Service talks, thoughts and reflections May 2021

Sunday 2nd May 2021

Psalm 16: A prayer of confidence

Protect me, O God; I trust in you for safety. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; all the good things I have come from you.” How excellent are the Lord’s faithful people! My greatest pleasure is to be with them. Those who rush to other gods bring many troubles on themselves. I will not take part in their sacrifices; I will not worship their gods. You Lord, are all I have, and you give me all I need; my future is in your hands. How wonderful are your gifts to me; how good they are! I praise the Lord, because he guides me, and in the night my conscience warns me. I am always aware of the Lord’s presence; he is near, and nothing can shake me. And so I am thankful and glad, and I feel completely secure, because you protect me from the power of death. I have served you faithfully, and you will not abandon me to the world of the dead. You will show me the path that leads to life; your presence fills me with joy and brings me pleasure forever.

Acts 19:11-20

God was performing unusual miracles through Paul. Even handkerchiefs and aprons he had used were taken to those who were ill, and their diseases were driven away, and the evil spirits would go out of them. Some Jews who travelled round and drove out evil spirits also tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus to do this. They said to the evil spirits, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches.” Seven brothers, who were the sons of a Jewish High Priest named Sceva, were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul; but you – who are you?”

 The man who had the evil spirit in him attacked them with such violence that he overpowered them all. They ran away from his house, wounded and with their clothes torn off. All the Jews and Gentiles who lived in Ephesus heard about this; they were all filled with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was given greater honour. Many of the believers came, publicly admitting and revealing what they had done. Many of those who had practised magic brought their books together and burnt them in public. They added up the price of the books, and the total came to fifty thousand silver coins. In this powerful way the word of the Lord kept spreading and growing stronger.

 We are still with Paul in Ephesus and what we read today is a bit outside my comfort zone and maybe it is for you too, so why is Luke telling us this and what is its significance? To help I think we need some background information on what was going on in Ephesus at that time. You see Ephesus was a city with a reputation as a centre for the learning and practice of magical arts, a place where folk would seek answers and healings from magic potions and spells and its here that God is performing unusual miracles through Paul. Although Luke calls them unusual maybe a better description would be special, extraordinary or even remarkable. The thing to remember here is that it is God who is behind the miracles not Paul, Paul is just the front man who God is working through.

What seems remarkable is that it’s not only when Paul is physically with someone that they are healed or set free from the control of a demon but also the bit of cloth that he has used to wipe the sweat from his brow or the apron he wears to protect his clothes while he is working making tents is being used for healing too. The sick or demon possessed only had to touch one of these articles that have been in close contact with Paul to be healed, here again we have to remember that it is not the article or the fact that it belongs to Paul but that it is God working his healing through it.

Now also in Ephesus you would find travelling Jews who made their money by healing sick folk or driving out demons. Among these were seven brothers who made their living this way, they were apparently the sons of Sceva a Jewish High Priest. Now according to some commentary writers it is debateable as to whether Sceva was a true High Priest or whether he had just taken that title on board but that makes little difference to our story. Anyway his sons’ think that it might be as well to help themselves to a bit of what Paul has, so they try using the name of Jesus when exorcising an evil spirit. Unfortunately their plan backfires because when they say to the demon “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches” it replies, “I know Jesus, and I know about Paul; but you – who are you?” and promptly enables the man it is possessing to beat them all up.

Now when the news spread about what had happened to these seven sons of Sceva, folk (both Jews and Gentiles) got a bit scared. It was probably as they realised that there was much more to this Jesus that Paul talked about than they thought and so they began to take him more seriously, as it says in verse 17 the name of the Lord Jesus was given greater honour. Not only this but we are told that many of the believers came and publicly admitted what they had been doing and those who practised magic brought their books to be destroyed in front of everyone. As we can see from the passage this was a costly business so it wasn’t done lightly. In monetary terms the cost of the books that were burnt amounted to fifty thousand silver coins and a silver coin in those days was a day’s wage.

What happened here in Ephesus was that God’s power was shown in this demonstration to be far more powerful than anything else and many of the actions that took place in Ephesus are related to this need to demonstrate the power of God over these other forces. God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, not Paul himself or the sweat rag or aprons that were taken to those who needed healing and it’s not surprising that the casting out of demons gains prominence in a place under the grip of occult practices. Now you may think that this passage has nothing to say to us today but Luke is writing all this down for a reason. He wants others to realise not only the damage that can be done by becoming involved with things that aren’t of God (magic etc) but also the power of God over these forces. He wants to show the power of Jesus name when used correctly by those who love and believe in Him. However it also shows that the outcome was not what the sons of Sceva expected but was part of God’s plan as people turned to Him and rejected the occult.

