Peter: workplace worship and witness (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 6th April 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Luke 5:1-11 & Matthew 9:9-13
Location: Brightons Parish Church

TEXT YET TO BE FULLY EDITED

Well it’s lovely to be with you again this evening and um I wasn’t going to ask I’m going to ask anyway I wonder if you did your homework I’m not asking any questions about that we’re going to be looking at a very different um area of Peter’s life but not only Peter we’re going to do a wee bit of a tour into some old testament characters but first let me just pray

father we thank you for your love for us we thank you for open bibles that you’ve given to us and we just pray that as we walk through its pages and learn from your servants of old that you would lead and guide us in our thinking in our personal lives in our church life and just ask that you would open this your word to all our hearts in Jesus name amen I’ve got two bible readings there’s actually will be three shown up on them on the screen but I’m not reading from the third one at the moment I might later on it’s Matthew 14 but let’s look at Luke chapter five Luke chapter five verse one one day as Jesus was standing by the lake of Genezaret the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God he saw at the water’s edge two boats left there by the fishermen who were washing their necks he got into one of the boats the one belonging to Simon and asked him to put out a little from the shore then he sat down and taught the people from the boat when he had finished speaking he said to Simon put out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch Simon answered master we have worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything but because you say so I will let down the nets when they had done so they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break so they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink when Simon Peter saw this he fell at Jesus knees and said go away from me lord I’m a sinful man for he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken and so were James and john the sons of Zebedee Simon’s partners then Jesus said to Simon don’t be afraid from now on you will fish for people so they pulled their boats up on shore left everything and followed him and then our other reading taken from Matthew chapter 9 just from verse 9 down to verse 30 verse 13. as Jesus went on from there he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth follow me he told him and Matthew got up and followed him while Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples when the pharisees saw this they asked his disciples why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners on hearing this Jesus said it is not that healthy who need a doctor but those who are ill but go and learn what this means I desire mercy not sacrifice for I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners I was not brought up in a Christian home even a church going home we never went to church in fact that’s not strictly true the only time I went was when we went with the school and every Christmas eve when I went alone with my mother it was sort of more a tradition than anything else my parents lived in Edinburgh they lived in Johnson Terrace in a tenement it’s the street or the road that runs down the side of Edinburgh Castle and while they lived there my mum my mum was actually pregnant at the time with me next door to them they had two lady Salvation Army officers

perhaps just perhaps and I don’t know this if this is true or not they prayed for that unborn child I don’t know but it was through the Salvation Army that I became a Christian it was through the witness of three salvationists that I worked with and then I became a Christian actually in the Salvation Army hall in Leith in Edinburgh mind you luthers wouldn’t like to be called people from Edinburgh but anyway you’ll know what I mean but that was the first time in my office that I actually met people who followed Jesus

you ever think about it the most place or the place that most of us spend most of our time most of our days is in the workplace not the church

i don’t know about you but perhaps at the most we may spend one two perhaps three hours a week in church but then again for those working or have who have worked it could be 38 40 50 perhaps even more hours at work and we’re amongst unbelievers mostly not church people I know you’re looking at the whole area of church within not only your own church but the churches in the braze and that’s great to look at it but remind yourself even as you go through that that church is not the final place that you will be witnessing in worshiping in many of you will also have the place of work now I haven’t done this or planned this in the light of what you’ll be looking at yourselves but the workplace needs to be taken account of they say that 90 of believers never witness to Jesus Christ in the workplace

it’s a difficult place to wash to work in it’s a difficult place to witness in and we’ll look perhaps a wee bit later as to why last month we looked at Peter and the first impressions we had of him and now we’re going to briefly look at Peter in his workplace that wasn’t where he first met Jesus that’s in Luke chapter 5 but it’s where he saw the power of Jesus it’s where he was called to follow Jesus I can imagine that he and his brothers and his friends James and john were good at their jobs but church is often where we think that’s where people meet with Jesus but see beyond the church building it’s very important and has a very important place in our lives but we need to remember where we meet most people who are not Christians you might almost say that actually the workplace the boat Peter out fishing was his comfort zone this was his domain as a fisherman yet see how at this time again going back to Luke chapter five and later on in um Mark Matthew chapter 14 his whole world was turned upside down by a carpenter so let’s briefly look at Peter’s feelings because this place that was his comfort zone was taken charge of by this carpenter by someone else to the shock of Peter now remember let me remind you if you need reminding that Peter wasn’t a big religious figure he wasn’t a leader in his synagogue as far as I know but the shock he was about to experience was in his workplace

