Trust in Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 3rd April 2022
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 22-04-03 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 11:1-45
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus is moved by our sorrows
– Jesus is able to overcome death
– Jesus invites us to trust Him

Please do be seated.

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and deepen our trust as we hear the voice of our Father through His word
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news in the past week but in the past week we’ve had the Oscars and it got a little bit more attention than normal because Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on stage, live to the world, and he did so, Will Smith did so because Chris Rock had made a joke at his wife’s expense. His wife has alopecia and she has chosen to shave her head which is quite a big thing for a black woman, probably for really anyone and there’s been lots of reaction. There’s been the negative side of saying he should never have resorted to violence to respond to this issue, and there are those on the positive side who say ‘Well, good for him, he stood up for his wife and did so very publicly.’ Whatever our reaction might be to it, clearly Will Smith was moved into action. I wonder what his motives were. It’s clearly he was deeply troubled. Was it love? Was it anger? Was it anger and injustice he felt? His wife experienced that here as she and she is suffering in some form and for whatever reason she’s made the end of a joke, he might feel that there’s gender inequality here, maybe there was an injustice he was standing up against. I wonder also though, if there’s an unspoken motivation, that fear may have motivated him. I don’t even know if Will Smith would be aware of it, because there’s part of me wonders whether he responded to human vulnerability, his wife’s vulnerability at her illness. It’s not life-threatening maybe, but still it speaks of her vulnerability, he speaks of all our vulnerabilities and often, when we feel vulnerable, we react and we can react in fear. And the greatest fear that we all share is the fear of death and that can move us to action, sometimes unhealthy actions. And so, as we turn our passage, to turn to our passage today, is it this that moves Jesus in the face of death, in the face of human vulnerability? Is it fear that moves Jesus?

We’re journeying, just now, towards Easter, two weeks away, and we’ve been journeying through the gospel of John, looking at different passages where John helps us to see some of the purpose of the passion. And so, we looked in John chapter 3 where God so loved the world that he gave his son to save us, to bring us into God’s family, through new birth. And in chapter 4 we saw that God is seeking true worshipers, worshipers who will worship in the Spirit and in truth. And in last week, in John 9 and 10 that Jesus came to give life in all its fullness. And for all these reasons, Jesus went through His passion, He went through suffering for us.

Today’s passage gives us another facet and, in view of how John structures his writing, I think he wants to help us see that this is the greatest part, the greatest insight into the purpose of Jesus, and I can say that with some degree of confidence because, along the way, John will highlight for us the word sign that there are signs that are pointing towards Jesus, but he’ll also use ‘I am’ statements having Jesus says ‘I am’ and he’ll complete that sentence pointing to His divinity. And so, this passage is spoken of as the seventh and final sign before the cross and Jesus uses an ‘I am’ statement in it.

Seven is a very special number in the Bible it speaks of completeness and so it points to this sign being of the greatest importance to all the others and revealing who Jesus is and what He came to achieve. So, what does this event reveal of the purpose of the passion? In the face of death, what moves Jesus?

Well, we read earlier ‘When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her, also weeping, he was deeply moved in Spirit and troubled. ‘Where have you laid him?’ he asked. ‘Come and see, Lord,’ they replied. Jesus wept.’ What moves Jesus? Our sorrow, our sorrow at death, our inability, our vulnerability against this greatest of foes. In reaction to Mary’s weeping, He weeps, He feels our pain, He shares our sorrow, he has lived our experience and shared in this human experience. Across all of history, in every human life, He is moved by our sorrow. But notice also that He’s troubled and, in fact, the phrase ‘deeply moved’ is repeated again in verse 38 and in some ways it’s an unfortunate translation, ‘deeply moved.’ Because the Greek phrase that lies behind that, when you look at it in every other usage, speaks of human anger, even outrage and fury. So, Jesus is moved here to anger, not against Mary, but rather towards death. Jesus is moved by our sorrow and His reaction is to weep and to be angry.

Pastor and writer John Stott had this to say about this ‘[What he saw] enraged Jesus because it brought home the evil of death, its unnaturalness, it’s ‘violent tyranny’. In Mary’s grief He sees and feels the misery of the whole race and burns with rage against the oppressor of humanity. It is death that is the subject of His wrath, and behind death him who has the power of death, and whom He had come into the world to destroy.

Friends, in our passage today we see the compassion of Jesus, a compassion that is more than mere pity, and His empathy is more than just there to console us, and surely He does consume us, surely we read of our God as one who draws near to the brokenhearted and weeps with those who weep. But His compassion is a true compassion, it moves Him to action here, and in His passion, it moves Him to confront death on our behalf.

So friends, do you see the heart of Jesus for you, for us? Our God is not uncaring. Our God is not unmoving. He is not akin to any false notion that would say God feels nothing towards us, nor is He willing to be involved in the brokenness of our world. That is not a true picture of our God because God enters in through Jesus to the human experience and to the heartbreaking realities of life. He’s there in our sorrow. He knows the pain that tears our soul and, what is more, He’s moved to intervene. He steps into history as a human being to experience it with us, to confront it with us, and for us, to defeat death itself. This is part of His purpose, part of the purpose of His passion.

Yet, some of us, as we reread that passage today, the question will come to mind of ‘Well, why did He delay?’ He knows God. If God is so caring, if He’s so loving, why did He delay there? Why does He delay in other ways? And I don’t have answers to all the other questions, and maybe the situations in your life, but for here at least there’s something to be said. We read earlier ‘Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, so, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days and then he said to his disciples ‘Let us go back to Judea.’’ Why, if He loves them, why delay? Why wait?

Well, there’s three things that we need to understand here. Firstly, at this time in history, in this particular location, people were buried on the day they died. People were buried on the day they died. Secondly, as regards timing, we know from verse 17 that Jesus, when He arrives, finds Lazarus to have been in the tomb for four days, so, Jesus isn’t very far away, probably takes Him about a day to travel there and, assuming it takes the messengers a day to find Jesus and reach Him, then this means Lazarus died as soon as the messengers leave or very soon after, so it wouldn’t have mattered when Jesus left, Lazarus would have been dead and buried in the tomb. Day to travel, day to travel back, two days from the point of Lazarus death but still we might wonder ‘Why delay?’ And here’s the third thing you need to know, there was a Jewish belief, at the time, not held by Jews any longer, not held by Christians, but a Jewish belief at the time that held the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body for three days, hoping to re-enter it, but once decomposition set in, the soul departed. As I say not something that we subscribe to, not something that Jews subscribe to nowadays, but held at the time. And so, Jesus delays for our reason, He delays to prove beyond doubt something about who He is, that this wasn’t just an accidental resuscitation or something, that Jesus didn’t arrive just at the right time and ‘Well, you know these things happen.’ No, he leaves it four days to prove beyond doubt that who He is and what His power can do so as to strengthen the trust His disciples have in Him. And so, when He arrives he says to Martha ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Now Martha has been taught well, she’s been taught from the scriptures that there will be a resurrection at the last end and she knows this, she believes that, she trusts this and so she believes she will see her brother one day. But Jesus has a more immediate plan in mind and He wants to deepen her understanding of Him and of what He can do and so, he says ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live even though they die and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’

‘Do you believe this?’ Now, let’s note that Jesus doesn’t simply say that he can provide resurrection and life, that would be impressive in itself, no, he says that life eternal life is in Him, that the escape from the finality of death is available from Him by being in relationship with Him. That’s how we share in this life and then this hope and He says very similarly later on in John 17 saying ‘Now this is eternal life that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ Eternal life is not a ticket, it’s not a little thing you just put in your back pocket for when the day arrives, it’s not even a force or some kind of power or gift, eternal life is all tied up in relationship with Jesus and knowing Him and sharing in Him by believing in Him.

And, to prove His claim, to prove His identity and power, Jesus raises Lazarus. He calls to Lazarus in a loud voice, we hear a voice of true and raw authority, the voice we might say that at the beginning of time said ‘Let there be light’ for He is the light of the world and in His light there is life.

Friends, Jesus comes into our day, into your brokenness, to stand with us and for us against death, and offer us life. As one commentator said he offers us the ‘indestructible life of the resurrection the very life of the deathless God Himself. This is our God, this is our Jesus, and to know Him, to share in Him, to believe in Him is to have this hope. Not that we don’t grieve. Jesus doesn’t tell Martha and Mary not to grieve but that we grieve with hope and for this Jesus came, for this Jesus went through His passion, for this He has moved to action that we might share in His life and have hope. He makes this move towards us and our world. So, how will we respond to Him? How will we move in response to His movement to us? Because, in the passage He asks of Martha ‘Do you believe this?’ Do you believe this. Now, belief here in the Greek is not, I know this in my head or yeah, you know, fake idea and then you just get on with life, to believe in a biblical sense is to believe in such a way that it makes a difference to your life, that your actions change, that your outlook changes, it’s not just mental agreement to an idea.

So, what about us, what about you, do you believe this?

Maybe you’re unsure or maybe you’re not even ready to say that you believe it, and so, I wonder whether you should consider signing up for Alpha. We have an Alpha Course starting in just a couple of weeks’ time and Alpha is a great way of either refreshing your knowledge of the Christian faith, if you’ve maybe been coming to church for a long time, it’s a great way to be refreshed in the fundamentals of the Christian faith, or, if you’re not a Christian at all, to explore the Christian faith, to ask difficult questions, the team are ready for them, they might not have the answers but they’re ready for them. Come along, sign up to Alpha, explore and seek Jesus, make a move towards Him and He will make a move towards you, and details are in the news sheet of how you can sign up for that.

But what about those of us who are sure of this? We say we believe this or we’re at least a little more sure of this we might say? I wonder, do we believe this enough to share it this Easter, or will we let fear divert us? Earlier in the passage we read that little middle portion between verses 8 to 16 where Jesus talks about light and darkness and about stumbling and not stumbling and it seems quite an odd little bit, but Jesus is responding to the disciples’ fear. They’re scared that what’s going to happen. People are already trying to stone Jesus. ‘If we do this Jesus. are they going to stone you?
Are they going to stone us?’ And so, they get fearful and they’re going to be diverted from what Jesus says. They should do but Jesus will not let them divert Him. He warns them against overestimating the danger because He is with them, the light of the world is with them, and so He will not let them stumble, He will guard them and so they must obey the Father, they must go to Lazarus so that God will be glorified, and faith might be strengthened,

So, what about us, friends? Will we allow fear to divert us this Easter time? Or will we put our belief into practice? Will we share the good news, knowing who it is that stands with us, as we make that invitation? Knowing who it is that’s in us by His Spirit? We have the light of the world, the God of all life, with us. And so, maybe take the Easter cards, this is last year’s one, take the Easter cards that were sent to you and hand them out, they were posted to every member this past week, you got one for yourself you got one to give away. Give it away. Invite someone along. Or the Easter Fun Day and if you’ve misplaced it or given it away already, there’s more at the front and rear door. Take one away, invite someone along, come with them so as to encourage them there and build that relationship and share something of the good news of Easter this year. Or if you’re on social media, don’t just like the church posts, share the church posts because that’s how it gets out towards your friends and your contacts on social media. Help us get the word out that there’s something good to believe in our God who’s come into this world to stand with us in our sorrow and to defeat death on our behalf.

