Service talks, thoughts and reflections January 2021

Sunday 3rd January 2021

A new year has begun so let us leave behind all this is past and walk together into the future. Let us trust in the God of new beginnings and worship the God of fresh hopes.

Prayer: Lord of our journeys, help us this day to have eyes to see your leading, ears to hear your guidance, and a heart of courage, that we may journey faithfully and find your way, even when the path may seem difficult and dark. Amen

Acts 15:1-5

Paul travelled on to Derbe and Lystra, where a Christian named Timothy lived. His mother, who was also a Christian, was Jewish, but his father was a Greek. All the believers in Lystra and Iconium spoke well of Timothy. Paul wanted to take Timothy along with him, so he circumcised him. He did so because all the Jews who lived in those places knew that Timothy’s father was Greek. As they went through the towns, they delivered to the believers the rules decided upon by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, and told them to obey those rules. So the churches were made stronger in the faith and grew in numbers every day.

It’s a new year for us and here we find Paul with his companions on a new journey which took them back to Derbe and Lystra. It’s in Lystra that we meet the third person who is to be part of this missionary journey of Paul and Silas’s and that’s Timothy.

Timothy lived in Lystra and was of mixed parentage, his mother being a Jew and his father a Greek (a Gentile) however his mother Eunice and grandmother Lois had schooled him well in the Jewish faith and folk in both Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him as a Christian.

Now Paul wanted this young man Timothy to accompany him and Silas on their journey but before they departed Paul circumcised Timothy. As I think you have probably discovered by now in my writing of these sheets that questions come to mind as I read the Bible in preparation, and I try to find and share answers. Although I am also aware that sometimes even after some searching things can still be a bit of a mystery.

However in the case of Timothy I just had to ask the question why? Why did Paul circumcise him when he had been in Jerusalem with the apostles discussing this same issue and was an advocate of not circumcising Gentile believers?

We are given an answer in the passage where it says ‘He did so because all the Jews who lived in those places knew that Timothy’s father was Greek. But that doesn’t totally answer the question for me therefore I think it needs to be unpacked a bit more.

So I begin by looking again at the rules that were passed on to the Gentile believers in chapter 15. These were – to eat no food that had been offered to idols – to eat no blood – to eat no animal that had been strangled to death and to keep themselves from sexual immorality. But there was no mention of being circumcised because they (the Gentiles) as Peter had said, were given the gift of the Holy Spirit as well as the Jews (remembering Cornelius and Co) and their belief was that Jews and Gentiles are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus alone.

So what about Timothy, well I think his case is slightly different, he is Jewish due to his mother being a Jew but he is a Gentile because his father is Greek. However his father doesn’t seem to have an issue with Timothy being taught the Jewish faith and as we travel further with Paul and Silas we can see that the places they were intending to visit were occupied mainly by Jews.

If you remember I said previously (13th December sheet) that the rules given to the Gentiles would help the relationship between the Jewish and Gentile believers and I think it is possible that Paul is doing a similar thing here.

The folk where they are going know that Timothy’s father is a Gentile and that Timothy wouldn’t have been circumcised as a baby. Paul if you remember usually made his way to the synagogue as soon as he arrived in a place, so that would mean that Timothy would be excluded from some bits of the synagogue that were exclusively for Jews. This in turn could have a detrimental effect on the sharing and acceptance of the Good News that they preach. I think Paul isn’t taking any chances and obviously Timothy must be happy to be circumcised in adulthood or he wouldn’t have agreed.

As I was thinking about all this, the passage from Ecclesiastes 3 came into my mind about there being a time for everything, the writer giving examples from opposite ends of the spectrum. When Paul was arguing the case for the non-circumcision of Gentiles in Jerusalem it was the right time and situation in which to do so. And here in Lystra again we see that it is the right time and situation to think and do differently, however the outcome is basically the same – Jew and Gentile are helped in their ongoing relationship with each other as believers in Christ Jesus – and Timothy is accepted the same as Paul and Silas as promoters and teachers of the Good News.

If we needed any further proof that it was the right thing to do, we just have to look at the final verse in our passage today which tells us that the churches were made stronger in the faith and grew in numbers every day. This says to me that everything worked out ok and Paul was right in both of the situations he found himself and he had this flexibility of mind that went with the situation he found himself in at the time.

