Our response to the call

Preached on: Sunday 2nd October 2022
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. 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 here22-10-02 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Luke 9:57-10:2 & 10:17-20
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– accept the call
– prioritise the call
– ground the call

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

Come Holy Spirit and soften our hearts to the Word of God.
Come Holy Spirit to renew our minds and our sense of call.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I wonder, do you like telling stories? Do you like telling stories? Are you any good at telling a story? Do funny stories seem to happen to you a lot or embarrassing ones? I wonder if you’ve got a story that you’ve not managed to tell anyone yet, maybe from this past week? So, I’ll give you 20 seconds, 30 seconds, turn to your neighbor. Have you got a story you’ve not managed to tell yet, anyone this week? And, if not, you can always have a blabber about the week that you’ve had. So, over to you for 30 seconds.

Thank-you so much!

Well, sounds like there’s a lot to catch up on. Feel free to get into the gory details later on if there’s a story worth telling there.

And our passage today, Jesus appoints 72 others and He sends them off on an adventure. He sends them off on a week or longer, of mission maybe and He sends them with a message and with power. And then, when they come back, we read at the end of our passage ‘The seventy-two returned with joy and said ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’’ The seventy-two returned with a story, with joyful testimony to share.

I can almost imagine the stories they told that night around the campfire: ‘Oh Liz, you remember that lady that you spoke with and you talked about the Messiah and the kingdom of God and how her eyes just brightened up and so much life just seemed to come to her.’; ‘Hey Joe, you remember that kid you prayed for it and just how he was set free of something and he was jumping out of that place.’ You can just imagine the stories that are around the campfire that night.

I wonder, what are the stories we’re telling one another just now? What are the stories we are hearing from one another or other places? Only stories of gloom and decline. It’s only our stories of the good old days and how things were when the church was at its peak. Maybe it’s only stories of complaint and bitterness. I wonder, can we see anything of what God is doing in our day?

I was recently listening to a podcast when I heard something of the story of the Iranian church and it just grabbed my attention because so much of it gave me hope for our situation, gave me ideas for what our path forward might look like and I want to give you the opportunity to hear just a little bit of that story, just a few minutes and so I’ve got a snippet of the video interview for you to listen to just now.


What’s interesting is that for years, though they had that prayer and it was that was the 50’s, they didn’t see a massive growth and there had been some missionaries. The first missionary had come to Iran in well modern was the 1812 Henry Martin came translating the Bible into Persian then the late 1800s guy called Robert Bruce I believe went from Scotland to Iran and you had the Anglicans you had the Presbyterians came in the early 1900s, the Assemblies of God came in the 1960s and missions like OM – excuse me – were there and there’s quite a lot of work going on but very few people came to Christ. So, by 1979, there were about 500 Christians from a Muslim background after all those years of mission and work and prayer for years. Can you imagine praying for years you expect the revival to turn up and I’m sure God did hear those prayers and it was part of the process but by 1979 only about 500 Christians from a Muslim background so Khomeini comes back with the you know hardline regime and all the missionaries are kicked out. Everything’s gone. Literally everybody’s kicked out of the country and so people think that that small church is just going to wither away and die, and then the persecution increases that at that time with a few pastors were killed and obviously then pastors are spied on. Evangelism eventually it’s banned. Churches are very limited and restricted. In 1990 The Bible Society was closed down. So, multiple crises really for the church and so you know people waiting for that to happen for the church just to wither and die. But somehow the opposite happened and Iranians became the most open Muslim people to the Gospel. There was hunger, there was just a deep hunger for it that began to grow and then the courage of the church. So, you had these two things come together. One was the reality that the Iranian space they began to see the true face of that religion. The government, their system, they began to see and there just was a new hunger that wasn’t there before 1979. So, the crisis wasn’t just a crisis for the church, it was actually a crisis for the people and there and I think that’s something very important for us to remember. We think the church is just going through a crisis in the west, the whole world was going through a crisis. So everybody’s facing some kind of crisis, and so for Iran, that the crisis was for the people saying what is true, what’s reality, where do I find hope? And then, on the other hand, you had the church even though it was tiny, and you’ve used the word ‘remnant’ many times in your podcast, but they there was this remnant of people who believed in Jesus, who Loved Jesus and thought ‘Okay, we’re gonna go for it.’ you know and with conviction did what they could. They preached the gospel, they shared their faith and so, remarkably, this tiny withering, small Church began to flourish and today many people say it’s one of the fastest growing, possibly the fastest growing church in the world, Whatever the story is, I can tell you that every single day, all across Iran, people are coming to Christ just in remarkable ways. Beautiful testimonies as people share their faith. They come across the gospel online or on TV. They find Bibles, divine appointments, dreams and visions, these types of things are happening and it really is a remarkable story.

It really is a remarkable story. The Iranian church was on the brink, it was expected to die out and now, is the fastest growing Church, apparently, and according to some analysis. and their story actually has many of the hallmarks, themes that this little book talked about. I encourage you maybe to pick up a copy of it. And if we were to listen to their story, if we were to learn from their testimony and from the research conducted by others and then turn to the teaching of Scripture might we then also be able to have a story to tell? A joyful story to tell?

So, what does their story, what does this book, what does our passage today teach us for our day?

