The good life

Preached on: Sunday 26th June 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 22-06-26 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 5:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Life is found in God’s kingdom through Jesus
– Kingdom life is frightfully subversive
– Kingdom life is surprisingly foolish

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

Here’s a question for you to have a little conversation with your neighbor about how long do you think the Church of Scotland has left. How long in years, not days? So, turn to a neighbor, holler across the room if you’re a wee bit farther apart. How long has the Church of Scotland got left? Turn to anyone and have a chat for a few seconds.

So, did anyone go above 50 years? A couple people went about a couple above 50 okay.
How many were between 40 to 50. Those are many a couple.
30 to 40 years. 30 to 40.
20 to 30. 20 to 30.
Everybody else was under 20 then. What did you pick? Over 50, over 50.

Okay okay. We the elders and I had a Kirk Session meeting on Tuesday night and within the various conversations I shared with them an article that I had read quite recently which brought together some statistical information about the Church of Scotland saying that, if what we experience the decline we experience, continues at its current rate and things don’t change there will be no more Church of Scotland by 2040. 18 years away! And that I can hear it. I can here it ‘Wow! No way! I would never have imagined!’ But that is the case. And you can actually see it here just now this morning.

Okay, yes, we’ve had two services and most of our families have gone there but when you look around this room just now, the demographics in this room are the demographics I see in every other church where I preach or I talk and we think it ‘Brightons, well we’re doing fairly well.’ and we think sometimes that’s representative of the wider church but it’s not, this is representative of the wider church and probably even too generous because many are not having so many as we do. And so, when I came to the passage today I’m really struck that in verse 1, crowds of people are coming to Jesus, crowds not a trickle, not a few people but crowds, that He saw multitudes come to Him, that the early church knew explosive growth and by the end of the third century the church and the Christian faith had literally turned the Roman empire upon its head. Why is that?

I’m sure there are many answers and if you’re having a conversation after church then have a chat about that. Why is that? Why the difference? And I think one reason has got to be that Jesus and the early church had a message that was truly good news. It wasn’t about coming to church; it wasn’t about being religious. They shared something which was more than that actually, when you get into it, and we’ll get into it this morning. When you look at their message it was frightfully subversive and it was surprisingly foolish, when you look at the teaching of Jesus in the church and yet people still came to faith. People still came to Jesus. People joined the church and as I say there was that explosive growth. So, maybe we’re wondering ‘Well, what did they teach? What was the message they shared?’ and, in part, we’re going to see that through the Sermon on the Mount. The sermon which captures the way of Jesus, the way He embodied and the way He called people who wanted to follow Him to live out and He begins it with The Beatitudes.

Now, I suspect we’ve probably heard a number of sermons over the years about The Beatitudes. We’ve probably read it in our own devotions and I wonder what emotions has raised up within you. So, again, we’re doing a wee bit interaction over the summer, why don’t you turn to a neighbor and say what’s your emotional reaction to this, what’s your emotional reaction to The Beatitudes. So, 15 20 seconds over to you, what’s your emotional reaction to The Beatitudes.

So, again, feel free to carry that conversation on. I heard words like ‘challenging’ and bits and pieces but I wonder if any of us ever felt a bit confused. I have. Have you ever felt a wee bit despondent when you’ve read these, because you end up seeing it as a benchmark. Have you ever felt pain as you’ve read them? Lesser than them those who mourn. Really, I’m blessed when I mourn? And it seems to belittle your pain and your hardship. Is that really what Jesus is getting? Is that really His good news? Because He uses nine times the word ‘blessed’ and it’s quite a hard word to try to translate and to explain partly because it’s usage across the scriptures and its uses in other ways draws upon many different ideas like wholeness, and well-being and joy. If we were using a Hebrew word we would probably most likely use the word ‘shalom’, that holistic peace that the scriptures speak of, that covers every aspect of life. So, maybe, there’s a way of putting this across that will help us. Some of the translators the commentators put it this way ‘Who has the good life? Who has the good life?’ If you’re blessed you have the good life. Who has it? Who’s in, who’s out? How can I enter into that good life? The good life is known by this group of people, that group of people.

