Family: Belonging and Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray it may be so, Amen

You: a Good Work

Preached on: Sunday 3rd 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 sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

I have a confession to make, I had never heard of Brightons before Scott came here. Falkirk yes, Brightons no, but it has been a privilege, a real privilege, to get, in a sense, to know you through Scott.

Scott and I have known each other for quite a number of years, quite a number of years! He was studying at the Bible College and we worked together in a church in Edinburgh. He was really like my youth worker and the thing I always remember about Scott, I don’t know if he’s listening in or not, was we almost had to put the reins on him such was his enthusiasm, his keenness, that he just had such a heart and passion for the Lord and I’m sure that is continuing with you to know just now. But now I do know Brightons, I can even find my way here, mind you I did use the sat nav!
So I’d never heard of the Church. I just thought I would go into Google for a couple of minutes and just try and find out some of the history. I couldn’t find very much. You might be able to enlighten me, and even if my few facts here are wrong you can enlighten me but I believe the Church was built in the mid 1800s. I’m getting the nod so that’s great. And it started from stone quarried in the village nearby. It was probably a lot smaller even then. It was quarried by a man called Alexander Laurie and the Church building now still stands here. There’s obviously been some additions from what I can see and gather, but, more important than this building, beautiful though it is, and established though it be, is that the people of God are still here. Now not the same ones certainly looking around I doubt any of you go back quite that far! That God’s people are still here over many years. Additions will have been made; people will have been taken home; others will have moved away from the area.

You’re going to be studying and looking at the book of Philippians. It’s actually one of my favorite books. I just love the book of Philippians! There’s such a love and a warmth that comes ringing through it but one of the things, one of the portions I love, is the portion that I’ve been given to start off with and I’ve used these verses many a time to friends and colleagues who I really thank God for. And Paul’s heart just reaches into my heart and into the hearts of people that you cannot help but just lift your heart and thank God every time you remember them and what they’ve meant to you. You have to read in Acts chapter 16 for the foundation of this church; every church has its foundation.

Now the church of course is not buildings. That’s part of us but this was on Paul’s second missionary journey round about AD 52, so it wasn’t too long after actually Jesus’s crucifixion and certainly it was a church of some traumatic beginnings, some lovely thoughts, as well of the woman Lydia praying down by the riverside, but then you get the traumatic appearance or calling of this young slave girl and that caused such an upset. When Paul rebuked the spirit and the spirit left her, the evil spirit left her, and she was no longer good for her master’s use of telling fortunes, and that led to trouble, to a riot that led to Paul being imprisoned and been beaten. It led to an earthquake!
It was quite traumatic and read it for yourself and you’ll find out the beginnings of this church and sometimes as you go through a book you need to constantly almost look back to remind yourselves as to the beginnings because the people here in the pews the people at home perhaps you’re starting to forget some of their faces. Not those that you know very well but I’m sure, like many churches, there are people that will come and go, people that just come in and listen to the word and sing and then leave, and you hardly get to know them. Others will be known, you’ll have known them for years but these have been very difficult years or a year, very difficult months, so you’re not just sitters in a pew, you’re not just people who sit at home, and I hope when this is all over you will return to the pews, there’s sometimes a fear that people think “Oh this is great I just have to get up last minute, get my cup of coffee and then I’ll join in the church service.” Do not deny yourself the fellowship of God’s people when we’re allowed to meet once again.

What I want to do is just look at some of the words in this passage. Words that stand out to me in just 11 short verses, and the first one is the word you, you, you. You know in 11 short verses it’s mentioned 11 times? Now that’s a lot for one little word and it’s in the plural. It’s not just so often we become very individualistic and we certainly live in a very individualistic society. “It’s me” “My” “Mine”. The church is not “me, my and mine”! The church is “you” collectively and there Paul writes every time I remember you who were the you. Now obviously from my point of view I know Scott and Gill, I don’t know any of you either here or in your homes, but you do! You, God’s holy people. That’s what Paul said right at the beginning “to all God’s holy people in Christ” and then he goes on every time “I remember you”, and we’ll look at some of the others in a moment. You just feel and you recognize and I’m sure, as you go through the book you will see it again and again, how Paul pours out his heart and thankfulness for “you” now, who, where – the ”You”.