it’s a place I think many of us enjoy going to but the thought of witnessing there well that’s a non-starter for many of us but for Peter it’s where he really got out of his depth literally a number of times it happened when storms arose now I’m sure as a fisherman he was used to storms but whether this was a different storm it’s certainly terrified him and of course he had gone through the night fishing and that had been a big disappointment to him I’m not a fisherman the rod kitten or any kind but he had caught no fish that night that was uh pretty bad for him because that was his livelihood that’s where he made his income no fish and then this storm arose but I think it was I don’t know if he was annoyed but the fact that a carpenter then tells you look throw your net on the other side now one it was the wrong time of day two it was the wrong side of the boat so what does a carpenter know about fishing well this one certainly did but it was bringing Peter out of his depth out of his comfort zone and as you perhaps start to think about your comfort zone the church and for many of us it is a comfort zone think about that place of work where you meet many people who are not believers or not church goers and remind yourself as to who they are let’s just briefly then turn to Matthew for a moment as far as um the other disciples are concerned we’re not really sure what a lot of them did burden James and john but here was Matthew the tax collector now you’ll probably know this he had been hated and despised as all tax collectors were because they were often thieves and con men they were robbing the people and they were really lackies of the Roman conquerors now we don’t hear much about what Jesus said in fact we hear very little he just simply said follow me there was no big demonstration of his power to Matthew at this time but notice what happened not only did Matthew leave his workplace but he then went home with Jesus and had a house party with his friends

the same type of despised people as he was now I don’t think his idea was he had started to follow Jesus I don’t think his idea was how am I going to get these people to the synagogue or we would say to church that wasn’t his thinking his thinking was to invite or they invited themselves the other tax collectors because they would know one another it wasn’t to bring them under the preaching of the minister it was to bring them to the preaching of Jesus now let me remind you about your own workplace as it was my workplace where I met with people who knew Jesus but it’s that little phrase again in in Matthew chapter 9 when Jesus said it’s not the healthy who need a doctor but those who are ill but go and learn what this means I desire mercy not sacrifice for I’ve come to call the righteous not the righteous but sinners so when you go into your place of work it’s not like going into the church where you meet with like-minded people mostly it’s not a place where you need to think too much about I wonder who I’ll witness to today it may be I wonder who I don’t know and I’ll talk to today but there is a comfort there’s a there’s a safety in the church that you don’t have to worry about your evangelism too much but that’s very different when you then on a Monday or whichever days you go to work you’ve got to think that these people that you’re going to be working with are just like what I was still am but what I was in my workplace I was one of those sinners that knew nothing about Jesus I believed there was something or someone up there but that’s as far as it went but here is your community where you will spend most of your days most of your time with non-Christian folk we have a problem often within the church within our own Christian life is the division of the sacred and the secular in other words what we are as a Christian and what I do as um as a person at work so for Peter his secular life was he was a fisherman and as we as you read on we would find that Peter’s sacred life was he was an apostle now we mustn’t divide up the sacred and the secular we have responsibilities in the church our place of worship we have responsibilities to people out with the church whether it be in our workplace or our neighborhood who are not believers Matthew he was a different kettle of fish he we don’t really know very much about him baron the little there but he obviously had a big change in his life are following Jesus but he was also a hated man I don’t know how long we don’t know how long it took him to overcome the feelings of hatred that people must have felt towards him the workplace but I want to digress quite a bit not from the workplace but these stories of people in the workplace of Peter and of Matthew are really not unique they’re not unique to bible stories

we’re going to look at just different places not and with a great sense of degree but in the university