And so, before we even get into The Beatitudes, we need to understand a wider context for what Jesus is trying to say here because, what He gets to here in the Sermon on the mount, in The Beatitudes, comes after He’s already said and been doing something. We could read earlier if we go back into Matthew these words ‘From that time on Jesus began to preach. ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Jesus went throughout Galilee teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness among the people.’ If you’re to summarize the teaching, the message of Jesus, it’s ultimately about the kingdom. That is the good news. So, whatever Jesus is teaching here about in the sermon on the Mount and in The Beatitudes has got to be about the kingdom because that is His core message. And so, the good life, that’s what blessed means, the good life is known by people who know the kingdom, who share in the kingdom of God and, as the text here in verse 23 makes clear, as Jesus teaches and as He ministers, through Him people are experiencing the kingdom, the experience in the power, the hope, the freedom, the comfort, the joy, the good news of the kingdom through Jesus. And, bringing all that together means that ‘Life (the good life) is found in God’s kingdom through Jesus’.

Life is found in God’s kingdom through Jesus.

Do you know that? Have you experienced that? Are you convinced of that yourself?

What does your faith mean to you? Is it only confined to the four walls of the church, to the ongoing running of an institution? If that institution, if this building was no more, would your faith be no more? Or is your faith tied to something greater and bigger, more eternal? Is it tied to the kingdom?

One of our earlier songs spoke about having a foretaste of heaven. Can you say that, in the depths of your being you have tasted a foretaste of heaven? You don’t know the fullness of heaven yet, obviously, but you have a foretaste because the kingdom has broken into our lives. Do you know that? Have you shared in that?

If you have, is there a desire in you to make that known at all, to share that with others? Because we’ll never see past 2040 if we’re not sharing it and if you don’t know it or if that conviction, if that hope in you has waned a little. Maybe, maybe the invitation today from God is to press in, is to know more, to know that there is good news, there is life through Jesus in the kingdom of God.

So, Jesus is talking about the good life, about the blessed life and that fundamentally it’s tied into God’s kingdom through Jesus. But He goes on to give us these Beatitudes about the who and the what of life and, as He shares this, to my mind, there’s two parts to them and each part is pushing against the prevailing assumptions of Jesus day in two particular areas of life.

And so, in verses three to four it feels like He is pushing against a religious perspective because, if we’re trying to answer who has the good life, the religious perspective, the religious teachers of the day, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the really knowledgeable folks, they would say ‘Well, the good life is known by who?’ Them. The godly. The very religious and that would exclude the vast majority of people, not them, but the vast majority of people because they’re just not good enough. And so, when Jesus comes ministering, what do we see their reaction? ‘Why are you messing around with these people, who are a bunch of sinners and drunkards? Why are you messing around with the prostitutes? Why are you messing around with the tax collectors?’ They just cannot get their head around it because He’s embodying something different, something that goes against their assumptions. And so, when He says ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ and ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ He’s pushing against their assumptions. And that might be a surprise to you because often, we read these words and we think ‘Poor in spirit? I need to be poor in spirit. That’s a benchmark I need to get to. I need to know how terrible a person I am if I’m to walk into the fullness of God’s kingdom.’ Or some such idea or that ‘I need to mourn somehow to be worthy of the kingdom and to know God’s nearness and comfort.’ We end up twisting it so badly, but that’s not what Jesus is saying. He’s not saying that you have to be good enough to earn it or you have to have these conditions to earn the kingdom because poor in spirit is those who are sinful, it’s those who mess up in life, it is those who would be ‘spiritual zeros’ we might say, religiously, spiritually. And those who mourn – well do you remember that story where Jesus has this man who’s been blind from birth come before and the disciples say ‘Well Jesus, who sinned? Was it the man or was it his parents?’ because the prevailing thought of the day was ‘Well, if you know any difficulty, know hardship, if you know illness and sickness and sorrow then it’s your fault. You’ve sinned in some way and you’re under God’s judgment’ and obviously in that passage Jesus puts them right. And so, when he says ‘Blessed are those who mourn’ He’s speaking into that assumption that you’re excluded, that somehow you are, you’re not worthy, you’re not good enough, you’re not in, you’re not going to share that good life because clearly, if you’ve got hardship in your life, then you’ve messed up your life and you’re never going to be part of God’s kingdom.

