Fruitfulness

Preached on: Sunday 18th July 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-07-18 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 8:1-15
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.
Come Holy Spirit, help us to follow after Jesus and hear His voice.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen

Two of the places where Gill and I like to holiday the most are Northern Ireland and up north, particularly west of inverness, but to get to either of those locations requires quite a long drive and for many years I’ve really wanted to have a car that had cruise control, because the idea of not having to worry about speed cameras, not having to worry about accelerator, just being able to sit back and enjoy the drive, oh, that just sounds really good to me, not being able to have to worry about those things, but, as yet, no cruise control in a car, maybe in a couple of years whenever the car eventually dies and that’ll be the time for that feature, and similarly I wonder if there are times in our faith journey where we wish we could have cruise control, where our following after Jesus would just be that little bit simpler if you could switch on the cruise control so it was a little bit smoother, easier, just enjoyable. How good would that be? No? Am I the only one that might like that from time to time?

And our passage today reminds us that we can’t just put on the cruise control, that our fruitful life does not happen that way.

At this point in Luke’s gospel, and we’re beginning to see that Jesus is becoming very popular, and big crowds are gathering around Him but Jesus discerns this is the time for a bit of a challenge, now, because He’s looking for more than superficial faith, He’s looking for followers who are open and receptive to His teaching about the kingdom of God because, let’s remember. at the time Jesus came the Jews were looking and hoping for a Messiah to come, a political and military Messiah who would come and be king and get rid of the Romans, but Jesus, if you go back and look at chapter four, makes it very clear that now is not the time of God’s vengeance, it is not the time. He is Messiah but He is not the Messiah they expect, and so this is part of the reason why He teaches in parables.

He said ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of God has been given to you but to others I speak in parables so that those seeing they may not see, though hearing they may not understand’ and when Jesus speaks here of the secrets of the kingdom He’s referring to what was there in the Old Testament but everybody was just overlooking it because they were expecting that political and military Messiah and yet, now, Jesus is revealing the truth of it, the truth that was there still in the Old Testament that the Messiah would come to serve and to die, and that the invitation to be part of His kingdom would be for everyone, not just the select few in the Jewish nation, but that didn’t fit with the expectations of the people of his day, and they refused, especially the religious leaders, but others besides refused to believe that Jesus was the Messiah even though His miracles and His teachings should have made it really quite clear, and so He teaches in parables.

He teaches in parables for two reasons: to show their hardness of heart, but also to keep their idea of Him being this political and military Messiah just on down low, rather than it gaining traction, and we saw that in our last series on grace, but it’s only for a time, it was only for a time. Jesus doesn’t want to cloud His identity forever otherwise He wouldn’t give the disciples the explanation of the parable and we wouldn’t be teaching on upon it this morning, and so Jesus does want people to understand who He is, does want us to teach, and does want us to understand the parable, so that even today, just as in His day, there will be followers who are open and receptive to His teaching about the kingdom, rather than just being superficial followers, and so He gives us the parable of the soils, and it probably should be called the parable of the soils because the focus is not on the sower and it’s not on the seed, it’s on the soils and on how receptive the soils are to the seed sown by the sower and there are four types of soil.

There’s the footpath soil which is what my daughter called it this morning in the early morning service and she was all shy and bashful about it. I was like “Hope, have you been reading my notes?” she hadn’t, she’s only four so that couldn’t happen. Footpath soil and rocky soil and thorny soil and good soil, and Jesus gives an explanation for each of those soil types.

The first one, He says the seed is the word of God and those along the path are the ones who hear and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved. Now, because of our propensity nowadays for the supernatural and for superstars and for superheroes like in Marvel, we get kind of attracted to one word the ‘devil’. Don’t we? And because we’d rather blame others than looking at ourselves again we get attracted to this word and this is what we want to focus on in this verse maybe, but the focus is not actually on his part in this because he couldn’t do anything if the soil first wasn’t hard, and so the focus is on the soil, that the soil is hard and it cannot receive the seed and become embedded in the soil, and so grow, and in Jesus day, that was most often seen in the religious leaders but many others besides, those who would not receive Jesus, would not receive His teaching, would not receive Him and believe His message, and I wonder, friends, are any of us here or at home, does this describe us? Do we refuse to believe the teaching about Jesus and we keep Him at arm’s length with a hard heart?

