Family: Belonging and Purpose

Preached on: Sunday 12th September 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here21-09-12 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Exodus 3:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word

Holy Spirit, come among us and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Holy Spirit, come among us and reveal to us the heart of God and be a balm to our heart if we need that today.
Holy Spirit, come among us with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

If a friend or colleague or neighbor was to ask you why they should bother about church what would your answer be? Could you give an answer? What would your answer convey to them and do you think it might resonate with them in any way at all?

Most likely your answer will be dependent upon your experience of church so if you think church is boring your answer’s probably going to be a pretty dull or you might struggle and start her to try and say something because there’s something in there that says you have to have a good answer and you’re just waffle something of course on the other hand if church has been beneficial to you may have something positive to say but again I wonder would it resonate with today’s culture one analysis of today’s culture suggests that people across the age ranges yearn for belonging and they yearn for purpose the yearn for belonging and for purpose so I wonder have you experienced either of those when you’ve shared in church

I know I have I have I’ve experienced a depth of belonging that is so very rare in our culture today at one time I was part of a small group of young adults when I was in my 20s at a church in Edinburgh and some of them Gill and I are still in contact with now they know the depths of who we are they have journeyed with us through some of the darkest times in life they have encouraged us they have spurred us on and picked us up we’ve hung out we’ve had meals together in each other’s homes we’ve had a cuppa at the latest time of night you can imagine we were family and it really was and as a gift so that even though we are in different countries now we still make the effort to book a holiday once a year and go see them and be with them and keep in contact across the year that’s the experience of church that I’ve had so that when church is at its best there is true belonging and it really functions like the best of families but the same writer goes on to say that today’s generation not only wants to belong they want purpose indeed they yearn to be part of a community that lives and works for a purpose higher than mere survival its own survival a purpose higher than its own survival yet sadly too often how often does that feature in the church sure we’re a place you can belong but we are very focused on our own survival particularly when things seem threatening and many a church lacks a sense of belonging to something greater and maybe that’s because we end up making church about us about me about I sadly too few of us have a sense of belonging to something greater something that is worth living for even something that is worth dying for either literally or metaphorically so by now you know that we’re working through this new teaching series on our purpose and values and today’s value is the value of family we’re a family of all sorts of people journeying in community towards wholeness our passage has much to say about this value but before we dig into it it’s helpful i think to recall some of the story of Moses he was an Israelite part of the Israelite nation that grew up in Egypt and became slaves to the Egyptians and his life was a threat because of the command given by pharaoh to suppress the growth of the Israelite nation but his mother saved him and he actually ended up living in pharaoh’s household we might say as a prince of Egypt but then as a young man he intervened in an altercation when he helped uh try to help a Jewish slave that was being mistreated and that led to him fleeing Egypt fleeing into the wilderness into Midian and living there as a shepherd for 40 years and that’s where we find him in today’s passage Moses is out tending his flock on the far side of the wilderness and that’s where God meets him God catches his eye with a burning bush a bush that is con not being consumed by the fire and so Moses thinks to himself well that’s pretty strange I’m going to go see this yet before he can even take a step God intervenes and says Moses, Moses do not come any closer take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground Moses meets with God this holy God that we were thinking about last week and again we see God keeping that distance because of his holiness so Moses has this personal and life-changing meeting with God which was our value last week if you recall but there’s something we need to see in this passage something else as Moses encounters God he receives a calling a calling into something greater something greater than merely personal faith or personal benefit and let’s pause and think about that for a moment because as i said already we often make church we often make faith or following Jesus about ourselves how does it benefit me does it meet my needs does it take enough of my boxes what am I getting out of this do I really have the time for this

yet Moses story shows us that when we meet with God he calls us into something bigger something that has both belonging and purpose God goes on to say I’m the God of your father the God of Abraham the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt God in meeting with Moses is calling Moses into this people again into this family the family of God and so we should be quite familiar with us by now because I’ve said it so often in the last couple of weeks God has a heart to have a people of his own and he’s going to relate to them now we see as a family with him being the perfect father to them and but in the very next people he reaffirms this he says in the next chapter even he says when you return to Egypt say to pharaoh this is what the lord says Israel is my firstborn son and i told you let my son go so that he may worship me the firstborn son his pride and joy his heir and so God has his heart for our people but he has his heart for our family he will treat them as his children and he calls Moses out of the wilderness out of estrangement out of distance and back into this place of belonging when we meet with God when we meet with God it is meant to lead us to something more than just a personal faith yes God wants you to know forgiveness and he wants you to know peace and he wants you to know hope and he wants you to know life but as we’ve seen biblical faith is meant to be more than merely me mine and I we’re called into something greater we’re called into belonging to something greater and that carries over into the new testament we read there see what great love the father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God and that is what we are it’s what we are does it is it core to your identity I hope I remember talking to hope about this the idea that we talked about this morning it’s a hard concept for a five-year-old to get our head around this idea that as deep as your family roots go you still have a family that goes deeper and for all eternity and Paul carries that on he says you’re no longer foreigners and strangers but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household members of his family with God as your father we’re called into something greater we’re called to belong to something greater to something that can never be lost never be taken away from us even after death

