission is for the church today and so I want to try and tease into that a little bit in our time together so before we do that let’s take a moment to pray; let us pray:

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight oh Lord our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

So is justice part of the mission of the church now we have to understand clearly that the church only has a mission because God has a mission so and we’re not going into that so much today explicitly and tied in with this would be maybe sometimes questions like well should the church be concerned about care of creation could that be part of mission because there’s a an ecumenical document that talks about the five marks of mission and the first couple are about uh sharing the faith with people seeing people come to faith discipling people so the normal kind of things that we tag on with evangelism and discipleship is probably quite comfortable with that as being part of mission but then it does talk about justice I think is mark number four and mark number five is care of creation is are these part of mission how could we argue for that and I think the creation care one is part of the kind of justice picture because as we’ve been seeing part of the old testament argument about justice is care of those who are powerless and who are vulnerable and it could be argued that that creation is very vulnerable particularly as mankind has developed capacity and in numbers that we have great power over creation apart from obviously the great natural disasters that happen we do have great power and even some of them that we are influencing because of our behavior so maybe those kind of things are not mentioned in in the scriptures explicitly because well humanity was never an efficient position to do both beforehand they cared much better for creation but even still could it be argued from the scriptures that creation care should be part of the mission of the church just like justice could be

And the people that would argue for that probably look back into the old testament as we have been doing with our series in Isaiah we’ve been going to the old testament and that raises one of the issues that I want to touch on just as we get into things tonight because there’s a couple of issues we need to touch on initially before we kind of dig into this

Because these issues I think are sometimes at the heart of why we might not see justice or creation care as part of new testament mission and the first is I thought that I came across in my reading over the summer in the book we need to talk about justice by Ben Lindsay I’ve mentioned him before and in the evening on a race in Scotland and later in the book he talks about race and theology and he talks about this tension between evangelism and a broader understanding of mission an understanding of mission that would be more community orientated than just an individual orientated and he quotes another pastor an academic who says generally in the black church you learn about Jesus through Moses white Christians through Paul that’s why they struggle with social issues Lindsay says this author’s overarching point is that many black churches promote a theology that leads to Jesus through the old testament story of Moses which tells of a God of justice who hears the cry of his people and saves and redeems them as a result black people are presented with the redemption of all things creation people and places however the majority of white churches come to Jesus through the apostle Paul in the new testament here there is a heavy focus on the grace of God for the sinner and the importance of the family of Christ representing the church the result is that there is an emphasis on personal salvation and community renewal is in the shadows if your theology and teaching are more appalling than mosaic then it becomes really hard to see how the word of God applies to social justice issues whereas the mosaic starting point allows freedom to articulate why God cares about personal salvation economics business education etc I found that a really startling and helpful perspective on it possibly pushed a little bit far after all Paul does say in Colossians that that God is redeeming all things and reconciling all things to himself through Christ and so it’s probably pushed a little bit far there he’s obviously trying to make a point but I wonder if that’s part of it that in quite majority churches we can be very individual focused and we maybe do form a large part of our theology exclusively through the new testament and I struggle with the old testament whereas because black majority churches and black Christians and Christians of other ethnic groups have faced slavery have faced conditions that would more naturally help them feel a sense of a unity with the Israelites and Egypt and et cetera it’s natural that they would maybe then go to the old testament scriptures and so through that journey to our theology that is more about community and about the renewal of much more than just the individual not that they would deny the individual it’s just that they maybe try and hold it in greater tension than we do at times and I think part of the influence of our upbringing then is that with regard to the old testament we have maybe a tendency to over spiritualize it and we gloss over things that are about the physical and about the community and about creation and we make a much more spiritual focus on it or we just disregard the old testament and so much of it as irrelevant we don’t maybe preach on it as much when we don’t talk about it or study about it as much when was the last time that you really looked at Leviticus in depth for example so tonight we’re going to dig into a couple of old testament passages and see a little bit of this at work and I’m also going to quote a couple of sections from the mission of God by Christopher wright which I find a really helpful book in helping us to get this other kind of perspective on mission and maybe challenges a little bit to equate where we’re at but first I want us to turn to 2 Timothy Chapter 3 verse 16 and 17 which verses many of you will be familiar with Paul says to Timothy all scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching rebuking correcting and training and righteousness so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work all scripture is God breathed and is useful all scripture and of course at the time he Paul was talking about the old testament so there’s stuff in the old testament that is useful and we know it’s of God but we often don’t really think it’s very useful we often just as I say I think over spiritualize it or disregard it now clearly how we relate to the old testament is different from Jews particularly because as we see in the book of Hebrews we have Jesus who is presented as the perfect sacrifice and the perfect high priest so we no longer no longer need the sacrificial system we no longer need a high priest to offer our sacrifices on our behalf that is provided for by Jesus so that deals away with a great swathe of the old testament then there’s laws in the old testament that are about the distinction between who is in the people of God and who’s not in the people of God and about purity in that sense and again because of Jesus because there is neither Greek a gentile nor Jew that distinction is not kept for us in the same manner that it was in the old testament about food laws and some of the other laws and kind of ceremony on purity laws and such things so there’s something quite different there for us now but I think from what I’ve been reading and thinking about this issue of mission and justice I think somehow we need to hold better the old and new testament together so as to reveal a fuller understanding of the mission of God so that we don’t just treat the old testament as some nice old stories that laid simply a foundation for Jesus or are nicely sentimental words of encouragement that we actually see that that God began his mission in the old testament carried it through the old testament and yes there is a new covenant but it builds upon what was there previously and I’ve tried to touch on some of this in my time here already with talking about the kingdom of God uh of the blessing that that was promised uh to and through Abraham but there is more which is something that’s wonderful about scripture and so we’re going to turn now to some of those old testament passages one in particular that I have no idea if you’ve ever looked at it really and we’re going to turn to Leviticus chapter 25 Leviticus chapter 25 and read a number of verses from here so Leviticus chapter 25 and at verse 1 the lord said to Moses at mount Sinai speak to the Israelites and say to them when you enter the land I am going to give you the land itself must observe a sabbath to the lord for six years sow your fields and for six years prune your vineyards and gather your crops but in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest the sabbath to the lord do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines the land is to have a year of rest whatever the land yields during the sabbath year will be food for you for yourself your male and female servants and the hired worker and temporary resident who live among you as well as for your livestock and the wild animals in your land whatever the land produces may be eaten count seven sabbath years seven times seven years so that the seven sabbath years amount to a period of 49 years then sound the trumpet everywhere on the tenth day of the seventh month on the day of atonement sound the trumpet throughout your land consecrate the 50th year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants it shall be a jubilee for you each of you is to return to your family property and to your own clan the fiftieth year shall be a jubilee for you do not sow and do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the intended vines for it is at jubilee and is to be holy for you it’s only what is taken directly from the fields in this year of jubilee everyone is to return to their own property jumping on a little bit to verse 25

