The way of the Cross: welcome all

Preached on: Sunday 28th March 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 21-03-28 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Mark 11:1-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us pray before we think about God’s word

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

Boys and girls at home, one and all, do you remember what this means?

Do you remember?

We use this sign language in the Lord’s Prayer, and it means kingdom. So we have a hand on our head like a crown, you want to join in and maybe join in at home, hand the crown and then flat hand in a circle kind of like the land of the kingdom the place where the king rules.

So we say ‘Your kingdom come’ in the lord’s prayer but why do we say that?

Well, it’s because our God is king, Jesus is king. But what kind of king is he and where is his kingdom?

So are you ready to do some actions here, and at home, are you ready?

So put your hands up high if you think Jesus is powerful. Hands up high for powerful.

Just keep them low if you don’t powerful or not. Oh, lots of hands up high, probably at home as well. You can put your hands down. Thank-you for joining in.

So, yes, Jesus is a powerful king. Did you have your hands up at home as well. I hope you did because He did lots of miracles, He healed people, He stilled storms. Jesus is a powerful king.

Now if you think Jesus was a caring king hands out wide, like a big hug. So was Jesus as a caring king or not? What are you choosing at home? Are you choosing out wide or not? Lots of hands out wide in here. You can put your hands down again.

Yeah Jesus was a caring king. He cared for other people, he showed that he cared.

Lastly hands out front if you think Jesus was a bossy king. Hands out front if you think he was a bossy king, pushing people around, telling them what to do. What are you picking at home? Well there’s no hands up here, so maybe at home, maybe some of you do have your hands out, maybe some of you don’t, who knows. Was Jesus a bossy king?

Well back when Jesus was here on the earth everybody knew that Jesus was powerful just like we do and everybody knew that Jesus was caring and we know that as well but people back then hoped and thought that Jesus might also be a bossy king and that was because they wanted Him to be the boss, they wanted Him to be the boss and make things right especially by bossing out the Romans and telling them to leave their country.

So when Jesus rode in into Jerusalem everybody was thinking, here comes this powerful, caring, bossy king. Yes, and he’s going to get rid of the Romans and we’re going to have a great place to live in and so they started singing songs ‘Hosanna! God save us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’ They were so excited.

Now, boys and girls, what did Jesus ride in on again?

Was that a big horse ‘neigh’, was it was it an elephant like an Aladdin, was a reindeer like in Frozen – you can tell I watch a lot of Disney!

No, it wasn’t any of those. What was it? Can you remember?

It was a donkey, and a donkey’s not the kind of animal you’d expect a king to ride in on, but that’s what Jesus did and by doing that he showed he wasn’t bossy, he was humble. Humble and caring, and even though he was powerful, more powerful than any king and actually in the Bible just before our reading today, Jesus said this about himself ‘For even the Son of Man (that’s Jesus) did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ He wasn’t a bossy king but He was still king.

So we have to do what he said but he would show his care and his power through loving others, helping other people, and people he wanted to be part of His kingdom and that’s where, boys and girls, there was another surprise about Jesus. Do you remember what they were waving and putting on the ground as Jesus came into Jerusalem?

They were waving palm branches, and they were putting their coats on the ground, and that just sounds, really weird to us does it not? But both of these actions were a sign of them welcoming Jesus. They were thinking ‘Yes, here’s Jesus our king. He’s one of us. You’re going to help us Jesus, so welcome, be welcome here Jesus.’

They thought Jesus cared about them. They wanted his kingdom in that, just that one place, and other people were barred. Other people would be kept at a distance. Other people were not welcome.

Boys and girls, do you think that was true or not true about Jesus? What are the adults in here gonna pick true or not true about Jesus? I’m seeing a lot of thumbs down – not true about Jesus – He’d shown that He’d come for one and all. Any who would welcome Him into their lives. Because Jesus is king, He’s powerful, He’s caring, He’s humble and His kingdom is now spread all across the world, and everyone is welcome into His kingdom if they choose Jesus as their king, and I think that would have been a surprise and even a disappointment for a lot of people because they wanted Jesus to be their king, and meet their expectations. They wanted Jesus to be their king and sort out their problems. They didn’t want a king who would care about other people and especially not people who were on the outside, but that’s the kind of king Jesus is. He’s the king who came to serve and to serve people on the outside as much as on the inside, and I wonder friends, if that’s something we sometimes forget as well.