Well, we read at the beginning of chapter 10 ‘After this the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them two by two ahead of him.’ Jesus appointed 72 others, just some regular folks, not worthy enough to get their names written down in scripture, not on the level apparently of an apostle but nonetheless, given power and authority, given a message and a purpose, and Jesus sends them out. And what’s almost more striking in some ways as they said ‘Yes’ to Jesus, they accepted the call of Jesus, and in our video, we heard the same of the Iranian church, in our day, that there was this small remnant, a small group of folks, very few after so much labor and persecution, but they resolved to do what they could to make Jesus known. They accepted the call from Jesus as well and, do you know brothers and sisters, we too are called. The Scriptures have many ways of putting it across: ‘go and make disciples’; ‘you will be his witnesses’; we are Christ’s ambassadors to implore people to be reconciled to God. That’s what we are called to be about. We are called. And I wonder, do you know that? Have you accepted that call? And if you’re maybe not nodding externally but nodding internally, going ‘Yeah, I know that. That’s old news to me, Scott!’ But what are you doing about it? What are you doing about it?

As a Kirk Session we some years ago now said that our purpose as a congregation was to be a people who would seek to invite, encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus. So how are we each playing a part in that purpose to invite encourage and enable? And a mature disciple would be looking to find ways that they give to all of those areas, to invite, encourage and enable. Not just saying ‘Well, that’s for, that’s for other people to do that bit, and I’m going to focus on this bit because that’s what I’m comfortable with,’ Well, that’s not what Jesus says. He says we’ve all to be witnesses, we’ve all to be ambassadors, who have all to go and make disciples. And that might not be a lot of time needs to be given to that. It might just be, who are you building a relationship with in the community? who are you seeking to encourage? how are you speaking to one another on a Sunday morning? It doesn’t need to take up a lot of time but we all need to be playing our part in this if it’s to be more than just a nice idea or words on a screen or something we nod our heads to. Have we accepted this call, and what are we doing about it? If we are going to have a joyful story to tell then we each, we each must accept this call.

I don’t know if you’ve heard of that research that was done, it’s actually referenced in the book, of people who were presented with a choice and they were presented with, I think it was particularly in kind of health situations with some of the research done, and they were said you’ve got this diagnosis but if you change your lifestyle in these variety of ways then this diagnosis will radically change, and the research found that more often than not people would choose to do anything else than change. To put it very bluntly, more often than not, people will actually choose death than change. And the same is true in the church sadly, because, if we don’t accept the call of Jesus, then we’re prioritizing something else.

And that principle can be seen in our passage today as well. Prior to the 72 being appointed we read just the end of chapter nine and in that little portion, three people encountered Jesus, three people as far as we know choose never to follow Jesus. We read earlier ‘A man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied ‘foxes of dens and birds of nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Let’s pause there. It can seem like some very strange words of Jesus. Why does he say that? Why doesn’t he just say ‘Great, come, let’s get going!’ Why does he respond this way? Well, I think Jesus can see his motives, He’s God after all. He can see into the human heart and He sees this man’s heart. He sees that this man is wanting to follow Jesus for the wrong motives because, actually, if you were a disciple, a disciple of a Rabbi, that brought a certain degree of prestige and comfort with it, because only the cream of the crop, the best-of-the- best of young Jewish men got to be a disciple of a Rabbi and so, it brought that element with it. He’s bringing that expectation with it. He’s thinking ‘Well, this will meet my needs and it’ll be just a life of cushy blessing.’ And Jesus is saying ‘Well, I’m not experiencing that. My way is the way of sacrifice, of love for others, that pays a great price and so, don’t expect following me to be any different. It’s not about meeting your needs.’ I wonder, do we bring that to our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus?

The passage goes on ‘He said to another man ‘Follow me’ but he replied ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father …… Still another said ‘I will follow you Lord, but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ And here we see the call put off for a different reason, not taken up because they’re attaching conditions, they’re failing to see the urgency of the situation, there’s something else they’ve got to attend too first. But Jesus goes on to say just a little later in chapter 10 ‘The harvest is plentiful’ it’s urgent, get involved come now, but there’s other things that they want to attend to first and as far as we know these three individuals choose not to follow Jesus.

But, if they had, they might have been part of the 72. But by choosing not to follow Jesus, they miss out, they choose death over change, they prioritize something else over the call to follow Jesus. And in the little book the research shows again and again that so often the church will choose to prioritize something else over the call of Jesus. He particularly focuses on two little things – Denial and Blame. So often we choose denial or it’s not that bad, like, church is busy enough, it’s noisy enough on Sunday, like, oh just there’s so much going on we don’t need to fill up the place anymore. We deny the situation, we deny the need to change, we deny that we’re called Oh, I’m not called not little old me – we have a false sense of humility. Or we deny the need around us. You know, only two or three percent of the Upper Braes population goes to any church on a Sunday morning, any church, not just the Church of Scotland, any church, two or three percent. Literally thousands of people that don’t know how great Jesus is, don’t know how much He loves them. But too often we choose denial over prioritizing the call of Jesus.

But sometimes people don’t choose denial. Sometimes we say ‘Okay, okay, I can see the situation, Scott. You know, there’s plenty of room here, there’s a whole bank of pews up here. No one’s sitting in them,’ or we say ‘Well, I can see the stats. Yep, we need to kind of share in the message and see more folks come into faith sure, but, you know, I don’t need to change, I don’t need to change, I’m doing my part, I’m busy enough, Scott. You have no idea and the amount of things that I’m juggling right now. I don’t need to change. It’s those other people that need to change. As those lazy members who need to change, who never come to church or who don’t get involved or who just warm a pew, they need to change.’ or ‘The denomination needs to change.’ You know, if it just threw more money at it, we could fill this place.’ or ‘If it didn’t cut all the buildings, we’d be fine.’ or we blame the minister ‘He preaches too long.’ Possibly true? or ‘He’s not doing the right things, he’s not out there enough, he’s not visiting enough. You know, if he followed up those 400 members that never come to church, then they’d all come back.’

