Request and Response

Preached on: Sunday 1st August 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. There is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Matthew 21:28-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Today’s hero is the older son because he shows us the gift of having a changed mind.

This little parable packs a punch. Here we have the vineyard owner again, but instead of looking for hired workers, he’s asking his own sons to help out. The two sons both react very differently in the moment. They both tell the truth one says ‘No’ or perhaps ‘I won’t’ or ‘I don’t want to’ but the other obeys in that moment. The good son is obvious as we see in the passage, the words are empty, much like the religious leaders in the faith it encounters. The challenge of this parable goes two ways – to act on our convictions and to make us willing to recognize our errors and to put them right.

If you perhaps have older kids about your lives, you delve into the questions that the religious leaders hit and pass on the things. We so often ask and the Yeses and the No’s we get are perhaps even just the grunts or the groans. The religious leaders at that time were trying to trap Jesus but He kept asking them questions and they were too scared to answer those questions. and then he had another question for them in our parable this morning.

‘There was a vineyard owner’, says Jesus, and Jesus liked to tell stories about vineyard owners there were lots of vineyards about lots of people drank wine and this vineyard owner had two sons two sons who were sitting near his house not doing anything at all to help, and of course there’s a shout from their father, as he spots them, and he says ‘Those vines, they need tending. Go and help the workers.’ He goes right over to the elder son where he’s sitting and he asked him to go and help and the son looks down at the ground, he really didn’t want to help today, he was hoping that some of his friends were maybe going to come round, but yet, he didn’t want to lie to his father he says ‘I’m sorry father. I don’t want to today.’ The father looked sad but decided to ask the younger son ‘Will you go and help?’

‘Yes sir.’ he replies knowing that was what his father wanted to hear he thought that he would go and help and as soon as he finished the game he was playing. Now we find hours later the younger son was still sitting playing. He knew he should be in the vineyard but he was having too much fun, and his father didn’t seem to be too upset, he wasn’t chasing about after him, and his older brother had said no, and so he didn’t move all day until the evening meal had been called. Meanwhile the older brother feels terrible, when his friends arrive, he sends them away so he could go and do his work as the father had asked. He changes his clothes and he goes to work and make up for the time he’d sat around the house. ‘Which of the two did what his father asked?’ says Jesus.

It was an easy answer; the older son because the older son saw that his choice had been wrong and he changed his mind, yet the religious leaders didn’t want to change their minds even when they realize that they might be wrong. Jesus said that because of this they would be the very last to enter God’s kingdom.

Like any parable, we have different aspects of symbolism for the listener. The Jew of that day, they would have understood the vineyard to be Israel and the work to be God’s work, and the father would be God, and the sons would be two different classes of people, the good son who agrees to work would be the Pharisees and the religious Jews, who outwardly would affirm their relationship with God, and yet inwardly did nothing to further His kingdom, and the other son would be the sinners, those who had rejected God in the past, but through the good news of the gospel preached by Christ and by John the Baptist, they’ve repented and they began to do the work that God calls them to do.

In this short story you can see the frustration of Christ at the long history of the Jews who have seen God’s work, Tasted god’s goodness and favor, and yet, still turn away. For us today, the symbolism is similar, the good son could be those who can talk a good game when it comes to God and religion, those good people who believe in God and try to be good but it stops at that, the commands of God and the work of the kingdom have no place in their lives, the rebellious son would be those who have turned from God rejected Him at various points in their lives, and have that heart change, and now become active in the kingdom obeying His call and His commands

It makes you think – which one describes you better?

Now we know neither of these sons are perfect and that was not the intent of Jesus to say that one or the other is how we should be. There are those who say ‘Yes’ to God and they follow through and the intent of Christ here, the big idea is to impress upon His disciples that a relationship with God is about more than just words, and a theme that we’ve seen repeated over and over as Christ has dealt with the Pharisees it’s not about the outside, the way we look, and the ceremonies we engage in, and the trappings of religion, it’s about that heart change, it’s about obedience and about being, and before His ministry is done Christ wants to make sure that there’s no doubt at all about this fact. In God’s kingdom, it’s not enough to talk the talk, you’ve got to back it up by walking the walk. So let’s pull a few things out of this little passage.

First of all, there’s a request; he says ‘Son go work in the vineyard today.’ Not much has changed over the years, fathers are still having to get after their sons and their daughters to be somewhat more productive. All of us can remember our mums and dads asking us to do something that we absolutely didn’t want to do, maybe because of the kind of work it is, maybe it was because we had other plans, and we all know what it’s like to be doing a job we don’t want to do. We’re not going to spend much time here rather than to point out that the request and the call is there. It’s identical to the call given in the parables in other parts of the New Testament, God has not and He won’t change. He wants us to be active out there in the fields, active in the harvest, active in the work of the kingdom here in Brightons Church, and far beyond it. Ooften times, for us, the that work is not something that we want to do, maybe we’re shy, maybe we’re busy, maybe we’re preoccupied with other things. God’s call comes at the most convenient time for us in our lives but yet that call is consistent, it’s work in My fields, get out there and do something, and perhaps as we start to move out from this pandemic it’s even more important to get out there amongst those, and get that work done because they haven’t heard about God and the wonderful things that He can do for us in our lives.