Christian writer N.T Wright said this ‘Have we so domesticated and trivialized our Christian commitment, our devotion to Jesus Himself, that we look on Him simply as someone to help us through the various things we want to do anyway, someone to provide us with comforting religious experiences.”

Basically is Jesus just about me and my agenda? Do I expect Jesus simply to meet my expectations? or am I willing to be surprised and even challenged by Jesus? Can I recognize that His kingdom is bigger than Brightons, or the British churches, or the Church in Scotland? Can I. do we realize that Jesus cares about the people who are not here today and who are not tuning in today as much as he cares for you and for me? And I wonder, do we care for that as much as Jesus does? or is our focus on ourselves, on our place of worship, on the stuff we want from Jesus? or can we learn to follow our king and care for the same things He cared about?

Boys and girls, one and all, I pray that we would be more like Jesus, that we’d follow our king. Our king whose kingdom extends to the whole of the earth. Now a king who came to make this possible so that one and all could be part of his kingdom and He gave his life to make that possible. Might we then be a people who follow in His footsteps, who follow the way of the Cross and help others across the Braes to know Jesus, and through knowing Him, to have hope a hope that is steadfast and sure?

May it be so, Amen.

Advent: welcome and re-storied

Preached on: Sunday 6th December 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 20-12-06 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Matthew 1:6b-11
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Text: Matthew 1:6b-11
Sunday 6th December 2020
Brightons Parish Church

Message
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 true and pleasing in Your sight, O LORD, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

I wonder what Christmas films you’re looking forward to watching in the coming weeks? Do you have a family tradition of watching a particular film each year? Maybe it’s ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, or ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, ‘Elf’, ‘Meet me in St Louis’ or even ‘The Muppets Christmas Carol’ – there’s so many to choose from! Why don’t you put up your favourite in the Live Chat.

In each of these there is a story of fortunes overcome, struggles faced, and battles won. Often the stories we go back to, are those that are stories of change, of freedom, of redemption and a new life, a new future secured.

Last week, we began a new sermon series that will see us through to the end of December, focusing on the first chapter of Matthew’s gospel, which began with these words: ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham…’ (v1) We dug in to some of the names and titles here: Messiah, David and Abraham. We saw that Jesus was the fulfilment of promises made long ago by God and that the initial people listed by Matthew show the welcome of God to one and all, that no one is written off. In those opening verses, we saw more of the identity of Jesus…
as the promised Messiah but also the identity we are to have: followers of Jesus, who are welcomed into the family of God and sent out to invite others to share in this good news as well.

Today we move on to the next portion of the genealogy and as you look over that list – as you take a wide-angle view of who you find there – what do you see? I see story after story filled with dysfunction. In the family line of Jesus there are a lot of skeletons in the cupboard!

Many of the individuals listed here were wicked kings of Israel and Judah, and even going back to last week’s portion of the genealogy, we find broken people there as well: Jacob who was a deceiver and thief; Judah who sold his brother into slavery; David who was an adulterer… and murderer; Tamar who engaged in incest; Rahab who was a prostitute. Time and time again, the individuals listed here are not the folks you would expect to have in the family line of the Messiah; the people here – both this week and last – are flawed, weak-willed, selfish individuals with some seriously shady stories. A real bunch of misfits.

So, what are we to make of this list? What are we meant to see about the family line of Jesus? Well, first off, I think it shows, once again, the welcome of God, but this time amidst all of our brokenness. Because not only does the family line of Jesus have a back story, we each have a story as well. In each of our lives, there is brokenness, there is imperfection, and still God calls us home to Himself and He is ready to welcome us.
One author, Brennan Manning, wrote: ‘The heart of Jesus [which is the heart of God] loves us as we are and not as we should be, beyond worthiness and unworthiness, beyond fidelity and infidelity. He loves us…without caution, regret, boundary, limit or breaking point.’

