God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 31st March 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 20-03-31-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-sermon.
Bible references: Luke 17:5-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:5-19
Tuesday 31st March 2020 Brightons Parish Church

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

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely sets out for Jerusalem. On Sunday we had our final service before we reach Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. We’re hoping to have some online prayers and reflections then for Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, led for us by ministers in the Braes area, and more details will be available on Sunday.

In our passage for this evening, we have the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about and it follows on after a lengthy teaching portion, which began back in Luke chapter 15. In the particular section we heard tonight, it began and ended on the topic of faith, and that’s where we’ll start this evening.

As I said on Sunday, having faith just now is hard, we have questions, some people may even scoff at the idea of faith, scoff at it having value and relevance. But I think that hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. It is possible to be people of faith even amidst uncertain times.

But as the example of the disciples teaches us, it’s OK to be honest with Jesus about our doubts. In verse 5, we see that the apostles, those close friends of Jesus, said to
Him: ‘Increase our faith!’
Here are the people that Jesus is training up, training up to be involved in His continuing ministry, and despite having seen so many miracles already, they are now struggling, they perceive their faith is maybe not quite big enough for what Jesus asks of them.

And what does Jesus ask of them? We didn’t read those particular verses tonight but if you open your Bible, you can see in verse 1 that Jesus speaks of keeping faith even when things come along that might cause some to stumble, then in verses 2 to 3, Jesus speaks of living in such a manner as not to undermine another’s faith, then finally in verses 3 to 4, Jesus teaches that we are to forgive as often as repentance occurs.

What’s quite striking here, is that the things which provoke the disciples to say, ‘increase our faith’, are not great wonders or undertakings which we might normally associate with needing faith. We may more naturally think of deeds such as praying for healing, or being asked to preach, or give up something that is dear to us.

Yet, what Jesus shares here, are every day, normal activities. Keeping the faith, building others up, and forgiving as often as needed. Doesn’t sound very grand, but aren’t they just as hard? Even now, amidst this pandemic, don’t we face all three to some degree? Keeping the faith when events around us might seem to belittle our beliefs. Building others up when it’s so much easier to jump on the bandwagon of criticism, doubt and moaning. And as we face lockdown, maybe for weeks upon weeks, and we get grumpy with one another because we’re living in such close proximity all the time, or we get bitter because we are alone and we feel forgotten, is not forgiveness needed in such times?

I wonder, as time passes and the lockdown extends, might not we also be inclined, with the disciples, to cry out, ‘Lord increase our faith’ because these otherwise mundane tasks are actually quite demanding.

So, what is Jesus reply? He says, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.’ (Luke 17:6) Clearly, Jesus is using hyperbole because He and the disciples never did such a thing themselves.
Instead, Jesus is trying to highlight that it’s not the amount of faith that is important, but rather simply its presence and what underpins or defines our faith. Sinclair Ferguson, a professor of Systematic Theology, reminds us of this: ‘…our spiritual forefathers used to say that little faith gets the same Saviour as great faith, but it may not get his greatness.’ (Sinclair Ferguson, To Seek and To Save, page 66)

What he’s saying, as with Jesus, is that what is important is not the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith. Often, we are tempted to say, “I don’t have enough faith”, or “He or she has more faith than I”. But such statements reveal that we think faith is dependant on us, that what we feel, what we can muster up, is what defines the character and strength of our faith.
But Jesus, as with our spiritual forefathers, is saying something else. They are revealing that faith should have its character and strength defined by God, rather than ourselves. This means, argues Ferguson, that ‘faith should be described as the extent to which our trust in the Lord is in keeping with the greatness of God’s person and the certainty of His promises.’ For example: if I trust, that Jesus is always with me unto the end of the age, as He has promised to be, and I trust this because I know Him to be alive, then this shapes my faith and so defines my living, my choices, and my perspective.

But, if I believe Jesus to be God but quite distant, detached from our experience, then I do have faith, I do have access to Jesus, but I do not appreciate His greatness as fully as I should, and so my faith is diminished and its impact upon my life is equally limited.

Faith, which can tell a mulberry tree to jump into the sea, is a faith which appreciates the greatness of God and lives accordingly. It’s not about the size of our faith, but rather the substance of our faith, and the substance of our faith is matured and maintained by the extent to which we grow in our relationship with God, and we do that by appreciating more of His person and His promises.

So, that’s why we’re encouraging everyone to invest time in their relationship with God during this time of isolation, and we principally grow in our relationship with God as we dig into His Word, because it’s in His Word that we learn of His person and promises. We’ve offered a couple of ideas for this in our Sunday services, with an online reading plan begun yesterday, exploring faith and doubts. It’s not too late to get involved and details are still available on our website and Facebook page.

But, whether you join the reading plans or not, please invest some time in your relationship with God by getting into His Word. Then, the substance of your faith can be matured and maintained in line with the true revelation of God, as you learn of His person and promises.

On Sunday, I also mentioned that this issue of faith among the apostles is followed on after with the story of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It was that man who evidenced a faith which had substance – He

recognised in Jesus the God of all creation and that Jesus the God-man was overflowing with loving kindness.

I said on Sunday, that loving kindness was one way of unpacking the words ‘pity’ or ‘mercy’, which is what the ten lepers asked of Jesus in the first place. Jesus did heal them, He granted what they asked for, they experienced His loving kindness. But they do so, after following His command to: ‘Go, show yourselves to the priests.’ (Luke 17:14)

I deliberately skipped over that part of the passage because our service was seeking to be all age. But now, I’d like to give you a little more context for those words. In the Old Testament, the people of God were given instructions regarding various skin conditions, and as I outlined, it was pretty hard back then to tell what people had. So, anyone with one of these particular skin conditions had to leave home, they had to leave the village, because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated and removed.