Then there’s a second type, those on the rocky ground are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it but they have no root, they believe for a while but in the time of testing they fall away. Here Jesus describes a superficial heart a superficial response to the word and yes, they start with great enthusiasm and passion but there’s no depth and because there’s no depth, they’re not able to sustain their faith particularly when things get hard, and following Jesus gets hard, and I wonder if that describes any of us, friends? Did you maybe pray a prayer, could have been in your teens, could have been much later, maybe one of the prayers that I’ve led us in but it’s not really led to very much. Now, I am not going to stop giving people an opportunity to pray a prayer, I think that’s a really important first step, but the proof of faith is fruitfulness, it’s a life lived in faith and so it’s not enough just to say a prayer, it’s not enough just to become a member of a church. So, is this you? Is this your faith, your heart? Is it superficial?

Soil three describes those that fell among thorns which stands for those who hear but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries riches and pleasures and they do not mature, and what Jesus is describing here is a divided heart, a divided heart and again there’s initial positive response to the teaching of Jesus and maybe it lasts a bit longer than the superficial heart but eventually the worries of life, the pleasures and riches, they grew up like weeds and they stifle it and they overwhelm faith and eventually again faith withers. Is that you friends? Is that you? Is faith withering?

Or have we the potential of the fourth soil which was described this way “the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart who hear the words, retain it and by persevering, produce a crop” Do you have the potential of the fourth soil? Do you have the potential of the fourth soil? Because it’s only seen over time, fruitfulness is never achieved overnight and so the focus is on our response over a lifetime maybe most properly seen at the end of life when you look back over all your days of faith is that you friends are you continuing in faith with Jesus holding on even amidst the difficulties and as you look back over your life do you see signs of fruitfulness.

So, which type of heart or soil are you?

Are you a hard heart, a superficial heart, a crowded heart or a heart that has a potential for fruitfulness? Are you on your way to bearing a great harvest and you know maybe as we think about that we might begin to worry, we might think ‘I feel like my faith is drying up’ or ‘I feel like my faith is being crowded out’ maybe especially by worries or ‘I’m struggling to persevere to the end’ or you maybe look back and you’re thinking ‘Where is the fruitfulness in my life?’ Where is the fruitfulness? But, you know, Jesus doesn’t share this parable to condemn you and he doesn’t share it to say that what you are is always what you must be, because he shares it to issue an invitation. He wants you to recognize your heart but by recognizing that He wants to give you an invitation to have some heart surgery, because Jesus is in the business of healing and changing hearts.

Let’s remember what he said earlier in the gospel of Luke ‘It’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’

Friends, we’re all sick with sin, every one of us, we always have been and, until we go to glory, we always will be. Sin will always be an influence in our lives but Jesus is in the business of changing hearts bit by bit, year upon year, so that we can be fruitful, to bear fruit to the glory of His name.

So, what type of heart are you friends? What type of heart are you and are you on your way to being a fruitful heart? because Jesus invites you to have Him as part of your life and change your heart that we might be fruitful and I reckon many of us yearn for that. We might be withering in our faith, we might be struggling in our faith, we might feel like our faith is being overcrowded, or we might just want to be fruitful so that Jesus is glorified.

I think in part of us there’s that yearning and so in the rest of the time remaining to us I want to look at two things.

Firstly, what is fruitfulness? what are we talking about here? and the second is well How do you become more fruitful? What is fruitfulness and how to become fruitful?

Fruitfulness is described in the New Testament in these ways it’s described as good deeds, generosity, a Godly character, the fruit of the spirit. It’s knowledge and praise of God and sharing our faith. Now, I know there’s a danger in putting up a list like this because we’ll instantaneously start going ‘Okay, good deeds, tick; generosity, tick; I’m not very loving but I’m not bad on the kindness so, tick; and we start letting ourselves off on some of the things that are up here, and I’d want to challenge that because Jesus in the parable said the good soil are those that hear retain and persevere in what they’ve heard and that should prompt us to be people be Christians who want to display fruitfulness in all the areas not instantaneously because, as I said, it’s over a lifetime, but we should want to grow in all these areas even the things we’d prefer to avoid, because they make us uncomfortable. So, please don’t start just ticking off the list.

Okay, and in case it sounds too difficult and too costly, I think Luke gives us the first three verses to say kind of set the context and call us out on this because we read there ‘The twelve were with him and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases Mary, Joanna, Susannah and many others, these women were helping to support them out of their own means’ and there are various reasons for Jesus, for Luke including this.