have we allowed this to grip us have we allowed it to shape our mind and our heart to shape our living the sense of belonging to the family of God to something greater because when we do church is no longer an event that we turn up to once a week and it’s no longer just a club or a loose group of people it’s your brother and sister someone you love and it really does become family in church we becomes the best it can be God was calling Moses back into this family he’s called us into this family and do we allow God’s word to shape our thinking in this way because it sounds a simple lesson something you tell kids till they grow sold enough that they’ve heard it so many times but do we live it out do we live it out do we see one another as our sisters and brothers in Christ so our family value says we’re a family of all sorts of people but it doesn’t stop there and it didn’t stop there for Moses either God goes on to say i have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt I’ve heard them crying out because of their slave drivers and I am concerned about their suffering so i have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land a land flowing with milk and honey God has his people his family and he now tells Moses he’s going to take his children on a journey a journey out of darkness oppression and strife and to a place that is full of joy and life and goodness so when God speaks here of a good and spacious land a land flowing with milk and honey he’s simply using the language of the time he’s using the language of a shepherd and he does so that he might paint a picture and help his people understand a concept that we’re familiar with I’m sure but it’s still hard to get our heads around it’s spoken of in many ways throughout scripture often referred to as peace or in the Hebrew shalom maybe our best contemporary word would be wholeness, wholeness and shalom has this idea of a wholeness that’s both individual but collective it’s meant to ripple out across society in the wider world it includes wholeness both physically so that there’s no more suffering or death it’s meant to affect us emotionally and intellectually no more brokenness in those areas of life it’s meant to be part of our spiritual wholeness as well and speaking of shalom across the scriptures this is what God speaks of wholeness and its greatest extent that you can imagine that’s the peace that’s the wholeness that God wishes to give to his people is this is the wholeness he calls them into that would affect every area of life every area of brokenness and so when Jesus says i’ve come that they may have life and have it to the full he’s not limiting this to forgiveness

his death on the cross was not just so that you can get forgiven that’s the tip of the iceberg God’s intent through Jesus is yes for you to be forgiven because you need that we’re all a bunch of sinners as we thought about last week but that forgiveness is simply an entrance point into something greater a greater destiny a greater future God intends for his people to know this shalom his peace his perfection his wholeness and so that’s why our family value says we’re a family of all sorts of people journeying in community towards wholeness as a family we’re on a journey and we do it in community because we need one another but we’re journeying towards somewhere we’re not journeying aimlessly we’re journeying towards life in all its fullness as part of the kingdom of God into that new heaven and new earth that will one day come

now at this point I can imagine that there’s either two objections or struggles with this first of all you might think this sounds kind of selfish again Scott this me mine and I thing maybe it’s too earthly minded maybe it’s sinful maybe I feel I’m a bad person that I want this but then also remember please all I’ve done is quote scripture so God wants this for you more than you want it God wants this for you more than you want it he is a good God he came to save that you might have life, life in all its fullness life and all its wholeness but I suspect the other struggle that will come to mind as I say this is a struggle that every one of us faces from time to time and we are facing it even again today with the news that I’ve had to share because you hear this chat about a God a God who yearns for a people of his own a family of his own that he came to die that they might have life in all his fullness and yet this world is still so broken and it’s just getting worse isn’t it you know Gill and I were in for our 20-week scan the other week and when the doctor found out I was a minister lead came off is about all I can say because suddenly we faced with all these questions about these very issues it’s where he went to second time we saw him so maybe as i share God’s heart his heart to bring us on a journey to wholeness you struggle with that because maybe in your life or in the life of someone you love all you see is brokenness and the more you see of it the more brokenness comes about because then it ends up breaking your heart and maybe even ends up breaking your faith

and friends there’s no silver bullet to that there’s no answer that fully resolves the pain

in some ways i believe there shouldn’t be because when we try to have an answer the answer it probably just minimizes the dark and difficult realities we face