Well of course we don’t really know, we can surmise, it may have been Lydia or she may have gone home to Thyatira to her business, it probably certainly was the jailer and his family. You know it may even have been some of the other people in the jail with Paul and Silas at the time. Paul and Timothy sorry at the time, it may have been a young slave girl and her owner, it may have been the soldiers? We just don’t know names. We do know, because they’re in the book itself, is Epaphroditus as Euodia and Syntyche and Clement, but for most of them we don’t know who they were. But when you have a phrase like this from his heart, he remembers you “I remember you from my heart” it’s amazing! Now I don’t know how long it’d been but it was about 10 years from the founding of this church to when Paul actually writes this letter, so things would have changed as things would change in your church.

What are you thinking about just now of the “you” that are not here? Perhaps it’s many weeks or months since you’ve seen some of them. Even close people that you know and perhaps you’ve even forgotten the faces or the names of the person you last spoke with who was new to the church. You think I don’t remember their names? They have been very difficult months but let’s remind ourselves, even when you’re a full church, we are not just people who sit in pews, we are people who are in partnership together with the Gospel and “all my prayers for you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the Gospel from the first day until now.”

It’s great when we come together because we can build one another but it’s not just to have nice wee pally conversations, it is that and we need that, and we miss that, but we are in partnership together in the Gospel. “I remember you” so when you go through this book remember that you are a you together as Paul teaches, as he perhaps rebukes, so he doesn’t do an awful lot in this book as he does in some others, but just remember you are together. Even if you get right through this book, which is very possible, and we’re still not able to meet together in the way we would love to so, that’s one word “you”.

Another word that struck me was struck me was remember, remember. Do you remember the day when we didn’t have to wear masks? Do you remember the time when we could sing our hearts out? It will happen again and these masks will go. I can remember you know, not that long ago, of you watch people in countries which are terribly polluted by fumes car fumes etc. and a lot of the people go around with masks on. You think “Oh my goodness!” and now we are, but here is this word
Remember, remember. Because this pandemic has brought a lot of troubles into our midst, individually and collectively, There’s the fear of dying or of catching it. There’s the fear of those who have lost loved ones and have not even been able to go to their funerals. It just hurts. So remember, there’s a lot of people. and it may include you sitting here. and it will certainly include some at home. of the heart and the pain of being unable to say goodbye in a normal way.

There’s a pain in the heart of those who have lost their jobs and will yet lose their jobs, but you know, despite all that, and it is horrific, personally one of my biggest struggles is the loss of fellowship. We’re built for congregational, we’re a gregarious people, we are not individuals. You miss the hugs. you miss the lack of visiting people. I have a brother in Edinburgh who’s dying of prostate cancer and I can’t visit him. Well, I shouldn’t visit him! There’s times when I’ve had to go – he’s not a believer, he has prostate cancer his wife has Parkinson’s – and it’s hurt. We’ve never fallen out but we’ve never been that close but I’ve been able to read with them to pray with him and sometimes I confess and admit – and please don’t tell this to the authorities – I’ve broken the rules and crossed the bridge and gone into Edinburgh because I felt I had to and if he deteriorates and get worse I would do it again. I would do it again because sometimes there are laws that are greater than the laws of our government. Now that’s not to encourage you to break rules, and we know one of the big problems, and we need to remember this, that this epidemic has caused an epidemic of loneliness. People on their own. My wife at the moment is going through, well we don’t know what it is but she’s just not well at all and it’s got worse and worse. And how we miss friends that just can’t come and visit us. Our friends that we just can’t go and visit them. We have families that live abroad, well one lives in in southern Spain and another lives in Northern Ireland, and their children. We have one daughter at home. But it’s this sense of loneliness and how we need to remember, how you need to remember, the people that sat beside you, the people that sat around you, and Paul encourages “I remember you. I always pray with joy because of your partnership.”