We will choose blame so often, if we’re not choosing denial, and sometimes we choose both. If we’re going to have a story to tell, we must prioritize other things, we must prioritize saying yes to Jesus, not choosing blame or denial, not choosing procrastination or comfort. If we want to see the Kingdom of God come in our day then we must choose life over death, change over how we’ve known to follow Jesus up to this point. Because, let’s admit, what we’re doing just now isn’t cutting it. There needs to be change. Much more rather. You think the last three and a half years has brought radical change? We’ve steadied the ship, we’ve weathered the pandemic, but there’s thousands of people who know nothing of Jesus other than just a bit of a myth. So, if you think there’s been a lot of change so far, there’s got to be so much more to come and it’s going to have to get a lot more personal, you and me changing on the inside because the church could throw thousands of pounds at us but if we don’t change on the inside, it’s all for nothing, because we need to prioritize the call of Jesus.

I was going to use the story in another a week but just to go back to the Iranian church, one guy came to faith and he was being discipled by someone from Elam Ministries in another country so they were doing over Zoom and within the first four months of him coming to faith he had shared the gospel 100 times and then seen 12 people come to faith. It’s just incredible. Or this little book, this little book just puts it in a maybe a more accessible kind of next steps. He writes of a church in Florida who were on the path towards death and it just seemed inevitable and they were there was all the blame-game going on, it was very pervasive, he says, and then he writes ‘five of the members, all senior adults, became weary of the decline and blame syndrome and they began to pray for God to direct them in a positive way. They all began to find places in the community to care and love for people they never knew. They became the hands, feet and mouth of Jesus. Three years later the church began to turn positively. No, there’s not been dramatic growth but the signs of life are evident. Hope has replaced fear, obedience has replaced blame.’

So, what are we choosing, brothers and sisters? Are we choosing to prioritize the call of Jesus or is it something else that’s taken precedent?

Our passage today gives us one final principle to take note of. It’s not in the research but it’s there an Iranian story. A final principle that, if we don’t take note of, we will seek to prioritize and accept the call of Jesus for the wrong motives. The wrong motives, because it appears when the 72 come back and start telling the story they’ve experienced, the wrong thing has got their attention and so, Jesus brings us a warning, ‘Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’ I wonder if Jesus perceived in them that almost the power was going to their heads, that that was becoming the impetus, that spiritual high. ‘Oh wow, it’s amazing, the crowds around us and those people set free.’ and just ‘Oh, it felt so good and it was great to see that life change.’ but ‘Oh, look at me!’ and ‘Oh, let’s get out there again, let’s have that again!’ Maybe it’s the wrong thing is becoming the impetus for mission, the wrong driver, the wrong ground of their call. I don’t think Jesus is saying it’s wrong to have testimony or to share testimony or it’s wrong to want to have a joyful story to tell because, if that’s true, we’d have to rip out the Book of Acts. The Book of Acts is just testimony after testimony of what happened through the new, the early church but these things cannot be, should not be the ground, the impetus of our call. Instead, it should be the love of God for you and for me. That God was willing to die on a cross, experiencing excruciating pain, for love of You and me, so that our names could be written in Heaven, that we could belong to the people of God. That should be the impetus, that should be the ground of our faith, that, in response to His love, we respond in love for Him and for neighbor and to take up this call, and make Him known. And that’s the same for us as what we hear in the story of the Iranian church. I had another clip but I wouldn’t play it just now, but basically if you were to go and listen to that story you would hear that what is really fueling the church there is a love for Jesus, that they have fallen in love with Jesus, they want to share Him and make Him known because they know the love of Jesus and they will love Jesus in response. That’s what grounds their call, that’s what is the impetus for their acceptance and prioritization of the call of Jesus.

And I wonder friends, is that the same for us? Do we appreciate the depths of God’s call or is our love of God, our awareness of God’s love for us become a bit cold, a bit distant, a bit old news rather than good news, that God so loved you He would die for you, for you and for me?

Well, if we can appreciate something of that then let’s accept the call. If we can appreciate something of the cost that Jesus paid, that He hung there in pain to face the judgment of God on our behalf, to go to the depths of hell for our sakes, then let’s prioritize the call, because He didn’t put you second place, He didn’t say ‘I’ll get to that later.’

And let me make this really concrete for you. You could, there’s three ways that you could begin to put this into practice. The first is in your newssheet, there’s details about our Alpha Course and it starts this Wednesday. Who are you going to invite to that? Now they might not make the first week because you’ve maybe not been thinking about it till now, but they can come along for the second week or even the third week, but they must be there by the third week or otherwise they’re going to miss out. So, who are you going to invite? Who are you going to pray for and invite to that?

And, if you can’t name someone that you’re praying for right now, then maybe that’s the second thing. Maybe you need to get praying, because, if you’re not praying for someone, you’ll never take that step of inviting them to Alpha because you don’t care enough. If you cared enough, you’d be praying. So, who are you praying for? You know, sometimes we need encouragement in prayer and so, why not come along to Thursday evening or Sunday morning prayer times and get praying? It’s lovely that we were quite filled this morning but there’s loads more of you, come along in prayer because, in my own life, I know what it’s like, you get so busy with the rat race and getting this job done and helping the kids and whatever, that you forget to pray and sometimes it helps to have those dedicated things in a diary that you tune in for online or you come in person on a Sunday morning and you get praying. So, that’s step two.