in the government civil service in the palace monster hierarchy or perhaps on the building site now you may work in some of these places and so it’s recorded in the scriptures about a number of people from the old testament who worked in such places who witnessed in such places now let me remind you if you need reminding that the recorded stories are not just for exciting stories or not just to teach children though they’re important to teach children but they’re about people’s lives and these people are in the workplace so the person at university was young Daniel you find this in Daniel the book of Daniel chapter one now he was there because he had been brought into exile taken away from his home taken away from his family and taken to Babylon and there he would go through a very thorough teaching it would be as good a teaching as any of our universities and of course in some ways it would also be as Godless a teaching as many of our universities it wouldn’t be a Christian university it wouldn’t be where he learned about God but in another sense while he was there he learned very much about God his story of course you’ll probably know if not take time to read chapter one that he was this young man and he was a young man probably just a teenager he was taken away from his home from his family and brought into this Godless empire and it was Godless and he was set to training but he took his stand immediately he took his stance with some of his friends that were there because he had to eat things now there’s a dilemma sometimes he was prepared to have his name changed from the Jewish name to um Babylonian name and he didn’t seem to have a problem with that he would obviously learn things that were true but he would also learn many things that were ungodly but the thing he had a problem with was the food he was offered was his dietary needs they offered him the best the richest and he totally refused it because it went against his beliefs and he took a strong stat he could have lost his life by doing this but he stood firm he stood fast in his workplace for that time and it’s obviously a reminder to each of us that our young people who go to university it can be a very difficult place very difficult place for them to stand up and believe and tell others that they’re a Christian but that’s their workplace for a certain amount of time and then we move to his older life to Daniel who moved from being in the university and you have to read the whole book to find out where he went to actually being in the government and very high up in the government probably next to the king he was in charge but it didn’t mean to say life got any easier for him even though he had got older he still had to take his stand and this time was against idolatry

now many of us live and realize we live in a world that’s full of idolatry we’re okayish in the company of other believers within the church but go outside and perhaps you don’t even realize how often we are faced with the Godlessness of our society and Daniel was definitely faced with that and he had to take his stand and that would have cost him his life if God hadn’t intervened we read about in Daniel 6 Daniel in the lion’s den so his new job I don’t know how long he’d been in it probably quite a while and the government was going to lead to his demise even though his boss the king didn’t want it to happen but he couldn’t even change the law so there you have one man in two different areas of his life in his workplace having to take his stand and what about you what about me I can’t say I was an expert at being um a witness in in the workplace when I worked and I was a civil servant for my sins um but I’ll tell you this in some ways it um it was very different than being a minister very different sorts of um problems different sorts of background but you still had to take your stand that’s where these Salvation Army people now one young girl particularly who was only going to be there for a few months because she was going on to train to be a Salvation Army I had never met anybody that was quite as vocal and she was vocal she was quite weak firebrand for Jesus the other two were well one was like the core sergeant major that had been like the chief elder I suppose um lovely man but he wasn’t as outward in his place of work but everybody knew he was a Christian and that was my first encounter with people so remind yourself that as you go into your place of work you have a witness to do now often it’s through our lives but at times it needs to be through our mouths as well and then we move on to someone you can see I’m going through these quite quickly then you move on to someone who was in the palace and that was the story of joseph he hadn’t always been in the palace at the time we’re looking at just now he had become the prime minister again someone that really moved up through the ranks from being a prisoner to being a prime minister quite a story but again you need to read that for yourself in the book of genesis that um but you see how people took their stand and witnessed to this person called our God called the lord and we know also as Jesus

and they’re amazing stories their amazing stories not of what on of what the people did but of how God moved in power as they yielded their lives to him and the last one is the butler who became a building site manager Nehemiah he had been the butler that was his job in in um Babylon I think it was Babylon SCOTT keep me right if it’s not he’d been a butler but he had head of the terrible plight of God’s people in Jerusalem and he yearned to do something about it and the lord led him to Jerusalem and his boss let him go the testimony must have been incredible these things just didn’t happen but here was someone whose job changed very dramatically and that happens within people’s work lives but in both places they had to be witnesses to who the lord God of heaven is and was to them now we haven’t got time to go into it all but if you read through them each of these men were in a place where actually they didn’t want to be they’d never asked to be Daniel had never asked to go to Babylon joseph had never asked to go to Egypt Nehemiah had never asked to go back and rebuild they were in a place that was not really of their choosing but the lord had led them so think about it your place of work may be the place you really don’t want to be and sadly a lot of people are in that that they’re in a place they don’t want to be but if that’s where the lord’s led you to you seriously have to think how does he want to demonstrate his power and lives through you now one of the other things that you read um through these stories and through Peter stories is that there were battles there was trials there were difficulties in the workplace and I’m sure that is perhaps why many of us find it very difficult to witness there’s a sense of fear what will people say well I overstepped the Mark after all I’m there to work I’m there to work for my employer I’m not there to be a preacher or a teacher but we don’t all I was going to say we don’t always do our work 24 hours a day or eight hours a day if we’re working there can be very hostile places and with some people and some believers that are extremely hostile and you would almost be terrified to even mention to even suggest that you went to church never mind even witness about Jesus the church is a very different place than our workplaces but let me remind you again the workplace is where we spend more of our time here was young Daniel a slave in a foreign country and as a young teenager stands up and was counted he wouldn’t go against his principles now he had favor with the other servants that were looking after him uh I think they were probably dreading and fearing that they would lose their heads if it was found out that they weren’t he wasn’t following the instructions the orders of them of the king and it was the same with the lions’ den people trapped him they conned him they betrayed him they were determined to get him and boy they certainly went out of their way to do it you might say they were whistleblowers in one sense your majesty you remember the law you made remember what you said if people do not bow down and worship this idol of you they will be thrown to the lines they were whistleblowers

