1. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH NOVEMBER 14, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

 

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER

 

Call to Worship:  Ephesians 1: 20 & 21

All this energy issues from Christ:

God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven,

in charge of running the universe,

everything from galaxies to governments,

no name and no power exempt from his rule.

And not just for the time being,

but forever.

He is in charge of it all, has the final word on everything. 

 

Lighting of the Christ Candle (The light of the world is Jesus)

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Amazing God,

In the Book of Job we read, “God thunders wondrously with his voice; he does great things that we cannot comprehend”.

And so, we praise you God of power and might.

 

We praise you that you are beyond our comprehension.  Not all you do makes sense to us and we confess that we often think our way is better.  Forgive us and change us.

 

We praise you that you are not aloof, but have revealed yourself first, in creation and foremost in Jesus Christ.  In Christ who is the “Word made flesh”, we hear your voice.   We confess that we often try to hide from you and then blame you when we are alone.  Forgive us and change us.

 

We praise you for your mighty works – “with you all things are possible”, even life after death.

We confess that we do not always trust you or believe in your power.  Forgive us and change us.

 

As we gather to worship today, remind us that we gather with Christians throughout the world.

 

May this act of service be pleasing in your sight, Mighty God, Risen Son, Spirit of Power.  Amen.

 

Assurance of Pardon:   Hebrews 1: 3 – 5

Christ, God’s Son, perfectly mirrors God,

and is stamped with God’s nature.

He holds everything together by what he says —powerful words!

After he finished the sacrifice for sins,

the Son took his honoured place high in the heavens right alongside God,

far higher than any angel in rank and rule.

 

Hymn: Here I Am to Worship

 

Children’s Time

 

Exchanging the Peace of Christ.

 

Prayer for Illumination

Holy God, in your word we hear of your involvement in the lives of your people.  Help their stories reassure us that you are also present in our lives.  Amen. 

 

God Speaks to Us

 

Scripture Readings

Acts 9: 19 – 25; Acts 20: 7 – 12; Acts 28: 1 – 6

Matthew 19:26

 

Hymn:  My Faith Looks Up to Thee

 

Message:  Being the Church – Baskets, Windows and Vipers

Today is the last in our Pentecost sermon series from the book of Acts, “Being the Church”.  Over the last several weeks, we’ve looked at the experiences and faith of the people in the early Church to see how they inform our faith and lives today.  This week, as I searched for a scripture, I came across three quirky little stories.  As I read each one, I wondered why it was there – what does it teach us; what does it tell us; how does it build up our faith?

 

The newly converted Saul (Paul) had met Jesus on the road, been blinded by light, went into Damascus, and was healed by Ananias.  He then converted to follow Jesus whom he had formerly persecuted.  Saul was never one to do things half-way and he proclaimed Jesus as fervently as he had pursued and arrested Christ’s followers.  At first, those who heard him were amazed at the change in him and persuaded by his experience.   Saul was growing in his faith and convincing others to believe in Jesus.  Things were going well, so he remained in Damascus.   After a while, however, the religious leaders noticed Saul’s influence and plotted to kill him.   We read, “but Saul got wind of it.  [His enemies] were watching the city gates around the clock so they could kill him. Then one night the disciples engineered his escape by lowering him over the wall in a basket” (Acts 9: 24 – 25). 

 

That’s a cool account but why did Luke choose to include it?  Why is it there?  It illustrates that God has a plan, and he works through his people to ensure it unfolds.

 

A lazy man was strolling through the forest when he came across a fox with only two legs. The fox was slowly crawling along although not getting very far.  The lazy man thought, how does this fox stay alive?!  It can’t feed himself or run to escape his predators.  As he was wondering he saw a lion with a piece of meat in his mouth, coming towards the fox. Animals scurried away.  The lazy man climbed a tree. The fox remained still. He would surely be eaten. But then, the lion left the meat for the fox to eat. The lazy man thought, “Well, God takes care of his creation. If God cares for the fox, surely he will care for me.”   The lazy man then went into town and sat down waiting for someone to bring him food. He waited for 3 days without food! Finally, as he was walking away, he met an old sage, who gave him food and water. He told the sage everything and asked, “Why did God show mercy on the fox but not on me?”  The sage replied, “God does have a plan and you are part of it but you missed God’s message. He doesn’t want you to be like the fox.  He wants you to be the lion.”