And then we have two sons that respond in very different ways.

The response of the first son was nothing short of open rebellion. We don’t know if he was angry about being asked, and that’s not important, but we do know that he was certainly stubborn. The moment he heard the request he says defiantly ‘I will not!’ Those two great words that are used there are as defiant and as resolute responds as could be in any of the gospels. There is no precedent in the Bible for such a short and sharp reply in the same way it’s constructed together, he didn’t care to argue with his father, he just said it, the message was clear ‘I don’t care. Don’t bother me – get someone else.’ It was pure, open rebellion, and maybe sometimes we know perhaps ourselves or others that can fall into that category, openly defying God’s call and His offer of that relationship, openly living in a way that displeases Him, and while that may only describe a few, now the reality is at that point that we often find ourselves in these positions. Many do.

In Colossians 1 21 it says ‘You were once so far away from God you were his enemies separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.’ All of us become separated from God at one point, all of us have shared the mark of this first son being rebellious by virtue of the sins that we’re born into, and now there would have been very little good that we could take from this story if rebellion was the only thing that marked out the son but there was something else, because this son was also marked by his repentance.

The New International Version use of the phrase ‘changed his mind’ is rather a weak and inferior translation. The Greek is ‘regretted’ or ‘repented’, it’s the same word Matthew used for Judas’s repentance, literally being seized with remorse. The son came to the point where he wished his rebellion had never happened and he had changed not only his mind but his attitude, his whole heart, his priorities and his actions changed, he came to the conclusion that he was wrong, and he expressed his remorse and repented, and understood that the father was right, and he went out and he did what was asked of him, and of course repentance leads to forgiveness, allows us, those who were once rebellious and sinful, to stand before our God, holy and clean and pure.
Again, it’s an amazing truth and the first son’s story was marked by rebellion but then repentance, led to his life being marked as a life of obedience. For each of us is the end result of that repentance. True repentance involves turning from our sin and heading in the opposite direction. That direction is the way that God calls us to live. aul says in Acts 26:20 ‘First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem, and all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preach that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.’

The proof that repentance has happened is in our actions and the way we live and in the way we obey and follow God’s call in our lives. The first son’s change of heart would have been rather hollow if it had not been followed by obedience of his actions.

And then we have the marks of the second son. On the surface this one sounded like he would be the good son. He hears the request, he immediately replies, a whirlwind and for good measure he throws in a ‘Sir’. How many parents would pass-out if this was the immediate response they got from their teenage child. Now, when asked to do some work, the first son agrees to the request, Unfortunately, where things got better for the first son, they didn’t go well for the other, and while he agrees initially, we see that he’s also marked by his inactivity. He agrees but then nothing happens. He accepts the call but no activity on his part. He may look good on the outside, he may look like there’s an issue of repentance, but not like that rebellious brother of his, on the inside,

Unfortunately, today there are too many Christians who fall into the category of this son. Come to church, they sing the songs, they do a few more things along the way, and throughout the week, but when God says ‘Work in my field’ they decide they’re quite comfortable where they’re at. Yet God’s call requires commitment to Him and to His Church. It requires stepping out and being uncomfortable at times. God’s call is not a call to sit and look good, it’s a call to get dirty and messy and to be involved in the lives of those He puts in our path.

If our relationship with our Father is definitely by inactivity, I hope this story might make us sit up, make us a bit uncomfortable, and, maybe, lead us to a change and realize our disobedience.

Matthew 7:21 says ‘Not everyone who says to me Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only the one who does the will of my father in heaven.’

Doing nothing is a sin in the same way that openly rebelling is conforming to what God expects outwardly but refusing to do it inwardly, is empty and hollow and doesn’t please God.

I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories of a conversation perhaps with a toddler or a little one and you’re asking them to do something or perhaps rather to stop doing something and eventually they do stop doing it but you get that little mumble but they’re still doing it on the inside.

Was that obedience?

Well, it’s conforming outwardly but rebelling inwardly, it was disobedience and it was sin and, in the same way, the second son conformed and agreed on the surface but in the heart he rebelled and remained inactive and disobedient.

Two very different responses give us two very different results. The results are clear and simple. Repentance led to the work of getting done. Christ said that those who are like this son, who turn away from their sin when they’re confronted with the truth, they enter the kingdom of God ahead of those who produced the second result, and their lip-service led to the work remaining untouched. When you consider that the work we’re talking about directly influences the eternity of all those around us, it’s quite a sobering thought of what we’ve been left to do, and yet, even this reality is not enough for some to change their focus from what they look like on the outside, or what ministry looks like on the outside, or to whether or not that heart is clean and obedient and the work is there on the inside.