First of all, clearly he wants us to see that the invitation to follow Jesus is there for everyone man and woman, that there’s no favorites, there’s no hierarchy, everyone is equal under God and invited to follow Jesus, and that would have been controversial in Jesus day because only men could follow Rabbis and Jesus is saying No, No, No, the kingdom is open for all because He values and loves all equally but secondly, and more to the fore of probably the reasons here are that these women have benefited from the teaching and ministry of Jesus, they’re all healed either spiritually or physically and so out of that they do the unthinkable, they sacrificially follow Jesus, they give up well-defined social circles and expectations and duties and the box that people have them in to follow Jesus, and they do so sacrificially, giving of themselves, their time, and their resources. These women are held up here as more of an example to emulate than the disciples are! So far the guys have not hit the standard but the women have and we’ve to emulate their example and so that list that was like ‘Oh this is way too daunting!’ these women are held up as to call us out, to say ‘here are people who gave up expectations, who gave up commitments and comforts so as to follow Jesus in a sacrificial way. They did it, you can do it if you are but willing.’ because fruitfulness will not come by putting on the cruise control, it will not come by doing what we’ve always done or what is comfortable. Fruitfulness does not just happen.
So how can we become more fruitful? What does it look like to hear and retain and persevere with God’s word? Well, there are literally books written on the subject and you’ll be glad to hear I’m not going to regurgitate a book this morning and so, what I’m going to share with you is just some broad principles and ideas and a few ideas that I’ve seen people in this congregation put into practice, and each idea is linked into the soil type.

So, soil one was the hard soil, the not receptive soil and it really speaks about openness. How can we be a people who are more open to the word of God? and you might think ‘Well, I’ve ticked this box. I’m in church or I’m tuning-in at home.’ Well sorry, if the very word of God made flesh was there amongst people’s lives and they were rejecting Him, and not open to Him, then don’t think just turning up to church means that you’re open to the word of God. Let’s not just tick the box rather.

Let me ask you ‘What is your rhythm at home of reading the bible? Do you have one?’ because that’s where it really hits the rubber to keep using the car analogy or when we come to church do we come expectant to hear from God and two people come to mind and I won’t name them but what they show me is great expectancy in how they come and even before they come and so one person I can think of they come with a notepad ready to take some notes down during the sermon because I waffle an awful lot and there’s a lot to take in and maybe you’ll just get lost in all the words and so coming ready to capture that thought to think ‘Oh, that speaks to me.’ take it down, take a note because by the time you leave that door you might have forgotten it. Are you coming open and expecting? and another person I can think of she sends me a written prayer every Sunday morning, every Sunday morning and has done it throughout lockdown every week carrying on a ministry she did even before lockdown and every week in that prayer in some way or another is God speak to us, minister to us, meet with us, whether we’re online or here in person.

Do we have that level of expectancy or do we just rock up to church because it’s the done-thing, or do we come expecting, expectant to hear from God? Do you pray on your way down? Do you pray as you’re getting ready ‘God I want to hear from You, I want to meet with You?’ I’d love to have a church and a family that and in my own life have that level of expectancy, that level of openness to the word of God. Could we nurture that church? Could we nurture a rhythm and an expectancy or soil two, the soil that struggled to provide for the wheat because it wasn’t deep enough and so there was lack of fruitfulness? How can we nurture depth?

Well, you could get involved in a Fellowship Group where you go and you study the scriptures together and you get deep down into them, and you share also your life in a fellowship group so you can pray for one another. That’s a way to nurture depth.

Or maybe later in the week don’t go on yet maybe later in the week you can look back over your sermon notes that you took when you came along, or go back and listen to the sermon again because it’s on our website, every sermon from the last two and a half years is on the website – go and have a look.

Or do you talk to God about what you take home from a Sunday or what you’re reading during the week, because when you talk to God you’re not just ticking the ‘read the bible box’, you’re taking it deeper, you’re reflecting and you’re praying and these ways get the word of God deep in our hearts by reflecting on it and by praying it over. It’ll help us retain the word of God.

Or the third soil type, clearly it was the crowded soil, so how do we create space? How we create space and it’s intentionality and priority and for some of us that will mean we need to reorder our lives. Most of us prioritize life either on habits we’ve learned over the years or the most pressing issues facing us just now and so quite often it will be family, work, friends, the house chores, maybe some volunteering but nowhere in the top five or ten things does time with God feature, but it should. Where do we bring it in? because if often ends up at the bottom of the list and ‘Well, oh God, there’s another day I was too busy, I couldn’t fit it in. There’s another week, there’s another month, there’s another year, and so no wonder we lack fruitfulness, no wonder we lack fruitfulness, and at every stage of life I’m sure that has different state pressures whether you’re in retirement, whether you’ve got a family, whether you’re busy with a career, whatever it may be, they’ll be the different pressures. So, what does it look like for you to prioritize Jesus in your life? Maybe we need to say no to more things, ‘I’m sorry, I’m not going to taxi you or the kids or the grandkids as much this week – easy for me to say with a four-year-old – do we push back against unrealistic work expectations. Do I in church, do we allow some things to stop in church because we’re too busy. How can we be a people who create space through intentionality and priority, space for God to speak?