This is the love of God for you and for me. This is the welcome of God extended to you and to me. No matter who you are or what you’ve done, God loves you and is ready to welcome you home into His family. Just look at the list of individuals in the family line of Jesus – and yet
God chooses, Jesus chooses, to be born into that particular family line. God knew what was coming, none of their stories took Him by surprise, and yet He still chose to identify with them, to become part of that family line.
Friends, as another author put it: ‘the grace of God is…lavish, excessive, outrageous and scandalous. God’s grace is ridiculously inclusive. Apparently God doesn’t care who He loves. He is not very careful about the people He calls His friends or the people He calls [family]…the grace of God is indiscriminate, foolish, impractical, unrealistic, crazy and naïve.’

I also wonder, friends, I wonder what’s in your story– I wonder what you are facing just now, or what you have faced in the past – and whether it has sown a seed of doubt about whether God would ever welcome you home, whether God would ever delight in you and value you? I wonder if there are skeletons in your cupboard, which maybe you keep hidden from others, and maybe even try to keep hidden from God?…
Well you don’t need to, and you don’t need to doubt – because we see in Jesus the welcome of God and His love of broken people, like you and me.

Friends, this advent season, do you know the welcome of God? Do you know His grace? All of us are broken, all of us are flawed, just like the individuals in the family line of Jesus – all of us are undeserving, we’re all on the same level – and yet we are all welcomed home as well. (P)

Nevertheless, the grace of God is not only there to welcome us, but to save us, to redeem us, to restore, even re-story our lives. You see, the people in the family line of Jesus were broken people – like you and me – but they were broken people because of sin, because of a deep darkness and sickness that is in each of us…
Jesus came, not only to reveal the welcome and grace of God, but to do something about our underlying condition. In fact, it’s so key to the identity of Jesus that it’s part of His name. Matthew began by saying:
‘This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah …’ (v1)

To us, a name is little more than just a word, but in the culture of the time a name carried meaning, and ‘Jesus’ meant ‘the Lord saves’ and as we’ll see in a few weeks’ time the angel also said to Joseph: ‘[Mary] will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ (Mt. 1:21)

God not only wants to welcome us, He wants to save us, He wants to restore and re-story our lives, in fact He wishes to do this for the whole of creation…
When Matthew says, ‘This is the genealogy of Jesus…’ the original Greek literally reads: ‘This is the book of the genesis of Jesus…’ and that would have made the Jewish readers of Matthew’s time think about the start of the Old Testament, where God began another ‘genesis’, the genesis of creation itself. Matthew is trying to tell us that the coming of Jesus is a new beginning, a new creation, a new genesis and that this is for all the nations, for all broken, sinful people. This coming Messiah came to save, to restore, to re-story our lives and the whole of creation. The Apostle Paul would one day say, ‘…if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!’ (2 Cor. 5:17)

Friends, Father God accepts you as you are – back story and all – but now as part of His family, part of the family…

line of Jesus, He wants to re-story your life, weaving a future – your future story – into the great and cosmic story of what He was up to at Christmas: that Jesus, the Messiah, had come to bring about a new creation, starting with the broken people of this world.

Friends, your past, your back story, doesn’t need to define who you are or your identity or your value or your future – because Jesus came to save, to restore, to restory your life and mine. I will never tire of retelling my story, of how God broke into my life at the time when the darkness of my soul had gone too far. And in that moment, I met with the grace and welcome of God – He welcomed me as I was, but since then, He has re-storied my life and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in all the world.
Maybe you’re wondering: how can I know the welcome and grace of God? How can I let God re-story my life and save me? Well, later in Matthew’s gospel, when Jesus began teaching about the kingdom of God, He said this:
‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’
(Matthew 4:17)

Repent. That’s how we let Jesus re-story our lives. It’s more than simply saying sorry. To repent, is to have your thinking changed about Jesus that it affects the core of who you are and how you live your life. When you repent truly, you make the choice to follow Jesus – His teaching, His ways, His example – you seek to follow Him first and before all. Now, you won’t get it perfect, because none of us are, we’re still broken. But if there is genuine repentance, then there should also be a desire in us…
to allow Jesus to shape and lead our lives.