Such is the heart and such should be our hearts for those you know. Memories are a wonderful thing and I know the older you get sometimes the memories fade a bit so you can’t remember! I’m getting to the stage where I can’t remember people’s names that I know, so, well I don’t know if there’s a problem going on, but here Paul says I have you in my heart. Are there people that are on your heart, in your heart, in your congregation that you haven’t seen for weeks and perhaps you felt you’ve not been able to contact. You may not be able to visit them but you can phone them. Now this is where we really thank God, which I’ve now never always done, is for the internet and for guys that can put these things out and pull together ways that we’ve been able to meet in some ways. But the memory of the people you miss dearly. It must have been a while since Paul had seen some of them but he longs for them. Long for the people of your congregation. Go on longing for them and for the day that you’ll be able to sit together once again. Let your mind even now, I don’t mind if it wanders the rest of this sermon and wanders to people that you remember so fondly.

And you can still contact them either through social media by phone or, my next word, through prayer. I do admit when it comes to this word and Paul’s prayer I would take a series of sermons in itself to go through the whole gambit of prayer for one another but Paul says, and I’ll just simply read this “and this is my prayer, that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ. Tto the glory and praise of God.” You see Paul’s big heart in these verses and you see Paul’s big prayers.
Extend your prayers either to people or what you desire for people and as you go through this book. Many things will come to you and perhaps somebody that you are really feeling for. What you learn through the next few weeks, pray for someone in the congregation. They might be listening but you add to what they’re hearing because it is terrible not being in touch and even when we do have social media. I’ve heard, I’ve said that many, many times “You know, I am Zoomed out!” I never even heard of Zoom before! That’s the problem, most of us hadn’t! I’m sure their share price has rocketed – but you know there are times when you just get weary. We thank God for the whole setup but we long just for that hug, that handshake, and that warmth. But remember because Paul comes through with here, with that joy of who’s ever running through your mind just now, that you long to see, to remember those people with love and with feeling and to remember to pray fervently for one another.

The day will come when we will be back together and my last word is not actually one word but two words and Paul says this in verse six “Being confident of this that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
note the word “good work”. “He who began a good work in you.” Now he doesn’t say good works, it’s not plural, it’s our work that’s been done in you and me and many others. What is that “good work”. Now there’s been lots of good works being done during this pandemic, some of them are amazing, what people have done. I just even heard on the news this morning about a group a group of Sikhs that took food down to the lorry drivers and I think they traveled quite a distance and you just wonder who else was doing that? Were the Christian communities likewise doing that? They have been named. You think there’s people that have felt for these lorry drivers stuck away from home, stuck in something that was not of their making, and here were people with kindness, there were good works, You’ve got the young footballer Marcus Rashford that has taken him back to his childhood, a difficult childhood, and longs to see children properly fed. Lots of good works. But that’s not what Paul’s talking about here. There is a theory, well it’s a theory, there’s a belief that by good works people are saved. You know if I do good enough, enough good things, then God’s bound to let me into heaven. That is false good works. Never saved anyone. But His good work did. It’s the work of God, “He who began a good work in you.” I wasn’t brought up in a Christian home and still I don’t my family, my immediate older family are not Christians, but what was that good work? It was when the Lord took hold of my life and saved me and changed me. Just let me read a verse or two in the book before in Ephesians “As for you”, there’s that word again “you were dead in your transgressions and sins in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air”. We were all dead in trespasses and sins, every single one of us. The same, not just here but same for people sitting at home. There was a time when we were not in Christ.