But it was also possible for someone to be welcomed back into the community if their condition changed or went away. At that point, they were to go to their local priest, for only they could legally declare a leper “clean” and healthy, and so able then to return to a normal life.

What’s striking in the story of the ten lepers, is that one returns to Jesus, rather than going on to find the priest. Clearly, we’re right to talk about gratitude and thankfulness because it’s there in the passage, and we’ll come back to that soon. But this idea of Jesus being asked for mercy, and of the one leper coming to Jesus, when all the rest go seeking their priest, does call to mind what the writer to the Hebrews wrote: ‘…[Jesus] shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.’ (Hebrews 2:14-17)

There’s a lot packed into those few verses, but did you notice that the writer speaks of Jesus as a merciful high priest? In the Old Testament, the high priest had the role of once a year going into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle, or temple, so as to make atonement for the people. This was part of the wider system which secured their forgiveness of sin such that they were in right standing with God.

The writer of Hebrews makes a lengthy argument that Jesus is the eternal, perfect high priest, bringing in a new and eternal covenant between God and humanity, such that any who will put their faith in Jesus can have their sins forgiven, once for all, remembered no more, and then given unrestricted access to God’s presence because they are made children of God through the Son of God who died in their place, even though He Himself was perfectly sinless.
But to establish that new, eternal covenant, Jesus had to be both fully man and fully God, which is what the writer said in the passage we read. As such, Jesus is then our merciful high priest, He is able to represent both God and mankind, and stand in the gap between us, offering us mercy, loving kindness, through His own sacrifice, and welcoming us into the family of God with right standing before God.

It’s in that place, as the writer outlines, that we are then freed from the fear of death, because eternal life is secured for us by Jesus, our merciful high priest.

Now, coming back to the story of the ten lepers, it’s interesting that the one leper who cannot go to the
Jewish priests, because he’s a Samaritan, comes instead to Jesus. Does that individual realise that he needs no other priest, for Jesus, the God-man, is priest enough?

Friends, we’ve spoken tonight of developing a faith which has substance by learning of the person and promises of God, such that it matures and is maintained. I wonder, if the example of the Samaritan, is not only one of thankfulness, but of recognising something of the person and promises of Jesus: that He is merciful, overflowing with loving kindness, ready to forgive and welcome us into the family of God, if only we will bow the knee and respond in faith to Him. That kind of faith has a measure of substance, and by such faith we can be freed of fear and as we sung on Sunday, having a hope which is steadfast and sure.

I think, as we recognise more of the person and promises of Jesus, that a real depth of thankfulness will overflow within us, and so let’s close with some reflections on that idea from the passage.

It’s clear from what Jesus says that thankfulness is important, especially thankfulness to Jesus Himself, and that’s something we are taught again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us, as we saw, to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

So, are you someone who’s thankful? I really valued those words from Tom Wright, who said: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

I wonder, have you begun to do anything about that yet? Because being a people of thankfulness, not only makes us less prone to anger or bitterness, it also guards against that common human tendency to think God “owes” us or that God is some kind of “genie in a bottle”.

I think that’s part of the reason behind Jesus’ words in verses 7 to 10: that nothing we do, or experience, can put God in our debt, because He has been generous already, and immeasurably added to His generosity through the death of His perfect Son, our merciful high priest.

Again, as our faith develops substance, rather than size, by appreciating the person and promises of God, then we are freed from unhealthy perceptions of God, we are enabled to see His goodness, His grace, His loving kindness, such that He owes us nothing and we owe Him everything.

So, how are you going to develop a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity? When I was in training, I came across a spiritual discipline called Examen, and it’s a form of prayer that helps us realise the many good gifts of God throughout our day. We don’t have time to go into it just now, but I’ll put up some links on our website and Facebook page if you want to dig into that, because it’s a practice that I’ve found helpful, even though I’m only beginning now to cultivate in my own life.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, may we be a people whose faith grows in substance as we see more clearly the person of God, that He is full of loving kindness, that He comes close, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. May we also, appreciate afresh the promises we have from God, particularly the promises secured for us through Jesus, who gave Himself for us upon the Cross, that we might be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times. To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore. Amen.

God gives himself through Jesus (Passion Wk.3)

Preached on: Sunday 29th March 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 20-03-29-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-morning-message.
Bible references: Luke 17:11-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 17:11-19
Sunday 29th March 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.

Two weeks’ ago, we began our journey towards Easter, and we tuned in to that part of Luke’s gospel where Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. Today is our final service before Palm Sunday, and our passage this morning, is the third and final story where Samaritans are talked about. Boys and girls, can you remember: did the people in Jesus’ day like Samaritans? Did they? Give me a thumbs up or thumbs down! The right answer is: “no” – they did not like Samaritans! No one in Israel had time for Samaritans; no one would give them attention or help.

So, in our story today Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem when He comes to a village and He is met by a group of men. How many people were in that group – can you remember? Was it 5? Was it 8? Was it 10? It was 10!

Ten men were needing help, so they came looking for Jesus. But they kept a little distance from Jesus because they had leprosy. That word was used for a whole lot of different conditions, because back then it was pretty hard to tell what people had. So, a rule was given that anyone with a particular skin condition had to leave home, they had to leave the village because those skin conditions could be spread to other people and the only way to protect the community was for those people to be isolated, they had to be removed.
I wonder, does that feel familiar at all? Can we relate a little to the idea of being cut off, isolated, alone?

