“Be like your father in heaven above who causes his sun to shine on evil and good and sends down his rain to quench all our thirst. In him we live and move and have our being.”
Based on Matthew 5:43+
This Sunday we will be continuing Creation Time with the next in our series “Rhythms of Life” and we will be looking at sharing. The Bible tells us how God has shared his creation with us, throughout the old Testament we see how God shares what is good with his people, all his people. Jesus told us that our Father in heaven causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on all people: good, evil, black, white, brown, all people. And Jesus calls us to be like Him, to share all of creation with all people, to love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us, to give to those who ask and not to turn them away.
In our Sunday worship at 10:30am a few of us will be gathered at a safe distance from each other in the church building. We invite you all to share in the live streamed service via Facebook Live. The emergency rules have stopped us all from singing together in one space but there is no reason why we can’t sing God’s praises in our own homes! In our service our musicians will be leading us in our singing so do please join in! It doesn’t matter if you sing in tune or not, whether you can keep the beat or not, just open your mouths and sing God’s praise! (If you need a copy of the words then please contact us)
After the service we will have the opportunity to have a Zoom meeting in our virtual cafe so bring along your real tea and coffee! The link will be shared in the comments on Facebook Live.
We will also be celebrating Racial Justice Sunday.
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
In my last TFTD on August 28th we met, albeit briefly, a young man named Saul who held the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first Christian martyr, and “approved of their killing him“ (Acts 8.1). Today we read that Saul was set apart with Barnabas by the church at Antioch for the work of the Holy Spirit, and sent off on mission. That’s quite a turnaround, quite a change in the direction of Saul’s life. Who could have foreseen that?
The people who were the early church must have prayed hard after Stephen’s death that Saul would stop persecuting them. Perhaps they prayed that Saul’s attention would be drawn elsewhere. Perhaps they hoped that God would strike Saul down. However, the direction of Saul’s life changed, along with his name which he changed to Paul, when he met the risen Christ on the way to Damascus, and from then on he followed the guidance of the Holy Spirit. That must have been a shocking answer to their prayers for the first Christians, for they now had to learn to forgive, trust and work with their former enemy and persecutor. It can’t have been easy, but here they are in our reading today trusting in the Holy Spirit and sending Saul and Barnabas off with a blessing.
So, what about us? Are we prepared for God to answer our prayers in surprising and challenging ways? Are we prepared for the fact that God’s answer to our prayers may require us to work in new ways with new people? Are we prepared to trust the Holy Spirit who blows where she blows and is not tame or under our control?
Here is some music to listen to while you ponder. It is by Iona and called the Flight of the Wild Goose. Some of you may know that Celtic Christians referred to the Holy Spirit as the Wild Goose.
Good Death or Bad Death? Both of today’s readings are about the death of a King of Israel -1000 years apart in time but even further apart in their attitudes. One was arrogant, the other humble. It is easy to choose who to imitate.
Herod Agrippa 1 was king of Israel 37-44 CE. He was the grandson of Herod the Great (the one who ordered the massacre of the Innocents). Agrippa 1 ordered the execution of James the brother of John; when he saw this pleased the Jews, he ordered the arrest of Simon Peter as well. He quarrelled with the people of Tyre and Sidon, who depended on Israel for their grain. They were granted an audition with the King who arrived with great pomp in a dazzlingly bright silver robe. He impressed his hearers so much that they thought he was a god. He did not deny it. We are told that because he had not given glory to God, he was, at that moment, seized with violent pains, and died a few days later. Much of this we know, not only from the Bible , but from the historian, Josephus.
The other lesson records the last words of King David, the great and wise king who subdued Israel’s enemies and brought about a unified kingdom and a period of peace. He was not without his faults. He was criticised for calling a Census of the people, He had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. He ordered the death of Uriah and married Bathsheba. For this he was sternly rebuked by the prophet Nathan. (He had, after all, broken 4 of the 10 commandments in one go!.) David confessed his sin and repented of what he had done. Overall he was a good and compassionate ruler, much admired by the people and remembered especially for composing many of the Psalms.