If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold if however there is no one to redeem it for them but later on they’re on they prosper and acquire sufficient means to redeem it for themselves they are to determine the value for the years since they sold it and refund the balance to the one to whom they sold it they can go back to their own property but if they do not acquire the means to repay what was sold this well what was sold will remain in the possession of the buyer until the year of jubilee it will be returned in the jubilee and they can then go back to their property and then at verse 39

If any of your fellow Israelites became become poor and sell themselves to you do not make them work as slaves to be treated as hired workers or temporary residents among you they are to work for you until the year of jubilee then they are they and their children are to be released and they will go back to their own clans into the property of their ancestors because the Israelites are my servants whom I brought out of Egypt they must not be sold as slaves do not rule over them ruthlessly but fear your God amen so the year of jubilee is where I want to start this section the original as we see was meant to be the 49th year seven sets of seven years and then there would be this year of jubilee and we’re unsure actually if it ever did happen in the life of Israel sadly but in that 50th year they were meant to free people from their debts free people from slavery that if they had sold land to others because of financial hardship that they were to get that land back and it would rebalance how things were set up when they first came in to the promised land and we see both that in the later portions that I read there but you can go on and read the full chapter and Leviticus 25. Jubilee had two main thrusts it had release and liberty and return or restoration so you were released from your debts you were released from slavery and you were able then to be returned to your wider clan or your family unit and you were able to you were free from slavery and also if you had sold land that would be released that would be returned to you and your property your financial position your your honor would be restored so release return liberty and restoration

And when we read of failures to keep the sabbath it’s potentially also including this idea of jubilee not just the Sunday the Saturday that they didn’t keep or the sabbath years but also potentially the jubilee years

And in the course of Israel’s history this developed into a much wider hope a longing within the people and it was picked up and articulated by the prophets so let’s jump on to Isaiah chapter 61. Okay Isaiah 61 at verse 1.

Isaiah 61 at verse 1

The spirit of the sovereign lord is on me because the lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor he sent me to bind up the brokenhearted to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion does this bestow in them a crown of beauty instead of ashes of all the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead a spirit of despair they were called oaks of righteousness a planting of the lord for the display of his splendor they will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations strangers will shepherd your flocks foreigners will work your fields and vineyards and you will be called priests of the lord you will name ministers of our God you will feed on the wealth of nations and in their riches you will boast instead of your shame you will receive a double portion and instead of grace you will rejoice in your inheritance and so you will inherit a double portion in the land and everlasting joy will be yours for I the lord love justice I hate robbery and wrongdoing in my faithfulness I will reward my people and make an everlasting covenant with them their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples all who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the lord has blessed amen