Step three is, on your way out, pick up one of the leaflets for and the Belong Light Party at the end of October, as an alternative to Halloween and be thinking ‘Well, who are the families on my street that I can invite? Who are the grandchildren, who are the nieces and nephews, I can invite along to this? And come along with them. And if you don’t have someone to come along with then come along anyway because it’s for all ages and rather than come along and be served, come along to serve, to get alongside people who are new to church and get to know their names and welcome them, because this is a whole church thing if it’s to really have an impact.

Nice easy steps: Alpha, prayer, Light Party. Three easy ways of putting this into practice right now. Because the anatomy of a revived church includes a people who accept the call of Jesus, who prioritize the call of Jesus, because that call is grounded in the love of God and of their response of love to Him as well. I pray that we may be such a people. Amen.

Built through His Spirit

Preached on: Sunday 19th June 2022
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 here22-06-19 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 16:13-18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Jesus will build His church
– We partner with Jesus by the filling and power of the Holy Spirit

So, we’ve been hearing a little bit of what you’ve been doing over the last year. Thank-you so much. And I thought we would share a little bit of what the adults have been learning in the sanctuary because, actually, it weaves together so well that only God could do this. So, I just thought we should incur we should share some of this.

So, about a month ago I was on holiday taking a wee break and Brent was speaking with you and to the adults and he had up here a big sheet. Can you remember what was underneath the sheet? Can anybody remember? What was it? What’s the little building blocks that you use? Lego. Right. That’s right and he was building, getting you to build a temple because he was helping us learn about the story of a particular individual in the Old Testament. Can you remember who the name of that person is it begins with a ‘N’? Tricky name you think. Not, Noah, no. Can any adults remember? Nehemiah. That’s right Nehemiah. And the story of Nehemiah is about a man who God uses to help his, God’s people, rebuild the temple and restore His people’s purposes and what they’re about. But here’s the thing – it actually failed, it actually in the end failed because, although they got the temple rebuilt, and they started putting some things right, they didn’t see God’s kingdom come, and great power and glory and all their hopes and aspirations, it wasn’t fulfilled at that time and but that’s because they kept messing things up and they kept getting distracted and they needed someone to come and save them, to change them, to help them from the inside out, live for God’s purposes. And so, they waited and they waited. Do you like waiting? No. You’re probably waiting for me to finish right? Yeah. Yeah. Well, be glad you’re not having to wait about five, six, seven hundred years. The sermon’s not that long today. You didn’t have to wait that long but they did. God’s people waited that long from the days of Nehemiah until someone came. Who do you think came? Who was it? Who do you think it was? Jesus, exactly Otis. That’s it exactly. It was Jesus and He came doing some incredible amazing things. Things like what the juniors were telling us about. What other Bible stories can you remember? Incredible things that Jesus did? Can remember any other Bible stories that Jesus did incredible things? What incredible things did He do?

He had healed loads of folks or poor people. This woman today, the young girl he raised to life. He did some incredible healing. Did He do anything else? Can you remember any other Bible stories that were really amazing? Anybody want to chip in? Say again. Fed the five thousand, yep. Anybody on this side want to share a story? Say again. Calmed the sea. Exactly. The storm that was raging and He calmed the sea. He did all these things and because of these amazing things that were helping to mend this broken world, as the juniors were telling us in their story, people began to wonder began to think ‘Who is this guy? Who is this guy.? And Jesus knew that they were having these conversations and so He’s walking along with these disciples, they’re going to the next bit and as Isla read from read for us in the story, He turned to them and said ‘Well, who are people saying I am?’ But, you know, then he had another question, a very kind of pointed question and do you remember the question? Do you remember what it was that Isla read for us? He had one more question and it was ‘Who do you say I am? Who do you say I am?’ And Peter, it’s always Peter isn’t. He steps up and he’s like ‘I know. I’ve got the answer.’ Kind of like us with our Bibles it’s like ‘Oh, I know where Joshua is. I know where Esther is.’ But Peter steps up ‘You’re the messiah, the promised one. You’re the son of the living God.’ And I could imagine Jesus having a bit of a smile at that point ‘No Peter, you’ve got it, you’ve got it Peter but you don’t know the whole story yet, but you’ve got it but you only know that because my Father’s helped you.’ And we all need God’s help to understand who Jesus is and so Peter, Jesus then says this to the disciples ‘This is the rock (the knowledge of Jesus of who he is) this is the rock on which I will put together my church. A church so expansive with energy that not even a gate of hell will be able to keep it out.’ Or in the Bibles we have in our pews ‘On this I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’

Jesus is building something, boys and girls. He’s not building a temple, like in Nehemiah’s day, and he’s not even building a building or an institution. He’s building a people. A people who know Him, who follow Him, who trust Him. That’s His people and that’s you and me, and all the people across this world and across all time who’ve trusted in Him as the promised Messiah, as the Son of the living God. And with the adults we’ve been thinking about ‘Oh, how can we partner with Jesus? How can we be more obedient to Jesus? How can we collaborate with Jesus and what He is doing in the world?’

But here’s the really important thing, really important thing. There’s only one person ultimately who can build the church. Who is it? Who is it that can build the church? That’s Jesus. It’s only Jesus that can build the church because ultimately to build the church you need to change hearts and I’ve been preaching for three years and who knows what degree of change is in your hearts but only Jesus can change our hearts. I can’t do it. You can’t do it. I can tell you about Jesus but I can’t make you have a relationship with Jesus. Only Jesus can do that.