Prayer:

Father God, we give you thanks for the scriptures, for the way we can read them for ourselves and discover the richness of your word. Thank you also for helping our understanding. Amen

Sunday 10th January 2021

Prayer: Lord God, giver of light and life, we know it is by your word that everything is brought into being – the far-flung galaxies and the tiniest atomic particle and we also know that you are a loving God who has given us a world to care for and people to love, for which we thank you. So please help us at the start of this New Year to listen to you and do things your way. Amen

Acts 16:6-10

They travelled through the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit did not let them preach the message in the province of Asia. When they reached the border of Mysia, they tried to go into the province of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So they travelled right on through Mysia and went to Troas. That night Paul had a vision in which he saw a Macedonian standing and begging him. “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” As soon as Paul had this vision, we got ready to leave for Macedonia, because we decided that God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there.

So the second missionary journey of Paul with his companions continues as they return to the places Paul has been before and where churches were planted. This return journey was made to strengthen these churches, well that was their plan, however it seems that God’s plan was a bit different and included the planting of some new churches as well.

Paul with his companions has retraced his steps of the first journey he made with Barnabas by visiting the folks in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium and Pisidain Antioch. We can be sure of this because Luke in his writing of Acts tells us that they travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia and if you find and look at a map of the area you will see that this is where those places were situated.

However it appears they are prevented from sharing the Good News in the province of Asia by the Holy Spirit and when they then reached the border of Mysia and try to enter Bithynia they are stopped again. What I find frustrating here in Luke’s narrative is that he doesn’t explain how – how did the Holy Spirit stop them?

My thoughts wander back to the story of Balaam and his donkey in the Old Testament book of Numbers. If you aren’t familiar with this story it’s basically about a man named Balaam, who was going somewhere to do something God didn’t want him to. So an angel of the Lord stood in front of his donkey three times to bar his way. The first time the donkey took a detour into a field and Balaam beat her until she returned to the road. The second time the donkey steered Balaam into a wall and again he beat her until she continued straight on. The third time the donkey just lay down in the road and again Balaam beat her. Balaam at this time wasn’t able to see the angel however God then enabled the donkey to speak to Balaam and if you want to know more then go to Numbers chapter 22.

However let’s get back to Paul and his companions and my question, how were they stopped from preaching in Asia and going into Bithynia and the answer is we don’t know but the Holy Spirit certainly did something and re-routed them to Troas on the coast. It seems they didn’t stay there long, just overnight, because Paul has a vision and in it a Macedonian asked him to come there and help them.

Paul and the others are attentive to God’s word in this vision and make travel arrangements to go to Macedonia. In getting there they had to cross the Aegean Sea and next week we will continue our journey with them when they arrive. However from what we have read today I think it may be interesting and maybe challenging for us to reflect on how God speaks to us and guides us and our reactions to his leading. Do we like Balaam carry on regardless trying to go the way we want until God does something a bit drastic to get our attention? Or do we react like Paul and his companions and follow God even though our original way or plans get diverted and how do we recognise God in action? Plenty to think about until next week!

Prayer:

Creator God, you know us inside out because you made us and we thank you so much that you gave us life. However we know that to live a life in all its fulness, which was your intention from the beginning, we need to walk with you. So help us to recognise when you are trying to guide us in the right direction and also help us not to stubbornly keep going our own way. In Jesus name we pray this. Amen

Sunday 17th January 2021

Prayer: We thank you God for those times when we have sensed your presence, heard your voice and seen new insights. Help us as we sit with you now to experience being in your company once again. Teach us Lord to make space for you; teach us how to listen for your voice and recognise when you are trying to communicate with us. Give us open hearts and minds to your way of life and help us to put your instructions into action. Amen

Acts 16:11-15

11 We left by ship from Troas and sailed straight across to Samothrace, and the next day to Neapolis. 12 From there we went inland to Philippi, a city of the first district of Macedonia;[b] it is also a Roman colony. We spent several days there. 13 On the Sabbath we went out of the city to the riverside, where we thought there would be a place where Jews gathered for prayer. We sat down and talked to the women who gathered there. 14 One of those who heard us was Lydia from Thyatira, who was a dealer in purple cloth. She was a woman who worshiped God, and the Lord opened her mind to pay attention to what Paul was saying. 15 After she and the people of her house had been baptized, she invited us, “Come and stay in my house if you have decided that I am a true believer in the Lord.” And she persuaded us to go.