And I’m sure we all know people who think the same in our community and our families. We know people whose lives are really broken, they might not be tax collectors, though they might be we might think of certain things about them, or they might not be prostitutes, but they might be, they might be broken, addicted, they might be just struggling with so much, they might be people who you think is the worst person you know in the world and they’re at work with you day in day out, and you hate working with them or that neighbor who really grates on you and you just wish they would move, it might be someone who has hurt you so deeply, it might be someone that just grates on you and you want nothing to do to them and they might be sitting here in this building with you.

And Jesus would say ‘Blessed are they, for the door is open’ and if the door is open to them, the door is open to you and to me. The radical love of God has opened the door wide for us, brothers and sisters, for you and for me, and we take that for granted a little because we’ve grown up in church and it’s old news, but I’m trying to get us back to that fresh taste of it, that would have been the case in Jesus day, where this was not the knowledge, not the case, and it’s not the case for people in our communities. Sometimes we know people that would say to us ‘God would want nothing to do with me. Look how messed up my life is.’ or ‘I can never go to church and be like them.’ or ‘I’ll go to church when I’ve got life together a bit more.’ The good news of the kingdom is that it is frightfully subversive because it turn up, turns our lives, it upturns our ideas about the kingdom and the window of an invitation and it should thrill us and delight us and we should literally be raising the roof off the ceiling and jumping for joy such is the love of God. But we yawn and we get tired and we just ‘Oh, here we go. God’s love again.’ Yes, God’s love again because it’s a radical love and it upturns. it has upturned history. We get that. Do we get that? Do we live that?

But then Jesus goes on. He goes on to challenge another set of assumptions in the next verses 5 to 12. And these verses are not so much tied to the religious system as they are tied to more like a kind of worldly system and let’s remember at the time, like this picture is trying to jog our memories, it’s the power of Rome, it’s the power of empire, it’s where power and dominance and war are the means to the good life and that, if you want that good life, you’ve got to buy into that system of values and the way of doing life in that time. And Jesus is again pushing against that system, that worldview, that prevailing assumption, because He says ‘Blessed are the meek.’ Like, can you imagine seeing that in the time of Rome, where Roman power holds your life in the grip of its hand and Jesus says ‘Blessed are the meek.’ really Jesus? ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ who want to live a Godly life. ‘Blessed are those who are merciful’ and mercy has that idea drawn from the Old Testament where we enter into the suffering of others just as God entered into the suffering of His people. Really? Can you imagine a Roman citizen saying yes to that? That is how you get to the good life. Blessed are those who are pure, who have unmixed motives, who have God first as their master. Blessed are those who are peacemakers, not just seeking reconciliation between people but that they seek the highest good of others. A world dominating power like Rome does not seek the good of others and we know what that looks like just now in our news. Imagine saying that to Putin right now ‘Seek the highest good of Ukraine.’?. Can you imagine I’m taking that on board? Well, imagine a whole country, a whole citizenship, a whole empire, who thinks that the good life is not earned that way but is earned by war and conquest and Rome’s way being the way for everyone.

What do you think people would make of that?

I think they would be surprised that He’s teaching that. I think they would think it was foolish, absolutely foolish teaching because everyone knows that’s not the way to the good life. There’s no way that you are going to be counted amongst the blessed if that’s the way that you pursue. And isn’t it the case that it’s still a predominant thinking today in our culture, in our times, in our land, in our system of values.

Let me read a paraphrase that I brought together of The Beatitudes based upon something I found in one of the commentaries:

Jesus says ‘Blessed are the meek’
but we say ‘Blessed are the powerful for then they can get ahead of others to secure the good life for themselves.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’
but we say ‘Blessed are the unrestrained and the uninhabited for then they can savor every pleasure imagined by man or devil.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are the merciful’
but we say ‘Blessed are those who look after number one because we don’t have time for the suffering of others.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are the pure in heart’ but we say ‘Blessed are the wealthy and, as such, we and our bank balances are our God and they must be satisfied.’
Jesus says ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’
but we say ‘Blessed are those who do what suits them and defend their interests first.
Jesus says ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’
but we say ‘Blessed are the expedient and those who are realistic because pursuing what is right is just too hard and doesn’t come quickly enough.
Jesus said we are ‘Blessed when persecuted for His sake’
but we say ‘Blessed are those who go with the flow, are worldly-wise a person of the times, for them the world is their oyster and friend, and the idea of following Jesus to the end against the pressures of the masses is simply too inconvenient.’