So, do you believe this? Maybe you need to investigate it a bit more. Maybe you need to share it a bit more. But, may we all see in the passion, this God who stands with us, this God who defeated death for us, this God who bids us come, trust Him afresh. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Fullness of life

Preached on: Sunday 27th Mar h 2022
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 22-03-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 9:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
• asking our questions
• trusting Jesus
• journeying towards life to the full

Well boys and girls, it is so good to have you, our uniformed organizations, with us this morning and great to mark these high achievements of the Queen’s Badge awards but, also on Friday night, we had a great night with the Boys Brigade Company marking so many other achievements and awards and it was lovely to be a part of that and see that. I know that, in the week coming, there’s the Anchor Boys final evening, there’s also the Girls Brigade coming together on Wednesday night, and I’m sure those will be full of special moments too.

But beyond helping you develop and achieve and recognizing that hard work, another point part of Boys Brigade and Girls Brigade is having a little fun and I think we should give Billy one last chance to have a little fun don’t you. I think we should maybe give him a chance because after this well, the fun level’s just going to dive off a cliff, Billy. So, should we get them up front to give us a wee hand? How about a wee game? Right Billy, come on up.
I thought I’d avoided this.
You must have known something like this. So, Billy the plan is that we’re going to have a little game. Have you ever played the game 20 guesses or 20 questions? Okay, so I have picked a character and it could be a real-life character or a make-believe character, it could be male or female and you have to ask us 20 questions and the answers are yes or no, that we can give you. Now, I’m going to show us all the picture of it, in a moment. Mister Rankine will close his eyes so he’s no peeking. You’ve got your glasses off.
I could put my glasses on and I wouldn’t see.
Don’t.
Don’t say it okay, don’t even whisper it, because I’m sure he’s got really good hearing and despite him getting slightly on in years you know, but he’ll be grand, so I will show you and then you can help me answer the questions so he’s got his eyes closed.
Okay right so 20 questions.
I can open my eyes again.
So yes or no, yes or no answers, is all we can give him.
Is it a male?
Is it male? 1 oh it’s not me that’s good! That’s not my question. Is it a real life character?
Is it real life?
No not real life.
It’s a cartoon character. Is it a Disney cartoon character.
Yes.
So female Disney cartoon character.
You’re doing well.
Can I get my daughter to come down and help me?
No! We won’t use that as a question.
Right is it a recent Disney cartoon.
No.
Okay. So, I’ve got a reasonable chance.
I’ve tried to play it in your favor.
Okay, dear me, I really could do with Eilidh’s head. Let me see, is it’s a real, it’s a human. What is it? Right, so is it an animal, a female animal character?
No, not an animal.
Quick, that was a good question coming up. Is it a cartoon that’s still on the go just now? No. 10. No, well you can watch it but it’s not going to go.
Okay, so that’s a bit more senior Netflix or something, yeah,
It’s not a human. So, it’s an animal, didn’t say tha,t is that an animal, no, no. Right and you said it wasn’t it said – my memory is going here as well. Did you say was it a female, human, cartoon character.
No, human’s a bit of a broad term, I’d say, I’m not quite sure it’s human.
Is it a ship?
No.
That wouldn’t help me much anyway, I’m really, Im really struggling here.
Got dust dust.
Would it be a fairy type character.
Yes.
Would it be based on a very old book. That should not go out after midnight.
I don’t know okay, you must be thinking another guy.
No Cinderella?
No.
Okay, no Cinderella. No, I was banking on it being Cinderella there folks.
I obviously was at Boys Brigade too much when you were watching Disney characters. Mark, can you help.
There’s a famous boy in it and he can fly.
Ah right, okay. So, there was a there’s a ship involved in this? There is character, yeah, I’m just gonna, I’m gonna take this right now. So there’s a kind of Peter Pan type character involved here.
You’re getting very close.
And I can’t really remember the name.
Begins with a T.
Ah yes indeed, yeah, we’ll get there the second part of it would ring possibly?
Yes it would ring our bell maybe yeah.
Yeah. So, that would be Tinkerbell!
Good job! Right, you can say you’re safe. Yes, Tinkerbell. Well done, we got you there eventually. So, good, good sport, good sport.

So part of your time is about learning and development and recognizing that part of it is about fun but there’s another part to Girls and Boys Brigade, and that is also learning about Jesus. And in some ways that’s the most important part and that’s what we hope to pass on and to share with you and what we aim to do as a church family as well.

In our story today Jesus did something amazing. What did he do? Can anybody remember? What did he do? Anybody from the front? Okay. No, what did he do in our story today? What did he do in our story today? Can anybody remember from the Explorers or the Anchor Boys? Yeah, what did he do today? We can hear from the back then.

Yeah, He made the man see again. And what did He, what did He do? What did He use to him to make him see? Can you remember? What did He do? What did He do? Daniel? He put him right in his eyes, He got some mud and used some saliva like ‘Jesus. come on, what are you doing? That’s just we’ve been yucky!’ But Jesus was doing some odd things He was doing some amazing things and people were beginning to go ‘Who is this guy? What is he about? Is he just a teacher? Is he a more than that, is he a prophet? Is he even more than a prophet?’ And so, people were guessing and guessing and guessing and they probably were doing an even worse job than Mister Rankine. Now, some people got it right. Who got it right in our story today? Who got it right in the story? The blind man didn’t he. He managed to guess it eventually who it was and so eventually he bowed down in worship of Jesus. So, who did the blind man think that Jesus was? What would be another name that we might use? God, that’s right. God had come in a human body and His name was Jesus. This is what he eventually understood and so though he had been blind at the start, he was the first to see with the eyes of his heart, to see the truth about Jesus, and part of our church family, part of the Girls and Boys Brigade is to help you ask your questions, to help us ask our questions about Jesus so that we can come to trust Him and worship Him for ourselves.

But, did you notice in the story the man had to do something to show his trust. What did he need to do? Jesus made that little mud pack and put it on his eyes. What did he have to do next? Can anybody remember? What did he do next? What did he do? Lauren – he had to go and wash it off, that’s right. He had to go and wash it. It was an act of trust. Now, that man was born blind. Explorers and Anchor Boys, can you think what would he have seen for the first time? What would he have seen for the first time that would be so amazing? What do you think? Yeah, that. What he would have seen? The water. He’d never seen water before. What else would he see, what else even beyond that little pool, what other things would he see that would be so amazing? What do you think he might have seen? Some fish, and he’d never seen fish before. What else he might have seen not just at that moment but going back as he went back home? What would he have seen? What do you think? His food, his home, his family, his friends. He’d never seen any of that. What are the things that you think you look at and are so amazing? What other things do you think are so amazing? Right at the back. Yeah, yeah definitely. He would have seen the fish. He would have seen like the sun, like we’re on a sunny day, never had seen the sun before. So, Jesus has given this man not only his sight but given this man life, new life, amazing life and in the very next chapter of the Bible he goes on to say ‘I have come that you may have life and have it to the full.’ That’s why Jesus came, part of why He came, part of His purpose, to give us life to the full. We’ll never experience all of it in this life but He came that we might have life, we might be on a journey towards fullness of life, it’s part of the reason He died on the cross, and part of the reason He rose again, so that we could have life to the full and it all begins by trusting Jesus, by choosing to trust Jesus in our everyday lives, trusting what He says in the Bible, putting that into practice, trusting what He says about Himself in the Bible, that He’s the light of the world, He’s the good shepherd and He is with us every day.

Boys and Girls, I hope this past year in Boys and Girls Brigade, that you have asked your questions and if you’ve got questions about Jesus then make sure you ask your officers, make it really tricky for them, I know they love the questions and if you’ve got questions in church then come ask your questions as well, ask your questions, that you can grow and trust and so that we remember, as we journey towards Easter, that part of the reason Jesus came was to bring us into fullness of life. I pray it may be so. Amen.

Now on your way in did you get a little candle? And if you’re in the pews for our uniformed organizations there were some put at the end of the pew. So, if you can pass them along. Don’t switch it on yet and Richard, we can skip on to the prayer bit, so maybe a second slide. So, there’s a little black switch on the bottom that’s how you switch it on, but don’t use it yet, Okay, and what we’re going to do is that we are going to pray together using this candle, okay. We’re going to pray three short simple prayers so let’s put off the light just now, okay, but during the prayer I’m going to invite you to switch it on, okay, as a sign of asking for God’s light to come in to the world in different situations.
So can you try and think of someone, nice and quiet, think of someone who maybe needs help just now. Maybe they’re sad, maybe they’re unwell, maybe they’re angry with something, maybe they’re scared, maybe someone at school, might be someone in the church family, maybe someone in your family. Can you quietly think of someone. Maybe close your eyes just to help you think and to know that we’re going to pray.
Okay. So, let’s pray together:

Heavenly Father, we’re thinking of someone that we want to pray for, someone that we want Your light to come into their life and so we switch on our candle as a sign of that prayer. Please, our God, shine Your light into their life to bring hope, to bring life, to bring your peace. May fear and anger or despair or sadness go. May they know that You are near and you are the light of the world Lord Jesus. Amen.

Okay, let’s switch it off again, switch it off again. Okay, I want you to think of something in the big wide world, maybe a situation that you know about, maybe someone who needs some help in the big wide world. So, not someone at school or in your family, something in the big wide world where you want God’s light to come. Okay, can you try it in the quiet, just think of someone or something.