As we close, why not take three things away with you as we apply them in our lives:

Firstly, there’s always hope. God is not looking for the ones who look perfect on the outside, He’s not asking us for unattainable perfection, H just wants us to obey His call no matter where we’ve gone or what we’ve done, no matter how much rebellion there’s been in our lives, there’s always hope through the forgiveness of our sins, and we only have to ask for it, and we can join the others in the field and build God’s kingdom here on earth;

Secondly, repentance is a right response to our sin when we see a rebellion for what it is. Repentance is the only right response before our God. We need to have that remorse over our sins, turn away from them, and back to God.

And with repentance comes this third truth: our obedience is shown through our actions. Some of us say ‘Yes’ in church every week, ’Yes’ in Bible study, ‘Yes’ in prayer meetings, ‘Yes’ in our small groups, we become like the Pharisees looking spotless and holy on the outside, but like that child rebelling still on the inside. Jesus says in John 14:15 ‘If you love me, you will obey what I command’ it’s as simple as that, He wants our hearts, He wants our obedience, and if the external is not flowing out from inside, and our lives are not marked by our obedience, then we’re just playing at being religious, missing out on that relationship with God. Obedience is shown through our actions.

Hope, repentance and obedience, these are the lessons of this short story this morning; these are the truths that Christ wanted His disciples then and wants His followers today to grasp hold of; every word, every action contains the truth that can transform the way that we think and live today.

Amen. Let’s pray:

Father God we ask that indeed we can say Yes and our Yes will mean Yes rather than a firm No that means No. You give us the opportunity to change our minds changes from this day forward that we continue to work and serve You in our in Your kingdom. That our hearts are open and obedient to you so that we can trust and obey because there’s no other way to be happy and serving You. Trust and obey. Amen.

Amazing grace: amazing power

Preached on: Sunday 30th May 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 21-05-30 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Acts 14:21-26 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

let us come to God in prayer let us pray

come holy spirit soften our hearts to the word of God come holy spirit with revelation and wisdom of our father and our lord Jesus

come holy spirit with power and deep conviction for we ask it in Jesus name amen last week we began a new sermon series on grace and our aim is to understand more of this wonderful word because it is rich and meaningful partly because of its many uses and references in the scriptures and we saw previously that one of its uses is to talk about our spiritual gifts that the spirit gives us to enable us to be part of God’s mission but our passage today doesn’t use grace in that manner we read from Italian Paul and Barnabas sailed back to Antioch where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed earlier in chapter 13 these two men had been prayed for by the local church and sent on their way because the church had felt prompted to do this by the holy spirit so what we read here in chapter 14 is telling us that those prayers are committing of these Christians to the grace of God and so grace here is not referring to spiritual gifts or to saving grace or to God’s character of grace so raises the question what is this grace and what does it do because let’s notice something else first despite being committed to the grace of God despite being faithful and exemplary brothers in the faith they faced hard times in fact a little earlier if you go back earlier in chapter 14 we read of Paul being stoned in response to his labors for the lord and in the second letter to the church in Corinth Paul 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’ve been in danger from rivers and danger from bandits in danger from my fellow Jews in danger from gentiles endangering the city endangering the country in danger at sea and in danger from false believers I have laboured and toiled and 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 and i don’t know about you but looking at that list there’s part of me that says what is so amazing about grace if this is what Paul had to face what is so amazing about grace

and I wonder friends if you can relate to that and the hardships that you maybe face right now are you maybe asking what’s so amazing about grace where are you God why how am I meant to cope with this when will this end Christians across the ages have shared these same questions and struggles the famous preacher Charles Spurgeon who was used mightily of God in the 19th century suffered recurring bouts of depression throughout his adult life he was also simultaneously popular and unpopular in the stands he took and often as a result would face ridicule including from other pastors added to this was his need to provide relentless care for his wife who was an invalid for most of their marriage and on top of all that if it wasn’t enough Spurgeon faced the last 20 a third of the last 27 years of his ministry out of the pulpit because of his own physical illness there was hardly a weakness an insult a hardship or difficulty that Spurgeon didn’t know personally

so what about you what’s your story

and in the midst of that story are you asking what’s so amazing about grace

and to begin responding to that question we need to turn to other passages later in the same letter to the church in Corinth Paul says i was given a thorn in my flesh a messenger of Satan to torment me three times i pleaded with the lord to take it away from me but he said to me my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness therefore when i am weak then i am strong what does this passage say about grace well the lord says my grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness notice the parallel my power my grace so when we receive the lord’s grace we receive his power but power for what does he give this power for well based upon Paul’s experience and the t his teaching in part God gives his grace his power to sustain us to sustain our faith that we might persevere to the end after all in our passage from acts we read Paul and Barnabas return to Lystra Iconium and Antioch strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith we must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God they said core to the teaching of the early church was the awareness that hard times come that in fact we will say face such difficulties that it will potentially rock our faith that will test our faith and we may even be tempted simply to walk from Jesus