Brothers and sisters, Jesus invites us into His kingdom to know life, to walk in a different way, a way that is frightfully subversive, because it turns our world upside down, but it is surprisingly foolish at the same time, it looks crazy on the outside. And to be able to walk in that way we need to know the first part of The Beatitudes for ourselves.

There is a relationship between the two parts because there’s no way we can walk in Jesus’ way, his foolish, radical way without knowing first of all, the love of God for ourselves. There is no way that you can pursue mercy and enter into the suffering of others and keep doing so when you don’t know God’s mercy and love for yourself. You need to know the radical, available, welcoming love of God, not just as an idea, not just as a nice wee Sunday School thought, but as a reality, as a conviction, as something in the depths of your being that drives you, that is your ground, your stay for all of life come what may.

And so, do you know that friends? Do you overflow with that confidence and with that love and with that knowledge of who you are in Christ? Or has the love of God gone cold in your hearts? do you think it’s just old news?

If that’s the case, whatever side you’re in, whether it’s cold or whether you burn with passion, there is more to know, there is more to know. You can know more of the love of God not just as an idea but in the depths of your soul, and I think it begins with prayer. If you go into Ephesians chapter 3 Paul says that he prays for the Spirit to come so that the people there, the church there, will have power to know the length and breadth and height and depth of law of God and to know it in a way that is beyond knowledge, that is in the depths of their being, and I encourage you this summer to press in, to know more to seek God in prayer, that you might overflow with that love and be able to live in that way, the way of Jesus, the way of his kingdom. And you know, maybe then, maybe then we will see churches grow rather than decline. Maybe then it will be many more than 18 years before the last door of the Church of Scotland closes. Maybe then we’ll see a little or maybe even more than what Jesus and the early church saw.

I pray for that future. I pray for you to know that love. I pray for me to know that love to the depths of our being. May it be so. Amen.

Midway Mini Message (Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 19th January 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 message..
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good evening everybody, welcome to our Midway Mini Message. It’s midway through the month and hopefully it’ll be a mini message but, when preparing for tonight, I had a load of ideas, so I’ll try and keep it as brief as I can!

Tonight, is about helping us engage with the 2021 New Testament Reading Plan. Hopefully many of you have begun to read through this. We’re currently in the book of Mark, the Gospel of Mark, and it’s been encouraging to hear how different people have begun to be engaged with it, forming little groups to support one another even, which is amazing!

But maybe, like other new year’s resolutions at times, you’re beginning to feel “Like okay, halfway through the first month this is becoming hard” and some of the initial enthusiasm is a waning a little bit. Maybe you’re even finding a little bit more difficult than you thought, that you’re reading through, you’re being diligent, but maybe not getting as much as what you hoped you might from it; and my plan, my hope is that tonight, and in future sessions, we might equip you in that, and encourage you through this this year as we read together through the New Testament.

The Psalms remind us that those who dwell, meditate, chew upon the Word of God can know the blessing of God. Psalm 1 says “Blessed is the one whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law, day and night.” That blessedness is not about protection from all perils and hardship, but it does include peace and well-being, includes growth of character, stability, delight, joy, even in the midst of hard and difficult times, and many much is the testimony that I and others could share of the benefit of digging into God’s Word and how, through it, we have met with the living God, and our faith has been sustained, maybe especially in the difficult times.