Okay, let’s close our eyes again and let’s pray:

Heavenly Father, we’re all thinking of something that needs Your light to come into it. It might be the war in Ukraine. It might be a situation in the news we’ve heard about today. And so, we switch on our candles as a sign of asking for Your light to come into that situation, to bring truth, to light, to bring Your wisdom to bear, to lead forward on a path of righteousness and peace. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

All right, switch off. One last prayer. Today is Mother’s Day in case you forgot, but we’re not just thinking about mums, we’re thinking about people who have had a positive impact in our lives. It might be your officers. It might be your mum. It might be a granny or an aunt. So, it could be someone who’s has helped you, who’s a good role model to you, someone that’s really been a good influence in your life. Can you think of someone. Someone that you’re thankful for. Yeah, right, let’s close our eyes and pray one more time:

Our God, we want to thank You for this person who’s been a part of our life. They might not be with us anymore or they might be, and we thank you for their influence in our lives, We thank You for how they brought Your light into our lives. Maybe they shared something of You, maybe they shared something of Your image because they’re made in Your image, something of Your light. And so, we put this candle on one last time to remember the light that’s shown in them, Your light shining into our lives. We thank You for them and we ask that what they passed on to us, that You would help us to live out in our day-to-day lives. We want to thank You for all the officers and staff of the Girls and Boys Brigades. Thank-you for all they give and the light that they shine to the generations here in Brightons, in the wider Braes area. We ask your blessing upon them and upon each of our children and young people who are part of the Brigades. We ask that Your light would go with them across these summer months and they would come back in September full of stories and of joy, are full of having grown again and ready for a new session to begin. Guard them and keep them we pray. For we ask it all in Jesus’ name. Amen.

You can switch it off and you can take this home. Maybe at home at night time you might want to say a little prayer and just switch on that candle as a sign that you are asking for God’s light to be in your life. It’s an act of trust. Faith is all an act of trust, of holding onto God and asking for His light and life to be in our lives.

True worshippers

Preached on: Sunday 20th March 2022
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 22-03-20 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: John 4:1-30; 39-42
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– God is seeking true worshippers to complete our joy
– God transforms our worship by the Holy Spirit
– God invites all into true worship

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.
Come Holy Spirit and open our hears that we might hear the invitation of our Heavenly Father.
Come now Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

In four weeks time we will be celebrating Easter but what and why do we celebrate? In the final week leading up to Easter Sunday we have what’s called Holy Week and there will be a service each night of the week from Monday to Friday in one of the Braes Churches I invite you to come along. Each night we look at a different part of the journey of Jesus took towards the cross or what is some in that week, is sometimes called His Passion which refers to His suffering. So, let me ask again, why do we celebrate Easter? What is the Purpose of the Passion?

To help us answer this, last Sunday we began a new series where we’re going to look at six passages in the Gospel of John, Six passages to help explore the Purpose of the Passion and Monica kick-started us in John 3 where we read in verse 16 that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ Part of the purpose of the passion is the love of God saving us. But is that the end goal? Is that the end goal? Does God simply want you to have a ticket to heaven? Is that all He’s about?

Well, our passage today continues to build on this, continues to add another dynamic to the purpose of the passion, but to help us really get to grips with our passage, I need to teach it in reverse order starting near the end with what the Father seeks, His goal and then bringing in what this means, how he brings that goal about, and finally, concluding with His invitation which reveals His heart.

And so, near the end, we read these words of Jesus ‘Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.’ The true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. The father is seeking true worship, true worshipers. This is His goal. This is part of the purpose of the passion and it’s echoed across the scriptures. I’ve just given you three examples. I won’t delve into any depth.

But go into Titus and you read that Jesus came to have a people of His own. That’s part of why he died.
And first Peter too we read that this people who he died for are called a holy nation, they’re called a chosen people, a royal priesthood.
But Peter’s just echoing what we read in Exodus where in Exodus God says through Moses that to the people that they will become a kingdom of priests, are people who will bring the praise of God, who will worship Him and enable others to worship Him.
It’s a purpose God has had across the millennia, across the scriptures and it’s part of the purpose of the passion. The Father is seeking true worshipers, who worship in the spirit and in truth. But what does that even mean? What does it mean to worship in the Spirit and in truth?

I’d like to begin with the truth part because in the verse immediately before, this is where it’s helpful to bring a Bible if you can, Jesus says ‘You Samaritans worship what you do not know, we worship what we do know for salvation is from the Jews.’ You Samaritans worship what you do not know. So, what don’t they know? Well, the Samaritans only had the first five books of the Old Testament, what we call the Pentateuch. They didn’t have the rest of the Old Testament. They didn’t have that fuller revelation of the character of God and of His ways. They didn’t have that fuller revelation of how He would bring salvation for the world. Just imagine all that they were missing, across all the prophets, across all the books of wisdom and Psalms. They didn’t have any of that and so, they have this gap of spiritual knowledge. They don’t know the character of God in all its fullness. They don’t know His plans and His purposes. They lacked the truth of God and so, it led them into false worship. They worshiped in the wrong place. They worshiped through the wrong means. It led them astray because, to worship truly, requires us to worship in truth. We must know God as He has revealed himself and live in light of that and His plans.

But God didn’t leave it there. At the end of the Old Testament there was a next part of His revelation and it was through Jesus. Because the writer to Hebrews reminds us ‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets but, in these last days, he has spoken to us by his son Jesus’ The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, the fullest and final revelation of the character and the ways and the purposes of God was in Jesus, because Jesus wasn’t just a man, He was God in the flesh. God was revealing Himself and so to worship in truth is to worship the God revealed in Jesus, in His life and His teaching and His death and resurrection, and to worship anything else, to worship any other being, under any other name, is then false worship. And so, to be a true worshiper, which is God’s goal, requires worshipping in truth, worshiping God as revealed in Jesus.

But you know, as I was thinking about this this week it took me down a line of thought and into some material that I haven’t looked at in years. Because the question could come to our minds – Is God a bit egotistical? Is God a bit needy? Like, if I said to you, worship and praise me, well you’d probably think I was mad or more mad than you already think I, am and you think ‘What is he on about, like he is so needy, he is so prideful, he is so egotistical, and you’d be rightly disgusted, Is the same true of God? How would you answer that one?

An author and pastor has written and thought about this for decades and his name is John Piper, and in a moment I’d like to share something he wrote. But to understand what he wrote you first need to read something from C S Lewis, because John Piper built his argument upon what C S Lewis wrote. So, C S Lewis said ‘I thought of praise in terms of compliment, approval or the giving of honor. I never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.’ Let’s pause there. All enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise – so think about it, you’re out walking this afternoon along the canal here or wherever happens to be your favorite jaunt, and you just are stunned at the view because the sun is pouring down and it’s just marvelous you say ‘How glorious!’ – you just can’t help yourself, your enjoyment overflows into praise. Or a little baby, baby Innes or whoever it might be, Willow and the others that we’ve had, you see them and you just coo and oh, you’re so gorgeous, they’re so beautiful, you’re so wonderfully made. You just can’t help yourself. Or you’re spending time with a friend or with your partner or whoever it might be, and you just ‘I love you. I really appreciate you. I value your friendship greatly. You are a rock in my life.’ You just can’t help yourself. You see what C S Lewis is getting at? It goes on ‘I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment…..’ There’s another level of joy when we express what we feel, when we speak out that praise of whatever it might be. It takes us to a next stage of joy.

And so, John Piper builds on this and he says ‘If God would have your joy complete He must command you to do what will make you infinitely and eternally happy, namely, praise Him. God is the one being in the universe for Him gathering attention for Himself is not arrogant, it’s not selfish, it’s not abusive and manipulative, but is love …’ God’s not seeking your worship because He needs it, He’s God, He existed perfectly before any of creation was ever there, but He calls you to praise Him so that you might have your joy made complete. God seeks true worshipers to complete your joy, your joy, your joy.

So, take it back to the woman at the well. There’s at least two ways that she is worshiping falsely. First of all she’s worshiping at the wrong place, in the wrong faith tradition and so, she doesn’t know the character of God, she doesn’t know the plans and purposes of God and so, she wouldn’t have the security and peace and hope that were the Jews, because they could see how God was going to save the world although He did it again in the ways unexpected. She was missing out on that, she didn’t have the joy that could have been hers. She also wrongly worshipped the attention of men. She’d had multiple relationships and she sought that attention to feel loved, to feel affirmation, to find security, to find a place and a belonging, a home. But where does it leave her? She’s ostracized, she’s alone, she’s despised. Where she sought her joy did not lead to joy because, when we fail to worship God and fail to worship Him in truth, we end up worshiping something else and it doesn’t lead to the joy we thought it would, and this has repercussions on so many levels.

I could take you to a global level with Russia and Putin just now. There is a man who worships either himself or power or a former picture of Russia, and wanting to bring that back. Who knows what exactly he worships, but it’s clearly not God as revealed in Jesus, and it has repercussions horrific repercussions.

But let’s not just point the finger. Let’s remember that it’s there in all our lives, my life too. We might worship comfort and so, we don’t love our neighbor as we should because we want to be comfortable, we want the nice house, we want the nice things, we want, we want, we want. Our comfort can have its other ways as well. We can want a comfortable life and when someone does something we don’t like, changes something we don’t like, or does something that doesn’t agree with us and makes us a little bit uncomfortable, in many different ways, we can just bite their head off, we can be angry and nit-pick, because we worship our comfort and we’ll defend that even if it means that we don’t love our neighbor. But you can worship your health, you can worship money, you can worship your reputation and image, you could worship success, you can worship this building. There’s false worship in all of our lives and, if we are to know the joy that God would have for us, we need to root that out, just like Jesus sought to do with this woman. That’s why he came to lead us into true joy as part of the purpose of the passion. For the Father seeks true worshipers who worship in truth.

But how, how do we become true worshipers? That’s the next logical question, isn’t it? If you want that joy to be complete if you, want life in all its fullness, as Jesus says then, then how Jesus? Is it by going to a particular place? Is it by a particular style of worship? Is it is it by ticking certain religious boxes? How?

I don’t think it’s any of that, partly because of what Jesus says in verse 21 ‘A time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem’. It’s not through that means, not through what you can achieve.

So, what is it that brings true worship? What brings us into true joy? Well, there earlier on in the conversation Jesus said this ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty. Again, whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

This whole episode began with Jesus saying ‘Can I have a drink?’ and then, after, follows a conversation where she clearly gets the wrong end of the stick and, to be honest, there’s part of me that’s like ‘I can understand why.’ because Jesus uses language and words that she would interpret a particular way. But he’s doing that to get her attention and to draw her in. And I get that, but, but there’s words here that normally would refer to actual water. So, in the previous verse He talked about living water and here He talks about a spring of water and, in the context of the day, living water is moving water, it’s water that moves and much like a spring of water, that there’s a source, and it travels downhill and it’s good and it’s clean, because it’s moving. That’s different from water you get in a well in this area, because that well is a hundred foot deep and it’s letting you pull up water that’s flowed together underground, it’s not free-flowing, it’s not classed as living water, it’s probably a little bit stagnant and so, she’s like ‘Well, I want the good stuff. I don’t want this stuff. I want the good stuff.’ And so, I can kind of understand where she’s getting confused by. But we all know that Jesus isn’t talking about actual water, He’s using that as a starting point to get her attention and draw her in, because He sees that she is trapped in false worship, He sees that her joy is very much not complete. What she is drawing from the well, the spiritual well she is drawing from, is either dry or stagnant and she needs a new source, she needs a source of living water, she needs this water to come rushing into the depths of her soul such that her life changes and she finds that true life she craves, the life God desires for her to know. So, what is that source? What is this living water? What is the means by which we become true worshipers?