So, here are these lepers, social outcasts; they draw near to Jesus seeking His help, but they have to maintain social distancing, probably more than two metres. They cry out to Jesus, ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ ‘Pity’ here is what we might call ‘mercy’, or ‘loving kindness’.

Somehow, these lepers knew that Jesus was someone of loving kindness, and so they seek Him out. Jesus then says a bit of a strange thing and we’ll get into that more with our Tuesday Evening Sermon.

But notice what happens next – they’re healed, they’re cleansed. Now, boys and girls, at this point in the story, how many return to Jesus after being healed by Him? Why don’t you hold up your fingers to tell me how many returned? Just one! Only one returned to Jesus and said thank you, and he was a Samaritan! Those people who everyone else shunned and thought was worthless – that’s who returned and thanked Jesus.

What do you think Jesus felt at that point? When He says:
‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine?’ (Luke 17:17) – what was Jesus feeling? Why don’t you tell whoever you’re with what you think Jesus was feeling?

I think maybe Jesus was feeling a bit sad – sad that more people had not figured out who He was, that here was God, right with them, and He cared and listened to isolated and broken people.
So, what are you going to take away from our story today? I’ve got two quick ideas for you!

First of all, it’s really clear that thankfulness is important, thankfulness to Jesus, and that’s something the Bible teaches again and again. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to, ‘Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ (Eph. 5:19-20)

I wonder, are you someone who’s thankful? We shouldn’t fake thankfulness, so if some of us are grieving, then our thankfulness will be different. We’re also living in difficult times, uncertain times, is it possible to be thankful just now?
Well, we’ve got to remember, that the folks who wrote the Bible were writing in hard times themselves, yet, they were still thankful.

A man called Tom Wright, who is a Christian and writer, said this: ‘…our God is the giver of all things: every mouthful of food we take, every breath of air we inhale, every note of music we hear, every smile on the face of a friend, a child, a spouse – all that, and a million things more, are good gifts of his generosity. The world didn’t need to be like this. It could have been far more drab.’ (Tom Wright, Luke for Everyone, page 206)

In this time of isolation, in this time of food being harder to get, and the normal things being disrupted, maybe it will help us become more thankful for the things we often taken for granted.
So, why not, get into a rhythm of thanking God for the gifts of His generosity, maybe at the start or end of your day. Because the more we are people of thankfulness, the less likely we are to be people of anger or bitterness.

And if you’d like a new song to sing along to, one which is full of thankfulness, then try out Matt Mayer’s song, ‘Alive and Breathing’ – it’s a great song and really lifts my soul!

So, let’s be a people who are thankful. Idea number two – let’s be people of faith yet honest about our doubts. I’ll get into this a bit more in our Tuesday Evening Sermon, but in verse 5, we see that the apostles, the close friends of Jesus, say to Him: ‘Increase our faith!’

Here are the people that Jesus is training up, and they’ve seen lots of miracles already, yet they are struggling, their faith is not quite big enough. Then we read of the ten lepers, where faith in Jesus arises in the most unlikely of places – a Samaritan leper. It is that man who has the greatest faith – He recognises in Jesus that the God of all creation is here, He is near, and is full of loving kindness.

Having faith just now is hard, we have questions, but hard times do not mean faith cannot exist, or that faith is simply wishful thinking. I think it’s possible to be honest with our doubts, and yet still be people of faith.

This week, I read a story out of Italy, of doctors in a hospital facing the most difficult situations, and into their midst came an elderly priest, vulnerable himself…
What that priest did, and how he did it, powerfully touched some of the staff in this hospital. When he arrived, they did not believe in God, but within two weeks faith arose within them because of that priest.

We all have doubts, we all like the disciples, have moments when we cry, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’ So, in this time of isolation, why not invest a little time in your relationship with God? One idea is to join our online Bible reading plan – you can do it on a website or in the Bible app, and details will be on our website and Facebook page. There’s going to be one for adults, and another for older children and younger teens, so consider getting involved, encourage your children to get involved, and let’s be honest about our doubts, yet seek to grow in our relationship with God and so be a people of faith.

Friends, as we journey with Jesus towards Easter, we see that He is the God of loving kindness, who comes close, ready to hear our doubts, increase our faith, and out of His abundant generosity give us good things, including Himself. Jesus is the God who gives Himself to us, He gave us Himself upon the Cross that we might not remain isolated from Him but be welcomed into His family and have a hope that is sure and steadfast, even in the most difficult of times.

To Him, be all glory and thanks, now and forevermore.
Amen.

A Taste of Grace (James 4:1-10)

Preached on: Sunday 23rd February 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 20-02-23-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: James 4:1-10
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: James 4:1-10

Sunday 23 February 2020 Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray.  May  the  words   of  my   mouth,   and        the

meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

When my wife and I lived in Edinburgh, we had at that time a group of friends who were studying medicine and so from time to time Gill or I would be asked to help these medics prepare for their examination tests. This would usually involve us pretending to be a patient who had come in and needed examining and diagnosing. Thankfully it didn’t require anything invasive or something that would give me the shivers (because I’m not good with medical stuff), but the process helped them learn a structured way to identify symptoms, discern the underlying situation, and finally consider a solution.

 In his letter to these scattered congregations, James has

again and again been like a doctor – highlighting the signs, diagnosing the situation and offering solutions. In many ways his earlier material has been building to this portion of the letter; as someone needing to share some bad news, he has been gentle and affirming, often calling them “brothers and sisters”, but at the same time, James has wisely not dodged the issues either. Along the way, the good doctor has hinted at the underlying issues, building to our passage this morning, because today the good doctor has to break the hardest of news and once more, he begins with signs that something is wrong.