Friends, if we want saved, if we want our lives restored and re-storied, such that we know the welcome and grace of God, then it always begins with humbling ourselves – repenting – and calling out to Him for help. If we do that, then God always responds, He always welcomes home anyone – no matter their story – God welcomes home such a person to be part of His family.

Brothers and sisters, every season of Advent is a time to remember the greatest of stories – not captured often by Hollywood – and yet, in this story, the story of the genealogy of Jesus, the Messiah, we find a story of struggles faced, and battles won, a story of change, of freedom, of redemption and new life. Because…
in the story of Jesus, in His family line, we see the grace of God extended to broken humanity and the invitation for us all to find ourselves in His family, becoming a new creation and so having our futures re-storied.

I pray that each of us, whether for the first time, or the hundredth time, may we all repent and come into the life that can only be found in Jesus. May it be so. Amen.

Prodigal and Extravagent God

Preached on: Sunday 28th April 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 19-04-28-Sermon-Powerpoint-morning.
Bible references: Luke 15:1-32
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Texts: Luke 15:1-32
Sunday 28th April 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.

In my own devotional time, where I read the Bible, journal and pray, I usually prefer to work through a chapter of the Bible each day, working steadily through a book of the Bible over a period of time. But this year, I’ve been taking a chapter of a devotional book written by a British pastor and reflecting on the theme of that chapter over a few days, maybe even the whole week in some cases. I’ve found it to be a helpful change of pace because it has allowed me to dwell within a theme or passage for a longer period of time, rather than rushing through the Scriptures, and with that different insights have come from the very same theme or passage.
Over the weeks up to the summer break, we’re going to adopt a similar approach with Luke chapter 15 and especially with the verses relating to the parable of the lost son. My hope is that by taking the time to dwell in this small portion of Scripture, we might then see the richness of these parables and appreciate as much of their relevance for our lives as possible.

To get us started, I wonder if you might turn to your neighbour and for one minute, share with them what the last thing you lost was? You’ve got 1 minute – so go!

We loose stuff all the time – keys, wallets, glasses, hopefully not the kids or grandkids too often But I also have friends who within themselves feel lost at times – they are confused, maybe unsure about the future, struggling to join the dots or chart a way forward, maybe stuck in a never-ending cycle of difficulty. It is not only stuff that we lose, we can lose a whole lot more than that.

In the time of Jesus, the people of God, the Israelites, had lost things too – they had lost their independence and were now governed by Rome; they had lost the glory days when the royal line of David sat upon the throne such that the nation prospered. Much had been lost and the people longed for God to fulfil His promises to send the
Messiah, the promised King,…
the One who would rebuild the nation, restoring hope and justice and peace, and ushering in the very kingdom of God upon the earth.

So, when Jesus comes on the scene and rumours start to fly that He might be the Messiah, well, it raised all sorts of questions, including for the religious leaders. Because the religious leaders had their ideas of what the Messiah might be like and what He would achieve; they had a vision of how God’s kingdom would take shape and, in particular, who would qualify for membership in the kingdom of God.

For the Pharisees, moral and religious purity was paramount. They believed that God would only restore what Israel had lost if, and when, the nation turned to God and followed God’s law more completely.

But for all the religious leaders, Jesus posed a quandary: on the one hand, Jesus was doing and saying some incredible things, things that no one could do if God wasn’t with Him. But on the other hand, He was saying and doing some things that went completely against each and every school of religious thought within Judaism.