And for those of you who are listening who are not in Christ, you know there is a good work that God wants to do in your life now and it can only be done through Jesus. Doesn’t matter how many good works you do and keep doing them, but it will not save you. It will not get you to heaven. Here is a good work, the work of God, and again you could do a whole series on this the ministry of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, into our lives. An initial starting of a good work in you – perhaps this new year you will find Christ as your Savior and that good work will change your life but of course it’s more than just an initial thing because he says “who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” It doesn’t end when we first get saved, that’s the starting point of the journey. If you’re a young Christian and have not long come to find faith let me quote Jeremiah 29 where Jesus our God says “I have plans for you.” “I have plans for you.” You have a tremendous journey ahead of you. See, I wasn’t born into a Christian home and as I look back over the many years since I’ve become a Christian it’s incredible what has happened in me through the teaching of the Word, through the way the Lord has led. It’s taken me to places that I thought I would never ever see. The Lord has been so gracious and He continues on in that work. So if you’re not long starting the journey then I thank God for it. Sometimes I wish I was starting again but I’m not, I’m coming nearer to the end of my journey, and certainly I am from the beginning His plans for us will be very different from the plans that He’s had for me. Plans about your jobs, plans about your home, plans about your family, plans about where He might take you, what he might do with you. So look back and remember the day when Christ saved you. He began a good work in you. He will continue a good work in you and if you’re of the age – I am and retired and I don’t particularly enjoy retirement, I’ve struggled a lot with it – He’s not finished because you’re still here. You can’t do the things you used to do but sometimes a stillness, sometimes just a heaviness, a weariness settles into our lives but you know it need not be, and I think I speak very personally, so wherever you are, if you’re not yet a Christian, may that good work begin in you, even this morning, this year, this month. If you’re a new Christian just look forward to an exciting journey ahead of you. If you’re a long-standing person in the faith and feeling stale, find a freshness and as you go through this book. Many other avenues will open up to you. We’re yet in another lockdown and even coming across I think it was the bridge or somewhere it says stay local and I think Well I’m not staying local. You’re now in tier four and I know I shouldn’t be.” but in one sense Scott assured me no you’re coming to a place of work not just a place of worship, so I’m quite legitimate in me coming here but in other areas we are in lockdown who could have imagined. We’re not in a dictatorship. Who could have imagined that our government could have legislated to lock us down? It was just unthinkable but physically we are, but sadly some people are getting spiritually locked down and that’s what we need to do, to remember, to remember, to pray, to grow and to have our spiritual lives refreshed and renewed no matter how young or no matter how old we be. And so my prayer, as we close, is to just simply say to you “the Lord bless you and keep you and the Lord use you, as a congregation of His holy people. May it be so for His namesake.

Forward with hope

Preached on: Sunday 27th December 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 20-12-27 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 2:13-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 2:13-23
Sunday 27th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church


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

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

Last weekend I was chatting with some of the tech guys about various bits and pieces including some great songs from the 80s, and so when I was listening to the music later in the week, it got me thinking: what songs would sum up 2020? This kind of thing is often done when we approach the start of a new year and so I did some research on the internet and via Braes Blether, and here’s a video with some of the ideas that came up.
(PLAY VIDEO)
Feel free to add your own ideas in the Live Chat at home. Obviously, what was shared there is meant to be slightly humorous, echoing some of the feelings that we’ve probably all felt in this past year. Music has the capacity to capture some of what we feel, and we can often link a piece of music to a particular season or event in life, and whenever we hear that music it brings back the emotion and the memories of long ago. Music can even give us a sense of articulation in what we are feeling.

Nevertheless, there have been other feelings this year, feelings of genuine isolation, of grief and loss, of anger and frustration, and of fear and worry. In the face of such emotion, no song can truly capture this; no song, can speak to the rawness of our emotions and of our pain. Because songs come and go, they’re here today and… gone tomorrow, and so don’t we need something more than a song as we reflect on 2020 and prepare to enter into the new year? I think we do, and that’s where Matthew chapter 2 comes in.

It’s a tough portion of Scripture; it’s not one we’re going to use much in Sunday School. We often forget the next part of the Christmas story – we stop at the magi bringing their gifts to the baby Jesus, because it’s cute and it’s heart-warming, and so we tend to gloss over how their story ended, that they too were forced to flee. But there is that one final part of the Christmas story, captured in what we read today: Jesus, the promised Messiah, is born in a land and at a time full of trouble, tension, violence and fear. Before He had even learnt to walk, Jesus was a homeless refugee with a price on His head.
So, what are we mean to see here today? What do we see here of the identity of Jesus and what has that got to do with us on the cusp of 2021?

Well, firstly, let’s remember what we read last Sunday: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).
(Matthew 1:23)

This is Jesus, He is Immanuel, God with us and His coming into the brokenness of our world is how He will go about changing the world; the promised Messiah will not live in pomp and ease, instead He is with us. For there’s no point in Him arriving in comfort, when the world is in misery; there’s no point in Him having an easy life, when the world suffers violence and injustice. If He is to be truly… Immanuel, God with us, then He must be with us in our pain and in our brokenness; He must know what it is to live in fear, in need and in isolation.

Friends, we have more than a song, we have a Saviour who is with us in the struggles. Not that those struggles always miraculously disappear; after all, Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew real hardship, even though they also knew moments of God’s protection and provision. But God was with them and God is with us; we have more than a song, we have a Saviour, Immanuel, who is here, with us, in every moment of our brokenness.