 

God does have a plan for your life, but God’s larger plan hinges on the coming and fulfillment of his kingdom.   His plan for our lives fits into that one.  Saul and the disciples were determined to spread the gospel no matter what.  Like them we’re to be determined, faithful, resourceful and flexible.  If Covid has had any hidden gifts, it’s that it’s shaken us up from “the way we do that” and pushed us to get creative.   We could no longer cling to “we’ve never done it that way before”.  We found new ways of being the Church.  We found “a basket”.   Technology was that basket.  We also helped one another by delivering sermons, making phone calls, running errands, etc.   We didn’t lie around like a lame fox; we became lions.  God has a plan, and he works through the community of Christ’s followers to fulfill it.

 

The next story is a favorite among clergy.  We figure if Paul was long winded and put people to sleep, we can’t be too hard on ourselves.  You’ll recall that Paul and Barnabas had parted ways after conflicting over John Mark’s role on a mission trip.  Paul went on to visit the many congregations he had previously planted.  In the city of Troas, the church gathered on Sunday morning to have communion.  Paul was leaving the next day.  He had a lot to say.  He spoke until midnight.   A youth named Eutychus had perched himself on a windowsill. Exhausted, and maybe bored, Eutychus feel sound asleep and fell out the window.  Being 3 storeys up, the poor lad fell to his death.  The distraught group rushed down and gathered around him.  Paul pushed through the crowd, overshadowed Eutychus with his body and then told the crowd, “life is in him.”   Eutychus did not survive the fall.   Luke, the writer of Acts and a medical doctor, knew “dead” when he saw it. Eutychus is brought from death to life.  A few people took him away.  The rest of the group broke for supper.  Then Paul continued to preach until dawn.

 

Once again, an odd story to include in scripture.  Paul was either a gifted, eloquent speaker who kept people spell bound for 24 hours, or he liked to hear himself talk, or maybe both.   He was impassioned about sharing the gospel.  Perhaps he was so caught up speaking that he was oblivious to his audience’s need for food and sleep.  And he also had great faith. While the others were weeping over Eutychus, Paul saw no need to mourn.   He tells them, “Don’t be alarmed; no more crying” (vs. 10).  The alarm of the congregation is short lived.  One minute they’re weeping over Eutychus, the next they’re eating and listening to Paul as if resurrecting the dead happens every day.  What does this tell us?  It is a reminder that God makes “all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8: 28).   Even though Paul was unaware of Eutychus, and Eutychus was not taking care of himself, God once again was victorious over death.  It shows us the power and mercy of God, reminding us not to be alarmed.  We might take this two ways.  We’re not to be alarmed when bad things happen because we serve a God who intervenes with a mighty power.   God is worthy of our trust.  As I look back over my life and consider the many tears I’ve shed, I must admit many of them were due to a lack of trust.  Some were shed in genuine grief, some were out of frustration, hurt or disappointment, but many were also because I felt my world was falling apart or I’d lost hope, or I couldn’t accept God’s will.  I didn’t trust God’s plan.  I didn’t believe God was powerful or in control.  Losing a loved one is a heart ache for those left behind; it takes time to adapt to life without them and to adjust to being bereft of them.  God doesn’t often send a Paul to lean over the body and resurrect them.  While for us they are gone, it is still true that “their life is in them” (vs. 10).  We know “the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4: 16).  If we are alarmed by something, it shouldn’t be our circumstances, but the power and grace of God in Jesus Christ.  And, when we believe God can do the impossible, we come to expect it, so when it happens, we’re not alarmed.  We’re no longer alarmed because that’s the way God is.  That’s not to say we take God’s saving, life-giving actions for granted.   To take God for granted would be to go on our merry way with a sense of entitlement that God’s job is to do things for me.  That’s not what Paul’s listeners did.  They returned to worship, to learn and to submit to the Holy Spirit.   They weren’t surprised or alarmed by God’s faithfulness.  They knew, that’s just the way God is.

 

Our final quirky story happens after Paul is shipwrecked on his way to Rome.  Those onboard had hit the rocks, abandoned the boat, and swam to shore.  They discovered they were on the island of Malta, where “the natives showed [them] unusual kindness” (Acts 28: 2).  Given the way Paul and other Christians were normally treated, any sign of kindness would have been unusual.  The Maltese went out of their way to care for the shipwrecked men.  The visitors were soaked and exhausted, so their hosts built a fire.  Paul went to fetch some firewood.  Anyone who heats with fire knows that when you bring in wood in the dead of winter, it thaws, and mosquitoes re-emerge from the wood.  In our home, they bite me.  A similar but worse thing happened to Paul.  As he threw the brush on the fire, a viper emerged from the warming wood and clung to Paul’s hand.  The natives thought this was a punishment from the gods due to Paul’s crimes.  Paul shook the viper into the fire.  Everyone waited for him to swell up like a bloated animal, foam at the mouth, and drop dead.  When nothing happened, they took it as a sign that Paul was a deity.  What does this tell us?  We serve a God of miracles.  Like the Maltese people we don’t always understand what God is doing.