James writes: ‘What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (James 4:1-3)

Here, James highlights horizontal signs and vertical signs that there is a deeper problem. On a horizontal level, James sees the disharmony within these scattered congregations, he sees fellow Christians fighting and quarrelling with one another. James even goes as far as to say that they ‘kill’ one another. There is precedent to suggest he could literally mean murder. But equally, the adultery that James speaks of in verse 4 is metaphorical, so it is also feasible that James is not being literal. As his brother and Lord had said: ‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and  anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…’ (Matthew 5:21-22)

Whether James is being literal or figurative, there are horizontal signs that something is deeply wrong within all these congregations. As one commentator wrote: ‘it is a depressing commentary on church life that James can write to a scattered people (1:1) and make the same general comment on all alike.’ Similarly, one philosopher said: ‘I have often wondered that persons who make boast of professing the Christian religion – namely love, joy, peace, temperance, and charity to all men – should quarrel with such rancorous animosity, and display daily towards one another such bitter hatred, that this, rather than   the  virtues  which  they   profess,   is  the  readiest criteria of their faith.’ (17th century Jewish philosopher Spinoza)

 So, let me pause here, and ask: are there fights and quarrels between us here at Brightons? It would be naïve to assume there aren’t some issues – after all, James says that they arise because of the ‘desires that battle within you’ (4:1) – and all of us have desires. These desires that James speaks of are not necessarily bad desires, the word is neutral in the Greek. But, when coupled with our messed up, self-focused, sinful nature, these desires get twisted and it leads to the kind of things James has written about: self-interest, unhealthy words, false wisdom leading to cliques and disunity.

So, do we have underlying issues here at Brightons? We may appear to be well on the surface, even healthy, but is there anything going on underneath? Are we allowing anything to fester?…

What are the things that we are allowing to create distance between ourselves? James says that the horizontal sign of disunity may point to something unhealthy underneath.

But James also, in these early verses, speaks of a vertical sign of a deeper problem. He wrote: ‘…You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.’ (James 4:2-3)

Clearly, James is speaking about prayer, and what he is saying is that our twisted natures even impact our spiritual lives. Prayer could and should be a solution to receiving the desires of our hearts, as the Psalmist reminds us (Psalm 37:4), but even when these Christians do pray,…their prayers are going unanswered because they ask it with wrong motives, our sinful nature twists those desires into something that is all about ourselves and as such the answer from heaven is ‘no’ or ‘not yet’.

We know from the Lord’s Prayer what to pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’ (Matthew 6:9-10)

Our prayers are to have a focus on God’s name, on God’s kingdom and His will, such that the motives for prayer and the things we ask for corporately in prayer, should seek the glorifying of God’s name and the extension of His kingdom upon the earth.

So, again, let’s pause and ask: where are our corporate prayers not being answered? Now, James is not giving a fully worked out reason for unanswered prayer, so please, please, if you are in a hard place at present and you are not seeing answer to prayer, do not automatically assume it is due to you asking for things out of wrong motives. James is simply highlighting that alongside very unhealthy dynamics within these congregations, they are also not seeing answered prayer as a gathering of God’s people. An example might help.

By and large, most congregations in the Church of Scotland are praying something like: “Lord, we long to see children and families back amongst our congregations.” On the surface, a very reasonable prayer; on the surface, surely a prayer God would want to answer, yes?

But are we asking this with unmixed motives? How much is that prayer being asked because we want to feel successful and healthy; or that we hope for our congregation or denomination to have a future; or simply because the place is less full than it used to be? But does God care about any of that? I know God cares for families coming to faith and finding life in all its fullness through Jesus, but I’m not sure I see anything in Scripture which supports those other prayer motives. So, maybe we don’t see answers to our corporate prayers because we’re asking them with wrong motives, we’re not necessarily asking them for the sake of God’s name and Kingdom.

James, the good doctor, has identified two signs, so now he breaks the bad news, now he brings the situation out into the light: ‘You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us?’ (James 4:4-5)

The situation that James highlights is a grievous disloyalty. Drawing upon the language of Scripture, which describes God’s people as His bride, James says their behaviour and twisted motives are adultery and friendship with the world. This temptation has always lurked at the door for the people of God and so God often sent prophets to His people, such as Jeremiah:

“‘…like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you, Israel, have been unfaithful to me,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 3:20)

Like Jeremiah, James is warning these congregations that their flirtation with the world has consequences on their relationship with God and that God has no wish to settle for such disloyalty. As verse 5 reminds us, God loves with a jealous love, His desire is for His people to be wholly and unreservedly His.

Often, we think of jealousy as wrong, and for human beings it often is for it leads to the fights and quarrels that James mentions. But with God, who is perfect in nature, His jealousy does not stem from insecurity or selfishness. God’s jealousy is a secure jealousy, which seeks what is best for you and I by guarding our hearts from disloyalty. He is jealous for the affections of our hearts for we are the bride of Christ. He wants us to run from the things that lure us away from Jesus, and one of those things is friendship with the world.

 Now, to our ears, this sounds a bit extreme or a bit odd. But we need to remember that friendship in James’ day meant identifying with their standards and priorities. Friendship was a life-long pact between people, people with shared values and loyalties, and James is simply saying that such friendship with the world is incompatible for Christians.