But for some of us and for some areas of fruitfulness the issue is not stopping it is actually starting and earlier on I gave that list of fruitfulness and I just want to pick three from that list of good deeds, so generosity and sharing our faith.

So, good deeds, we looked in our last series that one of the meanings of grace is refers to spiritual gifts and so we all have spiritual gifts, we all have something given for the mission of the church. So are you serving? Now you may be at a stage of life where being, doing something physical is just not your thing, but are you supporting others, are you praying for others, otherwise others of us are able still to serve very actively, and so my question would be ‘Where is at least one area of church life where you give yourself? because all of us should have at least one area and sadly because not enough of us contribute.

Or we maybe need to stop more things. There are some people who have so many things that they’re doing, so on good deeds. Where are you serving the mission of this church, which is to make Jesus known and help us follow him?

Or generosity, are you giving to this church, to the work we do and if not, because it’s very easy to forget to maybe bring something or do it do it electronically, have you set up a standing order? Do you maybe need to increase your standing order? and as far as sharing our faith goes what are you doing about these words of Jesus where he says ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’

Are we retaining this like he says the good soil does, or are we turning away from it and just ignoring this, because it’s too hard and it’s uncomfortable? Now, I don’t expect you to go out and talk to the first person you meet on the street, I don’t expect that but, how about all of us committing to pray for two local people to come to faith, two local people so that then they become part of this church family. You can pray for more besides and I do as well but I have no expectation of them ever coming here because they’re too far away. Who are the two local people you’re praying for? because if you pray for them eventually, you’re more likely to invite them to come to church or you invite them to come to something or you’re likely to share your faith with them or you’re going to know them so well that when times are hard you can share something of your faith. So, who are the two people you’re going to pray for that are local, that you would love to see part of this church family? because we will not be fruitful if we just put on the cruise control. We will not be fruitful if we do what we’ve always done. It does not just happen friends. The Lord wants us to be fruitful that’s why he gave us this parable and I pray that, no matter the cost, no matter how counter cultural it might be, and how it might upset the apple cart, may we give ourselves in these ways so that we have the potential of the good soil and might bear fruit that is a hundred-fold what has been sown in our lives over the years. I pray it may be so, Amen.

Growth

Preached on: Sunday 7th February 2021

The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-02-07 Message PPT slides full slides.
Bible references: Philippians 2:19-30
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

This past week, not only have we said farewell to some of our church family, but as a nation we said farewell to Captain Sir Tom Moore. I think we all can remember the valiant effort he put in to fundraising for the NHS and how the nation got behind him, helping to raise £33million to pay for every day small things – not protective clothing, actually – but small, important things nonetheless, things that made a big difference, in particular, to NHS staff amidst this pandemic.
For a brief period of time, Captain Tom’s life was an example and we rallied behind him, and for a brief period of time we also did Clap for Carers last year and we rallied behind that. Yet eventually, it seems, our enthusiasm does wane, we lose interest in each new initiative, and we go back to “normal”, huddling down and turning in. It’s good to have these individuals, these and campaigns, that help us turn out again but part of me wonders: how do we nurture long-term change? Not only within society, but within the church as well?

Last week, Jim gave such a powerful and encouraging sermon on “becoming”, on growing in the way of Jesus. So, how do we grow in the way of Jesus such that it becomes core to our identity and we walk in it all the days of our life? Because Jesus, as we’ve seen earlier in the book of Philippians, is the most powerful example of someone giving away their life for others, and yet,… after 5 weeks in Philippians, where can you say your life has changed, where have you grown in the way of Jesus? Or, what about our children? We tell them of the love and death of Jesus, which was for them as much as for us, and yet, how many walk away from the faith and have nothing to do with the way and the community of Jesus? I wonder, do you wonder about these things, in you, ever? Do you long for things to change? I hope you do. I hope there are many of us that wrestle and wonder and question these things; and, Yes, long for change, both in your own lives and in the lives of our world and community, that together we might pursue our core purpose of ‘inviting, encouraging and enabling all ages to follow Jesus Christ’.

So, what has all this got to do with our passage this morning? Well, in Philippians today we’re introduced to Timothy and Epaphroditus, two individuals who served alongside Paul, and he highly commends them both.