yet know this God is not unaware nor is he unaffected in the verses i quoted earlier God said i am concerned about their suffering now to you and me concerned probably sounds pretty cold distant about as caring as a politician pick the one you’d most want to fill in the gap there but that’s a fault of our English because the Hebrew word that’s translated here concerned it involves the idea of knowing of knowing with certainty of knowing with intimate knowledge even knowing with experience so we could even paraphrase God as saying I have experienced their suffering i have experienced their suffering just as a parent may experience a genuine degree of suffering as they see their child struggling so too does God yet God sees all suffering so the hardship that you and I know in our lives and what we feel as we watch a loved one struggle these are multiplied a billion-fold time a billion-fold for God who has experienced the suffering of every life of every moment of brokenness in this world at least from the beginning of time but as an eternal God maybe he’s always experienced it

and a day and a year can seem a long time in our lives what’s eternity like carrying all that suffering

God is not unaffected friends and now of the overflow of his love for you and me in this broken world he desires for all of us to belong to his family and then journey towards his peace his new kingdom the new heaven and earth that we might know life in all its fullness

there’s much more that can be said on this the tensions of the now and the not yet the tensions of waiting but this is God’s heart for us he calls us into family and he calls us on a journey to wholeness but he also does something quite strange with Moses he says to Moses so now go I’m sending you to pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt God has this people his family and his plans and purposes for them and yet for some unfathomable reason God wants to involve Moses this guy who messed up he messed up so bad he had to flee when he was younger and yet God still wants him to be involved i think he does it so as to rewrite Moses story so that the the future that Moses has is different from what he has had because God is calling him into something bigger into family towards wholeness into a new story by being involved and Moses responds not only this one time in verses 11 and 12 if you go on and read he responds four more times to God saying God who am I mean come on God you might be God you may have all wisdom but this just seems crazy why be no way but God says i will be with you and he later provides Aaron and others to journey with him towards these purposes so brothers and sisters God has called you into his family he has called you towards wholeness and he is calling you to be involved that the future story of this place the future story of an individual’s life the future story of our community might be different you’re part of a bigger story you know I’m I’m journeying with someone who came to faith about a year or so ago and it’s a real privilege to journey with this individual and I’m getting to know this individual story and there are hard parts to the story but I believe that God has got better in front of her than what she’s known that there will be joy again there will be peace and purpose because God is calling us all into that and he’s calling us to be involved but maybe as you hear that you’re thinking uh that sounds a bit scary I couldn’t do that I can’t do what you do Scott I can’t do what Jean or Ann did today well maybe you’ve got a different role to play you will have I’m sure and you need to know that God will be with you as well his grace and power will be with you to further what you might do in your life to help us be a place of family to help us be involved in the purposes of God there will be others of us however who need to drop the excuses just like Moses had to because God calls us all to be involved for the sake of others for the sake of his purposes for the sake of his family because if this family value is to be realized more fully we need everyone brothers and sisters we need everyone to play their part and if we do then maybe maybe when someone says to you why should i bother about church your answer certainly won’t be dull and you might still stumble and stutter a little but what you say won’t be from a place of trying to come up with the best answer possible you’ll just speak from experience and that might be captivating to them because you’ll be speaking of something greater I’ve been called into something greater I’ve been called into the family of God where you belong and into a purpose that is about more than mere survival it’s about inviting encouraging and enable people of all ages to encounter and follow Jesus Christ such that their lives change for the better and they too journey with us as a family as a community towards that wholeness and peace which he promises and which we will experience one day when His kingdom comes in all its fullness and we share in that new heaven and new earth

I pray it may be so, Amen

The pattern of the Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 8th August 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 19-08-25-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Sunday 25th August 2019 (morning)
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.

For one minute, I wonder if you would turn to your neighbour and discuss what you think the answer to this question is: ‘what was the subject most taught about by Jesus?’ You’ve got 1 minute discuss – over to you!
(PAUSE)

One analysis of this question suggested that ‘love’ came #43, forgiveness #32, money #4, Father God #2 – and top of the list, the most taught about subject by Jesus was ‘the kingdom of God’! Yet, how often do we talk about the kingdom of God? Or, when did it last feature in your decision-making when you went to the shops?
It makes me wonder – is the kingdom of God quite low importance for us? Is personal preference, cultural norms or the survival of our denomination more important than the kingdom of God? Or when we come to decision making, what do we base it upon?