so what can help us persevere what will hold us fast that we might persevere to the end and share in the perfection and glory of the kingdom of God when it comes

well the answer my friends is the grace of God it is his power that sustains now maybe you’re thinking well that doesn’t sound like very much Scott I’d like a bit more

and i wonder if part of that thinking is because we want a Jesus who makes things right now we want a Jesus who meets our needs in the way we want them met

but as one commentator said God did not change the situation by removing the affliction he changed it by adding a new ingredient grace God did not give Paul any explanations instead he gave him a promise my grace is sufficient for thee we do not live in explanations we live on promises for promises generate faith and faith strengthens hope

I wonder brothers and sisters how’s your faith doing what’s your level of hope in the face of your hardships how how how are you trying to persevere are you simply trying to kind of work up some more willpower and get through on your own strengths or are you trying to resort to positive thinking and simply downplay the doubt in the heart because Paul’s perseverance didn’t come from either of those approaches instead he found in the grace of the lord Jesus Christ a power a strength beyond any human capacity to emulate or duplicate earlier I spoke of Charles Spurgeon and the great hardships he faced and yet he himself said this it is easy to believe in grace for the past and the future but to rest in it for the immediate necessity is true faith at this moment and at all moments which shall ever occur between now and glory the grace of God will be sufficient for you this sufficiency is declared without any limiting words and there I’ve therefore I understand the passage to mean that the grace of our lord Jesus is sufficient to uphold thee sufficient to strengthen the sufficient to comfort thee sufficient to enable thee to triumph over it sufficient to bring the out of ten thousand like it sufficient to bring the home to heaven whatever would be good for the Christ grace is sufficient to bestow whatever would harm thee has grace is sufficient to avert whatever thou desirest his grace is sufficient to give thee if it be good for thee whatever thou wouldst avoid his grace can shield thee from it if so his wisdom shall dictate hear let me press upon you the pleasing opportunity of taking home now the promise personally at this moment for no believer here need be under any fear since for her or him also at this very instant the grace of the lord Jesus is sufficient

Paul and Spurgeon in the midst of their suffering knew God’s grace in the face of any suffering wherever however whenever they knew the grace of Christ to be sufficient but let’s not fall into easy errors in relation to these words or the words from acts Paul is not a theological masochist who glorifies suffering itself indeed he prayed for deliverance from his hardships what is more Paul is not saying that only when you are weak do you have the grace and power of Jesus weakness is not its one and only condition what is more the experience of grace is not a reward or payment for suffering nor must we seek suffering to receive grace and not going through hardships does not earn us a place in the kingdom of God so let’s not misconstrue things from these weighty passages instead let us see the invitation of God the invitation of God to each of us brothers and sisters to have a grace to have a power that is sufficient for any and every need we may face

yet yet to find and receive this grace there needs to be a response of trust and so we come at last to a passage from Hebrews earlier we read since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us hold firmly to the faith we profess for we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses but we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet he did not sin let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need if we want God’s grace if we want his power and his help in our time of need then the response of trust is to approach him it’s basically to have a relationship with him and to come in prayer that is how we find and receive the grace of God the writer says we’ve to approach let us approach and the idea in the original language is approached regularly almost constantly he says too we’ve to come with confidence as one commentator put it approach with bold frankness with bold frankness that’s the invitation of God to you he’s not a God who asks you to deny the situation he’s not a God that says well it’s all karma so it’s your fault or this is because you’re too attached to the physical world and so again it’s your fault no no no no that’s not our God our God is the God who says come to me oh you are weary and burdened we are to have this confidence we are to pursue God this intently because he knows our experience Jesus knows our experience he shared the depth of our humanity he shared the suffering of humanity our God does not stand alive but he sympathizes to the point of stepping into our brokenness and experiencing it himself

that is our God

yet friends how easy how often too easy too often we drift from God and we allow bitterness and self-pity to create distance between us and God and in doing so we we rob ourselves of immense and timely help

so what about you where are you at with God and the hardships you face the hardships you observe are you making space for God are you coming to his throne of grace or does your life display a practical atheism does your lack of prayer show your true colors do you say with your mouth yeah i believe in God but any lack of prayer simply points to something else that actually deeper down you believe you can do without them that you don’t really need them in huddle recently which is one of our discipleship groups we’ve been exploring the rhythms of our life we’ve been talking about the balance of our relationships and in the midst of that we’re just beginning to hear both the invitation and challenge of Jesus to order our lives according to his wisdom i wonder brothers and sisters do we need more of the same in our own lives