Today there are many things that we accept as ok in our lives that really are not ok with God. Do you read your horoscope every day to find out what is going to happen to you, do you go to a medium to connect you with a loved one who has died? All these things and many others are not of God and dangerous to be meddling in even though you may think they are harmless. Those folk in the time of Paul who witnessed what happened to the sons of Sceva or heard about it were so concerned that they were willing to give up and burn the books that had cost them a lot of money because deep down they knew it was the only right thing to do as they turned to God and accepted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour.

Following Jesus is never an easy option, in Luke 9:23 he says: ‘If anyone wants to come with me, he must forget self, take up his cross every day, and follow me.’ He said this after he had just told his disciples what would happen to him in the near future: that he would suffer and be killed. If you read the news from around the world today you will see that many Christians do suffer and are killed for their faith in Jesus. However don’t dwell too long on this before moving on to what else Jesus said in Luke 9:24 ‘for whoever wants to save his own life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’ Look to the long term not the short term, a life lived the Jesus way, serving God and only Him, living in the world but not being of the world is the only way to a fulfilled and eternal life. I accepted God’s offer when I was 29 years old and often the journey has been painful and hard, but also it has been joyful and fulfilling and I can live no other way than with God at the centre of my life. Trust me I often get things wrong and am definitely a long way from being perfect but I live every day trying to follow Jesus to the best of my ability and I would encourage anyone to do the same.

Prayer: Jesus, for all those who are thinking of inviting you into their lives give them the courage to do so now; don’t let the moment be lost, let them know that you have been waiting a long time for them and how much you love them. Amen

God bless. Rev Sue

Sunday 9th May 2021

Prayer: Creator God, you have called us to worship you, chosen us to be your friends and invited us to extend that friendship to your people everywhere is this world. So please help us to live as Jesus lived, to serve as he served and to love as he loved, so that we will glorify your name. Amen

Acts 19:21-41

After these things had happened Paul made up his mind to travel through Macedonia and Achaia and go on to Jerusalem. “After I go there,” he said, “I must also see Rome.” So he sent Timothy and Erastus, two of his helpers to Macedonia, while he spent more time in the Province of Asia.

 It was at this time that there was serious trouble in Ephesus because of the Way of the Lord. A certain silversmith named Demetrius made silver models of the temple of the goddess Artemis, and his business brought a great deal of profit to the workers. So he called them all together with others whose work was like theirs and said to them, “Men, you know that our prosperity comes from this work. Now, you can see and hear for yourselves what this fellow Paul is doing. He says that man-made gods are not gods at all, and he has succeeded in convincing many people, both here in Ephesus and in nearly the whole province of Asia. There is the danger, then, that this business of ours will get a bad name. Not only that, but there is also the danger that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will come to mean nothing and that her greatness will be destroyed – the goddess worshipped by everyone in Asia and in all the world!”

 As the crowd heard these words, they became furious and started shouting, “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!” The uproar spread throughout the whole city. The mob seized Gaius and Aristarchus, two Macedonians who were travelling with Paul, and rushed with them to the theatre. Paul himself wanted to go before the crowd, but the believers would not let him. Some of the provincial authorities, who were his friends, also sent him a message begging him not to show himself in the theatre. Meanwhile the whole meeting was in an uproar: some people were shouting one thing, others were shouting something else, because most of them did not even know why they had come together. Some of the people concluded that Alexander was responsible, since the Jews made him go up to the front. Then Alexander motioned with his hand for the people to be silent, and he tried to make a speech of defence. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, they all shouted together the same thing for two hours: “Great is Artemis of Ephesus!”

 At last the town clerk was able to calm the crowd. “Fellow-Ephesians!” he said. “Everyone knows that the city of Ephesus is the keeper of the temple of the great Artemis and of the sacred stone that fell down from heaven. Nobody can deny these things. So then, you must calm down and not do anything reckless. You have brought these men here even though they have not robbed temples or said evil things about our goddess. If Demetrius and his workers have an accusation against anyone, we have the authorities and the regular days for court; charges can be made there. But if there is something more that you want, it will have to be settled in a legal meeting of citizens. For after what has happened today, there is the danger that we will be accused of a riot. There is no excuse for all this uproar, and we would not be able to give a good reason for it.” After saying this, he dismissed the meeting.

 Paul is making new travelling plans and sends two of his helpers, Timothy, who we have met before and Erastus who we haven’t met before but is mentioned again in Paul’s letter to the Romans 16:23 where he is described as the city treasurer and also in 2 Timothy 4:20 to Macedonia.