For the Pharisees, one particular issue is that: ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them.’ (v2). The ‘them’ here is the ‘tax collectors and sinners’ who were gathering around to hear Jesus (v1). For the Pharisees, this is a complete breach of God’s law, there is no way
God would sanction such behaviour,…
and God is certainly not going to restore what has been lost to Israel as a result. Indeed, there was a Rabbinic saying which read: ‘Let not a man associate with the wicked, not even to bring him to the Law.’

The wicked were cut off – they were of no value – even if they might have been persuaded to follow the Law and become part of God’s people. No, those tax collectors were written off – they were lackeys and disloyal – and those sinners, well they’re so immoral and unclean that they are of no value either, neither will have no place in the kingdom of God, neither will not feature in what God will bring through the Messiah. And so, they mutter against Jesus, ‘This man welcomes sinners, and eats with them’ (v2) –
because how could any possible Messiah eat with such people, and in doing so, show them acceptance and solidarity?

I wonder, do you ever feel ‘lost’ in these ways? Do you feel cut-off, or that you don’t fit? Maybe you feel of lesser value, or that you don’t make the grade? Maybe you are caught in a lifestyle that is unhelpful, which no one else even notices, and it isn’t the head-line grabbing, but it still makes life hard, and leaves you feeling lost?

Or maybe you look at your life, or the life of those you care about, and it’s not what you want it to be, and you wonder: have I done wrong, has God abandoned me, is God punishing me? Is that the kind of lostness you face?

There comes a time in all our lives, maybe more often than we’d prefer, when it is more than our keys which are lost, and in those moments, I wonder what, if any, hope you would take from your faith?

In our passage today, Jesus speaks into the lostness of His audience. To those first hearers, both the religious elite and the religiously bankrupt, Jesus shares Good News, for the three parables are His answer to the questioning and objections He faces.

In the first two parables a singular portrayal of God is conveyed. Jesus begins with a story of a shepherd and his lost sheep. The shepherd has 100 sheep, but one has wandered away and become lost. And so, the shepherd goes looking for that one, individual sheep,…
leaving the 99 behind. It may seem foolish to our ears for the shepherd to leave the 99 so as to search for the one. But likely, the shepherd knew that the 99 would be safe in the sheepfold, probably being cared for by other shepherds, whereas the lost sheep was in danger. Because each sheep was of high value, any shepherd knew that it was worthwhile to search diligently for the lost one.

Jesus simply appeals to common custom on how a shepherd would care for his sheep, that it was worth the shepherd’s time and effort to search far and wide for that one lost sheep.

Then in the second parable, a woman has 10 coins, and she loses one,…

prompting a thorough search of her small property. These coins may have been the woman’s life savings, or they might have been coins she received as a wedding gift, as was the custom of the time. Either way, the loss of a coin would be a serious matter for this poor woman, and so she hunts high and low for that one lost coin.

What is striking about both these parables, is how they overturn Rabbinic teaching of the time.

Jewish scholar, C.G. Montefiore, saw in the parable of the shepherd a new idea about God, for the rabbis agreed that God would welcome the penitent sinner, but the idea that God takes the initiative, that God seeks out the lost and brings them home, that God is a seeking God, well that is distinctive to the teaching of Jesus.
Similarly, among the rabbinic writings there is the lost coin motif, but it is used very differently. ‘If a man keeps seeking for a lost coin [how] much more should he seek for the Law’, said the rabbis. But there is no rabbinic equivalent to God’s seeking of lost coins, and certainly not of lost individuals.

The characteristic feature of these two parables is that the Lord goes out to seek what is lost even before that individual turns to God. What Jesus reveals to the religious elite and to the religiously bankrupt is that God loves with an extraordinary love: God never says, “It is but one; let it go; enough remain.” God will never nonchalantly say, “You win some; you lose some.” No, no, no, says Jesus….
The Father’s heart is one of seeking love, for if a shepherd will go to this much effort to recover a sheep and if a woman will go to this much effort to recover a coin, how much more effort will God exert to recover a lost person!

In the teaching of Jesus, in His revelation of the Father’s heart, “it is now the case that repentance comes by means of grace” – for Jesus, grace is the first thing, the unmerited favour and affection of God comes first, and then repentance comes as a response to grace.

