Sunday April 30, 2023
Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love and praise.
© Hope Publishing Company used by permission OneLicense #A723256
Acknowledging the Territory
As we gather in worship, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Lighting the Christ Candle
In the light of this Candle, we see reflected the light of Christ. And as it shines for us, it reminds us that we too must shine with the light of Christ wherever we go.
Call to Worship
We worship the God who is present in our world and who is present in our lives.
We don’t need to look up to find God,
We only need to look around: within ourselves, beyond ourselves, and into the eyes of one another.
We don’t need to listen for the sound of distant thunder to find God,
We only need to listen to the music of life, the voices of children, the questions of the curious, and the rhythm of a heartbeat.
We worship the God who is present in our world and in our lives.
And so, in this time together, let us worship God.
Great Divine Mystery, we claim that we are your children, that you are the Creator of all that is, that we live and move and have our being in you, and yet all too often we do not live our lives in ways that reflect this. Too often we listen to the voices which tell us to put our trust in whatever institution can increase our wealth; in whatever breakfast food can expand our brainpower, in whatever mode of transport can get us there faster, cheaper, and more comfortably. Too often we give our adoration and praise to things or people of this world. Remind us, as we gather here today that it is you and you alone who deserves our worship and our praise. Remind us that you are our creator and that we truly do live and exist only through your love. Amen
Gift of Music Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty #315
Today we begin to hear about the ministry of Paul, or as he was also known, Saul. This year we will not read about his conversion. Instead, we begin with his first mission which took him and his companion Barnabas to Lystra.
Acts 13:1-3, 14:8-18 New Revised Standard Version
Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a childhood friend of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping 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 Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been lame from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And the man sprang up and began to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice. When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, “People, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all peoples to follow their own ways, yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good, giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Hymn Request All Creation of Our God and King #217
Many people do not realize that the letters of Paul, that appear in the Christian Scriptures were most likely written during the height of Paul’s missionary activity, between 50 and 58 CE, making them the earliest surviving Christian documents. They predate the earliest of the Gospels, which is the Gospel According to Mark, by at least ten years. The Acts of the Apostles was probably written between 70 and 90 CE.
This means that the events described in the gospels, as well as those described in the Acts of the Apostles happened long before they were written down and they were not written down until after the teachings of Paul had already begun to strongly influence the formation of what would become Christianity.
Paul, or Saul as he was known at the time, was born in Tarsus and was very likely close to the same age as Jesus. He was raised in a devout Jewish home, belonging to the tribe of Benjamin and was educated as a Pharisee, which meant he was not only well educated in the laws of the Jewish people but trained in public speaking and rhetoric.
And so, when he learned about this upstart rabbi named Jesus who was going around breaking the law and encouraging others to do the same, he determined to search out and destroy all those who followed him. But as we know, God had other plans and after a conversion experience on the road to Damascus where he saw the Risen Christ, he became a devote disciple.
As you can imagine, the early church did not immediately welcome Paul with open arms. They were extremely suspicious of his motive and hesitant to allow Paul to speak on behalf of the followers of Christ. And so when they finally agreed to send Paul out on his first mission trip, they chose two members of the established community to go with him, Barnabas, who was a well-established leader among the followers and John or John-Mark who was sent along as a “helper”.
By the time they arrived in Lystra, John-Mark had already returned to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas were very successful in their mission and many began to believe, but success came at a cost and at least twice, leaders from the Jewish communities that were threated by Paul’s popularity either drove them out or tried to have them stoned.
So now Paul and Barnabas had moved on to Lystra. Lystra was part of Asia Minor, what is today Turkey. It was a Roman colony, part of the Roman province of Galatia. They were under Roman rule and would have worshiped Roman gods. Unlike the places they had previously visited, Lystra apparently had no synagogue and no well-establish Jewish presence, so it was the first location where Paul spoke to a primarily gentile audience.