Back in Ephesus serious trouble is brewing and it’s caused by one man whose name is Demetrius, who is a silversmith by trade. Now his issue is what Paul and the others who follow the Way of the Lord are saying about other gods. You see Demetrius earns his living by making models of the temple of the goddess Artemis, which is located in Ephesus; however Paul is saying that man-made gods aren’t gods at all and because many folk are convinced by what he is saying, Demetrius is finding that his trade is suffering and he’s not a happy man. He’s so worried about his livelihood he starts stirring up trouble with the others working in the same trade. He says, “Men, you know that our prosperity comes from this work also there is the danger then, that this business of ours will get a bad name. Not only that, but there is also the danger that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will come to mean nothing and that her greatness will be destroyed.

Demetrius is clever and isn’t just saying, “Look I’m losing business and money” instead he makes the situation much wider. John Stott, the theologian puts it this way:  He (Demetrius) was subtle enough to develop three more respectable motives for concern, namely the dangers that their trade would lose its good name, their temple its prestige and their goddess her divine majesty. Thus ‘vested interests were disguised as local patriotism – in this case also under the cloak of religious zeal’.

The consequence of this is that the crowd are stirred up, furious that their culture and god are being attacked and so begin shouting ‘great is Artemis of Ephesus’, which causes uproar throughout the whole city.

Now into this story come Gaius and Aristarchus, who are some of Paul’s travelling companions, they are seized by the mob and taken to the theatre. The theatre in Ephesus was the largest one in Asia Minor and could accommodate 25,000 people. It was used for performances as our theatres are but also for social, political and economic demonstrations as well as gladiator games. So probably the two men are in a bit of a sticky situation and when Paul hears about this he wants to go before the crowd and speak but he is prevented by the other believers who are obviously worried about his safety. They are also backed up by some of the provincial authorities (friends of Paul’s) who are worried too and beg him not to go.

At the theatre the meeting is in uproar, there’s shouting coming from everywhere with some folk not even knowing why or what they are shouting about. You know what it’s like when a mob get together, sense seems to fly out of the window.

We now come across Alexander, I must admit when I read this bit (v33) I wondered where he came from and why he was there. Here John Stott answers my question by writing: ‘A diversion was caused when some Jews tried to put forward their spokesman, no doubt in order to disassociate Jews from Christians, but  the crowd, who would not have comprehended the distinction, shouted him down.’ So it appears he was just there to try and ensure that the Jews were shown to be separate/different from the Christians.

Anyway eventually the town clerk, a brave and intelligent man, gets control of the crowd and calms them enough so that he can speak and be heard. As he speaks he points out four things, firstly everyone knows that Ephesus is the guardian of Artemis’ temple so no-one is going to deny this; therefore Artemis is not in danger. Secondly the men they have brought here, Gaius and Aristarchus, haven’t done anything wrong. Thirdly, Demetrius and his colleagues are familiar with the law and if they have a grievance they should take it through the appropriate channels. Finally by the crowd being there, they could find themselves in danger of being charged with civil disorder because what they were doing couldn’t be justified. The crowd disperses, the situation is calmed and maybe there is more to this than meets the eye. Is Luke telling this story to show that Rome had no case against Christianity in general or Paul in particular, if so does this allow the Good News freedom to be preached and shared more widely, any thoughts?

Prayer: Father, help us to glorify your name in all that we do and not just follow the crowd. Amen

God bless. Rev Sue

Sunday 23rd May 2021

Prayer: Amazing, Loving, Awesome, Creator God, today as we remember what happened at a time that we know as Pentecost, we give you our heartfelt thanks that you love the people you made so much that when we strayed you had a master plan to bring us back. You sent your Son Jesus to be born to a young girl; be brought up as a human being; to struggle with all the temptations we struggle with and then after He was unfairly killed; rose from dead and returned to be with you, you still didn’t leave us on our own but sent your Holy Spirit to be our guide. We can never thank you enough but we give our thanks anyway. Amen

Acts 2:1-4

When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

You might be wondering why this week I have returned to a passage in Acts that we have already covered a while ago, well that’s because once again today is celebrated as Pentecost Sunday or what used to be known as Whitsun when I was a child. A time when the helper, God’s Holy Spirit, appeared to Jesus’ disciples, probably a better description was landed on, tongues of fire and all that stuff, as described in the scripture passage above and so I believe we need to think about and reflect on what this means in our lives today.