but you know not even the king could rescue him it was a law that was unchangeable so as you read the story and we know the story of Daniel and the lion’s den so well it’s almost unbelievable it’s almost incredible but here was the power of God seen as he shut the lion’s mouth and perhaps you might be in a place where you might see the lord shutting people’s mouths that you want to witness to but it’s fear isn’t it it’s the same with Nehemiah the hostility now he was on the lord’s business and yet the hostility that he faced as people undermined him undermined his work but he stood firm and it it cost it cost probably him a reputation but you know he stuck faithfully to that word and Peter going back to him well he had a bit of a bumpy ride through his life he wasn’t always the big dynamic bold Peter he had tremendous disappointments but you remember the story I think it was another one later on where Jesus was walking on the water and Peter opened his mouth and Jesus had said to him Luke come because Jesus uh Peter wanted to follow him

what a fully get out of the boat and walk on water and he did until he saw the waves and he started to crumble now that in one sense was in his workplace amongst his um his other friends and disciples or apostles I often wonder what they used to think I think you know here he goes again you know putting his big foot in it but he did it he did it and even though he fell even though he had these bumpy rights and of course later on he’d have a very bumpy ride and denying that he ever knew Jesus so the workplace as life can be a very bumpy place to live in but we can’t stay in the security of our churches and amongst God’s people and forget that there are people out there need to be reached we haven’t looked in Moses but um just in the passing do you remember when um he thought he was doing the people of God a favor by going to the pharaoh and asking that his people could go out and worship and all that resulted was that they were given more work to do and harder task masters to follow slave drivers I wonder if you feel a bit like that in your work a bit of a slave driver and then the company starts to um dismiss people so you’ve got a smaller workforce but still the same amount of work the quotas still have to be met that’s your story that’s your story their quotas still had to be met they were stretched to the limits and they complained and they were discouraged but the lord helped them to build so many stories around the workplace not within the church but it’s there in these situations that God displayed his power to them and to a Godless world and let me remind you that when you become a Christian you’re a person who has been set free from sin to follow the lord and to allow him to show his power to you his people I don’t know if you’ve read the book I’m sure Scott’s probably read it by a man called John Ortberg if you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat of course there’s an illustration of Peter if you want to walk in water you have to get out of the boat we have to get out of the safe place and to get into the area where it can be bumpy where we can feel we’re going to think where we have all sorts of fear in our hearts and our lives but we need to do it

and you may come into church and be amongst the people who mostly are believers but remember what Jesus said in Matthew sorry yes in Matthew chapter 6 that he came to call

not the righteous but sinners

I’ve been a Christian for many years so it’s hard to look back on the days where I didn’t go to church where I didn’t learn about Jesus where I didn’t meet with God’s people but what it’s not hard to forget I’m a sinner but I found the savior but you’ll be working with many people who are sinners but have yet to find the savior and you will be reaching people day by day that Scott will never reach because he’s not in your workplace he has a different job in a different role in a different workplace but we need to be reminded that we are a people who have to go out and win sinners for our savior so as you start to look at the role of the church what the church is just let me remind you to have a look also at what your workplace is too let’s pray father as we come before you we do thank you for the many people that we rub shoulders with day by day either in our neighborhood or in our workplaces we thank you that that you’ve placed us there to be your witnesses through the way we live through the way we act and through the way we speak so help us lord because we can be and are often a fearful people we feel safe in the church we feel comfortable in the church but we pray that you might help us to launch out into the deep and see souls one for Jesus we pray in his precious name amen

