No fake story! (Passion Wk.5)

Preached on: Sunday 12th April 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 20-04-12-Morning-Message-PowerPoint.
Bible references: Luke 24:1-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 24:1-12
Sunday 12th April 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchLet us pray. May the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Boys and girls, what school or nursery do you go to? Shout it out just now! (PAUSE) I can’t hear you! Shout louder!!…Oh, that one!

Well, I’m sure some of you go to Wallacestone Primary School and I’m usually in there every Friday morning and lunchtime to visit two or three classes, and then run the Friday lunchtime Scripture Union Group. Going into Wallacestone was one of the highlights of my week and I’m really missing it!

Now, just before we all had an early school holiday, I was in chatting with the Primary 7s about Easter – and most of them know the Easter story, so I thought I would share with them some of the reasons why I think the Easter story really happened.

One of those reasons is in our story today, but our passage also gave me two more reasons – which is fantastic! So, I’ve got 3 questions for you, to see if you can remember the story, OK? Each one gives me confidence that Jesus is alive. Are you ready? Let’s get started.

First off – what weight do you think the stone over the tomb was? I’ll give you some ideas. Would it have weighed as much as: two bags of cement; two of me; two sofas; or two cars? Make a choice…quick, quick!…the answer is…two cars! Well done if you picked the right answer.

The stone would have weighed about two tonnes, or the weight of two 1979 VW Beetles. That’s a lot of stone, so if Jesus wasn’t dead and maybe He had simply fainted, then there is no way He could have got out Himself, and no way His friends could have rolled the stone away without the Roman guards hearing something and stopping them. So, the stone being rolled away is a major clue that Jesus really did come back to life!

OK, question number 2: who first found out that Jesus was alive? Can you remember? Point this way if you think it was women…point the other way if you think it was the disciples! It was…the women! Good remembering!
And here’s question number 3, because question 2 and 3 are closely related: did the disciples believe the women about Jesus being alive? Did they believe them? Thumbs up for “yes”, thumbs down for “no”…the answer is… “no”, the disciples did not believe the women!

Now, why are these two clues important? Well, back in the days of Jesus, sadly women were not believed, they were not regarded as good enough witnesses, for anything. Which is part of the reason why in v11 we read, that ‘[the disciples] did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense.’

It seemed nonsense to the disciples, the men, because no one was expecting this, and they weren’t simply going to believe the women, because they were…women. Exactly!
It came across to the men as a silly dream, the sort of thing that people back then would expect from a few women who are upset with grief and lack of sleep.

Now, sometimes people today think that the first disciples must have made up the story about Jesus, because, after all, no one comes back from the dead, right?

Well, if the first disciples were trying to convince people back then to believe a fake story, then they would not have picked women as the first people to find out Jesus was alive! That would have been a bad plan, and so this another clue for us today: Jesus really did come back to life because the story matches with what really happened rather than what people would have made up!
The third clue is very like that too: if it was a made up story, then the smart idea would be to show the disciples having faith straight away, because then the disciples would be examples of faith and the perfect people to lead the early church.

But that’s not what we read: the disciples did not believe, they were not expecting Jesus to come back to life, it was a complete surprise to them! In a fake story, the disciples should believe straight away, rather than doubt.

Now, there are many more reasons for believing that Jesus came back to life, but those are three reasons from the story today: the big stone; the women witnesses; and the disciples being surprised.

I wonder, do you like surprises? And if you were trying to give someone a surprise, what would say? Might it be: boo? Or maybe: ta-da?

I read a story this week, about another minister, and in this story the minister is talking with the children at an Easter service in church, and he asks the children: what do you think Jesus’ first words were to his friends after He came back to life? And one little boy sprang to his feet, spread his arms out wide and said, “Ta-Da!”

The story of Easter, the story of Jesus coming back to life, was a surprise for the disciples. It wasn’t announced with a “ta-da” or a “boo”, but it was still a surprise, and it was a surprise to people who were sad, who were afraid, and who were doubting.
The story of Jesus coming back to life is a story which began in the real world of sorrow and uncertainty but with a message for that very same world. Don’t we also live with sadness, or fear, or doubt just now?