And so, we’ve been emphasizing the place of prayer and of asking Jesus to build His church because only Jesus can build the church, and it’s a great thing, it’s actually really good news that it’s Jesus who builds the church because who is this Jesus? He’s the Jesus of the miracles. He’s the Jesus who calms the storms. He’s a Jesus who raises the dead. He’s a Jesus who died on that cross to overcome sin and death and hell and He proved victorious when He was risen from the dead to show He accomplished His goals. This is our Jesus, church. This is our Lord and Savior and so when He says He will build His church, He will fulfill that promise to build a people who trust in Him the rock of our salvation. Who know Him as the Son of the living God

And so, will we be that people? A people who trust? A people who follow? A people who walk with our Lord all the days of our lives, from the youngest, across all the days? I pray that we will be, brothers and sisters. May it be so. Amen.


Preached on: Sunday 5th June 2022
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 22-06-05 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Nehemiah 6:15-16 & 7:73b-8:18
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Sermon keypoints:
– Restoration is a people living under the Word of God
– Living under the Word of God requires us to respond wholeheartedly
– Living under the Word of God requires us to be reshaped

I don’t think we need to pray anymore after such a beautiful prayer led for us by the Choir. So, let me let me begin.

Recently, I was at the General Assembly and for five days, long days, we heard 30 reports which totaled something like 260 pages plus of writing, not that they read it verbatim, thankfully, but they spoke, in addition to those 250 pages, there were about 400 people in The Assembly Hall which you see pictured here, 200 online and probably the cost, I guess, is somewhere in the region of maybe 120 to 150 thousand pounds.

And so, you might begin to wonder – what did it achieve? Because, you know, your offerings contributed to funding that, a bit of your offering goes into the central funds and some of it is used for that to. So, what did it achieve? What came of it? Or is the church any more on a path towards a good future? Or, as we’re thinking about in Nehemiah, are we on a path to restoration?

I guess that depends on your point of view. For example, there were positives. There was the agreement and ratification of the Declaration of Friendship, the Saint Margaret Declaration between the Church of Scotland and the Roman Catholic Church, and the Church of Scotland taking a stand against bigotry and saying it has no place and should not be condoned by anyone of faith. There were encouraging reports of the work done by the Scottish Bible Society, by Crossreach, by The Guild and all that they are doing in the name of Jesus and for people locally and internationally. Great reports to hear, great work to affirm and encourage. There were negatives. The church made headlines about some of its decisions in the press and which I would argue is a departure from Scripture. So, as our church on the path to restoration, for me personally, for a number of people who attended, even across the theological spectrum, it didn’t feel like it, I didn’t feel like we were necessarily better off for having spent so much money and gathered for five days and expelled so much hot air.

But, I guess, ultimately, it begs the question – What would restoration look like? What would restoration look like for the church, in the everyday?

Well, we’re nearly at the end of our series in Nehemiah and, halfway through we read these verses, just a moment ago, ‘So the wall was completed in 52 days and when our enemies heard about this all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their confidence because they realized that this work had been done with the help of our God.’ The wall is complete. The wall is complete and not only that, people are taking notice, they’re taking notice of God’s people and they are realizing that God is alive and active, that He’s not just some old guy in a book, He’s alive and active and the wall is complete. In our day, if people started thinking that about the church and about the Christian faith, we’d maybe think ‘Well, job done. Pat in the back.’ That would be a great accomplishment. If the wider nations, if even our own nation, were taking note of this. But the job is not complete for Nehemiah because they’re only, we are only halfway through the book. There’s still another seven chapters, and don’t worry we’re not going to read them all, because many of the chapters that are coming follow on from what is contained in this chapter, although they deal with different issues. Their themes, their principles apply, follow the lead of this chapter. Chapter eight, there’s still seven more to go and it all goes to show, as we said a few weeks ago, that the rebuilding is not about the building. The wall might be complete, but God’s restoration is not over, it’s not done, the job’s not finished, because the restoration that God is seeking the restoration that is upon Nehemiah’s heart, because of God’s prompting and the restoration that God is enabling is a spiritual restoration, the restoration of their spiritual life and it’s all tied in with God’s word.

And so, we read ‘All the people came together they told Israel, the Teacher of the Law, to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses which the Lord had commanded for Israel. So, on the first day of the seventh month, Ezra, the priest, brought the law before the assembly. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law. The goal of restoration is not the rebuilding of a building, it’s to have a people who live under the Word of God. The goal of restoration is to have a people who live under the Word of God and the people seek this out. They invite Ezra to do it. To speak to them from daybreak till noon. Be glad you’ve only got a 30 minute sermon, if it ends up being there, and they raise Ezra up on a platform so that everyone can hear, the multitude can hear, because it’s so important for them. Why is it so important for them? Are they just being religious?

Well, let’s remember that back in chapter 2 they felt a measure of disgrace, disgrace that the walls had been, were in ruin but that spoke of other spiritual dynamics and that disgrace was being then projected onto God because the nations would hold God in disdain, with lack of honor and they’d had enough, they’d had enough, they wanted to be a people who brought honor and glory to God’s name, rather than disgrace, and to know how to do that, to know the wider life that they had to live to bring honor and glory to God. How to please God they turned to His Word. They turned to His Word. So, as we seek and pray for restoration of our own congregation, to see these pews filled, to see such a number here that we have to cram us unto the balcony, to see our denomination flourish again that we plant churches rather than having to close churches. Is it this kind of restoration that we seek? To be a people, to be a church who live under the Word of God?

I guess it depends on what you think the purpose of the church is, what our focus should be. If it’s just about doing good in the community, maybe not if it’s just about caring for one another. You don’t necessarily need to be a community that lives under the Word of God to do that. Yet, our elders agreed that as a congregation this would be our purpose – To seek to invite encourage and enable people of all ages to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus. And that means a lot more than just knowing the stories about Jesus and thinking He’s a great guy. To follow Jesus is to grow in the character of Jesus. To follow Jesus is to know the ways of Jesus across both the Old and the New Testaments and put that into practice. To follow Jesus is to say that Jesus is worth following, that he’s worth glory, he’s worth our lives.