One of those who listened to Paul speak was a man who had been lame since birth. He listened intently to what Paul was saying and Paul sensed in him a great faith, so Paul told the man, “Stand upright on your feet.” The man obeyed, jumped up and began walking around.
In amazement, the people witnessing this event assumed that in order to do such great things, Paul and Barnabas must be gods and so they called out, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
They began to call Paul, Hermes and Barnabas, Zeus. Although this may seem rather obscure to us, given the fact that Lystra was a Roman colony and worshiped Roman gods, it actually makes sense. In Roman mythology Hermes was the messenger of the gods, and since Paul was clearly the one doing all the speaking, they named him as Hermes. Although Barnabas may not have spoken as much, he was clearly the one with authority over Paul so he was named Zues.Needless to say, Paul and Barnabas were very upset by all this adulation and did everything in their power to explain that what they did, they did not do by their own power but through the power of the living God who could be experienced and known through the Risen Christ. It was this living God, who was the creator of all things and the one who had sent Christ into the world.
It is here that one particular phrase in this scripture begins to take on new meaning. When the people of Lystra saw the crippled man healed, they cried out, “The gods have come down to us in human form!”
This is almost exactly the same wording that is used throughout both Christian scriptures and Christian tradition to describe Jesus, as God, come down to us in human form!
I can’t help but wonder how often we, like the people of Lystra end up worshiping or at least venerating, the messenger or the message instead of the one who sends the message.
This past weekend people in the northern part of our province were treated to an extraordinary sight. The Aurora Borealis or the Northern Lights were clearly visible dancing across the night sky. Many people took amazing pictures of this natural phenomena. And although scientists could explain exactly how and why they appeared, I wonder how many people took the time to recognize that this natural wonder is part of God’s creation. I wonder how many people took a moment to say thanks.
I also wonder how many people recognize their own gifts and talents, or the gifts and talents of others as a blessing from God. How many people, if offered praise and adulation for something amazing that they have achieved, acknowledge that their gift or talent is not something that they have developed all on their own? How many recognize that the inner gift or ability is something they were created with and that was nurtured and cultivated by parents, teacher and mentor who played an essential role in nurturing their gift?
And how many of us recognize and give thanks for those moments when something happens that touches us or inspires us in ways that we would never have imagined? How many of us dismiss as coincidence those things that happen to us at just the right time or in just the right way to offer us a clear glimpse of what we should do or how we should proceed in life?
I firmly believe that those are “God Moments”. They are times when the barrier between our earthly existence and the mystery of the Divine touch, even if just for the briefest of moments. But those are also the times when we need to recognize the Divine within the moment.
In my own life I can recall many of these God moments. I remember as a teenager, heading to my first job as a camp counsellor and being extremely nervous and worried. Would I be any good at this? How would I know how to handle a difficult situation? What on earth made me think that I could possibly do this?
Just as my self-doubt and panic seemed to threaten to take over, I look out the window of the car and saw the most amazing rainbow which appeared to be floating over the camp to which I was headed. Somehow, I immediately knew that things were going to be OK, that things were going to work out. Looking back, I have had many of those experiences. Some I have recognized at the time they occurred but others I have only recognized in hindsight.
It seems to me that the people of Lystra experienced such a God moment when they witnessed the healing of the crippled man. But instead of recognizing God at work in Paul and Barnabas, they worshiped the messenger, they worshiped the human form in which God appeared rather than worshipping the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.
For me, this is the challenge. To recognize, not just the astonishing wonder and possibility of creation, but to remember and give thanks to the creator. Amen.
Gift of Music God Created Heaven and Earth #251
We Offer Our Gifts
Offertory Response VU#549
For all your goodness, God, we give you thanks.
And so, we offer you, all that we have and do,
to serve and honour you and give you thanks.
© Daryl Nixon 1987. All rights reserved. Used with permission OneLicense #A7323756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Gift of Music Praise to the Lord, the Almighty #220
Choral Blessing VU#169
Your name we bless, O Risen Lord, and sing today with one accord
The life laid down, the life restored: hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
© 1986 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense#A-723756