Well, a little later on in John, a couple of chapters later Jesus says something that very much echoes this passage, but then John adds a little commentary to help us understand, and because he was one of the apostles, close followers of Jesus, he’s a pretty trustworthy source. He says ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ All sounds very similar. And then John adds ‘By this he meant the spirit.’ By this he meant the spirit. To become a true worshiper, you need the Spirit of God within you. Jesus said in the early passage, true worshipers will worship in the spirit. What we need is the Spirit of God in us, transforming us into that place of worship, rather than it being confined to a building of four walls, we need the Spirit in us. And that’s just echoing what God had promised to do across the ages. He said in Ezekiel, for example ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you. I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh, and I will put my spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ What is needed is the Spirit, the Spirit to come into a person’s life and change their heart so that they no longer have a heart of stone, a heart hardened by sin, that is uncaring towards God, that is distant towards God, that is not moved by God’s character and His plans, and yearns to live for God. That is the kind of heart change that we need. And I’ve told my story so often enough, that you’re probably sick of it, so I won’t labor it, but that change that happened in my life was exactly captured in these verses – to change from a heart of stone into a heart of flesh – by the Spirit coming into my life. What the woman needed was the Spirit of God coming into her life and to the depths of her being and changing her from the inside out and freeing her from false worship.

To become a true worshiper, you need the Spirit of God. It’s not in your power to make it happen. It doesn’t happen by you coming to church, doesn’t happen by you becoming a member, it’s not within your gift to make happen, you need God to act and He’s ready. He promised it. He fulfilled it and offered it to this woman and He came through for her and He can come through for you and make you into that temple, that place where He dwells, where He resides and brings about true worship.

Now, maybe you’re beginning to wonder ‘Well, have I experienced that? Have I received the Spirit, Have I received the living water of Jesus?

And there’s so many scriptures that we could go to here that would to help you discern that or not. We could look at Ezekiel 36 which we just looked at. Do you know that you are forgiven? Do you know that you have a right relationship with God? Then the Spirit’s been at work in your life. Romans 8 that says, if you know God as your Heavenly Father, if God is no longer just an idea to you or a figure from history, if God is personal to you, then the Spirit has been at work in your life. First Corinthians 12 would say you can’t know who Jesus is, you can’t see that He’s the lord and Savior you need, you can’t put your faith in Him, unless the Spirit has been at work in your life. Second Corinthians 5 and Romans 12 would say that, if your desire is to live more for Jesus than you currently are, if your desire is to offer your life and worship to Jesus, then the Spirit has been at work in your life. But if there’s no such desire, if there’s no such confidence of knowing God, of being in right relationship with God, then maybe something’s missing.

I wonder where are you friends? Do you know this to be true of your own journey and your own relationship with God? None of us gets it perfect, we don’t always live for Jesus but, is there a desire there? Do you know God?

And maybe, what God wants for you this Easter, as we journey to the cross, is maybe just for you to know you are His. You are His. He has been at work in you, so press on, pursue Him, invite Him into your life in even greater measure, invite Him to root out that false worship, to lead you further and further into true joy.

Ephesians 5 reminds us to ‘keep on being filled with the Spirit’. It’s not a one-off affair that you leave back 20 years ago when you chose to follow Jesus for the first time. Keep on asking to be filled with the Spirit that you might overflow and be led into that fullness of life and live your life in worship of God. Maybe that’s what you need to know, that affirmation, you are His, He’s been at work in your life, so press on, press in no more. But what if that’s not you? What if you look at that list and you think ‘I just don’t know? I don’t know if this describes me.’ And if it doesn’t ‘Maybe I don’t have the Spirit.’

Well, I’ve got good news for you as well, and it’s all summed up in one random little verse from back in John chapter 4. Jesus, we read about John wrote about Jesus ‘Now he had to go through Samaria.’ Jesus had to go through Samaria and right now you’re probably thinking ‘This guy is like having a trip! What is he getting at with this verse?’ Because, at first read, it doesn’t mean anything, we just skip over it. But, think about it – He had to leave because there was pressure from the Pharisees, but there’s nothing to say he had to go through Samaria, nothing. He wasn’t in a particular rush to get anywhere. He didn’t have a deadline to get to something, and every Jew would avoid Samaria because you didn’t associate with Samaritans, they were the enemy, they were second class, you avoided them at any cost. So, why does Jesus have to go through Samaria?

He has to go through Samaria because of his heart for these people. The heart that lay behind the passion, the heart of love, love for this woman, love for these people. These people were seen as heretical, as traitors. They were despised, they were second class, they were told, they were written-off from the mercy of God. And this woman was a woman, and that day that was less than so many other things, and she was an adulterer, she was seen as immoral, she has despised even more, she has ostracized as we’ve already said, but Jesus had to go through Samaria, he pursued her, He pursued them, He broke tradition, He broke taboos, He broke, He risked everything for love of her, for love of her because He wants to invite her into true worship. And He came into the world for love of you and to invite you to drink, invite you to have that joy.

Now, you might wonder ‘I’m not worthy Scott.’ Neither was she. You might think ‘Well, I’ve got nothing to offer in response.’ Neither did she, but her heart and her worship. And, pursuing this woman, and pursuing the Samaritans, God shows that the invitation is open to all, to you today. It’s there.

But we, like that woman, we can try and keep God at a distance. We’d prefer to evade God and avoid God. We’d prefer not to have our comfort upended because we’ve grown used to worshiping the wrong things and, when God comes close as He’s maybe coming close right now to you, He’s maybe whispering in your heart to say you don’t have this, and if you want this you’ve got to let me in, and that might be making you a little bit uncomfortable right now. Friends, don’t keep God at arm’s length, invite Him in. Invite Him in because, if you don’t, you won’t know the life, you won’t know the joy He wants you to have. You’ve got to trust Jesus; you’ve got to invite him in because you won’t find it anywhere else. So, what will it be friends? What will you choose today?

The purpose of the passion includes making your joy complete through true worship. So, come to Jesus, come drink of His Spirit, come admitting the thirst of your soul and the ache to live and fuller life, come recognizing the truth of Jesus, come see that He is the Savior you need, the Savior of the world, He is the savior who pursues you even unto His own death such is His love for you.

Come worship in the Spirit and in truth because the Father invites you to be transformed from the inside out, that you may know true life and true joy.

So, let us come to God now in prayer. Let us pray:

I wonder friends, where are you seeking joy in the wrong places?
It might be a good thing, but you’re maybe worshiping it rather than worshiping God.

Or, where is there a part of your life that is joyless and sapping your joy? It may be that you’re worshiping something wrongly there.

And, today, the Father would seek to free you of that.

Our God and Heavenly Father

All of us have an ache in our hearts and souls. All of us yearn for that greater joy, that fullness of joy and life, that You offer and we won’t know it completely in this life but we can know more of it. And so, we invite You into our lives. Come now, Holy Spirit, and fill us afresh, fill us to overflowing, make us a temple of Your presence. Come, free us of false worship, forgive us of that, forgive us of that false worship, and help us to worship in truth, to worship You alone, to order our lives rightly, and be led into that greater joy.

Lord, if anyone here doesn’t know You yet, if they’ve not made that choice yet, and if they are ready and willing, and they’re open to You coming into their lives, come now, we pray. Come, fill them and change them. You might just want to say even a few words just asking Jesus to come into your life, asking Him to fill you afresh with His Spirit, but you need to make the choice.

Father, thank-you for Your word today. Thank-you for your love that invites us into that fullness of joy, into that true worship. Lead us on, complete the good work you’ve begun in us, for we ask it in Jesus’ name and for His glory. Amen.

As I always say, if you made that choice for the first time, if you said you wanted Jesus to be part of your life for the first time, then please tell me. Not for my ego, not cos I’m needy, but because by saying that you are speaking out that act of faith and it really helps solidify that that faith journey that you’ve begun today so let me know if that’s the case.

Purpose of the Passion

Preached on: Sunday 13th March 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: John 3:1-16
Location: Blackbraes & Shieldhill with Muiravonside

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the word of God.
Come Holy Spirit and bind up our hearts and open our eyes.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder what are your earliest memories of church? What are your earliest memories of church? My own memories include going to church with my family, standing beside my dad, maybe even being held by my dad, and him singing the hymns out fairly loudly – which is probably where I get that habit from – I remember juice and biscuits after the service along the tables with other boys and girls, and just such a hubbub of conversation and activity there, I remember getting dressed smartly, I remember sitting with my Gran when we moved church. I don’t really remember much of what the minister said, which hopefully won’t be your experience today! I wonder what you remember? What your earliest memories of church are?

They could be very well tied-in with this building. These memories we are fond of. Many of them are good and they make a lasting impression upon us. These memories probably shape our view of what church is about and of what church means to us. For most of my early life I probably associated church with these memories. It was about going to a building, it was about doing certain things, it was about wearing certain things.

But then, at the age of 19, I became a Christian. That was when my faith became truly alive and real to me. Up to that point I believed in God but that belief made very little difference to my everyday life. In fact, life was becoming more and more selfish such that during my teenage years I was hurting others around me as a result. But then came a crisis moment and I came to truly know Jesus and not only did I change, but my understanding of church did as well.

In our passage today we see a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus, and in that passage Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again’. Then later he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. No one can see, whoever believes.

Jesus is not simply teaching moral truths and spiritual truths, he’s talking about people, he’s not talking about an organization or a building or a place. Jesus is talking about people.

And that’s because the church is made of people. Jesus came to earth, He came to die on a cross for people, people like you and me. The church is made of people and we know this, we know this because we sing this. Do you remember the song:
‘I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together.
The church is not a building. The church is not a steeple. The church is not a resting place.
The church is a people.’

The church is made of people. It’s why Jesus came to die. It’s why His resurrection is important because His resurrection proves there is hope for people, for people like you and me.