For example, last week we received 70 feedback forms regarding the summer services. The responses will be typed up, discussed within Session and eventually inform what we do next summer. Please do get one in. But let’s be honest – there are broadly two groups: one supports the format we had this year, the other prefers to reestablish the Summer Sunday School. There are competing values here – how is Session to make a
decision? It may be, though not guaranteed, that a kingdom focused analysis and discussion might help us discern what is the best way forward, even if it doesn’t suit everyone.
And so today we begin a new teaching series, which will run for 8 weeks in total, and it will focus on the kingdom of God. Each week will draw upon a different portion of Scripture, starting in Genesis and ending up in Revelation, and it is my hope that it will not only sharpen our kingdom-focus, but that we might also see the kingdom of God as a binding theme throughout the Scriptures, from beginning to end, although each part will add a distinctive contribution to our understanding.

Additionally, the series should also help us to see how the Scriptures hold together, that although there are 66 books written by 40 authors over the course of 2000 years, that in fact, the Bible really is one book, with one main author, telling one core story throughout. So, let’s get into today’s passage.
The phrase ‘the kingdom of God’ is never actually used in the Old Testament – it uniquely begins with Jesus in each of the New Testament gospels – and yet, the idea and the reality of the kingdom of God is found everywhere in the Old Testament as well. Take for example Psalm 47:
‘Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy. For the Lord Most High is awesome, the great King over all the earth.’ (v1-2)

Clearly the Psalmist understands God as King, and this was upheld by the people of God across the millennia. But they got this from their theology, from what they understood of God, from the revelation God had given of Himself: that He is was King and as King He has a kingdom.
And that understanding of God as King has its roots all the way back into Genesis 1 – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth…And God said, “Let there be light…”’ (v1,3)

These words reveal that God alone is sovereign and eternal; He alone existed before all else and it was by His powerful word, by His kingly command, that our universe came into being – and so God is therefore the rightful ruler and King over all creation.

I wonder if that shocks you at all, or makes you a little bit uncomfortable? It might not, but it really should, and when it was first being taught about 4000 years ago, it was a truly shocking claim – because this teaching clashed with the religions and perspectives of the day.
In contrast to the other Ancient Near Eastern religions of the time, Genesis 1 is a shockingly controversial rejection of their claim about how the universe came into being. There were several creation myths around at the time, particularly in nearby Babylonia, but they claimed that creation may have come about after a conflict between good and evil beings, or that it came by procreation of such divine beings, or that all creation was somehow eternal.

But against all that, Genesis claims the Lord, Yahweh, does not produce or bring forth, He creates from nothing, for He alone is almighty and eternal – He has no equal, He alone is King of all creation. And this very teaching would have jarred with the thinking of the day, it would have shocked then, even angered some, just as it does today.
For in our day, we have twin pressures from our surrounding culture – there is on the one hand, that pressure from an increasingly forceful atheism, which seeks to limit the sphere of faith. And on the other hand, there is pressure to say that all religions are equal, that all paths lead to God, that no one faith is more true than another. But neither is wise, accurate or good for society.

For there is plenty of evidence from history that when a society removes religious freedom and pursues a purely atheistic culture that it is then on route to becoming an unhealthy society: examples could include Stalin’s Russia, or Mao’s China.

And as for an approach which says all religions are equally true…well that just doesn’t make sense. You can’t have one saying all matter is eternal, whilst another doesn’t; or one which says God cared enough for His creation to enter into it, whilst another would be horrified at such a claim. These are not differences we can, or should, gloss over – it cannot be both/and, it truly is one or the other. And in our culture, in our day, that can make us feel quite uncomfortable, it almost sounds unloving.

But claiming, as Genesis does, that there is one eternal King and He has no equal, is not arrogance or intolerance, for logic and reason demand that the different claims be weighed, they can’t all be equally true, and to allow the claim of Genesis to be given up so as to appease our postmodern mindset is actually to the detriment of others, for then they won’t bother to explore the Christian faith, why should they when everything is relative or equal? But to hold on to the claim, that they then might find Jesus…
as their Saviour, well that’s the most loving thing we can do for anyone. It is only when we hold on to the claim that there is one eternal King, do we then begin to lay a foundation for a faith that is robust and offers genuine hope to our broken world.