In addition to this, our passage today also points towards something else. Because not only does Jesus experience the reality of this world, He is also the hope of this world… Three times Matthew says that Jesus is fulfilling Scripture in what happens here. But Jesus is fulfilling these Scriptures in a different way to what we read in chapter one. There Jesus was fulfilling what was predicted, but here, Jesus and the events surrounding His birth are seen as fulfilling what already happened 1,000 years before. In Matthew chapter 2, Jesus is seen as embodying once again the story of God’s people, Israel, from long ago. In the Old Testament we read that Israel went down to Egypt to seek safety and they came back under God’s protection. Likewise, Jesus finds safety among the Jewish colonies in Egypt, where His people numbered in the millions. Additionally, when the time was right, Father God brought His son Jesus safely out of Egypt and to the promised land of Israel.

What is more, the sorrow that 10 to 30 families would have experienced because of Herod’s actions, that sorrow is seen as echoing the sorrow Israel would have felt when families were scattered by the Babylonians as they took Israel into exile.

In each story, including the account of Jesus being a Nazarene, we are meant to see solidarity between the story of Jesus and the story of God’s people and in that solidarity, find hope once more. Because when those families wailed at the time of exile, the prophet Jeremiah also spoke about how God would fulfil His promises and bring life out of death and hope amidst darkness. We are meant to see in Jesus that He is the fulfilment of Israel’s story and thus that hope is still alive, because Jesus is still alive. He is the promised Messiah…
and the mission He came to fulfil will not be thwarted, He will bring life and justice and peace, He will bring freedom, and so we can have hope because of Him.

Friends, this year has been so hard, and as we enter 2021 we face a future of tighter restrictions and questions about this new strain of the virus and still we wait for things to “go back to normal”. It’s essential to know that Jesus is with us in the struggles, but we need more than as well, we need hope, we need to know that hope is still alive. And it is alive, friends, because our Saviour is alive. He is with us, not only in stories from 2,000 years ago – but in the here and now, for the babe that came at Christmas, grew to be a man, and yes He died upon a cross, but after 3 days, Father God raised Him from the dead, and so for 2,000 years this has been the testimony… and hope of the church: that Jesus conquered death, he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay, instead, Father God vindicated His sacrifice on the cross by raising Jesus to life.

Brothers and sisters, as we go into 2021, let us also look forward, look forward to a year in which Jesus will journey with us in every moment, in every season, in every high and low, because He is the Saviour who is Immanuel, God with us, for He is alive even today.

To help nurture this perspective, to help nurture this hope in us, I’d like to invite you to consider joining me in doing something this year.

It’s my practice, to start my day by reading some Scripture and thinking about its meaning for myself. Often in those moments, God speaks, bringing hope, encouragement, sometimes a challenge. On the 1st of January, I am planning to begin reading through the whole of the New Testament again, rooting myself in the accounts of Jesus and the teaching passed on to us.

So, I’d like to invite you to consider doing this with me. Later today, we’ll email out and put on our website a copy of this reading plan, and we’ll also post a copy to those on our mailing list. The reading plan gives you something to read five days a week and then some questions to think about, as a means of meeting with God. Because if we want to be a people who keep our faith in Jesus, who have hope because of Jesus, and who know Jesus…
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with us in our struggles, then the testimony of Christians across the ages is that we need to be regularly in the Scriptures. And maybe if we do this, and do this as a community, then we might also find support and encouragement from one another, and together, stay connected to Jesus, knowing that He is alive and journeying with us in all the struggles of life, not only in 2020 but forevermore.

I pray it may be so. Amen.

Prayer for one another

Preached on: Sunday 20th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-09-20-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Ephesians 1:1-18, 15-17
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Ephesians 1:1-18, 15-17
Sunday 20th September 2020
Brightons Parish Church
Message
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be pure and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.We’re halfway through our series on prayer, responding to this call from the Lord to grow as a people of prayer, that His purpose for us – to ‘invite, encourage and enable people to follow Jesus’ – might be realised in our day and in our community. We’ve seen the importance and value of the Lord’s Prayer, how it can shape us and help us know what to pray.