I know we know this. I realize it sounds like something from Sunday School but have we followed through the logic of what this means? It means the church is broader than us, the church is broader than here. There is, in fact, no them and us. There is only the church.

As a result, this means we have a great security and we have belonging. We don’t just belong to Muiravonside or Blackbraes & Shieldhill Parish Church. There is a place for us in any church and every church should stand in solidarity with one another, across congregations, across boundaries, even across continents. Isn’t that what we see when we pray for the persecuted church. So many of our brothers and sisters persecuted for their faith and yet we join in prayer for them and we don’t care what ethnicity they are, we don’t care what nationality they are, we don’t care what denomination they are, we simply pray for them. We join in prayer across all man-made boundaries for our brothers and sisters in Christ because the church is made of people. That’s why Jesus came. That was the purpose of His mission and His passion. This means we belong to something bigger. We actually have a greater security than we may ever have realized.

But is the church made up of just anybody? Or, let me put it another way, how can someone be part of the church?

Do we become part of the church by attending? Do we become part of the church by giving or becoming a member?

I think we probably all bring assumptions to our faith. We all do. And the same was true in Jesus’ day as well. And the same was true of Nicodemus. We read of Nicodemus in verse one ‘Now there was a pharisee, a man named Nicodemus, who was a member of the Jewish ruling council.’ As a pharisee he obeyed the strictest of rules, he sought to honor God in every way imaginable, he wanted to know exactly how to apply God’s law, and he followed those rules very strictly. He was for this, highly esteemed. He would be seen as a truly righteous man and through years of study and self-application, he has gained a position on the Jewish ruling council. Nicodemus has ticked all the boxes. He assumes his place in God’s family and kingdom. He assumes he is in; he is safe.

But as the dialogue shows, we can assume the wrong things, we can trust the wrong things and by doing that, we gain a false sense of security.

And what Jesus says, He helps Nicodemus to see things more rightly and to see where he can find life and hope and so Jesus says ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they’re born again.’ He goes on to say ‘just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’

Jesus is saying that life is to be found in Him. We are to trust in Jesus. It is this that qualifies someone to be in the kingdom or not, to be in the church or not, to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus is what ultimately allows us to belong or not, to His church because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus.

I wonder friends, is that where your trust is? Or have we trusted in other things?

Have we maybe trusted in the denomination, in its strength and size, and its legacy? Have we trusted in the building? That as long as the building’s here, as long as the walls stay up, and the roof is intact, everything will be okay? Have we maybe derived a false sense of security from these, just like Nicodemus? And as the future of these things that we’ve put our trust in seems more uncertain, have we responded like Nicodemus does to Jesus? Twice Nicodemus says ‘How?’ ‘How?’ ‘How can this be?’

And maybe you’re asking the same question with all the uncertainty you face because your trust is not in Jesus, it’s been in something else, you’ve assumed the wrong things.

So, maybe this Easter season, maybe in this journey towards the cross anew this year, maybe amidst all you’re facing, God’s invitation is for you to trust Jesus more deeply, to trust Jesus more truly, maybe even to trust Jesus for the first time, not so that you can get your own way, not so that everything will be okay, but, as you trust in Jesus, you might find a greater peace and hope and joy, even in the darkest of times.

For a number of reasons these past few weeks, I’ve been reminded of the story and life of Corrie Ten Boom and if you don’t know her story then at the end of April, Brightons is hosting a production of her story called ‘The hiding place’ which is based upon the book of the same title ‘The hiding place’. I encourage you to get a copy of the book or to join us down at Brightons for that production at the end of April and we’ll let you know of more details. Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian and in her young adult life experienced World War II, her herself, her sister and her dad were in fact taken by the Nazis to concentration camps because they helped Jews escape from the Nazis. And her story speaks of how it is possible to keep trust in Jesus even in the darkest of times, even in the horror of such circumstances.

Corrie didn’t always trust perfectly, her sister did more often actually, and it was her sister’s influence that helped shape Corrie, helped strengthen Corrie, helped refine Corrie’s trust herself. And Corrie lived through that when her sister and father did not and she would go on to inspire many others to trust in Jesus, to trust in the way of Jesus, and to see the church grow. Because the church is made of people who trust in Jesus. And I wonder friends, does that describe you?

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, what kind of trust are we talking about? Is this a kind of trust where you just grit your teeth and get through to the end? Is it a kind of trust where you’re simply holding on and you’re simply fulfilling duty? I’m not sure it is, and it’s certainly not that kind of trust that got Corrie Ten Boom through her experience either. It was something other than duty, it was something other than just sheer doggedness and sheer human strength, it was something other, it was something of which Jesus spoke about in our passage today where he says ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.’ For God so loved the world.

If the church is made of people and those people have come from the world to believe in Jesus, to trust in Jesus, then do you know what that means? The church is made of people loved by God as well. The church is made of people loved by God.

I wonder friends, do we know that? Do we believe it? Have we received it for ourselves? Do we actually know that God is for us, for you personally?

He’s proven it. He’s proven it to the greatest degree he possibly can. He sent His one and only son to die for us. God is for us.

Now, it can be hard to hold on to that in a broken world with all that is going on and all that is changing in our world and in our local context. It is said that in our day we are in a grey zone, a period of time between the eras when things are changing, when things are in flux when the world as we know it is disappearing before our eyes. Being in that grey zone is unsettling, it is disorientating, it is scary. I’m sure you feel it like I do as well.

And maybe God’s invitation this Easter is to perceive His love more fully and to receive His love more deeply.

As we journey towards Easter together, reflecting on the cross, reflecting on the reasons that Jesus came and the purpose of His passion, may we see the love God has for us. May we see the depth and height and breadth and length of the love of God for you, not just for the world, but for you. For you.

I encourage you please, to try and make the time between now and Easter to dig into God’s word, to meet with Him in prayer. Maybe you can invest some time reading through the Gospel of John, maybe read a bit of a chapter a day or one chapter a day, whatever you feel you can manage. That through this gospel, this gospel where we find such truths as we’ve seen today, you can grow in your knowledge of God’s love, you can grow in your appreciation of God’s love, a love that drove Him to send His one and only Son into the world, to die on a cross for you, for you. Because, ultimately, that’s why Jesus came, that was the purpose of His passion. It was the reason for His journey to the cross, to have a church, a church made of people, a group of people who trust in Him, and know the love of God.

May we be such a people now and all our days come what may. I pray it may be so.
Amen.

Mighty God

Preached on: Sunday 5th December 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button aboveSermon Sunday 5th December 2021. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-12-05 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Isaiah 9:6-7 and 2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word:
Holy Spirit, please come among us and reveal to us the way of our Heavenly Father.
Holy Spirit, please be present and reveal to us the hope we have through Jesus
Come now Holy Spirit we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’
name. Amen.

I wonder what kind of person are you when it comes to the Christmas lists and the buying of Christmas presents? Are you a person who enjoys surprises for your Christmas presents?  or Do you write a list and give that to family and friends saying I’d like something from this? I’m going to give you 20 to 30 seconds just to talk about that with your neighbour if you feel able. Are you a surprise kind of person or not? Over to you.

Okay, dokey. So, hands up if you’re a surprise kind of person? Are you. Who’s the surprise kind? I think you might be in the minority not by much but I think it would seem like a that. So, the rest of you might be a bit like me. If there’s something I really want then I do probably have an idea of what I’m after, if it’s a piece of tech, if it’s a piece of ( Andrew could we just turn that down a tad) sorry, if it’s a piece of tech or a piece of gear I probably know what I want but there is also something nice about receiving those surprise Christmas presents. Isn’t there?

Last year’s one, the funny one that Gill gave me that I think I showed, the baldy Christmas mug that I received, I really like that, it’s one of the ones I really like, so it gave me a good laugh, and I think we also had a laugh because I think I showed it on the Christmas day service. So I do like a bit of a surprise but Christmas presents is not the only things where a surprise can happen.

Life also has its surprises and more often than not the surprises that come with life are not often the good ones, they’re hard and they can leave us feeling in a really difficult place, a really hard place. The biggest one obviously we’ve all had to be dealing with is coronavirus and it’s ongoing twists and turns but maybe this past year for you has brought other surprises. Maybe surprises with health, maybe surprises of relationships, maybe at work or friends or family, a loss you’ve experienced. Who knows where the surprise may be but I’m sure all of us can resonate with it to some degree. All of us will have experienced that unexpected event that was just not welcome, it was not a positive surprise like on Christmas day, and maybe as you approach Advent this year you’re carrying some of that with you, and so you don’t approach Advent this year with anticipation or peace or joy, but rather something else and maybe when you were hearing of Sharon’s testimony last week on the one hand you’re really encouraged that God is that companion and He’s ready to give wisdom but maybe hearing that testimony on the other hand brought to mind unanswered prayers that you’ve got in your life and you struggle with that and it just brings that to mind for you as you heard that ‘Why, God, are you not answering my prayers?’

And so, as we said last week, we’re beginning this new series where we’re digging into this familiar passage in Isaiah chapter 9 where we read of these four titles of Jesus because it’s so easy just to skip over those four titles and not really grasp maybe something of what they’re trying to communicate to us. And so, last week, we did see that Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise made in Isaiah but this week we’re going to see that He fulfills the second title in a very surprising way. Isaiah said ‘For to us a child is born and he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

And so, what does it mean that Jesus is Mighty God? What does that mean?

Well, ‘mighty in the Old Testament has connotations of military prowess, of being bold and brave, and so it conveys this idea of someone who has the power to resist every evil or threat and he’s able to make his people safe, particularly the kings would be thought of in that way, and so it’s quite natural that a Zionist prophecy speaks also of Midian which was an event in the history of Israel where Israel faced this threat that was described as being so numerous it was like a ‘plague of locusts descending upon the land’ and you can read about that in Judges chapter 6. But Israel did defeat them, they defeated a foe of 120 thousand enemies and there’s that encouragement in Isaiah’s day as they face the threat from Assyria and a numerous enemy as well. There’s Isaiah to bring that encouragement that the Mighty God is on their side and so they should trust in Him, they should wait upon Him, they should wait for His promise to be fulfilled. But, as we saw last week, that this promise can’t be just fulfilled in one particular person, can be fulfilled in the normal kings, that there’s this echo, this sign, that it would be a divine person and no king up until Jesus fulfilled fully those expectations.

