1. STEPHEN’S PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH OCTOBER 24, 2021

Rev. Sabrina Ingram

WORSHIPPING TOGETHER

 

Call to Worship: Romans 11:  33 – 36

O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!

How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

“For who has known the mind of the Lord?

Or who has been his counselor?”

“Or who has given a gift to him,

to receive a gift in return?”

For from him and through him and to him are all things.

 To him be the glory forever. Amen.

 

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

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

God of all knowing; God of all wisdom,

You are the ground of our being, the source of all life, the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.

You created the mysteries of the universe which humanity is only beginning to understand.

You have a plan for all creation and are unfolding it day by day.

You have revealed yourself in Jesus Christ who is wisdom incarnate.

We praise you.

 

We admit that in ourselves, your thoughts are not our thoughts, your ways are not our ways.

You have gifted humanity with a dose of innate wisdom, and we confess that we do not seek your wisdom because we believe we are wise without you.  Help us to see how foolish we are.

We ask for things of this world – prosperity, health, knowledge, and vengeance on those we consider our enemies.    Help us to see how misguided we are.

We ignore your Spirit’s prompting, and run ahead of you, thinking that what we want is what you want.  Help us to see how proud we are.

Give us your wisdom so that we might discern what is of you – what is good and acceptable and perfect.   Forgive us when we let personal differences divert us from your service.

 

We thank you for all who worship today, here and at home.  Help us to love one another and work together for your kingdom.

 

We worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  May all we do and think today bring you glory.  Amen.

 

 

 

Assurance of Pardon    Colossians 1: 9 & 13

Be assured, we haven’t stopped praying for you,

asking God to give you wise minds and spirits attuned to his will,

and so, acquire a thorough understanding of the ways in which God works.

He has rescued us from the power of darkness

and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,

 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

 

Hymn:   We Gather Together

 

Children’s Time

 

Exchanging the Peace

 

Prayer for Illumination

All-knowing God, give us your Spirit as we hear your word, so that we may discern your will and do it.  Amen. 

 

Scripture Readings

1 Kings 3: 4 – 15

Acts 15: 36 – 16: 4

John 7: 1 – 18

 

Hymn: O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

 

Message:  Being the Church – Wise

 

I remember when computers went “on-line”.  The technology was hailed as an “information highway”.  All I saw was people using it to play solitaire.  Back in the day we got information another way (encyclopedias).  But then came Google and it changed everything. Now everything we want to know is at our fingertips. Not feeling well – google it. Need to know how to do something – google it. You can even google “how to google.”  When I’m in a debate and Google proves me right, I really like it.  However, google isn’t always helpful.  Sometimes it’s unnecessarily nosey.  And it doesn’t know everything.  Still, it’s our go-to place for information.

But information and wisdom are not the same. While we can get information from the internet, wisdom has a different source. Solomon was a young man when he became King. God came to him in a dream and promised to give him whatever he wanted. This offer was better than winning a lottery. If you could have anything you wanted, what would you request? Riches?  Fame?  Health?  Intelligence? Youth? Eternal life?  Solomon asked for something altogether different. Solomon asked, “O Lord my God… give your servant an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” (1 Kings 3: 7 – 9).  He yearned for wisdom, so that he could be a good king to benefit his people. To many people, Solomon wasted a golden opportunity.  But God was so impressed, he gave Solomon the wisdom he needed as well as the things he didn’t request – riches, honour, and a long life.  History remembers Solomon for his wisdom.

 

Throughout his life, Jesus also displayed great wisdom. That’s not a surprise to us because we recognize Christ’s divine nature, but for those who were his contemporaries, it was different. No one expected an uneducated carpenter from Nazareth to be wise. As the Feast of Booths approached, all of Israel made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Jesus didn’t want to go.  He knew some people there were out to kill him. His brothers bullied him, pressuring him to go and taunting him make a display of his ministry. Jesus refused to go with them. Later, he went but he stayed under the radar. Still, he was the talk in throughout Jerusalem. The leaders had their eye out for him. Some people supported him, others thought he was a false prophet misleading people.   After a couple days, Jesus went to the temple to teach.  The people there were in awe of his wisdom. They wondered how he knew the things he knew. Jesus responded, “My teaching is not mine but his who sent me” (John 7: 16).

 

For both Jesus and Solomon, the core, the breadth, and depth of their wisdom came from a source beyond themselves. Solomon’s wisdom made him a great ruler. Jesus’ wisdom made him a great spiritual teacher.  In both cases, that wisdom was given by God.  Even Jesus credits the one who sent him. Both men also displayed an innate wisdom. Solomon was wise enough to know he needed to ask for greater wisdom. Jesus was wise enough to know his enemies wanted to kill him, and wise enough to wait for the right time and place to make his presence known.