He’s not alone is saying this, Paul said much the same, John too, and it was Jesus who said, ‘Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.’ (Mt. 10:37)

From James to Jesus, the point is not that it is wrong to love others, because Jesus clearly taught us to love our neighbour…

 The point, however, is about who and what has the ultimate authority in our lives – is it God and His Kingdom values, or is it the values of the world? James has been trying to make the point throughout his letter that there are substantial differences between the values of the world and the values of God: instead of favouritism of self, sacrificial love is the way of God’s Kingdom; instead of religion in words only, we’re expected to partner in God’s Kingdom purposes; instead of words that lead to death, we are to speak life.

Doctor James has diagnosed that the reason for the disorder and fractiousness within these congregations, is that at heart they have aligned themselves with the values of the world, rather than the values of God. They have acted in an adulterous manner, they have been grievously disloyal.

Now, it’s unlikely these congregations were aware of the issue, it’s unlikely they consciously choose to disown God and follow the world; more likely they identified as Christians and yet they got sucked into a dubious way of life.

And that’s a bit of a scary thought: that genuine “brothers and sisters” in Christ, have the potential of to twist our desires so selfishly that we end up committing a grievous disloyalty towards God, we end up grieving God and arousing His jealousy, because we turn our backs upon God, even unconsciously.

I wonder, friends, does this make us stop and take stock? In the areas where we have disagreement, in the ways that our desires are not being met, in our unanswered prayers,…

 is there the possibility that these things are happening because we do not have the priorities of God? And as such, are we then grieving God? It’s a scary thought, it’s a thought should make us sit up and take stock: are we showing grievous disloyalty to God?

James writes this way, not only because it’s true, but to help his readers wake up, rub the sleep from their eyes and take a long hard look in the mirror. Yet he doesn’t leave them there, for in verses 6 to 10, James shares with them his solution, the doctor proscribes the medicine, which is a grace-fuelled loyalty.

He begins by quoting from Proverbs, that God shows favour, His grace, to the humble. The point James takes from the Scripture, is that those who will humble themselves,…those who can face up to the truth, God will come close and raise them up with His grace. And so, James says, ‘but he [God] give us more grace.’ (James 6:1)

One commentator wrote: “What comfort there is in this verse! It tells us that God is tirelessly on our side. He never falters in respect of our needs, he always has more grace at hand for us. He is never less than sufficient, he always has more and yet more to give. Whatever we may forfeit when we put self first…there is always more grace. No matter what we do to him, he is never beaten.…His resources are never at an end, his patience is never exhausted, his initiative never stops, his generosity knows no limit: he gives more grace.” (Motyer, James)

 He gives more grace. To a bunch of infighting, self-centred proud Christians, God is waiting with more grace. But to receive that grace, as the Proverb says, we must humble ourselves – or as James puts it: ‘Submit yourselves, then, to God…Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.’ (James 4:7, 10)

James is calling for fresh loyalty to God, borne out humility and fuelled by grace. This loyalty to God includes: resisting the devil (v7) and coming near to God in repentance (v8-9).

We probably feel a bit unsettled or confused with the first idea, of resisting the devil – we might even wonder what it means? But James has repeatedly raised the idea that what can fuel our poor choices…is that dominion which is opposed to God. It’s just that now, James is being specific and explicit.

In calling us to resist the devil, James is calling us to resist anything that would make us act disloyally towards God. Ultimately, the question is: who is directing the path of our lives? Is it God, or is it something or someone else?

Of course, we get things wrong, and so James calls us to show loyalty to God by also coming near to God in repentance. He writes: ‘Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom.’

(James 4:8-9)

 On the surface, James sounds like a bit of a killjoy, he sounds pretty depressing! But later he will write, ‘Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.’ (James 5:13) So, we need to keep in mind the context here, for James is not against joy. Instead, James is calling us to repentance, that’s what he means by coming near to God and having our hands washed and our hearts purified. Washing our hands is a metaphor for cleaning up our outer life, our acts of wrong-doing.

And the idea of purifying our hearts is another metaphor but this time with regard to our inner life, our inner values, which is why he calls them “double-minded” for they have mixed motives, mixed loyalty.

In both the outer life and the inner life, James calls us to repentance, he calls us to take our sin and disloyalty seriously, which is why we are to grieve, mourn and wail. Once we realise how grievously disloyal we have been towards God, we ought to be upset, we ought to be repulsed by our sin and disloyalty.

Now, it’s possible to be so shocked and horrified by our sin that we think we should clean up our lives first and then draw near to God. But friends, that’s not what James says to do, because that’s the way of self-reliance, salvation by works, and pride.

James says, come near to God first, then wash and purify. We are to come into God’s presence, come under His holy influence, and in that place find His grace, His more grace, so that we are then fuelled, by grace, to live in loyalty towards God.

Brothers and sisters, I’ve spoken before of being a young man of 19 when I came to faith. I’ve spoken before of how selfish I was at that time. I think I’ve spoken about how my actions hurt others though I didn’t really care, and quite clearly then, God’s values were not anywhere near the top of my priorities, even though I was going to church every week.

But then, in a moment of unasked for grace, God showed up one morning. The morning after the worst choices of my life, God came close to me. He came with holy grace. He came as the uncompromising holy God who showed me the sins of my hands and the impurity of my heart…

 

He showed me a little of the vast darkness in my heart and that quite literally, I deserved hell because that’s who I was partnering with. But God didn’t just come in His holiness, He came in His grace, and with outstretched hand He welcomed me into His family because in humility I repented. His love has astounded and captivated me every day since that moment, 18 years ago, and I have never, and will never, turn my back on Him, or forsake His call, no matter the pummelling I get or the risks asked or the ways He calls me into greater likeness to His Son. I am committed to Him, because He has cultivated grace- fuelled loyalty in me, He gave me such grace as I did not deserve even when I had been so grievously disloyal to Him.