And so, we’ve read of incidents like in Mark 2 where Jesus healed the paralytic and the paralytic was able to stand and pick up His mat and walk out the door, and as people saw that, they were just wowed with awe, that here was someone who had the power of God and could heal in such incredible manner. Or the incident in Mark 6 where Jesus is in the boat with the disciples and He’s sleeping in the in the back but then the storm comes and the disciples are so scared that they think they’re going to drown and so they wake up Jesus and He gets up and He simply says ‘Be still’ and everything died down.

And what does, what do they say? How? Here is one who even the winds and the waves obey him? such is His power, such is His authority. And because Jesus kept doing all these things, people expected Him to be this Messiah that they had anticipated, that Isaiah had promised, and so they expect Him to come and to rule in might and power and to kick out the Romans and re-establish the political kingdom of Israel and bring back the glory days where they would rule their land and everything would be perfect and good once more. And so, they want to establish Him as their king but Jesus wasn’t there to establish a political kingdom, He was there to exert His power in a different way and in a surprising way, a way that even confounded people and along the journey of time through His ministry He shared, began to share with His disciples that He would go to die on a cross and they couldn’t take that in. How could God, how could our Messiah die? and it baffled His disciples, it baffled people later when He did die, it baffled people afterwards and as the church began to share that message that God had come as a babe at Christmas and when He grew, He then went and died on a cross.

It was too much for some and so as Paul says in the first letter to Corinthians ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.’ Jesus came exerting His power in an unexpected way, in a way that confounded people, that just seemed like foolishness, it was a blocker for some to faith in Him but maybe, if they had remembered the story of Midian more fully, they might have remembered, might have struggled less with that because Gideon is the one who was used of God to secure Israel’s safety and salvation but he says to the Lord when the Lord comes to him in the form of an angel he says ‘How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh and I am the least in my family.’

The people of God are led into salvation through an insignificant individual, a person who’s weak, who displayed nothing of power or might. And, what is more, do you remember how many the Lord used to defeat 120,000? 300, 300 Israelites is what He used to defeat 120,000. He used weakness, He used insignificance, He used limitation to achieve His purposes and so for the people in Isaiah’s day and the people in the time of Jesus, even in our day, we expect God to exert His power, His might in a particular way, we expect it to be through strength and dominion and force. God often doesn’t work that way. He has the power over our sickness and nature in the demonic for sure as we saw in the life of Jesus, but ultimately, He just chose to display His power in weakness, in death and being born as a babe and growing as a man and living a human life in the midst of that. That’s how He ultimately displayed He was Mighty God.

And so, maybe the Advent message for us this year is that, that God will rescue, He will save His people, nothing can thwart His plans because He is Mighty God. But maybe He displays His power in a way we don’t expect, is through limitation, the limitation of the incarnation of becoming human and in the limitation of death. Maybe there’s an invitation this Advent for us to have our picture of God changed, to go maybe deeper and have a more surprising understanding of God rather than us casting God in the image that we would want. Maybe we allow Him to shape our perspective of Him through His word.

And so, if Jesus is the Mighty God and displays His power in surprising ways, in ways that we don’t expect, naturally that we’d rather He didn’t, we’d rather He just conformed to what we expect this Mighty God to do. If He doesn’t do that, if He’s constantly just inviting us into an alternative perspective of Him what should be our response to that? How should we respond to this Mighty God revealing Himself in weakness and limitation?

Well, I said last week that the chapters of Isaiah 8 and 9 run very closely together and we read a little bit at the end of chapter 8 last week but this week I’d like to read a little bit earlier in Isaiah because Isaiah says this ‘This is what the Lord says to me warning me not to follow the way of this people. Do not call conspiracy everything this people calls a conspiracy. Do not fear what they fear and do not dread it.’ Is that making you worry about conversations we’ve heard around the coronavirus and all that’s just the way aside the Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy. He is the one you are to fear – I will wait for the Lord. I will put my trust in Him.

Isaiah is sent to people facing overwhelming odds, an overwhelming threat and he is sent to them to call them to trust Him, to trust Him when it looks like all the odds are against you and the future is bleak and you feel in darkness and gloom. He sent to call them to trust in the Lord rather than trust in other sources of power or wisdom, other places that we might look to for our salvation. Trust in the Lord is his message because here is the promising it goes into Isaiah 9 there to trust and to keep on trusting.

And the same was true in Paul’s day. Paul, we know from what we read earlier, they would say that for God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, the God who created all things and said ‘Let there be light and suddenly there was light’ this God has made His light shine in our hearts to give us the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. Basically, when you see Jesus, you see this God who created all things. God has come in human form. That was their testimony, crazy as it sounded, and yet that early church was hard-pressed, they were perplexed, persecuted, struck down, they faced such hard times as we have never known for generations, and it raised difficult questions.

People began to wonder ‘Is Jesus really this Mighty God?’ because in the culture of the time if you claim that your God was the Mighty God and the strongest God then you should be safe, you should be the one in control and dominion, and so the Roman Gods they were the powerful Gods, because the Romans were in power and there was all these claims about who is the most powerful God and because Christians suffered there was questions about ‘Well, is Jesus really this Mighty God? Has he really secured salvation and victory?’ and so, they began to circulate false claims about Jesus. There began to be others who would deny Jesus and forsake Jesus yet, what is Paul’s response, this man who was persecuted, this man who eventually gave his life for the sake of Jesus, what’s his response?

Well, in the next couple of verses he goes on to ‘It is written ‘I believed therefore I have spoken’. Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak. Because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself, since we have that same spirit of faith.’ We have that same spirit of faith. Paul adopts a posture of faith, of trust, of holding on and trust to Jesus, and maybe the invitation for us is to do likewise this Advent. That in all the difficulties you face this year, know the difficulties you maybe continue to face even now, as you look at Advent and it’s not for you a season of joy, maybe the invitation is simply to trust, to trust in this Jesus and not allow fear and not allow darkness to turn you away from Jesus, to rather press you deeper into Him and to wait upon Him because that is what Isaiah also said he said ‘I will wait for the Lord’ and you’re trusting. Wait for the Lord. Wait for Him to act in his way and in His timing rather than in the way you expect or want God to do. Trust in Him. Wait upon Him. Maybe that’s the first invitation in response to Jesus being our Mighty God?

Our reading from second Corinthians does however give us a second possible response this morning and earlier we read in first second Corinthians ‘we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body for we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus sake so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body so then death is at work in us but life is at work in you.’

And these words of Paul and indeed in his life and ministry, there was this example, this calling to give your life for the sake of Jesus for His purposes, for His priorities, for His people, to give yourself, to die to self. But Paul was just echoing Jesus wasn’t he? Because Jesus said ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save their life, will lose it but whoever loses their life for me, and for the gospel, will save it.’

Again, the same echo, the same idea. Give your life away. If Jesus is truly this Mighty God and if you trust in Him, then in a dark times, wait and the rest of life even now in the dark times follow Him, give your life for Him, give your life for His purposes and priorities, make Him known, care for His church, advance His kingdom.

And so, maybe the invitation this Advent for you is to do that. To give yourself , just as Paul did in the face of persecution and ridicule. Paul continued to hold on to Jesus, to trust in Jesus, to give his life for Jesus, to follow the way of Jesus, and that’s so counter-cultural in our day because in our day we just want what benefits us, we don’t want a religion that is costly but actually in dying to self, there’s a thing of beauty, there’s a thing of beauty.

Last week I mentioned that I recently went on retreat and whilst there was prayer walking not only did I receive from the Lord, things that I mentioned last week that really helped to heal some wounds, I also was struck by this scene so I was walking around the the walled garden and I was looking up and looking out for how the Lord would speak to me and this scene just captured my attention. Now, what tree do you think captured my attention from that view? The one in the middle, the big golden one. It was, that was the one that captured my attention. Not the kind of sparse looking drab one on the right. Not even that lush kind of ever-greeny one – that was kind of boring. The one in the middle, this auburn autumn leafed tree is the one that captured my attention. It was beautiful and just appreciating it and taking the time to marvel at it was a real gift to my soul and to my spirit. But here’s the thing, that tree is only that way because the leaves are dying. It was through death that I received life, just by admiring that tree and they are dying so as to bring life in the next season.

It’s the same principle in God’s wired into creation that when we die to self, there can be life for others.

And I wonder what that looks like this Advent season for you as you follow in the way of Jesus, as you say ‘Well Jesus is the Mighty God and I follow Him and that means I’ve to die to self as He died for me?’ He didn’t come just to have a nice wee Advent scene, He came as a babe for a purpose and that purpose was to die for you and me, to walk the way of the cross. And we, likewise, are called to walk a similar way. What does that look like for you this Advent?

There’s so many examples and ideas and I’m just going to pick two but think about where else it could apply in your life, maybe in your home life, in your family life, in your relationships, in your workplace, but I want to pick two just as we examples.

You hopefully received if you’re a member three or four of these Christmas cards to invite people to Christmas services and hear the good news about a God who loved them that He came into the brokenness of this world. Have you given them away yet? Because, sometimes our embarrassment and our fear holds us back but dying to self would encourage us to get over that embarrassment, to not let that hold us back that we would care more for others than for our own image and reputation, that we’d be willing to take that step of faith and say ‘Hey, my church has done some events this Christmas, do you fancy coming along?’ It’s a wee silly way but it is the same principle because who knows what you doing that will lead in the life of another, who knows if that invitation will lead to them coming to know Jesus and that would be a thing of beauty, a thing of beauty.

You’ll also know that over this past year I’ve mentioned it in a number of sermons and in Bright Lights articles and letters to our members directly that we’re having conversations about the future shape of the Braes churches, that there needs to be the closure of some buildings, and I wonder what this principle of following Jesus and dying to self would say to us? Is it possible that closing some churches, so as to sustain other places of mission, might be a dying to self that is beautiful?

There are so many ways that this principle is relevant as we finish off this year and head into a new year and so I encourage you to take some time to think that through, to think through where is this truth, this revelation that God is the Mighty God revealed in Jesus. He reveals it in startling, surprising ways and yet, we are called then to trust Him, to trust Him in the waiting and trust Him by following in His way, in His example. I pray it may be so for each and all of us, Amen.

Rejoice

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

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

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

Amen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so, Amen

Worthy of the Gospel: Unity and Trust

Preached on: Sunday 17th January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-01-17 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 1:27-2:4
Sunday 17th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, draw near in this time wherever we may be. Come in power. Come, take the word of God and change our hearts and minds. Come Holy Spirit and make Jesus real to us help us to hear His voice today for we ask this in His name, Amen.