And what is more, when Jesus came back to life, many things remained unchanged: the Romans were still in charge; the religious leaders were still bullies and bad people; people were still sick and scared.

But here’s the thing – on one level the wider world was still the same after Jesus came back to life; but on another level, everything had also changed – everything! Because in the wonderful events of Easter, there is a dead man who has come back to life, Jesus has conquered death and the grave, and that’s the kind of surprising good news which rewrites history, and not just for a year, a decade, or even a century…no, this is the kind of surprising good news that rewrites history for everyone, everywhere, and for evermore.

Friends, my prayer this Easter, is for us to know the risen Jesus journeying with us in these difficult days. Because as the Apostle Peter later reminds us: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…’ (1 Peter 1:3)

Brothers and sisters, we not only have hope, we have a living hope, living because Jesus lives. And it’s hope, not wishful thinking. It’s hope, because it’s certain, we have strong and confidence assurance….

But we only have this because of Easter Sunday, which is summed up so well in our final hymn today:

“Then came the morning that sealed the promise
Your buried body began to breathe
Out of the silence, the Roaring Lion
Declared the grave has no claim on me
Jesus, Yours is the victory.”
(Living Hope, Phil Wickham & Brian Johnson)

Friends, our passage today, reminds us of the surprising story of Easter, a story that was not faked, a story which rewrote all history, and a story which suggests that even in our present darkness, uncertainty and fear, when all around seems to remain unchanged because of Easter, well, this story suggests we can still…
encounter Jesus today, because Christ is risen, He is risen…indeed! Praise be to God. Amen.

Living Hope (Passion Wk.2 Tuesday evening)

Preached on: Tuesday 24th 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 20-03-24-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-Tuesday-Evening-Sermon.
Bible references: Luke 10:25-37
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 10:25-37
Tuesday 24th 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.

As I introduced a few Sunday’s ago, in the weeks leading up to Easter, we’re journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem. We started at that point in the story where Luke says Jesus ‘…resolutely set out…’ (Luke 9:51), He set His face towards the purpose He had come to fulfil. There is a great deal of material contained within the journeying phase of Luke’s gospel; Jesus does not enter Jerusalem until halfway through of chapter 19. So, we’re going to focus on three encounters Jesus had with Samaritan people, because that was really unexpected of Jesus.

As we heard two Sunday’s ago, the Samaritans were Jews who intermarried with their Assyrian conquerors, people of non-Jewish nationality, and that brought about a mixed race who became known as the Samaritans. They were viewed as “half breeds” and “renegades” by the more “purebred” and loyal Jewish people, and in turn the Samaritans developed a hatred for the Jews.

In our passage tonight, we read of the Good Samaritan – it’s a story many of us have heard before, it’s a story children will still hear in school for Religious and Moral Education, because it’s a timeless story, teaching truths that now-a-days we hold as self-evident, a simple outworking of “the golden rule” – to treat others as you wish to be treated.

So, as I said on Sunday, we probably feel like we know what the parable means: we’ve to be a good neighbour; we’ve to look out for people who need our help; we’ve to love other people. And that’s certainly one important thing to take away because part of what Jesus showed us in His life and teaching was the importance of loving others as we love ourselves.

So, once again hear the call to sign up and offer your time in the coming months. Sadly, we won’t get out all our Easter cards now due to the lockdown – but it was fantastic that over 50% were given since Sunday afternoon. And I wonder, have you called anyone yet? Anyone outside your family? I’m sure we were all busy calling our mums and our grans on Sunday, and then we were back in to work on Monday, even if it was from home –
so, we might have forgotten that part of the message. But in our changing times, a telephone call is really going to make a big difference to people. So, let’s be the best neighbours we can during this time, and the more of us who join in, the more care and support there will be in our local community.

As I explained on Sunday morning, when I was thinking about the story of the Good Samaritan this week I was drawn to the other characters in the parable, particularly the priest and the Levite, those two who simply walked on past the man needing help. Now, we must remember that they walked past an individual who was part of their tribe; a people who were a persecuted people, so you’d normally stand up for one another, you’d normally be there for one another.
Instead they simply walk past and Jesus doesn’t really give us a reason, yet as you know, I’ve been wondering if they did it because of fear. Maybe fear of doing the wrong thing, maybe it was fear of the robbers coming back.