Now this way of reading scripture, that we’ve begun one chapter a day, is a particular way and it may be quite different from what you’ve ever done before, and many of us have maybe used things like Daily Bread or other resources like that, where someone has prepared things in advance for maybe three or four months and you read a bit, and they’ve got some thoughts to read, or you might use an online reading plan from the Bible app for example. Often it can jot around different parts of the Bible, maybe following a theme hopefully. Some of the reading plans maybe do work systematically through a portion of the Bible and again, though there’s often some people’s thoughts on that and that’s not a bad thing. I’ve used it myself, as you know as I’ve said often, I’ve used the Lectio 365 app a lot last year. Pretty much it was my main source for devotions but this year I thought I’d do something different. Go back to a method I’ve used a lot and invite you to give it a shot and journey with me in this, that we might know more of Jesus and more of the teaching about Jesus, and how we are to live as Christians. And so, we’re focusing there on the New Testament.

There’s a couple of things to bear in mind to try and get the most out of this. I guess, first of all we need to remember what Paul said to young Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all scripture is god breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training and righteousness” and so, if we approach the Bible in that way, then it will change how we receive things and how we expect things will come more expectant. I think expecting to hear from God and the less nice bits, the less glossy bits, the bits that we think “Oh, it’s just a Sunday School lesson” we might take more heat off it. Might not be, as you’re reading through, the thing that initially jumps off the page that you’re meant to hear. It may be something else and so, just bear that in mind, as you come to it, that you’re coming to God’s Word, that it is from the heart of God and there might be something there, will be something there for you, even in those days where it’s like “I’m just not getting anything”. Maybe in that time especially, is when you see that you have to love your neighbor – Sunday School lesson – “Oh, I know to love my neighbor!” well maybe take some time to think about that and see where God takes you by His Spirit.

So, that this is a method I’ve been using for years. It’s been used by billions of Christians, probably most Christians, probably in other countries who don’t have access to other resources. I assume that this is just the way that they’re doing it, they’re just reading through the scriptures and then learning about God, and then learning what it means to follow Jesus. As they read through, and God is speaking to them, and it’s been used from the day the Church began, it’s just how they’ve been using it and through that their faith has been sustained, has been grown, and I pray it would be the same for us.

You’ve probably already begun to realize that, as you read through chapter by chapter, there’s stuff you don’t understand and it’s the same for me. I’m reading through things I’m not always understanding everything and that’s okay. It’s okay not to understand everything that day, that you can come back to another time, another year, maybe another decade, and maybe at that point it’ll be then that it falls into place for you. So, it’s okay not to understand stuff. I’m not getting everything, I don’t expect you to get everything either, okay and that kind of thing is maybe more for Bible studies or maybe for Sunday preaching, or maybe some more intensive kind of Bible reading routines, that you can use in our benefit, but it’s not this.

Okay, so let’s bear that in mind as we come into it. It’s also worth bearing in mind that we’re going to come across a couple of different genres in the New Testament. So, we’ve got the gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – and they’re very different from the epistles, the letters by the Church fathers like Paul and John and Peter – so, the early apostles. Okay. And it can be helpful just to be aware of that dynamic, that in the Gospels the focus is very much on Jesus, on who He is, what He came to do what He did, and some of the teaching He passed on, and that those Gospels are written for all the Church to read, and know, and apply. The epistles are a bit different – they’re as relevant for all the Church, but in a different way, because they were written to our particular audience, sometimes a particular congregation or a group of congregations. And then we’ve got the Book of Revelation, and we’ll talk about that nearer the end of the year, because that’s a whole other different type of genre. And what you take from the different genres, how you approach the different genres, will be different, and it’s worth remembering that ,and if you’re not familiar with that, or you just want a bit more help, I’ve got two resources for you to consider getting a copy of.
Okay. now if you’re listening back to this message on the telephone we can get either of these resources printed off for you although one will probably be more helpful than the other. The more helpful one and useful for everybody, is the Bible Society resource and they’ve produced online resources, that you can either read online or downloaded and printed off, for each book of the Bible, and each book of the New Testament as well, and so, it gives you a bit of an introduction to the book, it tells you who wrote it, gives you some inspiring quotes from it, it gives you a bit of a structure to maybe help understand. In that way it gives you ideas of what this might mean for you as well as some maybe discussion questions to think about yourself or talk about with others, and I’ll put a link to this resource in the description of this video.