 

Just prior to today’s reading from the book of Acts, we read the story of the Church Council in Jerusalem seeking wisdom together to decide what was reasonable to expect of Gentile converts. We covered that narrative a few weeks ago. In the end, Judas Barsabbas and Silas were sent to deliver the Council’s verdict in person. The letter began by explaining the concern and telling a little about the process which brought them to their decision. In describing their discernment process, the Council wrote, “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us” (Acts 15: 28) [ that you should do the following….]  Many Christians would find that a strange way to put it. When we think of seeking God’s will and God’s wisdom, we listen attentively to the Holy Spirit, we search the scriptures, we gather with others to discern. The last thing we want to do is bring our own perspective into things. We don’t trust that we’re wise enough to know the mind of God.   We don’t believe that what “seems good’ to us matters.  We don’t ask, “What do I think about this?”  And we sure don’t question if the Spirit’s revelation seems “good to us” As individuals, it’s easy for us to get our personal wants and desires confused with those of the Spirit.  We want the Spirit to want what we want, so we’re more apt to say, “It seemed good to us and to the Spirit…”  And yet, there it is. Why does our opinion matter?

 

God’s wisdom works comes to its fullness through our own wisdom. The Spirit doesn’t drop nuggets of wisdom tied to tiny parachutes from the sky, hoping we’ll catch them.  Rather, God “writes his instructions on our hearts” (Psalm 40:8).   God doesn’t only speak to us from outside ourselves, he speaks to us within ourselves.  We know it’s God speaking to us when our perspective aligns with the Spirit’s perspective.  What the Spirit says is good is reinforced by our past experiences – as the saying goes, Wisdom comes from experience and experience comes from a lack of wisdom. If we’re wise at all, we learn from our experiences.  The Spirit’s revelation of what is good is also reinforced by our knowledge of scripture, life, people, and of the situation we are considering.  There is a congruency between what we believe the Spirit deems is good and our own insights. Our intuitive wisdom melds with the God given wisdom of the Holy Spirit.  When making decisions, we can identify this congruency when the Spirit’s direction makes sense and when it will lead to greater life and God’s will – it will build up Christ’s kingdom on Earth. It will not often be the easy thing – it may mean taking a risk, doing something new, or it may require us to take a strong stance, or it may ask us to exercise more fortitude than we normally have within us. We may have to swallow our pride. When fulfilling God’s will, we may need to, as Shakespeare put it, “Screw your courage to the sticking place and we’ll not fail.”  (Unfortunately, he put the words in the mouth of Lady Macbeth who is hardly an example of wisdom or of a person aligned with the Holy Spirit). There will also be a sense of serenity or what the Church calls “consolation.”  Deep within us, we’ll have a sense of peace.   The Spirit led decision will indeed feel “right to us.”  We’ve all had the experience of making a prayerful decision, coming to a conclusion and not being able to escape a niggling, uncomfortable feeling deep within ourselves, and/or our minds are not at rest – we keep returning to rethink the situation and second guess our decision.  We need to go back to ask “Is it right to the Spirit? Have we discerned wisely? Is it right to us?”   If the answer is no, we need to go back to the drawing board. God gives us wisdom and insight through the Spirit, and he draws on our personal history and our deep inner knowing.

 

What happens when we fail to find congruency with the Spirit? In our reading from Acts, we hear of a difference of opinion between Paul and Barnabas. The two men had decided together to do another mission trip to revisit and encourage the churches they’d established.  It seemed good to the Spirit and to them to do this. However, a difference of opinion emerges. Barnabas wants to bring the young John Mark with them, Paul does not. In Acts 13: 13, we are given the reason for Paul’s reluctance. John Mark had gone with them on a previous trip and halfway through he bailed and went back to Jerusalem. Barnabas was willing to let this go and give the kid another chance. Paul was not. In his opinion, John Mark had proved to be a weak link in the chain.  He could not be relied upon. In work that frequently led to imprisonment and beatings, John Mark could not be relied upon. He would be a serious drawback. (Show of hands – who do you think was wiser? Who do you think was aligned with the Spirit?). As it turned out, Paul and Barnabas could not resolve their disagreement. Neither would give in. The argument escalated until they had a bitter disagreement that they could not resolve. It damaged their working relationship and probably their friendship. In the end, Barnabas took John Mark and went to Cyprus. Paul went with Silas to Syria and Cilicia. As he continued his travels, Paul met another young man named Timothy who was eager to accompany them. Paul added Timothy to his team.