 Luke the narrator, it seems has now joined the missionary team journeying with Paul – why do we think this well if we go back to last week’s reading we can see that after Paul has his vision the writer says ‘we’ got ready to leave, and ‘we’ decided God had called us to preach the Good News to the people there. Sometimes we have to re-read things for our eyes to be opened and this is what happened to me as I was preparing for this week’s talk. Also I was reminded by George, our retired Baptist Minister, the following day so felt it was important to share this with you as it may be of a particular interest now or in the future as we continue our journey.

Anyway last week we left Paul and Co getting ready to go to Macedonia, they board a ship at Troas and then sail across the Aegean Sea to Samothrace, which is a rocky island, where they probably stayed overnight before continuing on to Neapolis. It was then a ten mile walk to Philippi, a city of the first district of Macedonia. Apparently it was given its name by Philip of Macedonia in the 4th century BC and it began as a Greek colony before becoming a Roman colony.

We know from what we have learnt before, that Paul, when he arrives somewhere new usually goes to the synagogue on the sabbath however it appears there is no synagogue in Philippi. Therefore he finds out where the local Jews normally go to meet for prayer on a Sabbath, which is by the riverside just outside of town, and goes there.

When he arrives he finds only women so joins them and shares the Good News about Jesus. One of the women is known as Lydia from Thyatira in Asia Minor, which is now Akhisor in Western Turkey. Thyatira was famous for its dyes, and Lydia traded in purple cloth so was probably reasonably well off.

Thyatira is also mentioned in the Book of Revelation at the end of the New Testament as one of the seven churches who received a message in the vision that John had.

Basically they were told they were doing ok, being loving and faithful, serving and being patient, actually doing more than they had been, so I take that to mean growing in their relationship with God. But, there always seems to be a but doesn’t there, they were called to task over their toleration of Jezebel – who calls herself a messenger of God but who practices sexual immorality, eats food offered to idols and misleads others.

Now there was a Jezebel in the Old Testament who was married to King Ahab. She worshipped the pagan god Baal and ended up corrupting her husband and by doing so all Israel. She used her power to influence others to follow her wickedness, it didn’t do her any good though because she died a terrible death – being eaten by dogs apparently, what a gruesome end.

However I think the message in Revelation for the people in Thyatira is don’t do what Jezebel or folk like her do and goes on to say ‘Those who have not followed her teaching must hold firmly to what they have. Stay faithful and you will be rewarded.’ Revelation is an amazing book full of mystery, imagery and hope and it shows us that although we are in a battle, ultimately and undoubtedly the victory is God’s.

Anyway I digress so let’s get back to Lydia, we are told she already worships God, although she isn’t a Jew and the Lord opened her mind to what Paul was saying about Jesus so she and her household are baptised. After their baptism she invites and seems to insist that they go and stay at her house, unsurprisingly they do as I’m sure it was probably better accommodation than they had.

Now this is the second whole household to be baptised, the first if you remember was Cornelius’ when Peter went to visit him. As we journey into Acts 16, Luke the writer, chooses three story’s of converts to highlight. Lydia who we have just met and next week we will meet an unnamed girl and the week after a jailer. Now none of these are of any note in themselves except that they demonstrate how God breaks down dividing barriers and unites in Christ very different kinds of people. I look forward to sharing the other two stories with you and if you have any thoughts or questions in the meantime please share them with me.

The words of this chorus seemed very apt as we think about how God breaks down barriers and unites us as followers of Jesus Christ.

Bind us together Lord

Bind us together with cords

That cannot be broken

Bind us together Lord

Bind us together Lord

Bind us together with love

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Prayer:

Lord, what we have heard this day please help us to remember. Lord, what we have learned this day please help us to share with others. Lord, the love that you have shown us this day help us to show to others. As we journey with you may your light shine through us and may many folk be attracted to the light so that we can signpost them to you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen

God bless. Rev Sue

Sunday 24-1-21

Prayer: Jesus, you came proclaiming the good news of God and endured the cross through love for us. Through your sacrifice we are forgiven. So help us to take this good news and share it with others so that they too will know your loving freedom in their lives. Amen

Acts 16:16-24

One day as we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had an evil spirit that enabled her to predict the future. She earned a lot of money for her owners by telling fortunes. She followed Paul and us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God! They announce to you how you can be saved!” She did this for many days until Paul became so upset that he turned round and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I order you to come out of her!” The spirit went out of her that very moment.