The other resource is by a group of people who come under the title The Bible Project, and most of it, they’ve got a website and a Youtube Channel, and for each book of the bible, as well as loads of other ideas and themes and issues. They’ve produced videos and the videos take you through a bit of a cartoon drawing that they’ve done, and so we can print off this cartoon drawing for people to read but without the commentary it might not mean quite as much. So, we can get that for those that are not on the internet but again, as I say, it might not mean as much without the commentary, and these are five to ten minute introductions.

That was the book of Mark. There’s also the book of Galatians just to give you a very quick overview to remind you what to maybe expect or be having in the back of your mind as you’re reading through. So, the Bible society and The Bible Project really helpful as you come to the scriptures as well as simply knowing that it’s the word of God and approaching it with that kind of heart and disposition.

Now, when you’ve been reading through hopefully you’ve been engaging with the questions and with the prayer stuff because it really needs both for these to be truly meaningful. I think Tim Keller, in his book on prayer, he talks about how prayer and the reading of scripture just have to and should dovetail so closely together and that one needs the other and vice versa, and so, don’t skip on that, don’t approach it in a peripheral way. You’re coming to God, you’re coming to hear from Him as he’s spoken through His word. and use the questions that are there. So, for example, going through the gospel of Mark, I’ve been thinking “What does it show me here of Jesus?” and I’ve just been reminded of His power and the dynamism He carried by the Spirit and that lives changed and there was an expectancy with Jesus, and Have I got that expectancy? Have I kept that expectancy? and that’s, in part, what prompted the message and following prayer time on Sunday, that as I read through the scriptures, that’s what arose in me; as I saw more of the person of Jesus but equally those other questions “Is there a sin to confess? There’s been a couple of, as I’ve read through things, thinking “Oh Lord, I don’t live that way!” or I see something and that how that person responded to you and my life too. “Forgive me Father, forgive me.” Or maybe there’s been a command to follow or something you’ve needed God’s help with. Who knows, maybe what it’s been, but again there will have been things for me and there’s so many thoughts going around our heads just now and in general. Isn’t it so.

One of the other things that I find helpful is to take some notes in a journal. Literally a sentence is all you need to write down, one sentence. Turn it into prayer if you like – I often do that nowadays. Rather than just here’s a thought, I write down a prayer with the thought and with that kind of heart. Or it maybe with the verse that has jumped out to me. And then, at the end of the week, you can, on a Saturday, if you’ve done all your five readings Monday to Friday, on a Saturday you can just take some time to look back over the week and see if you’ve got any more thoughts. Talk to God about it a bit more and then on Sunday you’ve got Church so no need for a reading that day. Yeah?

So, the questions are there to be used. Please don’t just bypass them. I do try to use them. And approach it prayerfully, and, as I say, you’re not looking to understand everything but you’re trying to see “Well, what is God maybe saying to me today, here, now?” You’re looking for what grabs your attention or what strikes your heart or what encourages you, challenges you. But, as I say, there’ll be days, there will be days where you’re reading through and it’s hard work. I have been there myself, and in that day you’re maybe just need to take a pause, maybe say “God I need Your help. I’m not getting anything today.” and maybe it’s coming back to it later in the day, or it could be just seeing if there’s something that sounds a bit dull or bland or the Sunday School lesson “Love your neighbor” and maybe that’s the thing you should dig into because it’s all God’s word, it’s all beneficial, there’s something you can get from it if we seek God’s help and put in a bit effort, at times, as well.

So, I encourage you that and then just take it into prayer and pray about it and think if you approach it that way I think you can get something helpful from it each day.

But I am conscious that there will be things that come up you know like “What does that mean?” or “Does this mean that?” or “Surely no!” or “I’m really confused!” and so, that’s where this idea about having a question and answers session. The idea came up for a questions and answers evening, and so for the 16th of February myself and a couple other ministers from the Braes Churches will get together to record a video to upload for the Tuesday night where we answer some of your questions. Now, to give us enough time to do that and juggle that around everything else, I need your questions in by the 4th of February, which is a Thursday. Get them in. That gives us about a week to do some digging for you, think through some stuff and come prepared and get the recording done. Can’t promise we’ll do every question but we’ll try and do as many as we can. We just don’t know who’s going to get involved because it’s not just Brightons reading this plan, which is really encouraging, it’s also Slammannan and I think we’re sending it out to Blackbraes and Shieldhill, Muriavonside, which is great, as well. So, who knows what will come! So, get your questions in and help us all just to chew things over.