So, what is it that we are seeking the restoration of? Is it this, to be a people who live under the word of God?

Now, even if we think it’s important to be a people who live under the Word of God it begs the question again – What does that look like? What does it mean? Because we have our own traditions, where we seek to honor the Word of God, don’t we? We bring in the Bible every week during a moment of stillness and we place it on the pulpit and in other churches, as you saw last week with Slamannan, they may be sing a song, other churches are silent, some churches stand. Some churches have a monstrosity of a Bible that’s just big and it’s old and there’s a degree of reverence with that.

But it’s possible that the tradition, the ritual can be become the end in itself, that we have this public display of reverence for God’s Word but it doesn’t mean anything now, because we don’t live it out. So, what does it mean to live under the Word of God, more than just having some public display of reverence on a Sunday morning? What does that look like?

Well, the people of Nehemiah’s day give us some ideas. ‘Ezra opened the book and, as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God and all the people lifted their hands and responded Amen! Amen! Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. All the people had been weeping as they listened to the Words of the Law. Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.’ We see here that to live under the Word of God is to respond to the Word of God, to respond with the whole of our hearts. And so, we see that they raise their hands in worship and praise. If you think I’m crazy doing that then, well, I’ve got Ezra on my side. So, they lift their hands in praise but they also bow down in worship as an act of humility and they say Amen! Amen! And if you don’t know what that word means, it means ‘may it be so’, ‘let it be’ so, ‘I agree’, ‘I want that to be true of my life’, ‘True in this world’, ‘True of us’ depending on what you’re saying ‘Amen’ too. But they also weep and they mourn, a sign of repentance, but then they also go home to celebrate and rejoice together with a feast. The people in Nehemiah’s time, in this passage at least, they respond wholeheartedly to the Word of God. And so, we can have as many rituals as we like, we can have bookcases full of Bibles at home, we can even be reading the Bible every day but, if we are not responding to the Word of God, then we are not living under the Word of God, because James reminds us ‘Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves, do what it says.’

It’s possible to deceive ourselves, to think that because we give due reverence to the Scriptures, to think that because I was there for the sermon and I even listened, I didn’t fall asleep, we can think that we are ticking the box, that we’re listening but, to listen to the Word, is to do the work and I think that’s, in part why, for some in the church, the decision at the General Assembly on that particular Monday was so disheartening because it didn’t feel like we were responding to the Word of God. It felt like we were responding to other things, other pressures, other voices but not to God’s Word. But it’s easy to point fingers at others, to look at the others and point those things out. What about our own lives? What about your life? Where are we deceiving ourselves? Or, to put it more positively, where are we responding to the Word of God? Where are we responding in praise and celebration? Where are we responding with confession and humility? Where are we responding with our own ‘Amen’? So, let me give you a few examples from recent sermons.

At the beginning of Nehemiah there was a call to pray, to pray for our congregation, to pray for our Sunday gathering, to pray for our wider denomination, and it’s been heartening to see a fair number of folk gather at 10:15. Now, I said at the time, there’s no pressure to be there, but if you don’t come please pray in your own time. So, did you pray? Because I haven’t seen all of you here. Did you pray? Did you take that on board? Did you care enough to pray? Or did we just listen but not listen? Because this is not going to change without listening to the Word of God and without prayer. So, we’re going to carry on our 10:15 prayers, we’re going to move it into one of the other rooms and you’re always welcome to join us and you can continue to pray at home, but sometimes we need the structure, we need the accountability to make us stop and pray and I need that as much as anyone. If we didn’t have that 10:15 time just ask Jean Meek the number of times when I have been busy and about and then Jean’s commented ‘We praying?’ I was like ‘Yeah, we’re praying! Great, you’ve reminded me, it’s that time already.’ I need it as much as the next person. So maybe you need it and maybe you should come at 10:15. Or if not, put it in the diary and keep to do something to respond to that. Or let me jump back into our Lent series. Our Lent series where we saw the invitation of Jesus to trust Him, to trust Him because He knows our sorrows and He has come, He has overcome death. Have we taken that to heart? Is it the foundation of our faith in some way? Because hard times come, sadness has come, dark times come, and you might be there just now, and if we don’t take that Word to heart, if we don’t take it deep down, then when those hard times come, we forget those truths and we think that God doesn’t care and He’s not there and He’s just leaving us to our fate or our darkness. But He’s not, He’s not. He’s come to die on a cross, to overcome death that we might have a better future, that we might have the hope of a new heaven and a new earth, a new creation where there’ll be no more suffering and no more pain and the old order of things will have gone away.

Did we take that to heart? Did we allow that to go deep down in us and engender a deeper trust in Jesus? Friends, the purpose of restoration is to be a people who respond to the Word of God because that’s in part what it looks like to live under the Word of God. But our passage gives us one more, one more area where what it looks like to live under the Word of God.

We read earlier ‘They found written in the law that the Israelites were to live in temporary shelters during the festival of the seventh month so the people went out and brought back branches and built themselves temporary shelters.’ To live under the Word of God is to be reshaped or transformed by the Word of God. Imagine, they’ve got these new homes that they’ve just rebuilt and they’re getting all comfy and then they discover they have to make temporary shelters out of branches and live outdoors for seven days. Can you imagine doing that? It’d be a measure of discomfort, frustration. ‘Really? I’ve really got to do this?’ But they do it because to live under the Word of God is to be shaped, reshaped by the Word of God. And so, what they’re celebrating here is the Festival of Tabernacles. It’s written about in the Book of Leviticus and they would make these temporary shelters and by sharing in this festival they would remember a number of things. They would remember that God had guided His people through the desert for 40 years and that He had provided and protected them, that He had been faithful and generous but they’d also remember then that they were indebted to that past action of God and to the present generosity and faithfulness of God that had helped them rebuild Jerusalem now, and they would be saying that they’re still a pilgrim people, they’re still a people on a journey, they’re still not fully at home yet, that there’s more to come and so they trust the Lord, they put their trust in Jesus.