Death is much in the news at present. Every day news bulletins tell us the number of people who have died of the corona-virus (and we shouldn’t forget the many others who have died because their treatment was interrupted). Many people are more anxious than normal, resulting in much mental illness and even suicide.. We long to hear Good News, but there isn’t much around. But it is possible to have an unreasonable fear of dying. In recent years there has been a reluctance to talk about it = a kind of taboo of speaking about it. Today it seems to be all about the numbers; many of us can’t visualize 41,000 deaths . But most of us know, or know of, people who have died. We grieve for them and for those close to them.
But we all have to accept that we are not immortal. And dying is very often not nearly as frightening as we sometimes imagine. Medical care, and especially the Hospice movement, have helped to ease the process of dying and to reduce the pain. But it has also shewn how there can be peace and even joy around the death of those we love. Visitors to hospices are often amazed at the atmosphere they find. A small group in Leeds is setting up some Zoom seminars on the theme of ‘With the end in mind’. Life goes on and love cannot be broken.
When he was ten I told my son that I had a really mega surprise for his birthday. ‘I hate surprises, tell me what it is now’ was his instant response! Which surprised me in turn.
Unpleasant surprises, shocks even, were common in the life of the early church. James had just been executed in this bit of the story we read today. Peter had been imprisoned under very heavy guard by a king who was desperate to curry favour with the same Jews who had called for the death of Jesus. But suddenly Peter turned up at dead of night at the place where people were praying, (probably not shouting ‘surprise!’) The girl who heard his voice on the other side of the door was so shaken and scared that she couldn’t even open the door to him. But it was true. Whatever we make of the angel – were there influential Jews who were secret Christians who organised the escape? – Peter surprisingly was free.
Surprises figure a lot in the life of Jesus. The resurrection was the biggest surprise, but he also surprised the disciples on the road to Emmaus, he surprised the woman taken in adultery and her accusers, he surprised his parents by staying behind in the temple, he shocked the Jews by saying the Sabbath was made for people not people for the Sabbath, he surprised the disciples by walking on water to meet them …and on and on. His ministry was one of constantly turning things upside down and bringing new insights which challenged his followers and stretched their understanding of him. ‘It’s like this, not like this’ he said constantly. ‘Look with God’s inclusive loving eyes, not with eyes of scorn or reproach’.
This thought made me reach for the old classic written by Gerald Hughes ‘The God of Surprises’. He makes the comment that when we are distraught or unhappy or afraid it is much harder to recognise the surprise of God with us. This week, feeling slow and a bit unhappy with a very sore ankle after slipping in the garden, a friend quite unknowingly encouraged me by talking about how she was structuring her day. I was then able to find a structured way to cope with my own temporarily limited ability, surprised by a casual conversation into a new understanding of how I could enjoy this time. I was thankful for it. Can we today find a way of looking quietly at what is going on for us and find the surprise of God-with-us in some small way? Can we do this in our communities, finding a surprise in the way people have responded so well to being generous with time, with loving attention, with being prepared to do new things to help out? Where is God’s surprising blessing in today?
Everyone needs recognition for their accomplishments, but few people make the need known quite as clearly as the little boy who said to his father: “Let’s play basketball. I’ll shoot and you say ‘Brilliant!'”
Barnabas was a great encourager. He was originally called Joseph, but the Apostles renamed him ‘Barnabas’ meaning ‘Son of Encouragement’. They were quick to choose him as the perfect person to send to a new and blossoming church in Antioch.
It doesn’t take a lot of effort to give a word of encouragement but it can have a lasting effect. When my children were young, we attended a church with a youth worker who would sometimes stand near the entrance doors to welcome the young people as they arrived. As they walked in, he’d give them a kind of shout-out: “Yay! It’s ‘A-mazing Alice”. “And look, here comes In-credible Isaac!” They’d laugh and groan at him, but I wasn’t the only one who saw these kids visibly gain an inch in height every time he did it.