So as I say I think we often approach the old testament solely in a very spiritual sense but reading Isaiah 61 after reading Leviticus 25 I think makes a difference because when you start to read those verses I don’t think you just think in spiritual terms I think there are spiritual nuances there but I think it’s more as well to proclaim freedom for the captives those who have sold themselves because of debts and now because jubilee should have happened because sabbath should have been recognized and honored and followed there should have been freedom for the captives to proclaim the year the year of the lord’s favor the jubilee year to comfort those who mourn to provide for those who grieve to bestow them a crown of beauty instead of ashes oil of joy instead of mourning because they’re in slavery and because they don’t have the land that they once had and they’ve had to sell it

To rebuild what has been lost that instead of disgrace verse seven you will see you will rejoice in your inheritance their inheritance was the land it was what God had given each family medium-sized clan unit to have so that they had provision for them and they’ve had to sell that and so they’re in slavery and they so they’re in disgrace and they’re lacking honor and because of jubilee that was meant to be restored to them

Because the lord loves justice he loves justice

I think it it’s leading with jubilee language that freedom of the captives good news for the poor the year of the lord’s favor inheritance instead of disgrace but we’re trying to understand well what about new testament mission

And so let’s jump on into Luke chapter 4 in the new testament where we read about Jesus okay Luke chapter 4 at verse 14.

Jesus returned to galilee in the power of the spirit news about him spread through the whole countryside he was teaching in in their synagogues and everyone praised him he went to Nazareth where he had been brought up and on the sabbath day he went into the synagogue as was his custom he stood up to read and the scroll of the prophet as I was handed to him and rolling it he found the place where it is written the spirit of the lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor he sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind to set the oppressed free to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor then he rolled up the scroll gave it back to the attendant and sat down as of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him he began by saying to them today the scripture is fulfilled in your hearing amen

So Jesus picks up the words of Isaiah and again we have that tendency to spiritualize every part of it don’t we but you know there how many are the commentators that would say well this person was healed the leper was healed or the blind man was made to see and that uh the paralyzed man was able to walk and these were not only healings and not only a generated faith but they would give that person back life because then they could work that that is picked up in so many commentators

So when the kingdom comes and in the ministry of Jesus it’s not just about faith it’s not excluding faith it’s not excluding spiritual dynamics but it’s not just and the gospel the good news is not just that you can be forgiven your sins when Jesus came and he started preaching he says the good news is what the gospel is what can you remember

Repent and believe the good news for the kingdom of God is near the gospel is actually about the kingdom of God not just about forgiveness of sins and so in all of this I guess the question arises how big is our your understanding of the gospel and of the cross and of the mission of God so I’d like to quote a little bit from Christopher Wright because when I was going over this uh once more I was just struck by it he writes uh so powerfully so a couple of couple of sections that we’ll just listen to just now it is a distorted and surely false reading of scripture to argue that whatever the new testament tells us about the mission of the followers of Christ cancels out what we already know about the mission of God’s people from the old testament of course the new testament focuses on the new thing that we now have to proclaim to the nations only from the new testament can we proclaim the good news that God has sent his son into the world God has kept his promise to Israel Jesus has died and has risen and is even now reigning as lord and king in the name of Jesus Christ we can know forgiveness of sins through repentance and faith and his blood shed on the cross Christ well returning glory the kingdom of God will be fully established in the new creation all of these great affirmations and much more are the content of the good news that could only be made known in the new testament through the historical events of the gospels and the witness of the apostles and of course it is our mandate duty and joy to proclaim these things to the world and the evangelistic task entrusted to us but where do we find any justification for imagining that by rightly understanding what the new testament commands us to do we are absolved from doing what the old testament commands why should we imagine that doing evangelism and obedience to the new testament excludes doing justice and obedience to the old why have we allowed what we call the great commission to obscure the twin challenge endorsed by Jesus himself of the great commandment