Because in this world, which God created in love and upon which He established His Kingdom, the Lord also created all life, and the pinnacle of His creation was mankind – you and I. We read in Genesis 1: ‘So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.’ (v27)

Only humanity is described in this manner, only humanity is created in the image of God, and so men and women…

are set apart from the rest of creation, giving each one great dignity, for we bear the image of God within us.
And God places His image-bearers, this mankind, in a garden, telling them to be fruitful and increase in number, to fill the earth and enjoy the produce of the land. God gives them also a mandate, a purpose, and only one boundary, given for their good, it’s in Genesis chp2: ‘And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”’ (v16-17)

And so, in the place He has given, the people God has made, can continue to enjoy His blessing as they fulfil His mandate and remain with His rule. This understanding of what is portrayed here in Genesis gives us a pattern of the kingdom of God and…
it has been summarised by Graeme Goldsworthy as: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

This is a phrase we’ll keep returning to during the series because in different parts of the Scriptures, different elements of this phrase are emphasised, or are seen to be out of place or marred. But the pattern of the kingdom is laid down here in Genesis 1 and 2: ‘the kingdom of God…is God’s people, in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.’

In these chapters, at the beginning of the story, we can see three important points of application. Firstly, we were created with a purpose, for we read: ‘God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”’ (Gen. 1:28) and then in chapter 2 we reed: ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Gen. 2:15)

As the image bearers of the King we are given the royal purpose of stewarding creation – we’ve to take care of it, rather than abuse it – and so matter matters to God for it is part of His kingdom, God is not only concerned with our souls; He is also concerned with our bodies and the whole material creation. And so, it is right to speak with our children, indeed all of us, and raise the issue of how our products and how our lifestyle affect the material world. We understand ourselves to be part of God’s people – are we living under His rule by heeding our call to steward creation well? If we are not, how could we steward better?
Secondly, these chapters also highlight that we were created not only with a purpose but with a need for community. We reed in Genesis 2: ‘But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God…made a woman…and he brought her to the man.’ (Gen. 2:20-22)

Until Eve was made, Adam had no companionship with another like himself, and earlier in v18 the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ We are made with a need for community – just as no man is an island, neither are God’s people – Genesis 1 and 2 make it clear that even within the perfection at the beginning of creation, God’s people, within God’s kingdom, need one another, and they were given to one another as part of the blessing of God. We have a need for community, we need each other…
and so, it is also right to emphasis the opportunity the Guild affords you and I, but we could also add in Friendship Plus, the coffee morning or the Fellowship Groups. Why not give one of these a try as they restart in the next month?

But can I also raise an issue I’ve become more aware of recently after some team meetings and pastoral visits? You’re probably aware, but we are quite a big church, and it’s easy to get lost, and it’s easy to be overlooked. And it’s easy to forget that some in our older generations have far fewer friends than they did a few years ago, or even this time last year, and they can start to feel isolated and undervalued. They too have a need of community. So, can we be on the lookout, not only for new people, but also for those that might be getting lost in the crowd?…
For they too are God’s people and they matter in God’s kingdom.

Lastly, in God’s kingdom, God’s people are to enjoy God’s blessing by living under God’s rule, but that is not only about living according to God’s laws and ways; living under God’s rule is also about enjoying God Himself and enjoying His rest. We read in Genesis 2:
‘By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.’ (Gen. 2:2)

This is the climax of creation, that day upon which God rested, for His work was complete. We do not then hear of an eighth day, nor do we return to the first day, for we are meant to see that the seventh day continues,…
and so God’s rest continues – not that God is sitting with His feet up, for He sustains our very creation, but He has rested from creating, and so the seventh day continues. Within that rest, creation, and especially humanity, is meant to live. We are meant to live in God’s rest, to share in it, enjoying the perfect creation, and enjoying relationship with God. To live under the rule of God, is to live within His rest and to enjoy God Himself.

I wonder, do you enjoy God? Maybe you don’t enjoy God because you don’t know God yet, you don’t know Him as your friend and heavenly Father, nor as your good King. And that may be because you haven’t put your faith in Him yet, and if that’s you, I’d encourage you to go listen to last week’s message which you can get on the website or via CD.
Yet, there could be any number of reasons you are not enjoying God, and if that’s you, if there is distance, can I encourage you to tell someone, and if you can, tell someone whose faith encourages you.

A number of years ago, I got into a bit of a rut in my faith; I wasn’t reading the Bible, I wasn’t praying. But then in one church service I felt challenged by my minister and I decided to go speak with my good friend Ollie, whose faith is a real encouragement to me. We started to meet up, to talk about faith, to talk about life, and over the course of time my faith came alive again, and I started to enjoy God once more.

Friends, you were created to enjoy God and His rest, to live under His rule, alongside His people,…
sharing in His blessing – for this is what Genesis reveals about what it means to be part of the Kingdom of God, this is the pattern of the Kingdom.

I pray that as we journey through this series together, may we become more kingdom-minded, leaning into our purpose, helping to meet our need for community, and growing in our enjoyment of God.

May it be so. Amen.