and i don’t simply mean going to Jesus and with lots of words good though that is unnecessary though that is because one of the things I’ve been learning in recent months is just the value and the discipline of silence and solitude and so every day i will try and spend 10 minutes in silence before the lord saying as little as i can seeking him in that place vernally honestly and as much as i can with a heart of worship though it’s easily distracted and it’s only been a couple of months but i can tell you those 10 minutes are making a difference because they are a means of grace in my life but i not only spend some time in silence i do pray as well i pray for the day ahead i pray for my family i pray for some close friends and i pray for at least two families in my pastoral grouping every day so that by the end of the week i pray for my whole pastor of gripping every week and that’s my way of approaching the throne of grace for myself and for these others that we all might know the grace of God and i wonder friends are you creating space are you creating space for God and approaching his throne

because he calls us to be a family and a family is there for one another and so will you seek God will you come to his throne both for yourself and for one another that together with Paul we might confidently say the grace of Jesus is sufficient and though we are hard pressed on every side we are not crushed and though perplexed we do not despair and though we may face persecution we are not abandoned and even if we are struck down and our life is given in the cause of Jesus and his gospel we are not destroyed we are not destroyed for we are heirs of God and coheres with Christ and we shall know his glory and the glory of his kingdom for his grace is sufficient

let us pray

God’s right here right now

is there an area of your life where you need to come before the throne of grace

and maybe just in the quiet of your heart

tell him what that is it might just even be one or two words

he knows what’s on your heart

he knows who you’re breaking

he knows where you’re doubting

and he wants to meet you now with his grace

lord for however is upon our heart or whatever situation breaks our heart maybe today for whatever feels like it’s just too much and we wonder how will i cope and when will this end father we ask afresh for your grace your power to uphold us to hold us fast

both now and always

for we ask it in Jesus name

Amen

You: a Good Work

Preached on: Sunday 3rd January 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. there is no PowerPoint PDF accompanying this sermon.
Bible references: Philippians 1:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer as relationship

Preached on: Sunday 27th September 2020
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 20-09-27-Message-PPT-slides.
Bible references: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Psalm 27:1-8, 13-14
Sunday 27th September 2020
Brightons Parish ChurchMessage
Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s Word.

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

I wonder how you responded to the news this week about the extra restrictions? I wonder how you felt as we awaited that news being released? I suspect there’s a broad range of reaction and feeling associated with what we’ve heard, and many of us may have a sense that the crisis continues, that these unprecedented days have carried now beyond six months and their end…well, we just don’t know when that will be.
In this midst of it all, we might be asking “where is God? What’s He up to?” These are questions and emotions that the people of God across the ages have felt and asked. Indeed, David, who wrote the psalm we read today, he was in a crisis, for he faced people who were bent on doing evil towards him, ready to go to war, ready to show savagery and devour him, like a pack of wild beasts ready to pounce and bring him low. David faces his own crisis, and we face ours, each just as life threatening, each just as potentially unsettling. Yet I’m struck by David’s posture, his reaction, the emotions that flow through him, for twice he speaks of his confidence, he says:
‘…though war break out against me, even then I will be confident… I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.’ (v3, 13)

In the midst of his crisis, David still has a confidence, a feeling of security. I wonder if we do? I wonder where, or to whom, we go when life seems too much to handle? Is it a spouse or a close friend, a trusted advisor, or parents? I’m sure David was surrounded by all such people, yet his confidence comes from another source, his confidence comes from another relationship, it comes from his intimate relationship with God, the Lord.

Notice what David says in verse 1: ‘The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?’ (v1) David knows God, but in a very relational way – this is not simply head knowledge, information about God, but rather it is a reality that David knows for himself. ‘The Lord is MY light and MY salvation…the Lord is the stronghold of MY life.’ At the heart of biblical faith, is not a list of rules, nor expectation of duty, but a relationship with the living God and David draws upon what he knows of God as he faces his crisis.

So he says, ‘the Lord is my light’ – the Lord dispels the darkness of fear, the Lord lights the way ahead, and in the light of His presence and love…life, hope, faith is revived and helped to flourish.

But the Lord is also ‘my salvation’ – the One who can deliver me and rescue me – and the Lord is also his ‘stronghold’, ‘the stronghold of [his] life’, that place of security. In the Lord then, David receives protective presence and care, and it this very relationship which allows David to maintain a confidence, without fear, but also without minimising the realities either.

I wonder, do you have that confidence? In the midst of our crisis, in the midst of whatever crisis you may be individually facing, is there a quiet confidence in who God is? God doesn’t promise to fix all our problems now, and yet the Lord’s people over the centuries have affirmed His unchanging nature, that in Him they have found light and salvation and a place of refuge, a stronghold, even in the greatest and darkest of times. I wonder, do you share in that? Or, do you want to share in that?