Friends, do you see what Jesus is teaching us? Do you see what He reveals of Father God’s heart for you and I? Do you appreciate that God loves with a love that seeks us out?
In all the ways we can get ourselves lost, from destructive life choices, to inner confusion, to an eternal future without God – across the whole gambit of what it means to be lost, God seeks you out, He seeks to set you free and bring you into life in all its fullness. And He does it all, because He loves with an extraordinary love.

And yet, Jesus goes one step further, for in His telling of a third parable, He really flips everyone’s ideas of God upside down. The story is familiar to many of us: there was a father who had two sons. The younger asked for his share of the inheritance, received it, and promptly left for a far country, where he squandered it all on sensual and frivolous pleasure. He returned home penitently and, to his surprise, was received with open arms by his father.

It is familiar, but without knowing the customs of the time, it is easy to miss the significance of the parable. When the younger son comes to the father and says, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate’ (v12) the original listeners would have been astounded – not that there was anything amiss in the son’s expectation of a share in the family wealth, that usually would happen upon death. But to ASK for it now, well that is the equivalent of wishing his father to be dead.

But the father does it, he divides the property, and the Greek word for property here is the equivalent of “life” – for the love of his child, the father will tear his life apart for the younger son. Here is a love that is startling. But Jesus goes further still.

Upon the son’s return, the father runs to meet him, he kisses the son, he wraps his precious child in his arms, then calls for a robe and ring to be placed on his son, signs of restored standing in the family. And yet the father goes further again, he orders the servants to prepare a feast of celebration by killing the fattened calf – most meals did not include meat, it was reserved for special occasions and parties. But the father commands that a feast be held to celebrate the restoration of the younger son.

We often call this parable, the parable of the prodigal son, where we understand “prodigal” to mean
“extravagant, recklessly wasteful, generous in giving”, or “having spent everything”. We often equate this with being “wayward”, or “rebellious”,…
of spending until you have nothing left, and in the younger son we see someone who has been prodigal.

But the parable also reveals someone else who is prodigal: the Father. At every step of the way, the father is reckless, extravagant in his love of the younger son, he holds nothing back and gives his all. And in this portrait of the father, Jesus is seeking to help us see the character of our heavenly Father: that He is reckless in His love towards us; He is generous; He is extravagant; He holds nothing back. We might be better to say that this is the parable of the prodigal father, even the prodigal God.

Often, when we call this the parable of the prodigal son, we end up shining the light on the son and so then comparing ourselves to the prodigal son,…
Where we risk superficial introspection, and maybe even a degree of self-satisfaction, because most of us are not as bad as the younger son.

But when we put the focus onto the father, then two things can happen. Firstly, we see a picture of God that can be very captivating, but equally unsettling, for we see a Father who seeks us out in our lostness, and wants to restore us to wholeness, to give us hope and a future, secure in His love, His seeking and prodigal love. And that is Good News, Good News for so many of those times when we feel lost.

Friends, does your picture of God include labels such as seeking and prodigal? If not, is it time to let Jesus, through His word, give you a fuller revelation of the Father?…
Is it time to come into knowing the love of God in these ways?

Secondly, when we put the focus onto the father, then we have to ask ourselves as His children, do we portray the Father’s seeking and prodigal love to one another and to the wider world?

For example, 1 Corinthians 13 is well known for its description of love, but it equally portrays its opposite and the opposite of prodigal love. Whenever we lack patience, or are unkind, or when we envy, or boast, are arrogant or rude, whenever we insist on our own way, keep a record of wrong, or show irritability or resentment, then we are not showing…
the Father’s prodigal love. And how many of those things, are part of your life?

When the spotlight is on the father in the parable, then we see more clearly God’s prodigal love. And when the spotlight is on the shepherd, then we see more clearly God’s seeking love. This is a love we each need to know, and to show. I pray that in the weeks to come, God might by His Spirit, lead us deeper in our knowledge of His love, and nurture it in us as well. May it be so. Amen.