I just find that so powerful and hard time and really just hits me and it just makes me want to approach the old testament and new and in different ways and see that it has relevance and that God has been doing and building things for millennia and that it culminated in Christ and Jesus coming and what he’s doing and what we have to share yes there’s that evangelistic task there is calling people into that but then when we are discipling people what we are discipling them to is maybe much greater than we’ve ever imagined Christopher wright goes on to say God’s mission was that sin should be punished and sinners forgiven evil should be defeated and humanity liberated death should be destroyed and life and immortality brought to light enemies should be reconciled to one another and to God and creation itself should be restored and reconciled to its creator a huge vision of what God is doing has revealed through the scriptures he goes on to say a full biblical understanding of the work of Christ on the cross goes far beyond though of course it includes the matter of personal guilt and individual forgiveness that Jesus died in my place bearing the guilt of my sin as a voluntary substitute is the most gloriously liberating truth to which we cling in glad and grateful worship with tears of wonder that I should long for others to know this truth and be saved and forgiven by casting their sins on the crucified savior in repentance and faith is the most energizing motive for evangelism all of this must be maintained with total commitment and personal conviction so we hold on to evangelism we hold on to calling people to repentance to saying that every one of us is a messed up sinner and we need the forgiveness of God that is not in debate that is not up for dropping any time but he says but there is more in the biblical theology of the cross than individual salvation and there is more to biblical mission than evangelism the gospel is good news for the whole creation to point out these wider dimensions of God’s redemptive mission is not watering down the gospel of personal salvation rather we set that most precious personal good news for the individual firmly and affirmatively within its full biblical context of all that God has achieved and will finally complete through the cross of Christ only in the cross only in the cross is there forgiveness justification and cleansing for guilty sinners hallelujah only in the cross stands at the feet of evil powers only in the cross is the release from the fear of death and its ultimate destruction altogether only in the cross are even the most intractable and tractable of enemies reconciled only in the cross where we finally witness the healing of all creation the fact is that sin and evil constitute bad news in every area of life on this planet the redemptive work of God through the cross of Christ is good news for every area of life on earth that has been touched by sin which means every area of life bluntly we need a holistic gospel because the world is in a holistic mess and by God’s incredible grace we have a gospel big enough to redeem all that sin and evil has touched and every dimension of that good news is good news utterly and only because of the blood of Christ on the cross there is no other power no other resource no other name through which we can offer the whole gospel to the whole person and the whole world than Jesus Christ crucified and risen

I’ll probably put up uh scans of just a few of those pages so that you can go back and and look at them more easily and if you want a copy of the book then or alone of my copy then just let me know

I just did not know how to summarize some of that and so forgive me for quoting so lengthy sections but sometimes we need some meaty stuff to chew on and to hear and so that’s what I’ve chosen to do tonight I hope you can see where I am coming from I hope you can see what is nurtured in my thinking and in my heart – this understanding that the mission of God the Gospel of Jesus Christ is huge and relevant for every area of life.

And thus why justice is part of the mission of God and so the mission of the church and why I’ve felt called to preach about this these past number of weeks

Friends I hope tonight has provided some food for thought maybe a wider biblical foundation than just what we saw in Isaiah and begins to not just convict us maybe even if that’s needed affirm that that call that some of us have because I was talking to someone I just through the this series and the church has never affirmed her occupation I won’t go into what it is but the church is never from not Brightons parish church not any church because I think we probably downplay issues of justice and we elevate evangelism and maybe we do that because we think one is eternal and so we do the eternal over the temporal and in Brightons we do that with the kirk session in the deacons court where they cover the eternal matters and the temporal matters but that’s another story in another conversation

But this individual had never been affirmed by the church never once in decades of work but by talking about justice by seeing that justice is crucial and important because it is at the heart of God and it’s at the heart of God because it’s part of the mission of God or vice versa that it’s part of the mission of God because of the heart of God that brought a measure of affirmation for her she could see that in her work she is bringing the light of Jesus she is bringing good news for the poor

And hopefully freedom for the captives and that is more than just spiritual that it includes a spiritual but it is more than just a spiritual so friends uh I will be interested to hear what you have to say give me some feedback give me a call arrange to go for a walk if that’s permitted in due course but let’s wrestle with this because I really do think it’s there in the scriptures it’s there in the heart of God

And some way somehow needs to become much more there are echoes of it certainly there are clear signs of it in parts of us as Brightons

But maybe we just need to have that wider biblical understanding of things to give us that nudge to bring that degree of challenge as we were looking at on Sunday I hope tonight has been helpful and that God speaks through this to equip us and call us so let us take a moment to pray let us pray:

Our God and Heavenly Father what was of you would you take it deep into our hearts and minds would you transform and renew our minds that we would follow in your ways that we would take on the character and the heart of Jesus more fully and lord what was of me what was just dross would you just blow it away that it wouldn’t take root that it wouldn’t unsettle us. May there not be any attack of the enemy that would bring a guilt that is heavy and ill-fitting but would we if we are challenged simply have the discipline receive it as a discipline of our father and no forgiveness and know his you’re enabling to lead us into life that all might have life lord lead us in your ways help us to see the injustices around us help us not to be complacent as we’ve heard not to be ‘thinking well I’m just one little person what do my choices matter’ because they do Lord each of our choices matter and when we collectively pull together then then incredible things happen and even on that individual things level credible things happen so Lord, leaders in this lead us to know how to engage with our community, our wider area, even the wider issues of the world as we seek justice and defend the oppressed .

We ask you in Jesus name, Amen

Friends, thanks for joining us tonight for our Tuesday Evening Sermon and in the description there’ll be some links so you can get a scan of the pages I read from tonight; and do join us Thursday evening for live prayer at 8:15 and in the morning there’s also the open time of prayer at 10 am if you’re able to join us – you do need to book in advance for that one. We’ll be back on Sunday. This Sunday it’s Remembrance Sunday so we’ll be starting at the earlier time of 10:45 with music and notices from 10:30 so that at 11 o’clock we can show and have our mark of Remembrance at 11 o’clock. Join us then if you’re able …….

and as you go from here the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you this night and forevermore.