He says of Timothy:
‘I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare. For everyone looks out for their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ. But you know that Timothy has proved himself, because as a son with his father he has served with me in the work of the gospel.’ (Philippians 2:20-22)

Timothy has grown in the way of Jesus; Timothy is not only looking to his own interests, but to the welfare of others and to the cause of Christ.

Epaphroditus also walks in the way of Jesus, and is described by Paul as:
‘…my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier…he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill, and almost died…he almost died for the work of Christ.’ (Philippians 2:25-30)

In Timothy and Epaphroditus, in the life of Paul as well,… we see individuals who have grown in the way of Jesus, and part of what grabs my attention here, is that in the pairing of Paul and Timothy we see growth across the generations; we see that the way of Jesus is relevant for all the generations and that the generations need one another. Equally, in the pairing of Paul and Epaphroditus we see something else: we see that no matter your background, the way of Jesus can change your life for the better and also bring great unity, even to two people who would have written one another off normally – Paul the strict Jew, Epaphroditus the Gentile – two completely different backgrounds, two completely different ways of life, and yet brought into unity because of Jesus.

In these three individuals, I see a deep and lasting change that led them to give away their lives for the sake of others…
and for the sake of Jesus, and it leads me to ask : how? How did this happen, Lord? And what can your church today learn that we might not simply turn up to church here in this sanctuary or at home, and never change, or simply share the faith with children and young people and yet never see them grow-up and own that faith themselves? How, Lord? How can this be?

I’m afraid I don’t have the answers. I don’t have a 2- or 3-point sermon to give us a nice easy solution by the end of this morning. Because these are huge seismic issues in our church, not just at Brightons, not just in the Braes not just the Church of Scotland, but the church across our land, Yet, I do want to highlight a few things, because for me they raise more questions than answers.

Firstly, we know that core to growth in the way of Jesus, is to know Jesus for yourself; to have met with Jesus and to keep meeting with Him. I think that’s why Huddle, that I talked about earlier, excites me, because the core question within Huddle each week is:
“what is God saying to you?” and then, “what are you going to do about it?” Imagine the growth we might see in ourselves, and in our young people, if we all could answer those questions and then go and help other people answer those questions for themselves as well. But how do we nurture that? How do we facilitate that kind of learning? Because clearly, what we were doing before the pandemic, even what we’ve been doing these past 12 months, isn’t fully nurturing this yet? How Lord? How can this be?

Secondly, it’s true that Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus knew Jesus, but none of us learns within a vacuum and none of us thrives within in a vacuum as we’ve been finding these past 12 months; we all need community, we need one another, and much recent research suggests that for the generations to thrive need one another, both in the church and outside. Clearly, this is limited in our present circumstances, but it’s been great to see the church launch this intergenerational penpals idea ,…
and it’s been encouraging to hear of Pastoral Groupings being in touch with one another and maybe even meeting together, even by Zoom or for outdoor recreation within the restrictions. What else could we do just now? It’s only limited by our imagination and willingness. You don’t necessarily have to add more activity. What are you doing that you could just do with someone else? You’re going for a walk, could you invite someone else to join with you? And when that great day comes and we can at last all be together again, what can, or should, our life be like together then? Are we just going to return to “normal”? Because remember what the Moderator of the General Assembly said, returning to normal is returning to a church that is declining, and that’s true for Brightons as much as for anywhere, that our membership numbers are dropping and in five, ten years time we might end up going off a cliff and not being able to continue doing what we do just now, even in this lockdown. How might we create the means for all generations, and peoples of all backgrounds, to experience a degree of community, a degree of family, that truly nurtures them in the way of Jesus?
How, Lord? How can it be?

Friends, as I said in Tuesday night’s video, there is more change ahead, that we are called to tack, and if you don’t what I mean by that go and look at Tuesday’s video recording. I do realise that we probably want more messages of comfort and encouragement at this time and those will come. But the message of Philippians calls us to walk in the ways of Jesus, to grow in the ways of Jesus, maybe especially in difficult times both individually and as a community, sure we could leave these questions and the wrestling it produces till later in the year, till beyond pandemic, but that’s not the Lord’s call for just now, and I think that’s strategic so that when we come out of the pandemic we go forward. So, let us all lean in to this, I invite you to lean into this to where He is leading us just now, to engage with the questions, to engage with the process, that together we might chart a way forward so that one
and all, all generations, might grow, truly grow…
in the way of Jesus, in this place, and across the Braes, for generations to come. May it be so. Amen.