Then on Tuesday night of last week, I put into practice what I’d preached on, taking to the streets of Brightons and prayer walking, for about half an hour, as a means of praying for others If you missed the live event, you can still watch the recording on our YouTube channel, and it might give you ideas, or a flavour, of what prayer walking can be like.

In that time of prayer, it was my privilege to pray for the wider community, but I also got to pray for our church family, for people who identify with Brightons, who say this is their spiritual home This call from the Lord to pray, is also a call to pray for one another and that’s the focus of our reflections this morning.

In the letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul mentions “Father” and “prayer” more times than in any of his other letters. It seems that having God as our Father, and belonging to His family, should result in prayer. Later in the letter, Paul says: ‘…be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ (Eph. 6:18)

Part of the reason why Paul will again and again weave together having God as our Father with prayer for the family of God is because of what Father God was doing through His Son Jesus. Paul writes: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ…’ (Eph. 1:3-5)

Paul is saying that it is in the nature of God to draw people into relationship, into His family Before the creation of the world, there was Father, Son and Holy Spirit existing in perfect community and from the overflow of their love they sought to extend that community, to have a family, a people that were their own. And so, God made choices, God made a plan, God acted intentionally, with purpose, exerting His will so that one day you might have the invitation to come into the family of God.

Friends, in this passage, in the Scriptures as a whole, the goodness of God is revealed, for we have a heavenly Father who seeks us and pursues us. He is not distant, He is not cold or austere, but rather He delights in you, He loves you so greatly that His Son died for you. I wonder, do you have this relationship with God? Have you responded to God’s invitation?

If you have, you’re now part of the family of God, bought at a price, dear and precious to the Father, and so, we should treat each other that way as well. Often, we can misunderstand church thinking it’s just another club or a group to belong to. Because of that it’s easy to take one another for granted, or just to be surface level in our care for each other. But Paul models something different: Paul earnestly gives himself away for the church – Paul gives his time, Paul serves, Paul encourages and underpinning it all Paul prays for the family of God.
So, here’s the invitation for this week of prayer. Remember, I said each week we’d have something to pray or do. Well, this week I invite you to turn to Ephesians and use one of Paul’s prayers. You can find them in Ephesians chapter 1 verses 15-17, and Ephesians chapter 3 verses 16-19.

Take one or both of these prayers and pray them for our congregation and for our organisations. Pray them for your Pastoral Grouping. Pray them for our Boys and Girls Brigades, as well as our Sunday School groups. Because we are family, we are part. of the family of God because of Jesus, because of the love of Father God, and so He calls us all to reflect His love to one another, by caring enough to pray. May it be so. Amen.

Called to Wholeness and called to Family

Preached on: Sunday 9th August 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-08-09-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Matthew 9:1-13
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 9:1-13 (NIV)
Sunday 9th August 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

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

Last week we were introduced to that statement from the Church Without Walls Report, which said that the core purpose of the church is ‘to invite, encourage and enable people to be disciples of Jesus Christ.’ We focused especially on the words ‘invite’ and ‘disciples’, so today I want to focus more on ‘encourage’, because in this life of faith, in this calling to be disciples who invite others to be disciples, we need encouragement.

Boys and girls, have you ever done something that’s hard? Maybe you had to try something new? Well, whatever that hard thing was, what helped you keep going? To keep trying? I’ll give you 60 seconds to think or talk about that at home. (PAUSE)

If you like, put up in the Live Chat the ideas you came up with. Maybe you said, people who were around you, like friends or family; it might have been the words that they used; or maybe it was a sense of accomplishment that helped you to keep going.

One of my hobbies is rock climbing, and when I was starting out in rock climbing, it was really hard. My arms would get sore, I’d fall off the wall, I’d get frustrated that
I couldn’t get to the top of a climb…
But what kept me going were my friends, because their encouragement, their words, their own perseverance, helped me find strength, of body and of heart, of will.

The word “encouragement” literally means “to give heart” – to give strength to your heart to keep going, to persevere – and we all need that, most days, most weeks; we need someone to help us keep going, maybe through their example, their words or even just their company, because these things strengthen our heart, our will.