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.

Why pray?

Preached on: Sunday 6th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-09-06-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Luke 11:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 11:1-10
Sunday 6th September 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchIntroduction to reading
In our last teaching series, we explored in the book of Matthew the calling of Jesus to His disciples, both then and for us now. We saw that we are all called into a relationship with Jesus, and with that comes an invitation, a command even, to give our lives away for His purposes, as part of the family of God, such that we share the love of God and we mature in the character of God.Back on the 15th of July I was praying and asking the Lord for guidance, and I believe He shared a number of things to help us enter into His purposes, His freedom, and the life He has for us. I noted these down in my journal and one prompting was a call to prayer, to grow in prayer, to become a more prayerful people, and this is as much for me because I know that I need to grow in prayer.
So, beginning today and through to the October break, we are going to look at some teaching on prayer and each week have a particular prayer or activity to use in helping us to pray. Because it’s all well and good having a clear purpose and a sense of what Jesus has called us to, but without being a people of prayer, we won’t change, and this world will not change either.

During my recent holiday I read a little on the issue of justice, and the concluding words focused on prayer. In particular, this portion caught my attention: ‘we must [empower the pursuit of justice] with prayer. If we [rely on] willpower, hard work, protest and activism alone, we will become exhausted. Prayer gives the battle over to Jesus. Prayer fuels our action. Through prayer, Jesus will give us strength, truth, wisdom, peace, insight, love, forgiveness and power. Through prayer, God wins the main battleground – the human heart.’
(Ben Lindsay, We Need To Talk About Race)

Whether it be the issue of justice, or the calling to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’, we need to be a people of prayer, because our own finite resources are just not enough. So today, we begin a new series on prayer, and hear now our first reading from the Scriptures.
(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 acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Prayer is one of those parts of life, parts of faith, which we know we should do, but often don’t. That can be for any number of reasons: we don’t know what words to use; we fear getting it wrong; we maybe don’t think it does anything. There can also be other reasons, such as simple laziness or apathy.

This past week, Gill and I celebrated 15 years of marriage, and if I told you that we rarely talk, don’t listen to each other, and generally get on with our separate lives, it wouldn’t matter than we lived in the same house, or had our marriage certificate, or shared our financial resources, you would still be thinking that the quality of our marriage was quite poor, even worrying. Thankfully, none of those things actually apply!

Yet, the same is true with our relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. You might come to church, you might have a baptism certificate or something that marks when you became a member or an elder, and you might give generously in finances or in time to the work of God’s church. But if you are not praying, not relating personally and directly to God on a regular basis, then I would wonder about the quality of your relationship with Him.

In our day there is a prayer movement called ‘24-7 Prayer’, and a number of years ago they produced a video which summaries ‘why’ we might pray, and I would like to play that for you, just now.
(PAUSE – play video)

I wonder what jumped out for you – do feel free to share it in the live chat just now. I was struck by the idea that prayer may be the most powerful thing we do to change our world, to change ourselves, because when we pray we are connecting with the living God, engaging in a twoway relationship, and as we do so, what we pray echoes into eternity. So, prayer is key, it is powerful, and sometimes the best way to learn to pray is simply to pray.

Nonetheless, one day the disciples came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray…’ (v1) Clearly, they saw something – something in the way He prayed, or in what He prayed, something different. Or maybe they saw how Jesus had prayer underpinning all of life because again and again He would go off to pray. And so, the one and only thing they ever ask to be taught, is to pray.

In response, Jesus shares with them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer, which is probably the most famous prayer in history. Martin Luther said: “To this day I am still nursing myself on the Lord’s Prayer like a child, and I am still eating and drinking of it like an old man without getting bored of it.” Christian writer, Timothy Jones, also argued: “To cultivate a deeper prayer life all you have to do is say the Lord’s Prayer, but take an hour to do it.”
We know from history, that it was traditional for rabbis of the time to have their own unique prayer which brought together their foundational teaching. John the Baptist’s followers likely had such a prayer because in our passage today the disciples said, ‘“Lord teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.”’ (Luke 11:1)

It’s unlikely they were just asking Jesus for a few good prayer tips. They were saying: ‘We need know what You are about, we need a statement of faith!’ As such, the Lord’s Prayer is maybe our primary foundation for understanding life and faith, giving shape to everything else. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer is like a model prayer: knowing what to pray and so we might simply repeat the words as given, because repeating it regularly can help its central truths to slowly shape our hearts and our minds.
But the Lord’s Prayer can also be like a map: teaching us the way of prayer, the route to take. Many of us find prayer difficult, don’t we? We get distracted or struggle to know what to say. But praying each phrase, even a few words of the prayer, can spark ideas of what to pray. In this way, the Lord’s Prayer helps us become real with God: real with Him about what we think of Him, of the needs we have for ourselves and the needs of others, as well as seeking His forgiveness for our sin and asking for His help in the difficult realities of life.