 Friends, do you know God’s grace? When did you last taste His grace?

God stands at the door of your heart this morning, He stands there calling you to come near to Him, to admit the error of your ways and find grace, more grace.

You may be a Christian even, like the folks James wrote to, and maybe you need to come back to the more grace of God, finding and remembering the basis upon which our faith, your faith, stands, the more grace of God.

My prayer is that in the depth of our being we will know that more grace and allow it to fuel the deepest of loyalty to God and the healthiest of dynamics amongst us. May it be so. Amen.

The perished Kingdom

Preached on: Sunday 1st September 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-09-01-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon.
Bible references: Genesis 3:1-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Genesis 3:1-15
Sunday 1st September 2019
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.

Last week we began our new sermon series on ‘the kingdom of God’ and we read from chapters 1 and 2 of
Genesis, where we saw the pattern of the kingdom, with God’s people, living in God’s place, under God’s rule and enjoying God’s blessing.

We saw that God made mankind in His own image, and then placed humanity in a garden, to tend it and care for it, and with only one rule, under which they were to fulfil their mandate, thus living within God’s ways and under His care, enjoying His blessing, His presence, and His rest.

Life was perfect, there was perfect relationship between humanity and God, between Adam and Eve, and between humanity and the wider creation. It was a perfect creation, described as ‘very good’, and it gave the pattern of the kingdom.

But, can I ask – do you feel that perfection? Is life a bunch of rosy relationships and experiences for you? Are you living the dream? I do hope life is good for you, but even if it is, not one of us escapes the brokenness of our world.

There may be tensions at home, or in the family – it’s easy to roll out of bed and straight into an argument at the beginning of the day. Or maybe you are on your own, with a
different kind of brokenness, with a yearning for companionship, maybe where there has never been one, or maybe where one has been lost.
You may experience that brokenness in your place of work, or in the community, with the people you see and interact with. There’s that individual you just don’t get on with; there’s that feeling you don’t matter, or you’re being overlooked; there’s that guy down the road who’s in a dark, dark place; there’s that young family who come to the foodbank.

And in the midst of all that hurt and brokenness, there’s that question, that frustration which comes to mind: where are you God? Do you exist? Do you care? Because I just don’t feel you close right now.

I think we all know that we live in a broken world, that it’s not quite as it should be, that there is something deeply wrong, but not only around us, but it’s also within us.
Because if we’re honest, we know that we cannot live up to our own standards and hopes. We made that promise to change, and well…we’ve still not changed. We want to be more loving and gracious and kind…but, well, criticism and anger just come so much more easily. There’s something deeply wrong, and it’s not only in the world around us, it’s within us as well, and I’m sure you can put your finger on the things, where you feel the brokenness.

The claim of the Christian faith is that here in Genesis chapter 3, we see where it all began to go wrong, where that brokenness entered in. For in Genesis 3, we’re taken back to the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve in perfection, with only one rule, given in Genesis 2:
‘…you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.’
And then, Genesis 3 comes along, where Adam and Eve are persuaded to doubt God’s word, it is distorted and questioned by the serpent, such that God’s motives are distorted as well:
‘You will not certainly die,’ the snake said to the woman. ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ (Genesis 3:4-5)

And so, Adam and Eve give way to temptation, they take and eat the fruit of the tree, that fruit which was forbidden. But the thought might come to our minds, why was this so terrible? Surely it’s good to know the difference between right and wrong?

Well, what we need to understand here is that…
‘the knowledge of good and evil’ refers not simply to knowing what is right and wrong, but rather to deciding what is right and wrong.

In taking the fruit, Adam and Eve were in effect saying to God, “From now on, we want to set the standards, God, we want to be the ones who make the laws.” It was a blatant act of rebellion to the King who gave them life and every good gift. And that has been at the heart of our
problem ever since, that is at the heart of what we call ‘sin’:
our rejection of God, and the establishing of our kingdom.

And maybe that seems like no big deal to you, maybe it seems quite trivial. But the brokenness of our world, of our lives, begins here in Genesis 3 and it ripples out. For with Adam and Eve, where there had once been complete trust and intimacy, that is now gone and replaced…
with shame and distance, they seek to cover their nakedness. And then the battle of the sexes begins, and relationships within humanity are broken.

Also, where once Adam and Eve enjoyed the perfect creation, and life was very good, now God foretells that life will be very different, with greater pain, greater toil, greater wrestling with the issues of evil. Indeed, in the chapters after this, the world goes so horribly wrong.

But finally, Adam and Eve, who once enjoyed perfect relationship with God, wherein they experienced His blessing and rest, they are now told to leave the garden, they are driven out of God’s presence. And with the breaking of that divine-human relationship, what God foretold comes true: death comes into human experience.

The pattern of the kingdom is lost, for now no one is God’s people by nature, we’ve turned away from Him. We no longer live in His place; we are banished from the garden. And instead of living under His rule and enjoying His blessing, His rule is now rejected, we live in disobedience, and we experience the brokenness of our world.

That is where the Bible could have ended, it might have been only 3.5 pages long, with a perfect world destroyed by human rebellion.

But God is a gracious God, and whilst there is no reason He should do anything to help us, nevertheless He does.
And He does so even with Adam and Eve, there is still hope here in Genesis 3, for in the darkness there are glimmers of light.
In verse 9, we read:
‘But the Lord God called to the man, ‘Where are you?’’

This comes straight after their rebellion, Adam and Eve are trying to hide from Almighty God, and yet He comes seeking, He comes calling, He comes in grace.

At the opposite end of the tale, there is grace once more, for God takes those shabby, pathetic coverings of their fig leaves, and replaces them, we read in verse 21:
‘The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.’