I’ve appreciated the way in which Gordon and Ian have helped us start our new series in Philippians, this very special letter within the New Testament, for they’ve helped us see its relevance for our lives today. We’ve seen how crucial it is to know that we, “you”, are a good work, to remember that God has done – and is doing – something within us and among us, such that we are to pray for one another and live with a perspective shaped by Jesus and the gospel, even in hard times.
Before the Christmas break, I was contacted by the Communications Department for the Church of Scotland because they are doing a series of articles this year about people coming into ministry. The questions they asked made me think about my faith journey and other events, moments that defined, shaped, my life. To help us get into today’s passage, I’ve a question for you to think about at home: what have been the defining moments of your life? Has there even been a defining moment? I’ll give you 30 seconds to think about that at home. (PAUSE)

I wonder what you came up with – feel free to share it in the Live Chat. The man who authored this letter was the apostle Paul and before he became a Christian he persecuted the early church, dragging those early disciples of Jesus to prison and even to death.
But then we know from his story, recorded in the book of Acts, that he had a powerful conversion – an event that radically redefined his life, such that he put his trust in Jesus and gave his life away for the sake of Jesus, the sake of the gospel and the well-being of the church. His coming to faith, his coming into relationship with Jesus, defined Paul’s life because in that process of coming to trust Jesus Paul met with the love and grace of God and as such he sought to live his life in light of that.

Now, not all of us will have had Paul’s experience, but what he received, is what every person who calls themself a “Christian” has received as well: the grace, the love, the welcome and invitation of Jesus; your sin has been forgiven, you no longer stand in condemnation, you will no longer pay the penalty of your sin – you are free,… you are redeemed, you stand in right relationship with God and He adores you. All this and so much more is the inheritance of every person who claims to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus. As such, what Paul says in verse 27 applies to one and all of us: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ This verse shapes Paul’s life and his letter, and it is there in his other letters as well: if you claim faith in Jesus, then live in a manner worthy of the love and grace you have received from God.

In our portion today, what does it mean to live in a worthy manner? I want to give us two points to take away and put into practice. Firstly, being ‘worthy of the gospel through unity’.

Paul says, ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then…I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel…Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.’ (1:27; 2:1-2)

Paul’s not calling into question their status as followers of Jesus here – the “if” is more like a “since”: ‘since you have been united with Christ…since you have known His love…since you share in the Spirit’ then be worthy of the gospel, and for any group of Christians, being worthy of the gospel includes a concrete expression of unity.
Now unity is much more than acquiescence, it is more than mere consent or approval, it is more than turning up to church or having the status of a member – unity involves the heart, such that there is an overflow of love, the love of God nonetheless, through us to others, and so it must involve action, it must involve the weaving of our lives together. This unity also involves the mind, not that we have uniformity in all things, but there must still be a shared understanding, a shared understanding of the gospel, such that we are collectively motivated with a deep conviction to be worthy of the gospel, so that our lives together might point to Jesus. In both heart and mind, in word and in deed, Paul longs for these dear followers of Jesus to be worthy of the grace and love they have experienced from God.

What this looks like in concrete actions is spelled out for us by Paul: ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.’ (2:3-4)

When we know the love and grace of God, then our motives change and so our lives change as well: we look beyond ourselves, we look beyond self. So, when Paul speaks of ‘vain conceit’, literally in the Greek this means ‘empty glory’, a chasing after ambitions that are unworthy of anyone who has tasted God’s love and grace.

In some ways, our recently adopted values seek to remind us of this and prompt us to live this out: that we are ‘family’, a community who journey together, and… we seek to share ‘share’, to share our lives and share the good news of God’s love in word and deed. Last Tuesday’s video, about hopes for 2021, gives some ideas of what this could look like, and I’d encourage you to go listen.

Yet even just now, let us each ask ourselves: do we look beyond our own interests to those within our church family? Could it be said that the love of God is seen in and through us? Do we seek to serve others – are you serving in some way within and through this congregation? As one person said on Tuesday evening – it’s easy to sit back, to keep to ourselves, but as Paul says here, we need to intentionally look out for ‘the other’, and demonstrating love in that way will help us move towards a way of life that is increasingly worthy of the gospel, worthy of what we have received from God.
But this is a tall order, is it not? An impossible calling, surely? Well of course, it is; it is beyond our own human ability – the human soul is so broken, fractured, sinful, that more often than not we look out for self than for others, we are more prone to factions and division than unity, and we clamour for status, wealth, comfort, power – the empty glory of such things – much more than the way of self-sacrifice and humility. How can Paul call us to such a way of life? Well, he also says that we are to be worthy of the gospel through trust.

He began by saying: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you…

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.’ (1:27-30)

Let’s be clear, Paul is not talking about all suffering in these verses. The suffering in mind here is that of persecution, of suffering because of your faith. So, let’s not jump to conclusions. But let us also admit there are many ways that our believing, or in the literal Greek, our ‘trusting’ may bring suffering into our lives. Believing here, is not intellectual assent to some doctrines; to believe, is to entrust ourselves to Jesus, to commit ourselves to Him. Paul is saying, that to be worthy of the gospel also includes trust; trusting in the hard times, trusting through sacrificial choices.
Now, in our society, the degree of persecution we face is minimal whilst many in our world literally face death for their faith. There are 10 Christians a day dying in Nigeria because of persecution against them. Yet even here, there is opposition, that are voices, forces, events that can undermine our trusting in Jesus, they can seek to rob us of our peace and joy. So, as one commentator said, ‘where is it important for you and your church to hold your nerve & remain unafraid in the face of opposition?’

It’s seen when we trust that God’s Word is true, and so that Jesus is alive, that He is Lord and God alone, that He is the way of salvation and the source life in all its fullness. This trusting is seen when we choose to obey God’s Word rather than go our own way. This trusting is put to the test in many ways, yes by persecution, but also in the hardships of life, or when God’s standards call us to live differently to the world’s ways.

Your answer to this question might be quite specific to your circumstances, yet nevertheless, in our day, in our society, one of the greatest fears for most Christians, is the fear of others, of what others might think of us, or how they might respond if we were to share our faith or admit our faith or prioritise our faith. Another kind of fear, that can undermine our trust, is a fear that Jesus seems to ask too much, that we are afraid to give over control of our lives to Him, and allow Him to reign over our choices and our priorities.

These two fears are probably two of the greatest ways we experience a measure of suffering for following Jesus and yet to be worthy of the gospel, we are called to trust – to trust for the first time and then to keep on trusting, to keep on following Jesus and His way, yielding to His call upon our lives, individually and collectively. And when we do that, when we yield, trust, orientate our lives around Jesus, He then gives us His Spirit individually, and as a community, to help us live in unity and for His glory.

This trusting happens at the beginning of our faith journey, but it’s also a daily part of following Jesus. Every day is a new opportunity, a new invitation, to keep trusting Jesus; every Sunday, every message, every time you read your Bible, is another opportunity to trust, by responding to what God is saying in His Word.

So, in light of that, I want to give you an opportunity to respond today. I want to invite you to respond in trust to Jesus, at home, right now. In a moment, I’m going to pray, and there will be a couple of different prayers.

First, I want to give an opportunity for you to trust Jesus for the first time and begin following Him by asking for His forgiveness and yielding to His way in your life.

Secondly, I’ll give space for each of us to respond to this message, the call to live lives worthy of the gospel in unity and at personal cost for the sake of Jesus.

Lastly, there will be space to pray a prayer of trust in the midst of trials, of suffering and hard times. So, let us pray.

So, for those that want to invite Jesus into their lives, today, this morning I invite you maybe even just to put out your hands in invitation to Jesus. You don’t have to but I find it helpful to embody my prayers and then repeat with me these words of a prayer. Speak them out yourselves, at home, right now if you can.

Lord Jesus Christ I am sorry for the things I’ve done wrong in my life. I take a few moments now to name this before You, to confess my sin, what I’ve done wrong.
Please forgive me Lord. I choose now to turn from everything that I know is wrong. Thank You that You died on the cross for me so that I could be forgiven and set free. Thank You that You offer me forgiveness and You promise to help change my life, to put it on a different path by the gift of Your Spirit living in me, and so I now receive that gift. Please come into my life by Your Holy Spirit to be with me forever.
Thank You Lord Jesus

To those of us who claim the title Christian, who claimed to follow Jesus, what has been the prompt this morning from the Lord? What has been the challenge?
Is He calling you to give your life away for Him in a new way or to renew that.
Is He maybe bringing someone to mind that you have to show the love of God. So come Holy Spirit. Speak to our hearts. I’m not going to give you words to pray this time just just speak to the Lord in quiet or out loud. Speak to Him about what is upon your heart, what you’ve been challenged by, how you’re going to respond, how you want to live worthy of the Gospel.

Admit your incapacity to do this yourself and invite the Holy Spirit to come and fill you in this time. Come Holy Spirit, fill us to overflowing, fill us with the love of God, fill us with power, fill us with power to walk in Your ways, to choose Your ways over ours. Come Holy Spirit.

And for those of us in the midst of trials of really hard times let me pray for you.

Lord I pray for these precious ones. I pray, Lord, that they would know You close. I pray that they would know that You’ll never leave them, nor forsake them. I pray that they know that You know the depth of their pain and their anguish, that You know what it’s like to suffer and, yes, there will be the questions and there will be deep anger sometimes Lord, and You’re ready to receive them. And there might not be answers this side of heaven but Lord may they know that You weep with them. May they know that You care and may You help them Lord to keep trusting keep trusting You this day in the next day and the next day, be their light in their darkness, be their light for the path ahead. Lord and help us to wrap the love of God around them in real tangible ways even amidst limitations. Lord, may we overflow with love for these dear precious ones. Lord may we be like Paul who, from a distance, sought to encourage and strengthen. May we see the ways that we can do that Lord for them, that they would know that they’re not alone in this journey, that You’re with them, we are with them. Oh Lord, help them trust You

Help them to keep trusting You Lord hear all our prayers this morning before we ask it in Jesus name, 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.

Advent: invitation to life

Preached on:
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 19-12-08-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 1:26-47
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 1:26-47
Sunday 8th December 2019
Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Of all the seasons in our year, Christmas-time is probably the one that has the most traditions, is it not? More than Easter, more than birthdays and anniversaries, we all have expectations of how Christmas will go, we have set ideas of what should happen and when. You may have set ideas about who should go downstairs first to see if the presents have arrived, or when the presents should be opened, or what should be worn on the day. Then there’s the issue of when you will eat Christmas dinner – if you’re willing to participate, let’s do a quick straw poll by a show of hands: whose families eat between noon to 2pm; then 2pm to 4pm, then anyone around 4pm or later?
In my family, when to eat has been an issue in previous years because normally it would be about 2pm, but a few years ago, my middle sister asked for a later time because of seemingly important reasons like visiting the in-laws and wanting her kids to be awake for the meal. My youngest sister and I just about had a heart-attack over the idea of moving Christmas dinner back to three o’clock, so we eventually compromised on 2.30pm, and I had to change my set ideas on how Christmas should be, because sometimes our set ideas need to change.