You see, they may have feared doing the wrong thing because God’s Word said that touching a dead body would make an individual unclean, it would create a disconnect between God and the person who became unclean. But even then, that’s just an excuse, because God’s Word, as we heard again tonight, says we are to “love your neighbour as yourself”. By failing to do that, the priest and the Levite are already unclean; by failing to do that, they are going to have to go through the steps to become pure again, to be right with God once more. They placed a higher value on something other than loving neighbour, and all for naught.
Jesus listeners’ would have expected the priest and the Levite to be the good guys in the story, but we see that they embody two things. Firstly, fear and maybe secondly, weariness.

On Sunday, we explored part of the issue around fear, and now tonight, we’ve seen another: that fear of becoming impure by touching a dead body. Were they letting fear motivate them to do the wrong thing? Because it’s easy to give in to fear, especially when it’s not to our benefit to do otherwise. So, the priest and Levite embody fear.

But secondly, do they embody weariness? Remember, these are people who are seeking to maintain spiritual purity at all costs, and if they were relying on their own strength to do this, then that’s a weary job –
the Pharisees had come up with hundreds of rules on how to know if you were breaking God’s Law or not, and you’d have to be constantly checking yourself to maintain that level of purity. They must have been so weary.

Maybe, these two individuals not only feared the robbers returning or of doing the wrong thing, maybe they were simply weary – weary of trying to keep hitting the mark, and so seeing this individual, was just too much for them, it was a step too far, a cry for help they couldn’t answer.

Are we feeling fear just now? Are we feeling weary just now? Because fear and weariness can cause us to be poor neighbours. We’ve seen how fear has motivated stock piling
– and we might not yet be feeling it, but to love our neighbours well is going to be draining, it might weary us, if all we’re doing is relying on our own strength.
So, what’s the antidote? Well, let’s go back to the start of the story, as I said on Sunday. Jesus tells the parable because He is asked a question, and in that conversation, we hear that we’ve to love God with all that we are – with all our heart, soul, mind and strength – and we are to love our neighbour. Jesus is saying that these are the two most important things, but He is also saying they’re connected.

Because as we love God – as we pursue a relationship with God, then we learn of His love for us, and then His love begins to change us. For God has promised to help us, to give us strength and wisdom and grace – if we will seek Him. That verse from 1st John chapter 4 has stuck with me so powerfully over the years, that “…perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18) The antidote to fear is to know God’s perfect love and we get to know God’s love by spending time with Him.
So, what about weariness? Because, you know, to love is really hard work. Take those words from 1st Corinthians that we delight in hearing at weddings: ‘Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.’ (1 Cor. 13:4-7) Love is hard work; even in the normal rhythm of life, never mind amidst a pandemic.

The man who wrote those words about love, was no stranger to it. He was called the Apostle Paul and he went around starting new churches, helping people understand about Jesus and come to worship Jesus. It was hard work, Paul speaks about how hard it was…

in one of his other letters, he says: ‘Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move…I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.’ (2 Cor. 11:23-27)

Paul went through all of that because of love – love for God and for his fellow human being, as he’ll say time and time again in his own writings. So, how did Paul keep on loving? Well, he also said that ‘…God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…’ (Romans 5:5)…
It was God’s Spirit that gave Paul a heart of love and helped him to keep on loving.

Maybe it’s for this reason that Paul writes to the Ephesians: ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father…I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.’ (Ephesians 3:14-19)

Paul prays for the Ephesians to have the help of God’s
Spirit to give them power to grasp the love of God…
I wonder, do we ever pray that? Do we even realise what Paul is saying here? His claim is that we cannot know God’s love by ourselves, or at least we cannot know the fullest measure of it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us. So, if we want to have hearts full of God’s love, then we also need God’s Spirit, and we receive the help of God’s Spirit through prayer.

That might be new idea for us, we might have assumed up till now that we can simply know God’s love by our own efforts. But even Jesus needed the help of the Spirit, because the affirmation of the Father was as much communicated by the Spirit, in the form of the dove alighting on Jesus, as it was by the words of the Father from heaven. If Jesus needed the Spirit, so do we.