And friends, today as we gather around this table and we take our little cups and we share in the Sacrament of Communion, many of these things are being remembered and celebrated too. We’re remembering the provision and protection of God. That He ‘so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son’. That’s what we remember, that we’re saved, we don’t have to pay the penalty of our sin, because our God is faithful and generous and so we remember that, we remember that we’re indebted to Him, we remember that this isn’t our home, that there’s a better future, a new creation, a new home where we’ll see Jesus’ face to face and we’ll be reunited with all our loved ones who followed Him.

And so, we declare our confidence, our ongoing trust in Jesus too, as we share in this meal. Now, for the Israelites, in their minds eye, that was a timely reminder they’d forgotten about it, they hadn’t celebrated it in that way, there was new things to learn about this festival, it was a timely thing of God and I want to tell you that God has been doing a timely thing I think in giving us this sermon at this time, in light of what the Kirk Session has been discussing about communion too. So, back in March the elders began a conversation around communion, about how communion is served, about who gets to share in communion and if you don’t know our past practice before the pandemic, was that the elders would walk in and sit over here and then, the elders, after the top table was, top table the table was served, we would then serve the elders and then the elders would serve everybody else, and there were probably very practical reasons for that in some ways. It makes it quicker and simpler less messy. But as the elders shared about this, we began to share that we felt maybe at times it could inadvertently communicate things that we don’t want to communicate. It could communicate a measure of superiority, that those in leadership, those who oversee this community of faith, they’re served first. Well, why?

And it’s not to criticize, it’s just to say that that could be portrayed, that could be seen in that symbolism and so we paused the conversation and went away to kind of ruminate a bit more and think about it over. And we came back in May and in that meeting we talked about it more and collectively we decided that we should change our practice, we should change it so that Communion can be served by anybody within the congregation and that the order of it might change as well of who is served first and last and it feels like a rediscovery, feels like a restoration, kind of akin to Nehemiah’s time, that we’re discovering that there’s much more to how we share and that when we share it in different ways we can recover different meanings and symbolism.

So, that’s coming once we’re able to start sharing the elements again and pass them around. Maybe for September but at the same meetings we also talked about the place of children and whether children could share in communion. Now this is not the first time that the Kirk Session of Brightons has had this discussion. Apparently, we had a discussion about it back in the 90s. I wasn’t here for that one so I don’t know all the ins and outs but I’m told the decision was made that children could share in Communion That’s nearly 30 years on – nothing has changed really. I think our elders couldn’t really name any changes that had really resulted from that decision, in that discussion.

So, we are now going to more proactively involve children in sharing Communion but the elders would like me to do some teaching on that, to us as a congregation and then do some follow-up work with the Sunday School leaders, with the Sunday Schools, maybe with families, and to allow that time, we’re working towards December as being the first time that we might more proactively involve our children in Communion, and it will mean that children are in here for Communion not every time, there are different ways of doing this, but at least in December, our kids will be back in the Sanctuary after the sermon to share in Communion. More change is coming, and before you think that this is about being more inclusive or something like this, I am not going to ground any of my arguments in favor of that, on being more inclusive, I am going to ground all my arguments upon the Scriptures and can I tell you I have been loving the reading I’ve been doing recently just to reacquaint myself with some of this. It’s getting me excited about God’s purposes about His heart for children, for families and what we’ve been missing out on as a church and how we disciple our children and how we talk about faith with our children. I’m excited. I’m really looking forward to that teaching series which will come at the end of August beginning, beginning of September. So, it’s all going to be shaped by Scripture and then proactively responding to that.

But, for today, in a few moments, we’re going to be sharing in Communion. We do it responding to the Word of God, the command of Jesus in Scripture, the written Word of God and to the life of Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, who came in flesh and died on a cross for you and for me. We remember in that meal. His generosity and faithfulness. We affirm that we are people who seek to follow Jesus by living under the Word of God, responding wholeheartedly and being shaped, reshaped as His people. I pray it may be so. 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


Joshua: respond

Preached on: Sunday 11th April 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 21-04-11 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Joshua 1:1-16
Location: Brightons Parish Church

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

Come Holy Spirit, have your own way. Change our hearts and minds to be more like Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, shape us as the church of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction.
for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen.

As I said before our reading the opening portion of the book of Joshua finds the people of God at the beginning of a new chapter Moses has died and gone to be with the lord before his death he wrote down the law of God enabling Israel to know the ways of the lord so that the promises of God could be fulfilled with Moses departure a new chapter begins and in many ways it foreshadows what the disciples would experience with Jesus after the resurrection in Matthew chapter 28 we read this the Holy Spirit and teaching them to be everything I have commanded you and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age hopefully we remember from last week that when the angel came and spoke to the woman and then through the women to the disciples the instruction was that they were to go to galilee and there Jesus would meet them well here they are they’ve responded in faith and they meet with Jesus for sure for some there is doubt still but they all worship Jesus as the risen lord and into that doubt into this group of people Jesus speaks he begins a new chapter these two moments in the history of God’s people echo one another and in doing so they show us what to pay attention to what to draw from the opening chapter of Joshua that it might speak into our day because we as followers of Jesus as members of his church we too are given the same commission as those early disciples so what are we to pay attention to well firstly we are to respond to God’s word the lord says to Joshua now then you and all these people get ready to cross the Jordan river into the land I am about to give them I will give you every place where you set your foot now then get ready these words carry drive impetus in the original language their commands to be put into practice and similarly Jesus says go and make go and make again these words are weighty they are strong they are urgent calling us to be about this rather than put it off it’s interesting that Joshua is also told that wherever they set their feet this will become home to them but here’s the thing it will only become home if they set out if they get actively involved if they cross into the promised land