 

What might we learn from this story?  First, miracles are real. They happen. “With God all things are possible”.   We might also learn to withhold our judgements and comments about others because we don’t know what God is doing.  Finally, we can be hopeful because God has a plan; life’s mishaps can be used to glorify God.

 

So, there we have it.  Three quirky stories.  The thing about them is that life is quirky.  Quirky things happen to all of us.  Baskets are sometimes necessary.  Windows can be dangerous.  And things emerge to bite us – usually from behind.  In all the quirky events of life, God works through us when we work together for him.  We are lions.   God is trustworthy because he works whatever happens for his good purposes.  We do not need to be alarmed, we need to expect God will act.  God is so powerful that nothing is impossible for him.  We should never be surprised at what God will do.

 

The book of Acts tells us that being the Church is both amazing and difficult.  It is multi-faceted and all encompassing.   There will be mistakes and miracles.  We will be stretched to give up set ideas and embrace what God is doing.  Christ needs his people to believe, participate, pray, discern, celebrate, change, include, and grow.  He wants us to be people who are bold, faithful, harmonious, wise, united, and thankful.  He calls us to heal, to engage the world, to suffer, to put others first and to be people of integrity.  He knows that we are mere mortals and so he gives us the grace of repentance.   As the Church was in the beginning, we too need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit gives us all we need to be Christ’s Church.

 

Silent prayer and reflection

 

Offertory hymn: We are God’s People

 

Offertory prayer

Lord God, we thank you for being with us at all times.  You are our power when we are weak.  As we bring our gifts, we offer ourselves – not only our talents but our foibles.  Use whatever we are to bring glory to Christ, our Lord.  Amen. 

 

Hymn: Crown Him with Many Crowns

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

God of Our Past and Our Future,

God of Healing and Hope,

We come before you with grateful hearts,

trusting that you walk with us through all the times of our lives.

We are thankful you are a God of power, give us the faith to live expecting your intervention in ways we cannot explain.

We thank you that you are a God how cares for us.  When life overwhelms us, help us not to be alarmed but to trust in you.   Help us to know without a doubt that we will not be separated from your love.

We thank you that you do us the honour by allowing us to share in the work of your kingdom.  Help us to serve you faithfully.

 

We pray today for those who face danger and despair in these times:

We remember before you those living with hunger,

communities struggling with the impact of drought, storms and earthquakes,

and all those for whom the pandemic is unrelenting.

We remember people caught up in unrest and violence

and those whose lives are directed by forces beyond their control.

 

We pray for all those working to relieve suffering in these lives.

 

We pray for all those facing fear or frustration,

wrestling with sorrow or discouragement in any area of their lives:

For those who live with illness or pain…

For those bearing chronic conditions or disability…

For those who know the grief and change of bereavement…

 

We pray for all those who work to bring healing and comfort

to those who suffer:

 

We pray for all who feel helpless or hopeless in this present time:

For those struggling to make ends meet or trying to find employment…

For those caught up in the pain of misunderstanding or broken relationships…

and for those working through situations of conflict at home or at work…

 

We pray for all who offer guidance and support in the midst of such difficulties

and for those who have skills in reconciliation or mediation.

 

 

We pray for your Church throughout the world,

For those who suffer for their faith

For those who oppose governments that would repress your worship

For those who fight against the powers of evil

We pray for those who have lost faith and those who faith is fragile.

We pray for those Christians who are fearful of Covid.

 

We pray for all who work for religious freedom and equality,

and for those who stand fast in the face of discrimination

and for those whose faith pushes them on to live for your kingdom.

 

God of Our Past and Our Future,

God of Healing and Hope,

Help our congregation and churches everywhere

as we regroup after months of pandemic isolation

to engage each day with faithfulness and creativity.

Where we need correction, show us a new way;

where we need love and encouragement, draw near.

Whatever our challenge, stay with us on our way

for we are the followers of Jesus who pray together in his name:

 

The Lord’s Prayer

 

Hymn:  The King of Love My Shepherd Is

 

Invitation to Mission

We go from here with the knowledge that God is with us

and with the assurance that God is for us.

We go into the world believing that nothing is impossible with God

and that God will use all things to his glory. 

 

Benediction

                                    May the Triune God bless you and keep you.  Amen.

 

Postlude Hymn:  All Things are Possible