It wasn’t far into our journey through Acts on the 31st May last year (2020) when we were exploring this passage and if you haven’t still got the service sheet from then, you can go into the church’s website and re-read it. Last year seems a long time ago and so much has happened inbetween, two lockdowns – Covid restrictions – loss of freedom – vaccine jabs and the death of many loved ones due to this terrible virus. There have been questions asked: have our leaders guided us correctly – put the right things in place at the right time – given enough support to the NHS and other services or made the right decisions – who knows except God of course, however I’m sure they tried their best because this virus has affected all of us, even Boris Johnson – our Prime Minister, who didn’t escape and was hospitalised with it.

At the end of last year’s service sheet speaking about Pentecost, I challenged you if you hadn’t already done so to invite Jesus into your life, so that you too could receive this gift of the Holy Spirit. Now one year on, I ask you the question – did you do this? If you did maybe now is the time to reflect on the differences in your life, before and after. Look for the tiny changes you can see in yourself and your way of thinking. If you had already done this a long time ago, there is still the opportunity to reflect and take note.

Now I have another question – have you, are you ready to take the next step and talk to someone (me if you like) about committing to a life of discipleship by regularly attending a church, being baptised in the name of Jesus and becoming a church member.

After Peter and the other disciples received the Holy Spirit they went to work for Jesus and the Kingdom of God, sharing the wonderful Good News of salvation and forgiveness. This work was costly – they gave up their normal lives and stepped out in faith – they suffered along the way but as Paul say’s, he wouldn’t have it any other way and explains this in his letter he wrote to the church in Philippi saying:

I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere refuse, so that I may gain Christ and be completely united with him (Philippians 3:8-9)

This makes me reflect on what I have or haven’t given up for Jesus but also more importantly what I have gained. A life filled with hope even in the darkest times when I have to remind myself to live in faith over fear. It is often at times like these when I feel the presence of God more keenly through His Spirit.

Now I didn’t experience the gift of the Holy Spirit in such a dramatic way as the disciples did that day, but somehow over the years as I have walked with the Lord, I have been more and more aware of his spirit living in me, guiding, influencing my decisions and just keeping me company, especially in times of distress or trouble. I know that this relationship will continue and my confidence in this comes partly from the 23rd Psalm which is a psalm attributed to King David (remember him? as a boy he killed Goliath with his sling and a stone).

  1. The LORDis my shepherd; I shall not want.
  2. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
  3. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
  4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
  5. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
  6. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD

As we live through Pentecost today, I hope and pray it will be a day of discovery that sets us on a path of adventure with our amazing God.

Prayer: Creator God, on this day of celebration, as we remember Pentecost and how you sent your Holy Spirit to prepare, help and guide the disciples in the work you had allocated to them, we praise you and thank you. Firstly that with the Spirit’s help the Good News was spread to many regions and because it was, we now over 2000 years later are aware and benefit from it too. Thank you for your unending love, which we don’t deserve but which you so freely give. Amen

God bless. Rev Sue

Sunday 30th May 2021

Prayer: God of each day and moment, you call us to make choices: choices about how we will live, how we will use our time and resources. You call us to make decisions: who we will look out for, what we will commit to, who we will follow. As we come before you now, bless us with wise discernment and loving compassion, that we may serve you and one another after the example of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen (rotw)

Today is celebrated as Trinity Sunday, when we reflect on our God who is three in one and one in three. This concept is difficult to comprehend and understand however I find it helpful to think of an apple. The skin covers the apple and protects it a bit like God the Father, then the flesh of the apple, which can get bruised and damaged I can relate to Jesus and his suffering and finally the seed which when planted grows and this reminds me of the Holy Spirit because when we invite Jesus into our lives and the Spirit comes to live within us the love of God will grow inside us and then spill out in our actions and words to others. That said the topic this week is Paul’s continuing journey in Acts and his message to the folks he is leaving behind in Ephesus.

 Acts 20:13-21:1a

 We went on ahead to the ship and sailed off to Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had told us to do this, because he was going there by land. When he met us in Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. We sailed from there and arrived off Chios the next day. A day later we came to Samos, and the following day we reached Miletus. Paul had decided to sail on past Ephesus, so as not to lose any time in the province of Asia. He was in a hurry to arrive in Jerusalem by the day of Pentecost, if at all possible.