in both Joshua’s time and in Jesus commission to the church God’s people are called to respond to God’s word because if we don’t

then his calling and commission is not fulfilled as he intended and there’s no plan b friends you and I here in the sanctuary and at home we are it it is through us that God intends for others to come into his family and into his kingdom just a few weeks ago I was reminding us of the drastic fall in church membership over the last 20 years a fall which it could be asked does it show our apathy to our commission or that we have become comfortable with our ineffectiveness and so once again I effectively ask you have you had enough of decline enough so that we do something about it that we recognize that we all have a part to play and it must include some way somehow the sharing of our faith with today’s generation because the people who seem to be coming to church staying at church getting involved with church are people who choose to identify as Christian who choose to follow Jesus but people don’t reach that stage if they’re not first hearing about the Christian faith and so they must hear it some way somehow

and so I ask you here and you at home do you hear the personal call to respond and own this commission to own it to say it is mine it is mine

Joshua was called to respond and to ensure that he would know how to put God’s word into practice the lord says to him be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you do not turn to it from the right or to the left keep it always on your lips similarly Jesus says that part of raising up disciples is teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you not only are we called to respond to God’s word we are called to know it to chew over and to do so in community

we are called to this because Jesus is not after people who know some nice stories or can recite some of his nice morals Jesus says that a disciple is someone who knows his lord’s teaching and knows it well enough that they put it into practice

so I wonder friends what’s the way that you are engaging with God’s word maybe you’re using the new testament reading plan or an app like Lectio365 or Pray as You Go maybe you use printed daily reading notes no matter your preference though if we are to be a people who confidently share our faith such that we raise up new disciples we need to know our faith and the scriptures that underpin it

Joshua was a man of God a person who knew God’s word and put it into practice and so his next step is to speak to the leaders and to the people so that what the lord had commanded would be put into practice but what I find really striking here is what he says to the Reubenites Gaditzen halftribe of Manasseh he says your wives or children and your livestock may stay in the land that Moses gave you east of the Jordan but all your fighting men ready for battle must cross over ahead of your fellow Israelites you’re to help them until the lord gives them rest as he has done for you and I find that remarkable because these tribes these fighting men are called to leave their security their safety leave what is precious to them and rest their lives in fact they’ve to go ahead of their fellow Israelites never mind tag along at the back where do you think you would prefer to be at the back not the front and I think for me this shows that God calls us to a way of life where we stand alongside one another a way of life where we cannot be indifferent to the welfare of one another now Jesus does not mention this explicitly at the time of the great commission but let’s remember only ten days before he had taught them this command love one another as I have loved you so you must love one another by this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another

care for others to the point of sacrifice is meant to distinguish us we cannot claim to be following the teaching of Jesus and remain indifferent to one another so what could this look like what could this look like well this summer there’s an opportunity for us all it’s my intention that from June to august there will be no Tuesday evening events and that’s to give us time to connect and reconnect with one another however i’m conscious that because of covet and because we’re a medium-sized church it’s easy for people to be overlooked or maybe even forgotten because we haven’t seen them in over a year and so we need a vehicle to care for as many as possible and a vehicle which also allows as many as are willing to get involved and so this week you will be sent a letter via email or post and in that letter you will be asked whether you are willing for your name address and phone number to be shared with the other members of your pastoral grouping this would then allow each of us to get in contact or do a card and visit or send a card do something and over the summer hopefully reconnect as a church family and if you’re not in a pastor or grouping then get in touch if you want to get involved because please note this only those who opt in will have their details shared and only those who opt in will receive details of others who have also opted in so if you don’t opt in your details will not be shared so let’s not worry but neither will you receive details and we’re sharing this just now because hopefully as many of us will get involved as possible and it then just takes time to put that into place additionally I would like to encourage you to read a book that I’ve been reading it’s Francis Chan’s Letters to the Church and i’d like you to try and read it over June to august because that’s less than one chapter a week i’ve been found in it both stimulating and easy to read much easier than the book I gave to the elders okay but it gets us into God’s word chewing it over and understanding some of what it means to be the church you can of course order a copy for yourself but if you would find it helpful for us to order your copy then give it out simply on the reply slip with the letter let us know there’s space to make that known to us okay friends if we respond I’m excited about what the summer could hold for us I reconnected church family who are chewing upon God’s word and responding to it such that we are better enabled to fulfill the commission given to us but before the end there’s one final thing one final thing ultimately it’s not our unity or our obedience or our knowledge which will enable us to fulfill our commission it’s that the lord is with us for he says to Joshua as I was with Moses so I will be with you I will never leave you nor forsake you be strong and courageous to not be afraid for the lord your God will be with you wherever you go and similarly Jesus promises surely I am with you always to the very end of the age friends our calling is momentous sometimes risky surely self-sacrificing and humanly impossible but the lord promises to be with us in the times of Joshua in the times of the early church and even still today as I said last week Jesus is leading us onward and so it is his presence his faithfulness that gives us true courage as well as the love and power to respond to his commission

and to be a people united and living out his command

I pray it may be so, Amen