C. S. Lewis tells of his experience standing in a dark shed on a sunny day. Through a chink in the wall a sunbeam probed its way into the dark interior of the shed and Lewis suggests it is two quite different things to look at the beam of light and how it interacts with the dark, illuminating only a small part of the shed, or to step into the light and look along the beam to its source. If you want to share in the confidence of David, you need to come into the light, the light that comes from a relationship with God, a relationship that we pursue and invest time in, a relationship that is personal to you, and not confined to four walls on a Sunday morning. Because when we step into the light and seek the Lord, although it may be dark within the walls of our shed, although our very lives may be dark, there is still light and it bathes our whole perspective when we look to its source.
I wonder, are you someone who is looking in from the side? Do you see a beam of light, but you’re simply looking on? Maybe you see it in another’s life, maybe you see it in the Scriptures, but this relationship with God, this knowledge of God, is external to you, it’s not your experience. If that’s you, how can we change that reality? How can we step into the light? Well, let’s turn to David’s example once more.

He writes: ‘One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple…
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.’ (v4, 14)

In these verses of his psalm, David gives us a window into how he pursues this relationship with God, and we see there a prayerful waiting, a prayerful seeking, of the Lord. David does this by spending time in the presence of God, which for him, at his particular point in history, meant going to the central place of worship, the tabernacle. So, David would seek the presence of God, in a prayerful way, by giving time to this.

But in that time, David would also ‘gaze on the beauty of the Lord’ – and this is language which speaks of a steady, sustained focus, rather than a one-time glimpse, and during this time instead of asking the Lord for things, David is praising and admiring and enjoying God, for who God is. David finds God captivating, not just useful for getting stuff. In spending time with the Lord in prayer, resting in His presence and appreciating who He is, David cultivates confidence, a contentment which carried him through many a crisis.

Again, I wonder, does this describe us? Is this part of our prayer life? Do we know how to slow down and wait in the presence of God, wait in such a manner that we enjoy Him? It could be argued, based on the Lord’s Prayer, that this is where we should start, for Jesus said to pray, ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.’ In one line, Jesus echoes David, for in these familiar words, which we often rush past, we call to mind who God is and we hallow Him, we admire, we enjoy, we praise Him.

But unlike David, we don’t need a temple or a sacred place, because Jesus in His death made a way for us to come directly to God, and in the sending of the Holy
Spirit, we are enabled to know God and meet with God. Indeed, Jesus would say, ‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever – the Spirit of truth…you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.’ (John 14:16-17) At the heart of biblical faith, is a direct, immediate relationship with God, where you can relate to Him as the perfect Father, and so share in the confidence of David.

I want to give you now the prayer for this week, a prayer that my own minister, Kenny Borthwick, shared in a parish magazine some 8 years ago, yet it has stuck with me ever since and I keep turning to it, especially in the hard times, and I can do that because it’s only one line. It reads: ‘Abba, beloved Father, I belong to You, I am Your son, and I bring You great joy.’

My encouragement to you this week, is to take 5 minutes each day, and pray this line. Talk with God about each word, talk with Him about the words you find hard, talk with Him about the wonderful reality that is captured in these words. Also, can I encourage you to pray it out loud? In our psalm, David said, ‘Hear my voice when I call, Lord.’ David spoke out and there is something powerful, life-giving when we pray directly to God and speak out. I’m not asking you to do it in front of people, but the things we believe and hold dear, are the things we put into words, and same is true in our relationship with God.
So, I encourage you to speak out this prayer this week.
Why don’t we take a moment to pray this together, and I’m going to move into a more comfortable seat.
(PAUSE)

Here we are in my livingroom, in the seat I sit in each morning to spend time with God, and from time to time I’ll use that line. But I’ll also use it when I’m out walking Hector in the woods and fields. Use it where you see fit, use it where you need and want to connect with God, but let us pray it now. Let us pray.
(SHORT PRAYER)

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.

Can I really know the affection of this God?

Preached on: Sunday 16th June 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 19-06-16-Brightons-Powerpoint-Scott-sermon-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:11-20 and Ephesians 3:14-19
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:11-20 and Ephesians 3:14-19
Sunday 16th June 2019
Brightons Parish ChurchYou’ll be glad to hear that we are on the penultimate week of our sermon series on Luke chapter 15, and next week’s Sunday School Closing Service will round off this series.

Last week we explored the robe and ring in the parable of the prodigal Father, and we saw that these symbolised pardon and position for the younger son. We asked ourselves whether we, as adopted sons or daughters of God, were sharing in the great adventure of faith? Are we living out our pardon and position, or have we tamed the life of faith to something comfortable, something familiar, but something less than God wants for us?

We asked those questions amidst a “Weekend of Invitation”, where we were all encouraged to invite someone along to church, and it was heartening to see around a dozen or so newer faces, which is about 9% of our weekly adult attendance here on a Sunday morning.

We did that “Weekend of Invitation” within the “Thy Kingdom Come” prayer movement, which is an international, interdenominational season of prayer, where the church at large is encouraged to pray and especially to pray for others to come to faith in Jesus Christ.