Nevertheless, as I say, the goal in this is not to understand everything, I don’t think anyone has understood all of scripture, and that’s okay, the goal of this primarily is to nurture your relationship with God and so you’re looking for What are You saying to me today, God? What’s the thing that encourages me or challenges me? What’s prompting me to speak and praise You? and sometimes the wonderful thing about this way of reading the scripture is that some days, not all the time, but more often than not, something will come along that maybe just speaks into a situation and that you’re particularly facing. It’s like I needed to hear that and it’s just really striking how God does that and I’ve known a number of seasons where that has been the case.

So, I pray that we get some of those for each of us as well going through this year but especially I pray and hope that as we go through this it’ll grow your faith that you’ll get to know Jesus so much more, you’ll get to see what this is about and the life He calls us to individually and as a Church, and I think, if we support one another, nurture one another, learn from one another, take on board these questions, and approach the Bible as God’s word, with that sense of expectancy, that He will speak to us, He’ll give us something day by day, our daily bread. Man does not live on bread alone but from the very word of God, and I pray that each of us might know that this coming year.

So, thanks for tuning in. I’ve tried to keep it as brief as possible, probably longer than a mini message, but nonetheless I pray it’s of blessing to you.

And so, as you go from , may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you this night and forevermore, Amen

I will open my mouth (Psalm 78)

Preached on: Sunday 17th May 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 20-05-17-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Psalm 78
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 78 (International Children’s Bible)
Sunday 17th May 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, one of our activities this morning was to make this: a paper chain! Have you started yours? If you do make one, please share your pictures with us in our Facebook groups so we can see all your hard work.

Now, when you are making the paper chain, one of the things we’d like you to write on the links are the things you think we should remember about God and Jesus. You might write about the amazing things God has done, or what Jesus was like. For all of us, young and young at heart, what would you include on the links? What deeds or attributes of God would you remember?…
I’ll give you 30 seconds to think or discuss at home!

Boys and girls, if you haven’t already started, I hope you’ll take some time during the service or this afternoon to make your own memory chain at home. Now, if I decided to cut this link what would happen? Can you guess? (CUT) The chain falls apart! Or say, someone passed me a new link for the chain (PASS – THANKS!), but then I just put it to the side and forget to use the link, what would happen then? The chain would stay broken! It’s only when we use the links that we keep the chain whole and it works as it should, because a broken chain is not a very pretty thing.

So, why are we talking about chains and remembering things? Well, in our psalm today, we are given a challenge…
to remember, to remember what God has done, and pass that on to the next generation.

The psalmist said:
‘…I will tell things that have been secret since long ago.
We have heard them and know them.
Our fathers told them to us.
We will not keep them from our children. We will tell those who come later about the praises of the Lord. We will tell about his power
and the miracles he has done.’ (v2-4)

Like an unbroken chain we are meant to pass on the stories, the testimony, of what God has done and what He is like, so that a community of faith continues.
I was really encouraged on Tuesday night to hear people from Brightons Church share their stories of faith, talking about the difference Jesus has made to their lives. It was so powerful – and if you’ve not listened to them yet, I encourage you to check out our YouTube channel, for these stories remind us that God is at work today, changing people’s lives and that we can all know this God.

But what do we mean by the “next generation”? Are we simply thinking of children and young people? Equally, could it also be people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s or older and know nothing of what God has done? So, whether child or adult, how do we enable this whole generation to know our incredible God?

Well, broadly speaking, we need to be that link in the chain – actively passing on the faith, some way, some how – so that we put the words of Jesus into practice, He said: ‘go and make disciples of all nations…teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.’ (Matthew 28:19-20) How we do that, what that looks like, we still need to figure out a bit and equip one another to do it in Brightons, and in the Braes area. But let me flag up two things with you.