our thanks to Gordon for opening up God’s word to us this evening and bringing both a message of encouragement and challenge reminding of us of our high calling to be ambassadors of God’s kingdom messengers and witnesses to those around us who are who don’t yet know Jesus and we’ve to somehow share that with them both through our actions and through our words now many folks in our congregation and the wider brace churches would count themselves as being retired you don’t have a job but all of us have a vocation even in retirement it may be through friendship circles it may be through areas of service it may be with family or local groups that we’re a part of it may be simply with neighbours and these are all contexts and contacts through whom God is calling us Gordon said in his message that sometimes we’re placed in a difficult position and what might God want to do with us there to show and reveal his power and the same is true if you would count yourself as retired you are in a context a place God has you there so how is he calling you to show his power and share his message with the people around you so don’t write off tonight’s sermon simply because there was a lot of talk about jobs and work everything Gordon said is just as applicable to anyone listening to and we hope we’ll all engage now Gordon has left some questions for us to think about and we’ll put these on screen and in the description below the video to get us thinking and taking the principles into the week ahead and even the month ahead who knows he may ask us next month have we done anything about it and hopefully we will thanks for joining us for Tuesday evening sermon we look forward to sharing and worship with you again soon

The real Jesus

Preached on: Sunday 24th 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 21-01-24 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 2:5-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Philippians 2:5-11
Sunday 24th January 2021
Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, reveal Jesus to us. Come Holy Spirit, lead us as followers of Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Amen.

Today marks two years since I was inducted as your minister here in Brightons Parish Church, and from my perspective at least it’s been a good two years, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know you and serving alongside you as we seek to fulfil our purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’. Who could have imagined these last two years? Who could have imagined what was on the horizon though?

I think it was the first Sunday I preached that I brought along this box – do you remember? On that day, we spoke about the labels we might use to describe Jesus – both His names as well as His character, and our boys and girls helped with that in the Young People’s message. But the key point of the box was that we all put Jesus in a box – we all think we know Jesus, we think we know what He’s like. But often our understanding of Jesus and so how we relate to Jesus, puts Him in a box – it confines Jesus, and maybe that box doesn’t even represent who He truly is or what He is like. More often than not, I think, we create a mental picture of Jesus, or we have certain expectations of Jesus, which are based upon popular ideas in our culture rather than on the truth. And in part, that’s another motivation to get into our 2021 reading plan, that we might all get to know a bit more of the real Jesus.
In our passage today, Paul wants to help the Philippians get to know more of the real Jesus. This portion follows on from what we covered last week, so there will be echoes of that. We saw last Sunday that Paul wrote: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ…’ (1:27) and then he went on to explain that part of being worthy is having unity and trust, and he based his argument on what Christians have already received through Jesus and who they are in Jesus, as people who are in Christ.

Today, Paul continues his theme but with a different argument. He says, ‘In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…’ (2:5) Paul is about to get very personal, focusing in on the person of Jesus, helping these dear Christians to grasp… more of the real Jesus so that they might share, emulate, the mindset of Jesus in their relationships.

Now, Paul is writing to people in a time and culture where the popular understanding of the gods was that these beings held great privilege, great power and glory, and they exercised this for their own agendas and their own reputation. We see this in many of the gods and goddesses of Greek mythology: the power and privilege they held could be used in whatever manner they wished, even to the detriment of humanity. That was the common assumption, the popular understanding of what it meant to be a god, what it meant to be divine.

Into that culture, into that popular understanding, Paul says:
‘…have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ (2:5-6)

Notice that Paul is saying Jesus is God, that Jesus is much more than a prophet, a good man, a fine example or even simply an idea. We live in a time when many think that it’s OK to box in Jesus to one of these categories, to think that He is a mere man, or a cute, religious sage. But the testimony of the Church, the teaching of Scripture, is that Jesus is God, He alone is God and has always been God. Yet as God, He would not allow Himself to be boxed into the popular understanding of the time, for as God Jesus displayed His deity in ways that were completely opposite to everything that was expected. Paul says: ‘[Jesus] did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage…’ – His rank, His privilege, His rights as God would have allowed, should have ensured, that He could dominate His creation, these creatures who had rejected Him and made a mess of His world. But Jesus chose not to exploit, not to keep hold, of what was truly and rightly His, and instead He made another choice, a choice to display His divinity in a truly unexpected and quite frankly – offensive – manner, for Paul goes on:
‘rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!’ (2:7-8)

Jesus made Himself nothing; He humbled Himself – Jesus chose, He willing chose a different path, He chose the way of unselfish giving, the way of humble service and obedience. He chose to show His deity, not in power and privilege, but with shame and weakness. Jesus did this by becoming a man, He took on human likeness, and then as a man, He obeyed His Father’s will such that Jesus chose to die, and to die the worst of deaths, death by crucifixion, the most vilified of ways to die.