And we partnered in both these initiatives because to introduce people to Jesus, to be part of their journey of faith, where they come to trust and follow Jesus as Saviour and Lord, well that’s one of the greatest adventures we can participate in – because as we heard last week, God is on an adoption adventure and by that He seeks to heal our broken world. This isn’t about evangelism and conversion for their own sake – this is about participating in the very mission of God, at the heart of which, is people coming to know Him and being reconciled to Him through Jesus. And so, helping people to know and follow Jesus is a key way of sharing in the adventure of God and a key way of sharing in a process takes us beyond comfort and what is familiar.

The “how” of doing this in our current society…
is one of the greatest quandaries of our time, and we often do not feel equipped or ready to participate in this part of the adventure. But I’m reminded of a colleague’s third year theological project, which was about mission in the 21st century. She explored a variety of issues, but within that project she included this quote:

‘The challenge for the church is to recognise that while not all of what postmodernity stands for is good, there are values that this generation holds that provide a key for how the church could communicate the message of Jesus Christ to a very post-Christian generation.’
(Brian Krum, The Missional Shift of Youth Ministry: from cookie cutter to incarnational ministry)

The principle thing I take away from this is that there are ways to engage with today’s generation, which could very well refer to anyone under the age of 50, but the key to engage with them is to know their values. Now, there are many values we could highlight but the ones of relevance this morning are: spirituality, the experimental (or experiential) and authenticity. So, these young folks are not interested in religious duty or more knowledge or good morals or acts and forms of religion. But what they are open to is a faith that makes a real difference in life, and which is also experiential. Now, when it comes to their desire for an experiential spirituality, I wonder if we sometimes scoff at that, or denounce it as part of hedonistic Western culture, a culture that appears to simply seek one experience after another. But you know,…
I wonder if we have always sought this out? For example, we have our well-loved Psalms:

‘My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?’ (Psalm 42:2)

‘The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.’ (Psalm 23:1-3)

If we’re brutally honest, to attempt to understand these Psalms without involving some experiential dynamic simply guts all meaning and relevance from the them… So, if we’re honest, we also want to experience God – we want our souls refreshed by God, we want led and helped and provided for. But I wonder if we actually expect God to come through on these ideas, or do we just settle for the comfort of nice words but without the comfort of God Himself? If this is the case, then maybe today’s generation is not as hedonistic as we might think; maybe they simply are not willing to settle for concepts and flowery words, and instead they want to see and know God as a true being and presence.

And maybe all this terrifies you or confounds you? Maybe you appreciate that this is what young people seek and expect, what they (and we) hunger for, but you don’t know how to join up the dots? You’re not sure how that hunger and expectation might be met?
Well, I have some good news for you – our very familiar parable, the parable of the prodigal Father, reveals a God who wants to provide the very answers and needs of our moment in history, our missional moment.

In the midst of the parable we read these words:
‘But while he [the younger son] 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.’ (Luke 15:20)

Now, we have looked at just about every part of this verse – the watching and waiting of the Father; the compassion the Father felt at the son’s return such that He ran towards His child; and we have looked at what comes after this moment, with the robe, the ring and the response of the elder brother.
But we have skimmed over the words: the Father…‘threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ The Father…‘threw his arms round him and kissed him.’ In these very words we see a God, Father God, who is ready to draw close, embrace us, and be affectionate, be demonstrative in His relationship with us.

Now, you may wonder if I am making a mountain out of a mole hill here, or whether I am turning parable into allegory? But as we have seen, Jesus is very deliberate in His storytelling, for He draws on the customs of the day and ensures that this parable is as loaded with meaning about Father God as possible. So, I don’t think it stretches the purpose of the parable to focus on these words in a little more detail, for in truth,…

their meaning is picked up and expanded upon again and again elsewhere in the New Testament.

For example, we read in Ephesians 3 today:
‘I pray that you…may have power…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 3:17-19)

Here Paul speaks of knowing the love of Jesus, the love of God, such that we are filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. “the fullness of God” in Ephesians refers to the way God makes his presence and power felt, that in experiencing Christ Christians experience the fullness of God, his presence, and His power…
For Paul is praying that they will experience a greater measure of the divine presence in their lives such that they partake of God’s own being and are made like him. Now, as Paul makes clear, here and elsewhere, this is an ongoing process, but it is an experiential process nonetheless, yet we tend to gloss over such nuances and uncomfortable truths. However, once again we see that we have a God who is ready to draw close, embrace us and be demonstrative in His relationship with us.

Or take the prayer of Jesus in chapter 17 John’s gospel: Jesus prayed…‘Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they [current and future disciples] know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.’ (John 17:25-26)

Again, we must gloss over or twist these words if we are to take away any sense of God being close, embracing us and being demonstrative in His relationship with us.