 From Miletus Paul sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they arrived, he said to them, “You know how I spent the whole time I was with you, from the first day I arrived in the province of Asia. With all humility and many tears I did my work as the Lord’s servant during the hard times that came to me because of the plots of the Jews. You know that I did not hold back anything that would be of help to you as I preached and taught in public and in your homes. To Jews and Gentiles alike I gave solemn warning that they should turn from their sins to God and believe in our Lord Jesus. And now, in obedience to the Holy Spirit I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit has warned me that prison and troubles wait for me. But I reckon my own life to be worth nothing to me; I only want to complete my mission and finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do, which is to declare the Good News about the grace of God.

 I have gone about among all of you, preaching the Kingdom of God. and now I know that none of you will ever see me again. So I solemnly declare to you this very day: if any of you should be lost, I am not responsible. For I have not held back from announcing to you the whole purpose of God. So keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock which the Holy Spirit has placed in your care. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he made his own through the sacrificial death of his son. I know that after I leave, fierce wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. The time will come when some men from your own group will tell lies to lead the believers away after them. Watch, then, and remember that with many tears, day and night, I taught every one of you for three years. And now I commend you to the care of God and to the message of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the blessings God has for all his people. I have not wanted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that I have worked with these hands of mine to provide everything that my companions and I have needed. I have shown you in all things that by working hard in this way we must help the weak, remembering the words that the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘There is more happiness in giving than in receiving.’” When Paul finished, he knelt down with them and prayed. They were all crying as they hugged him and kissed him good-bye. They were especially sad because he had said that they would never see him again.  And so they went with him to the ship. We said good-bye to them and left.

Paul after the episode of Eutychus falling out of the window now leaves Troas and again some of the folk with him including Luke the narrator go on ahead, planning to meet up with Paul at Assos where he will board the ship too. Luke gives us Paul’s itinerary – on board at Assos – on to Mitylene – then Chios – next Samos and ending up in Miletus, however sailing past Ephesus as Paul doesn’t want to be delayed however he does send for the elders in the church at Ephesus to join him in Miletus and when they arrive he gives them one last talk which is sort of split up into things from the past, the future and the present.

He recollects how he has served the Lord in Ephesus with humility and many tears (this was the place that he stayed the longest in all his travelling). How he suffered hard times when plots were made against him. How he has taught them all he knows and warned both Jews and Gentiles about their need to turn from their sins (to repent) and believe in the Lord Jesus. He also says that if they haven’t cottoned on by now and done the right thing by God, then he (Paul) is not responsible and on their own heads be it if they are lost. I find this comment a bit tricky and a bit unexpected but then on reflection I remember in the Bible it says something about teachers being judged more strictly than others, so I wonder if Paul had this thought in his mind. As the saying goes, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink and as much as we as leaders want everyone to be saved, we can’t force you, we can only teach and encourage. This is because God has given us all the gift of choice and we can either choose for him or reject him, the choice is ours and ours alone.

Next Paul tells them where he is going in the future and that’s to Jerusalem. He says the Holy Spirit has been showing him that this is where he needs to head for. However the Holy Spirit has also warned him that he will face hardship and prison there but that doesn’t seem to faze Paul because he says his overriding concern is to finish the race and complete the task given by Jesus. On Monday I conducted a funeral for a person who was a faithful follower of Jesus and three different people when they were speaking about him (without the others knowing beforehand) quoted from Matthew’s gospel saying ‘Well done thy good and faithful servant’ because he had, like Paul, finished the race and stayed faithful to Jesus all his life.

For the present time Paul encourages the elders to look after themselves and the flock of people that God has placed in their care, reminding them that Jesus died so they could be saved. He also warns them that when he has departed trouble is bound to come their way, sometimes through their own people so they are to be vigilant, to watch out and be careful. Paul goes on to remind them that while he was with them he worked earning his own keep, the work he has done was for the glory of God and not to line his own pockets or to be a burden to them. I believe he made this clear because there were some people who Paul described as wolves who he was concerned would come along and make things difficult for the believers. He says, ‘I have not wanted anyone’s silver or gold’, and tells them to help those less fortunate who are in need, reminding them of Jesus’ words, ‘that there is more happiness in giving than in receiving’.

The next bit recorded seems very emotional as Paul kneels down and prays and then Luke gives us this image of folk hugging and kissing him and you get the feeling they don’t really want to let him go because as he has said, they won’t be seeing him again. It is hard to say goodbye to someone whether they are going to live somewhere far away like Australia or whether they have just died, there is much pain and sorrow attached to the departure and the feeling of loss. However they do then accompany him to the ship to see him and the others off and next week we will continue the voyage with them.

Prayer: Lord God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, help us to obediently follow you and to run the race that you have arranged for each one of us, doing this in humility and with courage as we journey with you from day to day in faith, trust and hope. Amen. God bless. Rev Sue