Once again, then, let me ask you: will you invest some time in your relationship with God during these coming months of isolation? And specifically, will you pray and ask for God’s Spirit to be given to you and to us all? For it is by Him, the Spirit of God, that we gain power to grasp something more of the fullness of God’s love for us and for this world, and through that same Spirit we can then have hearts full of the love of God, full enough to fend off weariness in loving neighbour, and fend off the fear we may feel in these difficult times.

Jesus knows all about fear and all about weariness – in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared what was coming, He feared dying on the Cross. But He did not let fear stop Him, He did not let fear make Him a poor neighbour – instead, for love of you and me, for love of His Father, Jesus carried on towards Jerusalem to secure for us a living hope.

And often Jesus would become tired, weary enough that He took Himself off to a solitary place where He could spend some time with His heavenly Father and become refreshed in His love to continue that journey He and the Father had agreed upon from eternity past.

For me, that’s part of what makes the story of Martha and Mary so interesting. It comes right after a story which is about doing stuff and helping people, about sacrificing ourselves and going the extra mile. The Samaritan paid enough money for two weeks of care at that inn, and those of us in self-isolation, can begin to appreciate something of how long two weeks can be.
But right next to that story, is another story where Jesus seems to say the opposite thing. Martha is busy serving, she’s busy being the good neighbour, and in fact she is so busy, and feeling so isolated, that she is at her wits end; she is weary, weary enough to lash out at Jesus. I mean, come on, if there’s anyone you don’t lash out at, surely it’s Jesus.

But Martha is run dry, she’s run ragged, she’s weary. Jesus, I think, sees that weariness, it’s maybe part of the reason why His response is so gentle: “Martha, Martha.” There’s genuine emotional concern in His voice. He doesn’t give her a lecture about losing her temper, or even the importance of better organisation and delegation to others. For love is patient, love is kind, and Jesus is love incarnate.
Yet, Jesus doesn’t leave Martha there, He doesn’t gloss over it completely, as we might be tempted to do, because true love nurtures, it brings life. Jesus knows that Martha has become distracted by many things, by doing things for others, doing things for Jesus, and all of this has taken the place of simply being with Jesus, of sitting at His feet, as Mary does.

Mary adopts the position of a learner, a student, what the Jews called in their time, a disciple, and a disciple learnt by spending time with their teacher, their rabbi.

Luke reminds us in these two stories, that we are called to a radical love, a love which crosses divisions and boundaries, and sacrifices for others. But love for
neighbour is only half of the life we are called to, there is also love for God, and in loving Him knowing His love for us.
The man who asked Jesus the question at the start of the story had forgotten this; he imagined that eternal life was wrapped up and secured in what we do. But as Jesus reminds us in His own words: ‘this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.’ (John 17:3)

The expert in the law had forgotten this, Martha had maybe become distracted from this by the many things, but Mary knew, she remembered, so she spent time at the feet of Jesus and in that place, she found life, she found love, a perfect love, which filled her heart.

Friends, in these difficult times, God is with us. He knows our fears, He knows our frailty, that we are but dust. Yet
He calls us to keep loving our neighbours well…
and through loving Him to know His perfect love, a perfect love which can drive out all fear and restore the weariness of our hearts.

I pray that God will give us power by His Spirit, to know His love, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and for us to know this personally in our lives and so be able to show it others.

May it be so. Amen.

Living Hope (Passion Wk.2)

Preached on: Sunday 22nd 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 20-03-22-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Luke 9v51-62 and Philippians 2:1-8
Sunday 22nd 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.

Normally, by this point on a Sunday morning, the children would be out in their groups and I would be in the pulpit, ready to share something on God’s Word, the Bible. I’d be looking out on the congregation – and this area I would maybe see: Rena, May, Molly; Margaret and Cathy; at the back Charles and Myra, Bill and Lena; or near the front George, John, Tom, and Bill, as well as Fiona, with Jean and Robert sitting over there.

But here I am, sitting in these pews by myself. It’s a strange experience and yet it prompts me to think of you all, to think of the neighbours I would normally see.
In the weeks leading up to Easter, we’re journeying with Jesus towards Jerusalem, and we’re focusing on three encounters Jesus had with Samaritan people, because that was really unexpected of Jesus, and you can hear more about that in the Tuesday Evening Sermon.