Our reading today from Luke’s gospel is a familiar one to many of us: the angel Gabriel brings a message from God to Mary about the upcoming birth of Jesus. Even this early into Advent, I’ve told the story a number of times – so it’s easy to gloss over the dynamics of this event…
and to reduce it to something nice and familiar. But in all honesty, this isn’t a nice comfortable story, it is really quite unsettling, because Mary and Joseph are engaged – they have their plan, their set ideas, for how life will work out: I wonder if they were buzzing with excitement at being engaged, and if Joseph was busy building the house that they would live in together, and was Mary discussing with her friends what the wedding day would be like and what it would be like being married to Joseph and whether children might come along one day.

And then suddenly, out of the blue, they are asked to change their set ideas for how life will go. Gabriel arrives with a message that God wants to involve Mary and Joseph in His plans and purposes for the whole world. But the message from God is a challenging invitation…
– Mary is asked to carry a baby that will be called the Son of God, a baby that will be given the throne of David by the Lord God, and this baby will reign over a kingdom that will be eternal and all encompassing. This message from God is a really big ask – this message is going to thoroughly upend Mary and Joseph’s plans for their future.

What’s more, this invitation from God is going to result in Mary and Joseph facing scandal and humiliation, probably for the rest of their lives, because everyone will know that Mary was pregnant before the wedding day, and everyone will know she became pregnant after being away from Joseph for 3 months – that’s going to raise a lot of questions about the identity of the father. Their set ideas for life will be forever replaced if they accept this invitation from God.
So, this story is no nice, comfortable story. Sure, we let the kids think that, but in reality, it is both gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring. In the midst of a cosmic story about how God will set the world aright through the coming of His Son, the promised Messiah, we find a very moving invitation. And like I was saying last week, on every page of Scripture, we are invited to consider how the cosmic story of what God is up to in the world brings us an invitation for today as well.

So, let me ask you this: as we count down the weeks to Christmas and so approach the end of another year, what has God been saying to you these past months? The Christmas story clearly shows that God is the living, everpresent God, and as such He is frequently inviting us into His plans and purposes – He might have spoken to you during a church service, or a conversation with a friend, or something you read or experienced in recent months – but be assured, God has been speaking to you. And if we have been attentive, then we might have heard some of what He has been whispering to our hearts. So, what has God been speaking to you about? What has been His message to You this past year?

Or what about us as a congregation? Amidst the change, amidst the uncertainty of the future, what has God been saying to us collectively? Where has been the encouragement, where has been the challenge? What has God by His Spirit been impressing upon us as a congregation?

Now, I realise I’m putting you on the spot with that question, but I’m not looking for an answer…
by the time you reach the door, which might be a relief to you. But maybe in these final weeks of the year, as we go about our set ideas for Christmas, as we ponder the Christmas message afresh, a message that brought encouragement, challenge, and an invitation, maybe we can take some time in these final weeks and reflect upon what God’s invitation to us has been.

Now, if you have something you’d like to share on that, particularly for us as a congregation, then please speak with me, or speak with one of our team conveners. We interviewed them a few weeks’ back for Guild Sunday and any one of us would be happy to hear you out.

Now as we ponder God’s invitation to us, and find Him challenging the set ideas for our individual and collective lives, then we’ll likely be faced with a choice akin to Mary’s, so how did Mary respond?

She said: ‘I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled.’ (Luke 1:38) In other passages we see how Joseph reacts and the end product is similar: in both Mary and Joseph, we see an openness to the invitation of God, and a trust in His plans and power. They both evidence an open trust in God, an open trust in the invitation of God to be part of His plans and purposes for the world. This could show an open trust, such that they are willing to put aside their set ideas for life and embrace a new life from God.

And once again, we are invited to consider how the divine story affectsour story. God has been speaking to you this year, He has been whispering a particular message to you, and the question is – will we take up God’s invitation to a life we never anticipated? In this moment of choice, how will we respond? Will we be like Mary, with an open trust in God, in His plans and power?

Now as I outlined earlier, this is not simply a nice invitation from God, saying: “oh, would you like a baby?” Because Mary saying “yes” to God’s invitation would mean saying “yes” to ridicule and contempt for being pregnant whilst unmarried in a small town, a town probably as full of gossips as anywhere else. And Mary would have known this at the time of God’s invitation, yet she still said, “May your word to me be fulfilled.” It is surely one of the most courageous statements ever said…

to sign up to something that will bring heartache, even suffering. Her openness to pay such a price, to even lose some happiness, to lose something she valued; there’s part of me that can never get my head around that, to say “yes” to that particular invitation, is so very inspiring.

In comparison to that, are the things that God is asking of us, quite so hard? In light of Mary’s example, an example that would foreshadow her Son’s example, though His was of a magnitude much greater, but in light of Mary’s example, can we really still keep making excuses? Or will we embrace God’s invitation, no matter how it might change our set ideas for our lives?

I could give you any number of examples from my own life, either from over the years or from this past year… when I have made the wrong choice, when I was not prepared to pay the cost, but which now, looking back, I so wish that I had: that nudge from God to make sure that I prioritised time with Him, because when I didn’t I grew weary, hope dimmed, perspective blurred; or there’s that challenge from God, quite frequently, on how I parent or how I treat my wife, and the need then to apologise, to seek His wisdom, and commit to a different way of life all because I keep ignoring Him. Or there’s the invitation to speak about by faith to someone, and too often the times even I turn it down, and then the opportunity never arises again.

Friends, as I’ve said, God has been speaking to you. He communicates through His Word, through His people, by His Spirit and in the midst of the circumstances of life. If we have been attentive,…
we might have heard His invitation, but now the question is, what will we do with it – how will we respond? Will it be like Mary, with an open trust in the plans, the power and the love of God?

One final observation about Mary’s story. After Mary trusts God’s invitation, it leads her on to sing her own song, and it begins with these words: “My soul glorifies the
Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1: 46-47)

Some time has passed since that initial visit from the angel, and Mary has had time to dwell upon and maybe experience the effect of her trusting response in God’s invitation. Yet it feels like there’s a change in the dynamics now. Before, in the encounter with the angel,
Mary’s response was quite muted,…
not necessarily grudging, for there was an open trust, but maybe a little uncertainty because of all that’s going to happen.

Yet now, when Mary is with Elizabeth, and after some time has passed, there is a different tone, a different feel, to Mary – the trust is still clearly there, she still trusts in the goodness and purposes of God, but now, now, we see in her a joy that spills over into song, a song that will be written about and which will inspire music and drama in generations to come. God brought the invitation – Mary responded with open trust – and in time, joy came and an impact on future generations as well.

Friends, individually and corporately, God has brought
His invitation to us this year…
It could be a costly invitation, maybe not to the extent of Mary’s, but nonetheless still costly to us. And, as I’ve said, we then have a choice of how to respond – will we too respond with open trust? For if we are willing to trust, and only if we trust, then the joy and the impact that was Mary’s, can be ours as well.

Now, God doesn’t promise an easy life, He doesn’t promise that if we respond with open trust that the invitation won’t be costly or leave us with unanswered questions; after all, Mary was to go on and experience some degree of difficulty and hardship herself, even before Jesus went to the Cross; she still lost a husband, she still worried what her grown-up Son was doing; though the angel called her blessed she knew hardship.
But she also knew joy – and one day that joy…
would forever remain with her, as she placed her trust in the plans of God, in the very Person of God who was her Son, that babe who was also her Messiah and Saviour; she would place her trust in Him and in His invitation, and in Him she found a joy that could never be taken from her.

Friends, God issues His invitation – His invitation to a life you could never dream nor imagine, both individually and corporately. He is speaking, has spoken, and if we are to share in the joy of Mary, then we too must respond with open trust, we must make room for this Christ-child, just as Mary had to make room for Him in her life as well.

And let’s take a moment to think about that impact Mary had on future generations. Many of us would like to see our congregation and young people come to own the
Christian faith for themselves; we hope to have…
an impact upon them as well, just like Mary. But in today’s culture, we can’t simply talk at them or point to words on a page, because they simply do not care. Yet, when these words from Scripture are combined with your personal story of how it has made a difference, well then they might listen and heed what is shared.

Now, I don’t know all your stories much yet, but when on placement, it was so sad that few people could share their experience of what their faith had done in their life; they could tell me that they came to share for X number of years and what jobs they had done, but too few could share how their relationship with God had shaped their character, and what they had seen God do in their lives individually or collectively. Why was that? Why did they have so little testimony to share? Was it because of a lack of trust and response to God?

If we want to impact the next generation, then we must have testimony to share, stories of what God has done in and through us. And if we can’t share anything, then maybe it’s time to start asking why, and we might need to begin with this question: have you accepted Jesus as Your Saviour and Lord? Have you made room for Him in Your life?

I asked a question several times at the start of my time here, but I’ll keep asking it, just in case today is the day it finally sinks in for someone: Have you responded to Him with open trust? Have you accepted Him? Have you made room for Him to come into Your life?
Since coming here, I’ve heard of a few stories from folks in our congregation who were attending church for decades and were even members, but who had never actually responded to this question. So, how can we tell if we have accepted Jesus?

Well as Mary said, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” Can you truly say that of Jesus? Is Jesus real to you? Is He so real to you, and the relationship He offers you, is this so real that in the depth of your being your soul glories in God and rejoices in Him?

Can we say like Mary, ‘I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled’? Is our heart for the Lord’s Kingdom and the Lord’s priorities, for the Lord’s will and word to be fulfilled?…
Because if your attitude to Jesus is a little bit ambivalent; if His will is not what you aspire to live out; if the core of your identity is something other than as a child of God, then maybe you still have some room to give over to Jesus?

This Christmas time, Jesus stands in our midst and He issues His invitation to come into our lives. He doesn’t promise an easily life; in fact, accepting His invitation may well lead to a more difficult life. But we’ll never know the joy of the Lord, or the impact upon generations that Mary made, if we keep Jesus at arms’ length and fail to make room for Him in every area of our individual and corporate lives. Friends, my hope, is that we will respond like Mary, allowing our set ideas for our lives to fall away if need be, and with an open trust, take up God’s invitation to a life, to a joy, to an impact, we could never have imagined. May it be so. Let us pray.