Or, what about Paul’s words to the Romans:
‘And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5)

Now, Paul is not simply meaning here that we are to love like God, that we have a loving heart, for then it would have little relevance to having hope – you don’t have hope because you have a loving heart towards others… No, you have hope because you have something within you that sustains you, and what sustains the Christian is God’s very own love – a love, which Paul says here, is poured into our hearts, the centre of our being, not simply into our minds, where it can be kept as a nice concept, but rather, it is poured in here, so that it is known deep in our being and able to nourish true and lasting hope.

So, once again, we see that the wider teaching of the New Testament is of a relationship with God wherein He is close, embracing and demonstrative; He is not distant, He is not cold, He is the Father who threw His arms round the younger son and kissed him. And likewise, God wants to come close, embrace us and be demonstrative…
[STORY OF PRAYER IN CAR FOR WEDDING]
So, how is it that Father God draws close, embraces us and demonstrates His love? How will today’s younger generations come into that experience of God which they expect or yearn for?

Well, whether it be in Ephesians 3, or in Romans chapter 5, or in John’s gospel from chapters 3 to chapter 20, in all these places and in every portion of the New Testament, it is by the person of the Holy Spirit that we are given help to know the Father’s love, to know His nearness and embrace. Romans 5 is maybe the most succinct:

‘God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.’ (Romans 5:5) Note here that Paul refers to the Holy Spirit, ‘who has been given’ – ‘who’…a person. It is easy to slip into referring to the Holy Spirit as ‘it’, because we are tempted to think about the Holy Spirit as a force, or energy or some kind of ghostly presence. But the clear teaching of Scripture is that the Holy Spirit is a person, the Holy Spirit is God’s personal presence amongst us. He is one of the three persons of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit – One God but three Persons.

Notice what else Paul says here about this third Person of God: the Holy Spirit ‘has been given to us’ – ‘has been given’, as in, this has already happened, and this has happened ‘to us’, to any person who claims the title
Christian and affirms Jesus as Lord and Saviour…
So, anyone who claims to be a Christian has the Holy Spirit, the personal presence of God residing in them, in our hearts; we have become a temple of God’s presence, as Paul says to the Corinthians.

So, why am I labouring this point? Well, as we have seen, the Holy Spirit is the means by which Father God helps us to know His love, to know His nearness and embrace. This is given to each and every Christian, as we have seen, and so to each and every Christian is given the means by which to know the Father’s love, His nearness and embrace, just like the younger son. And it will be by that same Holy Spirit, the third Person of God, that the Father’s love, nearness and embrace will be imparted to those younger generations who want a faith that is more than mere words on an old page or good moral and religious duty.
But here’s the thing: can we, each, speak of knowing the Spirit’s work in our lives? For young people today, it isn’t enough to point to an old book and claim it as truth – they want to know how these old words have come alive in your own life, they want to hear and see them in reality.

I came across a helpful illustration this past week…(pg99 of Mark Stibbe, The Father You’ve Been Waiting For.)

What’s the lesson of the story for us this morning? It is this: don’t settle for second-hand relationship, or secondhand religion; we each should and must pursue the real thing for ourselves. We each should and must pursue a real, authentic relationship with God, by His Holy Spirit, the third Person of God, His very presence amongst us…
Because a dynamic life of faith is not meant to be the reserve of the few; a dynamic life of faith, where we know the Father’s love, nearness and embrace is meant to be the bread and butter of all God’s people, for the Holy Spirit has been given to one and all who claim the title Christian, and so the Holy Spirit is ready to lead us into the Father’s embrace.

And if we want to help the younger generations see that the Christian faith meets their hunger and expectations, then we must be able to share our own stories of faith and be ready to point them in the direction of a God who is ready to draw close, embrace them and be demonstrative.

Now, there probably isn’t a quick fix to this, it will take time,…
it will take some learning and maybe even some unlearning of previous ideas. It will likely involve us going deeper in our own faith journey first, of being willing to admit that maybe there’s more to God and the life of faith than we ever imagined and maybe have ever experienced.

To help towards that, the Discipleship Team are planning an Alpha Course in the autumn session, beginning on the 18th September and running to the end of November. The Alpha course is a great way to explore, or re-explore, some of the core aspects of the Christian faith, so we are giving you 3 months’ notice in the hope you’ll make the time to come along and take a new step in the adventure of faith, by giving Alpha a try.

But the Discipleship Team also hope that some of us might consider inviting friends, family or neighbours to the Alpha course. The Weekend of Invitation was really just the beginning of a process: we all need to regularly invite others to come and find out more about this God who wants to draw close, embrace us and be demonstrative. And so, maybe the next step in the adventure of faith is for us is to invite someone to Alpha, to invite someone to come see that the hunger and expectation they have of God, can be found in this God, who has revealed Himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and who is ready, so very ready, to throw His arms round and embrace all who return to Him.

May it be so. Amen.