When her owners realised that their chance of making money was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to the authorities in the public square. They brought them before the Roman officials and said, “These men are Jews and they are causing trouble in our city. They are teaching customs that are against our law: we are Roman citizens and we cannot accept these customs or practise them.” And the crowds joined in the attack against Paul and Silas.

Then the officials tore the clothes off Paul and Silas and ordered them to be whipped. After a severe beating, they were thrown into jail and the jailer was ordered to lock them up tight. Upon receiving this order the jailer threw them into the inner cell and fastened their feet between heavy blocks of wood.

Paul, Silas and others including Luke are on their way to the place of prayer that they have been going to since they arrived in Philippi. On their way there they meet a slave girl who we are told has an evil spirit within her which enables her to tell fortunes, a lucrative business for her owners. However she is being a bit of a nuisance to Paul and the others because as she follows them she keeps shouting out saying “These men are servants of the Most High God! They announce to you how you can be saved!”

Now you might think that maybe this was a good thing as she was drawing attention to them and maybe helping their witness however as it often turns out things aren’t quite what they seem. I say this because we have to get our minds into the time and place where all this was happening. You see Most High God to the people there, who were mainly Romans, wouldn’t point the people towards the God of Abraham (Israel) but probably to the Roman god Zeus or one of the other gods. Also being saved (salvation) didn’t mean what it would to a Jew or Christian, the joy of being born again into a new way of living but it would just mean health, wealth or rescue from some disaster or another. Therefore I assume Paul and the others weren’t too happy being associated with these things which detracted from the message they wanted to share. So when she had gone on so long that Paul was unable to bear it any longer he turned around and told the evil spirit to get lost and because he did it in the name of Jesus, the evil spirit had to obey and it left her.

Now I just want to think about this young girl for a moment and what we know of her.

  • She is a female
  • She is only young
  • She is a slave
  • She belongs to someone, who bought and paid for her
  • She has the ability to tell fortunes
  • She is exploited by her owners because of this ability
  • She has no identity – we don’t know her name or anything else about her
  • She has no rights
  • She is a commodity

This evil spirit that possesses her is a useful one for her owners, as it’s their money making venture and therefore this girl is a very valuable asset of theirs. Telling or try to find out the future is frowned upon in the scriptures. There is one story I remember about King Saul who after banning this kind of thing actually resorted to going to a medium himself when he couldn’t get any answers from God because he (Saul) had turned away from Him. He asked the woman to summon up the prophet Samuel from the dead, so he could ask him what he should do, Samuel apparently wasn’t best pleased and it didn’t turn out well for Saul because he and his sons died on the battlefield. (1 Samuel 28:3-25)

Anyway the girl’s owners are angry at what Paul has done because they have lost their money making asset, so they drag Paul and Silas in front of the authorities (the magistrates) in the public square and accuse them of:

  1. Being Jews
  2. Causing trouble
  3. Teaching customs that are against the Roman law

Basically saying these men aren’t our sort at all, they are trying to change us and they are anti Roman, but leaving out the bit about their lost income. Instead they just concentrate on the bits that will get folk patriotically fired up. There is bigotry here as well as racism which the crowd come on board with and the accusations are believed without them being investigated or factually confirmed. The outcome for Paul and Silas being that they are severely whipped before being thrown into jail and securely fastened in the inner cell, ensuring there is no way of escape.

Next week we will find out what happened to Paul and Silas while they were in jail and the final outcome. However today it may just be good for us to reflect on our own actions or feelings when facing certain situations especially when we are in a crowd. Do we get carried along with the rest or do we have the strength and courage to think for ourselves and maybe stand out from the crowd, reacting only as Jesus would.

Prayer:

Loving Lord, thank you that you meet us where we are, in the middle and the muddle of our daily lives. Thank you that when it is stormy all around us, your love is changeless. Thank you that although we are broken people, your love is changeless and thank you Lord that your compassion overwhelms us because your love continues forever. Amen

God bless. Rev Sue