In our story today, once more we see Jesus calling someone to follow Him, to be His disciple. Can you remember his name? It was…Matthew. Now, can you also remember what Matthew’s job was? Matthew was
a tax collector and tax collectors were not liked…
very much. They were employed by the Romans, who everybody hated, and Matthew’s job was to make sure people paid a certain amount of money to the Romans. But tax collectors were also a bit of a bad bunch, because they’d usually charge too much and so they would get rich on the extra money. This meant that everyone hated them as well, because they were traitors for helping the Romans, and they were bad because they got rich at the expense of others.

So, here comes Jesus and He calls Matthew, a tax collector, to be His disciple. Matthew was being invited into relationship, invited into God’s purpose, just like the other disciples were last week. But Matthew’s story teaches us something else as well.

Matthew would have been despised, he would have been an outcast, with a group of friends you could only trust as far as you could throw them. But Jesus calls Matthew and then goes home with him to have a meal. That was a big deal back then because there was an old saying that said: ‘to share a meal is to share a life.’ The people you ate with were the people you accepted and welcomed into your life.

So, Jesus is doing something special here, in particular with Matthew. Jesus is inviting Matthew into a new family, a new place where he belongs. Matthew is no longer going to be known simply as “the tax collector”; he’s now a disciple of Jesus, he’s in relationship with Jesus, and as Jesus will say later, ‘…whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister.’
That goes for all the disciples – to every one of them, to every one of us: Jesus gives us an invitation to relationship and to purpose, but we don’t do it alone, to help us keep going, to give us heart and strength, Jesus invites us into His family, the family of God. This is more than just a loose collection of acquaintances or superficial friendships; we are called to be family together, in all the seasons of life.

In our current season this is especially important. You may have heard that the elders at Brightons have decided not to open up the church sanctuary for worship just now. It is their decision to make and they weighed up all the issues and feedback. Currently, things are very limited in what we can do in worship and who could attend, and it was felt by the elders that such a worship environment… would not offer as meaningful an experience for the majority of people than what is currently available online, on via CD or in printed format.

Nevertheless, the elders are aware that maybe what we most yearn for right now is community, to see one another and to be family together. There are probably many ways we could do this, from watching the Sunday service together with a neighbour (though without singing); or inviting some someone round for a cuppa, whether outdoors or indoors. But there may be other ideas as well, so if you have an idea about how we could be family together, then please get in contact and help us be family in this time. Equally, if you are feeling isolated and want support, then get in contact as well or try something new.
For example, your picture in for Community Corner, or joining the pre-service Zoom Cuppa. This runs from 10 to 10.40 every Sunday morning, and you don’t need to use a computer or tablet, you can just phone in and talk to a group of other people from the church. And because we are family, there are people around who are willing to help you get connected, so please just ask if you want to give it a try.

Matthew was being invited into a new family, the family of God, but in this story of Matthew’s call to follow Jesus, we see something else. Matthew is also invited into forgiveness, to have peace with God. Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’ Jesus comes with the invitation to know the forgiveness of God,…
which is central to what God wishes to give us, because sin has broken our relationship with God, it has broken our relationship with others, it has broken this world, even ourselves. Jesus, the Great Physician, comes to forgive sin as part of the means of healing this world.

We see in the Old Testament, that the heart of God is for us to know peace, shalom, which we might describe as ‘wholeness’ today. It includes peace with God, peace with others, peace within yourself, peace of soul and mind. Jesus comes with the invitation to begin a journey towards wholeness. Matthew had lost his way, he’d gone down a wrong track; he was broken on the inside, he was broken in his relationship with others, he was broken in his relationship with God – yet in every dimension of
Matthew’s life, Jesus offers healing, He offers wholeness.

And as Matthew begins to experience this, he naturally invites others into that experience for themselves, to meet with Jesus, this God-man, who has authority to forgive, to heal the soul, and change our lives forever.

Friends, will we respond like Matthew to Jesus? Will we take up His calling to follow, to be family, to show a scandalous generosity towards others? You can’t do that by staying removed, or just looking out for yourself – you have to start looking out to others, and rather than seeing them as people who don’t meet your mark, you have to show mercy, loving-kindness, the ‘hesed’ covenant love of God.

Yet, all of us have failed in this at some point, and so all of us are broken on the inside, we need the healing…
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of Jesus, we need His forgiveness. I wonder, will you respond to the invitation of Jesus? To family and to wholeness? I pray it be so. Amen.

We close our time together with our final hymn…