God gives a more fitting and proper covering for the life they will now live outside the garden. In this act of grace, a life is laid down, so that humanity can continue to live.

And then in between these two acts of grace, we read in verse 15:
The Lord God said,…‘I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’

In grace, God makes a promise, hinting to a time in the future when a son of Eve, a human being, will destroy evil.

And all three of these acts of grace are most fully completed and displayed in the life of Jesus. He is that son of Eve, but also that son of God, who came to destroy evil, who came to destroy sin and hell and death itself.
In Jesus, we find provision, a covering, wherein guilt and condemnation, wherein shame, are dealt with completely, and we are restored to right standing with God. In Jesus we also find freedom from bondage to sin, to our rebellion and disobedience, for through faith in Jesus, God promises to begin a new life in us, to overcome our internal brokenness, and bring forth the character of Jesus. What’s more, God promises in Jesus, God evidences in Jesus, in His death and resurrection, that death is conquered, it does not have the final say, in Him there is a means to return to the garden, to the place of life, and share in life eternal with God. In Jesus, life can and does begin again, and it does so because He laid down His life for us on the cross. Finally, in Jesus, God comes to us, He comes seeking, He comes calling. He comes inviting us back into relationship with Himself… that even amidst the brokenness we feel, there might be hope, there might be promise of a future day wherein all will be made right once more.

And to share in that hope, we need do nothing more, than what Caroline has done – not in becoming a church member, that’s not how we share in the promise. No, we share in the promise through faith, through faith in Jesus, through confessing Him as our Lord and Saviour, to which Caroline testified this day, as she confirmed her faith.

Friends, I hope you share in this faith, in this hope. But if you don’t, it’s only a step away – all you need do is put your faith in Jesus. If that’s something you’d like to do, please come have a chat with me.

To all who claim such a faith, there is hope, and there is the invitation to share in the meal of the Lord’s Supper, for here, we feast and rejoice in all we have in Jesus, for He is the embodiment of God’s grace amidst our brokenness, and the means by which the pattern of the kingdom of God will one day be restored.

To Him, be all glory, now and forever. Amen.

The Father: patient and waiting

Preached on: Sunday 5th May 2019
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 19-05-05-Sermon-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20
Sunday 5th May 2019
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.

Last week we began our sermon series on Luke chapter 15 and we took quite a broad overview of the chapter, looking at each of the three parables Jesus told.

In the first two parables, Jesus spoke about a shepherd going in search of his lost sheep and a woman going in search of her lost coin. In the third parable, we explored the story of a father and his younger son. To help us understand what Jesus is getting at with these parables, we need to remember what He said to His disciples:

‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.’ (Mt. 11:27) Here Jesus helps the disciples understand that He knows the Father perfectly, that Jesus is the ultimate authority on what the Father is actually like, and that part of His mission is to reveal the Father to others.

So, in our three parables from Luke 15, Jesus is seeking to help us grasp the character of Father God, and to see what the Father prioritises and how He interacts with the world. Last week, we saw that Father God loves with a seeking and prodigal love, that in the example of the shepherd and the woman we see a God who seeks us out, so as to rescue us from our lostness, because God never writes us off.

And then in the example of the father and his lost son, we see a God who loves with such extravagance and such reckless generosity that He can truly be described as prodigal.

In the coming weeks, we’ll take some time to dig a little deeper into some of the other traits which Jesus gives us of Father God, and we’ll also ask some of the questions that arise out of these parables, especially the parable of the prodigal father and his two sons.

Since arriving here in Brightons, I’ve generally had a Friday off to look after my daughter Hope. A common feature of my days off to go swimming together and we’ve been doing that since she was about one year old.

Now-a-days, I know not to fit in too many things before or after swimming, but in my foolish youth, I often attempted to fit in a bit of shopping as well. When Hope was younger, it generally worked quite easily, because she would sit in the trolley, interact or eat away on something. But when she could start walking, that brought its own challenges, because my daughter refused to go in the trolley any more.

The experience helps me empathise with a short story I read this week: a man is in a supermarket, pushing a trolley which contained, among other things, a screaming baby. As the man proceeded along the aisles, he kept repeating softly,’Keep calm, George. Don’t get excited, George. Don’t get excited, George. Don’t yell, George.’

A lady watching with admiration said to the man, ‘You are certainly to be commended for your patience in trying to quiet little George.’

‘Lady,’ he declared, ‘I’m George.’

How I feel that father’s pain! Keeping our patience is such a difficult thing, whether with children, or colleagues, or family members, neighbours, or even here, we can rub each other up the wrong way.

Patience has been defined as a state of suffering with fortitude, as the ability to endure evils without complaining. The word comes from a Latin word meaning ‘suffering’, and has the idea of being able to endure much, to be ‘long-suffering’, of enduring without giving way to fury or to flight.

In the parable we read today, the third from Luke chapter 15, we are reminded of the younger son’s request and of the father’s response. Last week we saw how shockingly offensive these remarks by the younger son are: ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ (Lk. 15:12) To say such a thing in the context of Middle Eastern customs would be the equivalent of someone here saying: “I can’t wait until your dead. I want the money now.”
And then, to sell that portion of the estate, whilst the father was still alive, showed a total lack of decency and effectively said of the father, “To me, you don’t exist any more.” Ouch!

In all of this, the younger son rejects his father, he rejects the Father personally, he rejects the fathers ancestry, he rejects the father’s way of life and what he stood for.