Here is a prayer that we often just recite without much thought, yet it can be a framework into which we pour all of the thoughts and concerns of our lives. It is possible to take the thing that is most burning in your heart at this time and pray about it using the Lord’s Prayer.

Earlier in the service, I said that in each week of this season of prayer, we would have a prayer to pray, or an activity to use, and the Lord’s Prayer is the one for this week. You can simply take the version you are most comfortable with and pray it in one of the ways I’ve described this morning. Or, if you wish, you can find an alternative version on our website, in the “Sermons” page, as well as from our Facebook page this afternoon. In that document there are various examples of the Lord’s Prayer, sometimes using different language to express its meaning, or capturing the prayer from a particular angle. If you’ve been praying this prayer for many years, it may be helpful to try a different version because then may you to see and engage with it afresh.

But whether you pray in “Thee’s” and “Thou’s”, or take it a word or line at a time, may we choose to grow as a people of prayer, responding to this call to pray, and investing time in our relationship with God by using the Lord’s Prayer each day this coming week. For Jesus has promised: ‘ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.’ (v9) As we prayer, as we ask, seek and knock, may we know the reciprocal welcome and provision of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Called to Maturity

Preached on: Sunday 16th August 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 20-08-16-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Matthew 15:10-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 15:10-20 (NIV)
Sunday 16th August 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 acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

A few weeks ago, we began this new series where we are turning to a few moments in the book of Matthew where Jesus called people to Himself. Specifically, we were looking to see what these encounters might teach us about being church together, that we might then have clarity about the why, the what and the how of church life, both in this time of lockdown and when we start back with some of our more normal activities. So, what ideas or teaching or values of Jesus might guide us in this time and in the future?
Well, we’ve seen that Jesus invites us into relationship with Himself, He invites us also into His purpose, and Jesus invites us into family, His family, the family of God.
With regard to purpose, we turned to the Church Without Walls Report, which said that the core purpose of the church is ‘to invite, encourage and enable people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’ Today I want to explore one idea for how we may enable people to be disciples of Jesus.

Boys and girls, you’ve had a big week this week – schools and nurseries have started back, and it was lovely to see so many of your pictures. I’m sure your folks have even got pictures of last year, and so they can see how much you’ve grown and matured. Today is also our Moving Up Service, which is a time of year where we mark your development, your maturing, within the church family.
I wonder, adults in our congregations, as we see our young people mature, moving up the school years, moving up the Sunday School groups, how do we hope to see them mature? What hopes do we have for them?
Let’s take a minute to think or talk about that at home.
(PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with, feel free to put it in the Live Chat. Do we hope for our young people to achieve a path towards work and fulfilment? Maybe we also hope for them to find love, or stay active in our church family? On the issue of faith, do our hopes for our young people include more than Sunday attendance, or even more than diligence in reading the Bible or prayer? Our passage today speaks to these hopes, but it will also ask some tough questions about our own faith.
Jesus is with the disciples, surrounded by a crowd, and surrounded also by the religious leaders and teachers of His time. They’ve asked some thorny, difficult questions, and after answering them Jesus calls the crowd to Himself. He says, ‘What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’ (v11) Now, it may sound odd to us, or if we’ve grown up in the church, it may sound a bit obvious. But to the folks of the day, this was radical teaching, because they put so much focus on external things, on the rules and regulations of their religion, such that they forgot the issues of the heart.

A little later on the disciples ask Jesus for an explanation of His teaching and Jesus says, ‘…the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts…’ (v18-19) This echoed His earlier teaching, where He said, ‘For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.’ (Matt. 12:34) I’m sure many of us can think of people whose words reveal the condition of their heart; words of comfort and encouragement from a heart of love; yet in another, words of criticism or judgment from a heart that is wounded or bitter.

In all of this, Jesus wants to help His disciples realise that following Him includes having their hearts changed, maturing in His likeness. Jesus had also earlier said, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matt. 5:48) Not that He expects us to reach perfection, but that we would grow in the likeness of our heavenly Father.
This would have shocked the people around Jesus – to them, maturity was about being religious, about duty, about stringent keeping of the rules. They had forgotten, or not been taught, that God is concerned with who we are on the inside, in our heart, and that until the heart is changed, external acts which seem good or tick the religious box, will never suffice. Jesus wanted to help the people see that following Him, being His disciple, is much more than superficial, outward displays of religion – instead Jesus had come to show that the outward acts are meant to flow from a changed heart.