Firstly, this passing on of the deeds and character of God, has never simply been about head knowledge – the goal is not for children or adults to be super knowledgeable about the Bible. No, God’s goal has always been that the next generation should experience, should meet and know the Creator and Saviour of all as they are told… about Him, responding to Him for themselves.

Now, we might find that a bit uncomfortable, because that’s not necessarily what was taught to us – we were maybe taught stories and good morals, and to fulfil religious duty – but that’s not what God is ultimately seeking. He is seeking a people, a family who know Him, and actively love and follow Him. So, as we seek to be a link in the chain, to pass on the testimony of what God has done, we might need to step out of what we find comfortable, if we truly want to help the next generation love God with their heart, by experiencing Him, knowing Him, not just knowing about Him.

And to achieve that, there’s a second thing I want to flag up, which has its roots in an old proverb which says:
“it takes a village to raise a child”. Similarly, it takes a whole church, even a family of churches, to reach and raise the next generation in the knowledge of the Lord. And so, we really do, even in lockdown, need to learn how to pull together across the Braes area, across the generations in Brightons Church, because research suggests that for a child to grow towards a healthy faith, they need five adults, outside of their family, investing in them. And for one adult to come to faith, they may need to hear the Good News of Jesus up to 30 times.

I think of the many children involved in our Sunday School, or our Boys and Girls Brigades, and I wonder: who are the five investing in each of them? I see the adults in our community, and I wonder: who’s sharing the Good News with them? So, this a big ask, a huge investment… of time and energy, and to make this possible we need to be intentional about it, this doesn’t just happen. So, I hope that in the coming months we might see ideas come out of the various teams within the church to facilitate this, to equip us in this calling to be a link in the chain.

Now sadly, as the psalm remind us, too often God’s people allowed the chain to break. The first generation who were rescued from Egypt:
‘…turned against God so often in the desert!
There they made him very sad.
Again and again they tested God.
They brought pain to the Holy One of Israel.’ (v40-41) And yet despite God being grieved so badly, future generations did not learn the lesson, indeed those who settled in the new land:
‘…turned away and sinned just like their ancestors… They made God angry by building places to worship false gods.
They made him jealous with their idols.’ (v57-58)

Both generations forgot – they forgot what God had done, and so they grieved God, with their forgetfulness and then with their adultery, paining the heart of God by spurning Him and breaking the chain.

Yet, the psalm not only calls us to learn from their mistakes, this prayer also reminds us of God’s faithfulness, that He made promises and He will keep them…

And so, the psalmist talks about someone – boys and girls, can you remember who is named at the end of this psalm? If I gave you a clue, could you fill in the blanks? It’s…David! That’s right, the person who wrote this prayer remembers that God brought David, from being a what? Can you remember what David’s first job was? He was a…shepherd, he looked after sheep and so God brought David to look after His people instead; David was to lead them and care for them as their King but like a shepherd.

What we’re supposed to see here, is that God is faithful to His people and to His promises, even despite His people, because God is full of love and grace and forgiveness. He will keep His promises, even if that looks very different from what His people expect.
Jesus also made several promises. For example, He said,
‘…I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ (Matthew 28:20) But He also said, ‘I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’ (Matthew 16:18) Jesus will build His church, His universal church. He will remain faithful to that promise, and the degree to which we give ourselves to our role, as a link in the chain, to go make disciples, that will affect the likelihood of our local churches continuing for future generations by helping those generations know and follow the Lord.

Jesus said of Himself: ‘I have come that [you] may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’ (John 10:10-11) Jesus came to fulfil the promise of God and the hopes of His people. Jesus came to offer us life by… laying down His own life. Yet He rose again victorious over the grave, to be our eternal Shepherd, then, now and for all the days to come. A shepherd who would never leave us nor forsake us, a shepherd who would fulfil His promise, build His church, and ensure the gates of Hades never prevail.

Friends, I pray that we may know the Good Shepherd, know Him close in these difficult days, and as we remember His deeds and character, especially His love shown on the cross, may we find new hope and new conviction so that we resolve to be that link in the chain, and enable the next generation to know Him for themselves. May it be so. Amen.