Now, I find it hard to keep my cool when Hope decides she doesn’t want the lunch I’ve prepared – a lunch she specifically asked for, let me tell you – and yet here is a child causing untold hurt on multiple levels as he rejects his father so completely.

At this point in the story, following the customs of the time, the original listeners would be expecting a traditional Middle Eastern response from the father, which would have involved him driving out the son from the family with nothing less than physical blows.

And yet, the father, does nothing like that. We read that: ‘So the father divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, and set off for a distant country.’ (Lk. 15:12-13) Instead of responding with blows, the father patiently endures a tremendous loss of honour as well as the pain of rejected love. Ordinarily, when our love is rejected, we get angry, we retaliate and do what we can so that we don’t hurt as much.
But this father maintains his patience, and so his affection, for his son. The father bears the agony – he is truly long-suffering, he endures without giving way to fury or flight, and he doesn’t compile rejection upon rejection.

And in this wonderfully moving story, we see a portrayal of our heavenly Father, who loves with a seeking and prodigal love, and does so with great patience towards us, His children.

I wonder, to what measure do we reflect this kind of patience? It is a of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, it should be increasingly seen in our lives if we are followers of Jesus.

Leonardo da Vinci once said:
‘Patience serves as a protection against wrongs, as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be less powerful to vex your mind.’

This quote reminds me of what a friend once said: Christians should be the least offendable people anyone knows. Christians should be the least offendable people anyone knows. If makes sense, if you think about it a moment – if we are growing in the fruit of the Spirit, particularly love and patience, then we really shouldn’t take offence at very much, should we?
Paul says to the Colossians that we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, as well as bearing with one another and forgiving as quickly and fully as we have been forgiven by the Lord. So, we should be the least offendable people around, should we not? But, let me ask: how quickly do you take offence? How long do you hold on to a grievance? What hurts are you still holding on to and allowing to vex your mind?

These are hard questions to face up to – but we must, because we are called to reflect our heavenly Father. So, maybe it is time friends, for us to face up to the lack of patience in our lives? Maybe it is time to face up to all the ways we are short with one another,…
or where we become easily irritated, or hold onto a grudge or offence made against us? Because, the God we serve, and whom we call our heavenly Father, He is prodigal in His patience towards us, and we are called to reflect Him.

In addition to the father showing great patience and longsuffering at the beginning of the story, in response to such terrible treatment by his younger son, we also see another facet of the father’s patience and a little later in the parable.

In v20 we read: ‘So [the younger son] got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ The younger son has come to his senses, he has realised the folly of his choices and the selfishness of his actions, indeed, he probably realises the great shame he brought on his father and so the pain he also inflicted. But in his desperation, he still goes back to his father. And what do we read? ‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him…’

His father saw him. His father was looking out for him. Who knows how long the father had been watching? Long enough for his son to burn through a fortune, then become desperate, so desperate that he will work on a pig farm, which is offensive to Jews, and still longer than that because the son endures part of a famine as well.

The father likely waited a long time. He was longsuffering. He was patient. Who knows how many days he squinted in the sunlight, peering into the horizon, for the slightest hint of movement? Who knows how many nights he lit a torch and walked the boundaries of his home waiting on his son?

But the father did it, and he did it, because he loves with a prodigal, seeking love which will not allow him to give up being patient towards his precious child.

How many of us have waited patiently for something? It can feel like agony, but in these particular circumstances, it surely would have been near unbearable for the father.
To help us get a true feel of this, Christian author, Philip Yancey, has rewritten the parable in today’s context and I’ve made it fit our situation, so let me read it to you.

(READ FROM BOOK: ‘The Father You’ve Been Waiting For’ by Mark Stibbe, pg179-183.)

Her father waited. Her father waited with patience beyond our comprehension, probably with great agony, and he did so because he loved her so very much.

Friends, Jesus told the parable, and Yancey retold the parable in today’s language, so that we could see and appreciate afresh the prodigal love and patience of God – not with a fictional character, but with you and me.
We, each, are younger sons and daughters – we, each, have told God to drop dead, that we want His stuff: life, pleasure, the wonders of this creation, satisfaction in work, the enjoyment of family…many good, good things actually…and yet, we’d rather not have God – in fact, God is as good as dead to us.

Now, you know how much agony it feels when we are rejected, and you can imagine some of the agony the parents of the girl in the story must have felt. But imagine with me the agony God must feel, when we reject Him? Imagine loving with a perfect love – not the measure of love that you and I have towards our children, or the measure of love felt by the girls’ parents – but rather a perfect, pure love, a love that is so holy, so other,…
that it defines love? What degree of agony does someone face when they love that strongly and they are rejected?

Friends, God loves you that much, that perfectly, and His heart breaks for you to return to Him and live in relationship with Him as His child. In His very great patience, fuelled by prodigal love, God waits, God suffers, for you, for you to return to Him.

Let me ask: have you returned to God yet? Would you call yourself a Christian? Would you say that God is the centre of your life? Being a Christian, being a child of God, is much more than coming to church, or giving your offering, or even being loving and patient.

To be a Christian, is to come home to God – that God becomes the centre of your life, such that you build your life upon Him and He shapes your choices, your values, your priorities – that’s when you know you live for God, that’s when you know you’ve come home. That’s true repentance.

And God is lovingly waiting for us, my friends – if you haven’t returned to God, will you come home to God today?

But God is lovingly waiting for any of us who have grown cold towards Him, despite being a Christian – for us too, He waits, and calls us home once more. If that is you, will you hear the call of God today and return home to Him?
Will you come back into His embrace and know His prodigal love for you? Because, even for you, God patiently waits, He waits for all of us to respond today, and every day, to His love.

May we all come home to God. Let us pray.