So, let’s go back to those hopes we have for our young people. Did you mention this? Did you mention the idea of them having a relationship with Jesus, and through that relationship the character of Jesus being matured in them? Or did we simply list ideas such as going to church, reading their bible, praying, serving other people? These things are not bad things of course, and in the doing of them we hope that young people will connect with Jesus. Yet the danger is that we simply pass onto them a list of traditions, expectations, religious acts, such that they think this is all that makes up Christianity. Is this what we are passing on to the next generation?

If we are, if this is what we tend towards, could it suggest that this is all we think it means to be a disciple of Jesus?
Have we reduced our faith to a list of things to be done? Or is there more to our faith? Can we speak of a relationship with Jesus which changes our hearts, and so our lives?

I’ve thoroughly valued the Testimony Tuesday evenings we’ve had so far, and if you’ve not watched them yet, then you can do so on our YouTube Channel or listen to the latest recording via our phone line. In every one, there have been stories about how God has changed people’s lives and we’ll be having another Testimony Tuesday on the 8th of September. If you would be willing to share something of your faith story, then please let me know. Specifically, it would be helpful to hear about recent things God has been doing – maybe something He has spoken to you about from the Bible, maybe an idea He has given you, or something He has prompted you to do. Now I’m willing to accept any story, but if there were any recent examples, I’d love to hear them – because if following Jesus is more than just a list of rules, if it’s more than turning on YouTube on a Sunday morning, then every one of us who calls our self a “Christian” should have something to share. We should be able to share how God is changing us now, from the inside out, how Jesus is helping us mature as His disciples, children who are growing up in the family likeness. I could name 2 or 3 areas just now where God working on my heart, leading me, maturing me. The areas of justice are particularly at the forefront of my thinking these past weeks, both for the poor and with regard to racial relations.

Now, I wouldn’t be surprised, if some of you said that this is not part of your faith; that you don’t know how God is wanting you to mature, or even how He might do that. This takes me back to the word ‘enable’ – that part of the core purpose of the church: ‘to enable people to be disciple of Jesus’. Sadly, for generations, the church has
not done well at this, the church has often focused on ticking the external religious acts, but has not shown people a way of living in relationship with Jesus such that our hearts change. We need to do better at this. We need to find ways, as a group of churches, to enable people to follow Jesus, beyond simple religious observance, and into a way of life which matures the heart. Our young people today are not interested in ticking religious boxes. And there are many generations in our society, who write off the church, because of hypocrisy, or of an air of religious superiority, since they do not see the character of Jesus maturing and being evident in our lives.

Friends, in this time of restriction, in this season of change, with our hopes of our children, with our hopes for the future of our churches, I hope, I pray, that we never return to a faith which is focused on a list of things to be done. Rather, may we invest now, may we pursue now, and in the future, a following after Jesus, which changes our hearts, maturing us in His likeness.

May it be so. Amen.

I will not neglect the Word (Psalm 116)

Preached on: Sunday 7th June 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 20-06-07-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 116:1-16; Psalm 1
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 119:1-16 (International Children’s Bible)
Sunday 7th June 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.

SCENE 1 – In the kitchen
(MUSIC IS LOUD AND MIXER IS ON IN BACKGROUND)
(GILL ENTERS FILMING)
(SCOTT CAN’T HEAR INSTRUCTIONS FROM HOPE/GILL)
(GILL TURNS MUSIC AND MIXER OFF)

Gill – What are you two doing?
Scott & Hope – We can’t hear you!
G – What are you two doing?
S&H – We can’t hear you!
S – Let me turn down the music. Then we can hear Mumma.
G – What are you two doing?

S – Oh, what are we doing?

H – We’re just making some bread.

S – We’re making some bread. So, what do we have? We have some…

H – cake mix!

S – we have some bread mix, that’s right, and some water to put in. So, we’re making some bread, aren’t we? Have you made bread with Mumma before?

H – Yes!
S – Yeah. You like baking, don’t you?

H – I like making chocolate cake, it’s my favourite.

S – that’s your favourite! Why don’t you pour that in just now and I’ll talk to the boys and girls at church.

Hi everyone, welcome to our kitchen – and yup, Hope and I are making some bread and we couldn’t hear Gill because the music was too loud. I’m going to turn it down just a little bit more so that you can hear me.

So, that reminds me a lot of what it’s like in life. Every day there are lots of noises all around us trying to get our attention. It might be our friends, what’s on TV, it might be our favourite celebrity or social media influencer,…
it might be TV programmes or announcements from government or science or health professionals – lots of voices shouting for our attention and it can be hard to hear God’s voice.

Just like we had to turn down the so that we could hear Gill, sometimes we need to turn down those other voices so that we can hear God’s voice through His Word, the Bible.