Now, there are a few things I need to unpack for us here. In our translation today it says that Jesus ‘made himself nothing’, yet you’ll see in other translations that it speaks of Jesus emptying Himself. Technically, ‘emptying’ is a more literal translation of the Greek words, but it has led to wrong thinking about this passage –
people have misunderstood this literal phrase to mean that Jesus emptied Himself of divine power or other divine attributes. But, the Greek word is used throughout the New Testament in metaphorical ways, speaking figuratively about emptying, where something is deprived of its proper place or use. So, what the newer NIV translation does, is paraphrase it very slightly so that we don’t make that wrong assumption and can then get to the heart of the issue: Jesus is God, He remained God entirely, and as God He surrendered His rights and privileges; He did not empty Himself in any other way.

But let’s grasp what this means: the God of all creation chose, for the sake of the world, the way of sacrifice, the way of self-giving love. We take that for granted, I think, we almost expect that this should be the case –
but I wonder if you would sacrifice yourself in such a way? Would you give yourself for someone on death row, for example? Would you give up security, comfort, peace, and allow, say, a far-right fundamentalist group to govern our nation and so our lives? Because in coming a man, Jesus gave up security and comfort, and allowed humanity to put Him to death, a humanity who rightly should be judged by God, rather than judging God.

What is more, this very God, Jesus Christ, chose death – death had no power against Jesus, because God is immortal, and He alone is immortal. Yet, God, Jesus, subjected His immortality to death, holding nothing back and giving up everything, for love of you and love of me. Jesus said, ‘The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life… No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down…’ (John 10:17-18)

And why did He do it? Again, Jesus 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.’ (John 3:16)

In love for us, God gave Himself to die in our place. He didn’t have to, He might have conformed to the popular understanding of the gods – but for our sake, He did not consider His position, rights or privilege to be for His own agenda, or for His own benefit or safety, rather, He humbled Himself and loved us unto death. This is the mindset of Jesus, and Paul calls us to adopt, to grow in, this same mindset as people who claim to follow Jesus.

As I reflect on this, I’m struck by the recent news that there are churches and Christian organisations who are seeking in the courts to have the right to worship in our buildings amidst the pandemic. They are pushing back against the Scottish Government’s recent restrictions, and whilst I appreciate their argument that churches have not YET been a source of spreading the virus, I do have to question whether their undertaking, and appeal to their rights, is in line with the Saviour we are called to emulate: He gave up His rights for others. So, I doubt you’ll be finding my name added to such an appeal.

But let’s also get personal about this, and not simply critique the choices of others – what about us? We are called to love, to be humble, to be united, and to give ourselves for the other. Is this our, your, mindset?…
Do people see such humility and compassion in us? Is being part of church about what you can get, or have you yet found a way to give, and so love others?

Maybe it could be through your pastoral grouping; maybe it’s joining the Thursday live prayer time and praying for others; maybe it’s getting your family involved with the intergenerational penpals idea that our Sunday School and Pastoral Care teams are setting up; maybe it’s offering your abilities, your gifts, and getting involved – for example, we need more volunteers to help with our Boys Brigade sections, could you get involved there? For more information on any of these ideas, please get in touch because we’re all called to follow the example of Jesus and give our lives away for others.
Yet, not only are we to follow the example of Jesus, we are called to worship Jesus because of His example. Paul goes on to say:
‘Therefore God exalted [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’ (2:9-11)

One day every knee will rightly bow in worship to Jesus. We will all come to see that He is Lord, ‘the Lord’, and this is the name which Paul speaks of. ‘Jesus’ was the name given at His birth, yet the name, the title, of ‘Lord’, was given after His death, resurrection and ascension into heaven. That name, ‘Lord’, confirms Jesus as God of all creation but it was received by Jesus not by right or seizure, but by His humiliation and self-giving love.
I wonder friends, have you chosen yet to bow the knee in worship of Jesus? Can you see in His incarnation as a human being, and then in His death on the cross, can you see the depth of His love for you? Can you see the wonder of God? Can you see how worthy He is of worship and glory and adoration? Are you giving Him that yet, friends? Are you giving Him your worship? Have you bent the knee to Him in your own life? Now, I don’t mean are you just turning up to church and switching on the TV: our true worship is seen in how we live, in the choices we make, and in whether we are committed to Him, trusting of Him, come what may.