Today’s story is about the Good Samaritan – it’s a story many of us have heard before, it’s a story children will still hear in school for Religious and Moral Education. Have any of you children and young people heard it before? If you have, comment in the live video just now!

So most likely, we all feel like we know what the parable means: we’ve to be a good neighbour; we’ve to look out for people who need our help; we’ve to love other people.
And that’s certainly one important thing to take away because part of what Jesus showed us was the importance of loving others as we love ourselves.

So, sign up to help others by completing the online volunteer form, or come help us deliver the Easter card, or call up the people you would normally sit with in church or even your next door neighbour. Let’s be the best neighbours we can during this time, and we can all do that: from the little tots, to the young people and right up to our adult members. Just because we are to limit our face to face contact, does not mean we cannot be good neighbours and the more of us who join in, the more care and support there will be in our local community.

But as I was thinking about the story this week…
I was thinking about the other characters in the story. Can you remember who they are boys and girls? There were two other characters – the priest and the Levite. Now, did they go and help the man who was injured? No – they decided to walk past and leave him all alone.

I’ve been wondering why they did that? Why did they just walk past? Jesus didn’t give us a reason, but I’ve been wondering if they did it because of fear. Maybe fear of doing the wrong thing, which I’ll explain in Tuesday’s sermon. Or maybe it was fear of the robbers coming back?

Did they look around the road, up into the hills or the trees and wonder: “Am I next? Will they come for me too? Maybe I should get going – avoid this person – keep my distance.”
I wonder if they let fear motivate them to do the wrong thing? Because it’s easy to give in to fear, especially when it’s not our family, not our kith and kin.

Are we feeling fear just now? Is that fear causing us to be poor neighbours? I am not saying we should ignore the government guidance – because we do have to reduce our social contact, especially to keep our more vulnerable members healthy and safe. So, please follow the guidance.

But, have you seen the pictures online of empty shops? Have you struggled to get food and essentials yourselves? I wonder if part of the stockpiling is motivated by fear – and if it is, we are then allowing fear to impact how we treat others, we are being poor neighbours because of fear, rather than showing the care for others the Good Samaritan did.
So, what’s the antidote to fear? Well, I want to take you back to the start of the story. Jesus tells the parable because He is asked a question, and in that conversation, we hear that we’re to love God with all that we are – with our heart, soul, mind and strength – and we are to love our neighbour. Jesus agrees that these are two very important things to do, but He is also saying something else in these verses.

I think Jesus is saying that loving God and loving neighbour God hand in hand; they’re connected. We can, of course, be very loving to other people without God, but all of us have moments when fear or selfishness make us behave as poor neighbours.

But if we love God – if we pursue a relationship with God then God promises to help us, to change us, and to give us strength and wisdom and grace. As we love God, we learn of His love for us, and in another part of the Bible we’re reminded that “…perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18). The antidote to fear is to know God’s love and we get to know God’s love by loving Him through prayer, reading the Bible, and spending time with Him.

So, why not invest some time in these ideas during the coming months of isolation? Get into reading the Bible, maybe start with the book of Luke or use the Lectio365 app, or keep joining us for Sunday worship, but engage with the Tuesday Evening Sermon, or come to the open prayer space on Thursday mornings, or engage with our “Prayer for the Braes” group on our Facebook page.
Because, there really is a God out there; He really is with us in all of the fear and uncertainty. We might, in these times, wonder whether God cares for us. We might, in these times, scoff at the idea of there being a God.

But two thousand years ago, God showed up – He was born in a manger and grew into a man, and that man set His face toward Jerusalem, He willing journeyed towards His death, for love of me and love of you.

That man was Jesus and Jesus knows all about fear – in the Garden of Gethsemane He feared what was coming, He feared dying on the Cross. But He did not let fear stop Him, He did not let fear make Him a poor neighbour – instead, for love of you and me, for love of His Father, Jesus carried on towards Jerusalem to secure for us a living hope.
Friends, in these difficult times, God is with us, He knows our fears, but He calls us to keep loving our neighbours well and through loving Him to know His love for each of us, because His perfect love drives out all fear.

May it be so. Amen.