In our Psalm today, the man who wrote it was also surrounded by many voices – the voices of the arrogant and the rulers, the wicked and the oppressors. But the psalmist didn’t choose to listen to those voices, instead he chose to listen to God’s voice; he dials down the other noises and tunes in to God.
So, here’s a question to think about at home for 1 minute: what are some of the voices that we need to dial down, and how can we better tune in to God, listen to God’s voice? Over to you for one minute!
(PAUSE)

Welcome back everyone – I’ve started to make my sandwich, but I’m not really sure I’ve got it right, what do you think I’ve done wrong? I’ve got here my turkey and salad to put in the middle, and I really like brown sauce, so I’ve got HP here, no messing around with anything less. And I’ve got the two parts of the recipe, one for the top and one for the bottom!

Do you think this will taste any good? Give me a thumbs up for yes and a thumbs down for no! (WIGGLE THUMB)
I reckon, actually, that it’s going to have to be a thumbs down – I cannot imagine eating some paper is going to taste any good, can you? No! What do I need in here? Shout it out! That’s right – I need bread! The recipe is of course important, but the goal is to make bread and have a great sandwich! The goal is not only to have the recipe.

And that reminds me about another lesson from our psalm today. Again and again the psalmist talks about ‘your orders’, ‘your commands’, ‘your word’, to ‘obey you’, ‘not sin against you’, ‘you have spoken’. Now, who is this ‘you’ that the psalmist is talking about? Who is it? It’s God! God has given us His Word, the Bible, which is full of information about how to live and what God is like; it is full of God’s commands and also revelation of Him.

But God didn’t give us this just so we could have a list of instructions and become really knowledgeable about the
Bible, nor is the Bible to be the thing we love the most. What did Jesus say was the greatest commandment? It was: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the first and greatest commandment.’ (Matthew 22:37-38) We are to love God, love Him above everything – even above His Word – and that’s because the goal is not simply to read and know God’s Word, the goal is to know God Himself. Not just to know about Him in our heads, but to know Him as a person, to know Him in our hearts.

The Psalmist says in verse 2: ‘Blessed are those who…seek him [God] with all their heart.’ The goal is not just to have the recipe, the goal is to have the bread, the bread of life, as Jesus was called.
So, here’s another question for you to think about: as you read the Bible, are you seeking God, or are you seeking to know and follow His rules? I’ll give you thirty seconds to think or talk about that just now.
(PAUSE)

Well, here I am, at the dining table with my sandwich. We’ve baked the bread; we’ve put it all together as it should be, I’ve even remembered to replace the recipe with slices of bread. But is it enough to leave the sandwich sitting on the table? Am I going to be fed by it sitting there? No! Of course not! If I want to be fed, I have to eat the bread, the sandwich has to become part of me. Because the sandwich goes into my mouth, down my throat, into my tummy and there my tummy does things with the food that give my body strength and energy… But to get that strength and energy, I need to eat the bread.

And that’s our final lesson today, from this psalm: it’s not enough just to have God’s Word, it’s not enough to know God’s Word and even to know God through His Word. Quite clearly this psalm tells us that we need to put God’s Word into practice in our lives. Verse 9 says: ‘How can a young person [any person] stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.’

It verse 11 it also says: ‘I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.’ What we learn about God and His ways is meant to become part of our lives, it is meant to change our hearts, the place of our will, and so that we will the things of God.

Many of us will have seen this picture online or in the paper or news this past week: of Donald Trump holding up a Bible in front of a church. The Bible Society wrote a very powerful article about this event and they quoted the bishop, whose church was used for this event, she said: ‘Let me be clear, the President just used a Bible, the most sacred text of [Christians], and one of the churches of my diocese without permission, as a backdrop for a message [opposite] to the teachings of Jesus.’

And she said that because the Bible was used as a prop, that church was used as a PR location, and violence was used to make it possible.

It’s not enough to have a Bible, it’s not enough to know some things from it, to even know something of…
God based upon the writings in the Bible, and that’s because God counts as His children, the Lord Jesus counts as His disciples, those who seek for His Word to become part of who they are, to shape their hearts and lives.

There is a place for Christians to call out the President for his behaviour, that day and so many more besides. But let’s remember, that when we point a finger, three point back at us. A man called C.K. Chesterton, once replied to a newspaper which ran the question: ‘What is wrong with our world?’ He replied: ‘Dear Sir, I am. Yours sincerely, C.K. Chesterton.’

These past weeks, as we have rightly championed Black Lives Matter, and responded to the injustice faced by
George Floyd and many others, I have had to take…
a hard look in the mirror, on my own life and ask the tough questions, because this psalm excludes a faith which idolises the Bible, for we are to worship God alone, but equally, it also reminds us, that God says a faith which takes little heed of God’s Word, a faith where our heart and will do not seek His ways, is a faith which in the words of the book of James, is worthless.

So, friends, let’s stand with Black Lives Matter, let’s be actively anti-racist, but let us also eat the sandwich, let us heed God’s Word and allow it to shape us. For as I read in an email this week: ‘World change usually starts with my change.’

Let us tune in to God’s voice, seeking Him as our first love, and allow Him to change us from the inside out.
May it be so. Amen.