Of course, this isn’t the job of just the youth worker. It’s for a whole Christian Community to encourage and be encouraged by one another. It’s an instruction that peppers the New Testament letters to new churches, and it was, no doubt, an attribute that enabled them to grow and flourish so well.
Who are the people in your church, family, school, workplace, or wider community who would benefit from a word of encouragement from you today?
Peter had just arrived in Jerusalem, reunited with Jewish Christian believers after his travels. He hadn’t just been travelling physical miles. God had been speaking to him about who was in, and who was out. But Peter had not brought the others up to speed.
This was no routine briefing from Peter. Inclusion of unclean gentile folk required a radical shift thinking for the early Church. An awakening – God’s incredible generous love encompassed all of humanity not an exclusive few.
Despite Peter’s convincing speech, discussion, debate and argument rumbles on further in Acts. In chapter 15, he meets Paul to thrash out the early church code of conduct for non-Jewish believers at the ‘Council of Jerusalem’.
It takes time to get with new thinking, to get our heads around a new idea. Not just understand how or why it has come about but also what it means for us and the part we might play.
Recently, what it is to worship has been major new thinking for us to digest. Our three churches are no longer just physical places but also online. Underpinning all of this, has been reminder that worship is not just for the few. What we do is a joyful expression, situated in our communities, to the God who embraces all people and whose love is without limits or bounds.
But worship is not just for Sundays, it can be expressed in all the ways we act, live and breathe. No part of our lives can be cut off from God’s abundant love, so every bit of our life can be offered as worship. Our choice is how to respond to God’s transforming love. It’s not a one-off special offer – this is a standing open invitation for everyone. God’s love is a glorious, generous, arms-stretched-wide love. It envelops and enfolds us so we can’t help but join in ourselves.
This creation season we are invited to respond to this love by creating space for God to speak to us about how we shape our lives. Will we allow our diaries and habits, priorities and prayers, all to be touched by God’s life-giving breath? Can we tune our ears to heaven’s whispers of God’s wonderful love? Will we open our hearts, responding in joy and praise and loving action?
Today’s NT reading from the Acts of the Apostles gives us a sermon from the Apostle Peter, the former fisherman from Roman-occupied Galilee. He was chosen by Jesus to be his leading disciple. In today’s story Peter, although born and bred a practising Jew, has been asked to travel to Caesarea to share the Good News of Jesus with a group of gentiles. He meets them in the house of a Roman centurion. The Jewish community, God’s chosen people, would have considered such an act an outrageous betrayal of their faith. Peter however goes on to tell this assembled group of foreigners that Jesus, who had been crucified by the Romans in Jerusalem, is Lord of All! He stresses that Jesus has no favourites, so anyone of any nationality who hears the gospel story and responds positively, is acceptable to God.
2000 years later Peter’s message is still being heard because we too can testify that we have been called to be Jesus’ disciples, together with millions worldwide, to spread the Gospel message of our Lord. But how should we tackle this task today? What are the words we would use to introduce people to the Good News about Jesus in today’s rapidly changing world?
I once heard a story about a little boy who confronted his grandmother with a question.
‘Grannie, did you know that Jesus is the human version of God?’
‘Yes, I did know that’ answered his grandmother,
‘But Grannie’, continued the boy, ‘Did you know that Jesus is the only human version of God?’
Well, that made his grandmother think. It made me stop and think too. It might have the same effect on you. Out of the mouth of little children!
If Jesus is the only human version of God then He is uniquely Lord of all, and the Gospel message really is universal, applying not only to people of every nationality but also to the whole of creation. The month of September has been designated ‘Creationtide’, set apart for us to carefully re-assess our collective responsibility for the stewardship of this planet. As we continue on our Christian pilgrimage through this pandemic let us hold on to the essentials of our faith following our Lord by caring not only for all of our neighbours worldwide but also the created world which God has entrusted to us.
At last we are having a service in our church buildings at All Hallows! But due to the pandemic we only have a very limited number of people present but the service was live streamed onto Facebook. Do please leave comments on what you thought of today’s service and how you might like us to adapt the service whilst we cannot all gather together.