Please don’t let your hearts stay hard or distanced or cold towards God; let the box you have Him in be changed, let it be blown apart even, by how He has revealed… Himself in Jesus. This is no cute Sunday School story folks – this is the real Jesus and He really did love you to the point of death, and my question is: do you know Him? Are you following Him? Have you bent the knee to Jesus, and will you let Him reign in your life, such that His love, His self-giving love, will be seen in you and through you?

So, once more, like last week, let us have a moment to pray. I’m going to give an opportunity for anyone to bend the knee to Jesus, maybe for the first time, and welcome Him into your life. Then, there will be a prayer to invite the Spirit to fill us that we might show the love of Jesus to one another and in our community. So, let us pray.

Lord Jesus, we we see in Your life and in Your death such a powerful example such true love, and we are not worthy of it Lord and yet You still gave it for love of us because You thought we were worth it. You gave yourself and Lord, in light of that love, we want to bow the knee today. Maybe there’s some who want to bow the knee for the first time and welcome Jesus into your life, so pray along with me now. Pray out loud if you can.

Lord Jesus I don’t deserve Your love but thank you for loving me to death. Please forgive me. Forgive me for the wrong choices in my life. You might want to name a few things in the stillness just now.

Lord i turn from these and I open up my myself, my heart, my life to You.

Thank you for Your offer of forgiveness. I receive that forgiveness now and ask for Your Spirit to fill me. Please come into my life and lead me in Your ways.

Thank you lord Jesus.

Maybe for the rest of us, we need to choose afresh to bow the knee. You might even be so bold as maybe just to get down at home on your knee and welcome Him into your life, but if that’s not possible or not for you yet, maybe even just hold out your hands as a physical way of welcome.

Lord Jesus, come into our lives afresh. We bend the knee. Help us to give up our agenda, to pursue Your agenda, to love God and love neighbor, to make You known and to follow in Your ways.

Oh Lord, forgive us and show us how we should follow after You.

Lord, we want to be a shining beacon of light for You in our community and in our time. How unable we are to do that on our own strength. Lord, every day we’re faced with with temptations to go other ways and if it is for anything but Your Spirit we would choose those and we often do choose those. We turn a deaf ear to the Spirit. So, we ask for a fresh filling of Your Spirit now. Come and fill us afresh.

Come give us power to choose Your way over the ways we would normally choose. Lord, I pray too, by Your Spirit, You would give us a fresh understanding of Your love, that this would be more than words on a page, that Your Love would be poured out into our hearts by the Spirit, that Your love would be so real and tangible that it would overflow from us and to others, into the lives of others and into the life of our community.

Thank you Lord. for the gift of your Spirit

We offer ourselves in Your service and for Your glory, Amen

Justice: central to worship

Preached on: Sunday 11th October 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-10-11-Message-PPT-slides-2×2.
Bible references: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Isaiah 1:1-4, 11-18
Sunday 11th October 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchIntroduction to Reading
Today we begin a new teaching series and similar to this time last year, we’re going to work through one of the Old Testament prophets, in particular, the prophecies of Isaiah. This is a book within which we find some of our favourite passages, like, ‘For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…’ or ‘…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength…They will soar on wings like eagles…’ and finally ‘…he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brough us peace was on him.’ Great passages laden with significance and pointing us to Jesus.But there is much more to the book of Isaiah, much that we never read or dig into, and so for seven weeks, leading up to Advent, we’re going to focus on some unfamiliar passages. Since March, we’ve had many a sermon, in fact a couple of series even, that have spoken into our current situation, encouraging us to look to God and look out for one another. This will continue in many ways through the life of our church and even in our Sunday worship. But nevertheless, there are issues beyond coronavirus, issues that make people’s lives desperate and truly hard, issues that many of us are simply unaware of. And so, part of the aim of this series is to help us look out and to do so by turning to those passages which talk about the issue of ‘justice’.I don’t actually know what to expect from this series, I don’t know what particular issues may arise, but I hope that as we give time and space to this, especially amidst restrictions, that God might use this time to help us mature as His children, so that when one day we can again be together physically we will go out into the world with His light and hope and good news.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May it be so. Amen.