 

Another example of the Church behaving badly. I always wonder why those who recorded scripture included these parts. It certainly speaks of the authenticity of the scripture. Today a “spin doctor” would make that story disappear, say it was part of a well discerned plan or start a smear campaign about the other person. But it’s there for a reason, so, what wisdom do we glean from this?

  • In some way, it’s good to know that even spiritual giants like Paul and Barnabas weren’t always wise. At times, they too had trouble discerning God’s will. They also had their differences. Conflict is part of the dynamics of every group, including the Church. Division in the Church has been there from the beginning. While conflict isn’t fun, sometimes it’s part of our discernment process.  We need to have the wisdom to not turn a solvable problem into an unresolvable issue. We need the wisdom not to be so swept away by our emotions and pride that we lose perspective. And we need to be wise enough not to take a difference of opinion personally. If Paul and Barnabas had calmly acknowledged an unresolvable difference, they may have come to the same solution but without the bitter argument which I doubt “seemed good” to the Spirit or to them.  Wise people don’t run from conflict, they resolve their differences whenever possible, or they agree to disagree.  When there’s been friction, we don’t need to run away in shame or to remain bitter forever; wise people forgive.  We’re not told if Paul and Barnabas ever reconciled or offered one another forgiveness.  If not, that is the real tragedy in the situation.

 

  • Even with their disagreement Paul and Barnabas did not draw back from their mission. It had seemed good to the Spirit and to them to revisit and encourage established churches and they continued with that mission. When the Spirit has directed us, no matter what else happens, we need to stay on point.

 

  • Whatever our lack of wisdom or discernment, God can take the worst situations and bring new life out of them. The Spirit found a way to use Paul and Barnabas’ stubbornness and ended up with two mission teams, covering twice the ground. Also, whether Paul was right or wrong in his choice of student, the Spirit used both John Mark and Timothy in great ways. Timothy became an influential missionary and John Mark wrote The Gospel according to Mark based on what he learned of Jesus in his time with Paul and Barnabas. In his wisdom God always finds a way to bring good from bad and new life from death. Christ will not be thwarted in his plan to build his kingdom.

 

There are many situations in life for which Google doesn’t have all the answers.  To live for Christ, we need the wisdom of the Spirit to direct us and so like Solomon, we need to seek this wisdom before all else. We need to trust our innate wisdom, which is also a God-given gift, so that, like the Jerusalem Council, what is right to the Spirit will also be right to us.  We need to be willing to wrestle with differences as part of our discernment process and to do that in ways that honour Christ. We need to stay focused on the calling of Christ believing that God will not let his plans be thwarted; he will find a way to continue to move forward. If we stay centred on our mission, God will continue to use us because “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (1 Corinthians 1: 25), “we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block [to many] and foolishness to [our googling world],  but to those of us who are the called, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God (vs 23 & 24).

 

Silent Prayer and Reflection

 

Offertory Prayer

God, you have given us everything, from dirt to stars, from water to wine, from death to life, from despair to hope. We give you our gifts.  Keep us open to your will so that we may live with open hands and open hearts.  Amen. 

 

Reception of New Members

 

Hymn: Be Thou My Vision

 

Prayer of Thanksgiving and Intercession

 

Loving God, we thank you for your presence in our lives, for our redemption through Jesus Christ and for the guidance of your Spirit.

 

We thank you for all the blessings you have given us – family, friends, food, and all the necessities of life.   Help us to live gratefully be a blessing to others.

 

We thank you for your Church which is growing in places around the globe, and for our congregation.   We thank you for all who worship here and for those you are bringing to us.  Keep us open.   Remove from us the tendency to demand that people prove themselves before they are one of us.  Remove from us the impairment that prevents us from seeing new people.  Remove from us the self-centredness that keeps us from connecting with those we don’t know well.   We pray for those who have joined us today and ask that you would keep their faith strong and help them to find a place, friends and opportunities to serve.   We pray for those who once knew you and have fallen away, seek the one so that we might rejoice together that they are found.

 

We pray for our world, thanking you for all its many wonders and praying for people and places where sorrow, injustice, cruelty and hardship abound.

 

We pray for those who are ill in mind or body and for those in grief.  We particularly remember those we love….

 

Hear us now as we pray together saying…

 

The Lord’s prayer.

 

Invitation to Mission

We go now into the rhythms of our lives

To listen to the Spirit amid the chaos

To discern the voice of Christ

and to bless others as God leads. 

 

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