Sunday Service 1st May
Come and see, Jesus is here.
Come, join in with his disciples,
meet and work and play together.
Come, feel their pain at his loss and
their confusion at his resurrection.
Come as you are and offer this time to God.
Do not be afraid for God is here.
You are invited to join with us in prayer.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we worship you, because you are the creator and sustainer of all things. Your power and abilities are far beyond our human understanding. You have provided all the material things that we need, and you have put many people into our lives. We especially thank you for the love and care which we receive from our families and friends. But there are many others who provide our essential goods and services. Some live locally, and are familiar to us, but the majority live in different places all around the world. Lord, we thank you for them, and we ask that you will support them in their work, and help us to treat them fairly.
We thank you that you are merciful, that you are always ready to listen to our prayers, and to forgive the shortcomings of those who repent. We know that to receive your forgiveness we must first forgive others. Often we find it very difficult to forgive others, so we ask that your Spirit will help us, and give us the strength to forgive, when we feel that we have been wrongly treated.
We know that we should love and care for all people everywhere, but we confess that we have not lived up to this. Even when we do not know anything about people, nor their circumstances, we judge by appearances, and put labels on them.
Merciful God, forgive us for all the times when we have not treated others in the way that we should. Remind us that Jesus showed his love and concern for all people, including those who were feared or despised. Help us to follow his example.
You are a generous God, and you give us far more than we need, but we have not always used your gifts in the ways that we should. We have been wasteful, and greedy, and we have used more of the earth’s resources than we really needed. Our careless behaviour has contributed to the pollution of our world.
Merciful God, forgive us for the times when we have not thanked you for all that you have provided; and for being selfish, possessive, and wasteful in our use of the resources that you have given. Forgive us too, for ignoring the effects of our actions on other people, and on the environment. Prompt us to be more thoughtful and caring.
Lord, in your mercy, forgive us for all our wrongdoings. We pray that we may have the wisdom to know what is right, and that you will give us the strength and courage to do it, irrespective of what other people may think or say. Help us always to strive to follow the example set by Jesus.
We offer our prayer in the name of Jesus, and now we join to pray in the words which he taught his followers:
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation.
But deliver us from evil.
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever.
We have two readings today. This first one if from the New Testament, the Book of Acts, Chapter 9: 1-20.
This is the story of Saul’s conversion to Christianity.
Saul, who later became known as the apostle Paul, was a Pharisee. The Pharisees were very religious Jews, and they followed the Jewish Laws in every tiny detail They were often upset by the teachings of Jesus who put the welfare of people before the letter of the Law. Saul did everything he could to try to stop the growth of Christianity.
Reading Acts 9: 1-20
The Conversion of Saul
9 In the meantime Saul kept up his violent threats of murder against the followers of the Lord. He went to the High Priest
2 and asked for letters of introduction to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he should find there any followers of the Way of the Lord, he would be able to arrest them, both men and women, and bring them back to Jerusalem.
3 As Saul was coming near the city of Damascus, suddenly a light from the sky flashed around him.
4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul! Why do you persecute me?”
5 “Who are you, Lord?” he asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you persecute,” the voice said.
6 “But get up and go into the city, where you will be told what you must do.”
7 The men who were traveling with Saul had stopped, not saying a word; they heard the voice but could not see anyone.
8 Saul got up from the ground and opened his eyes, but could not see a thing. So they took him by the hand and led him into Damascus.
9 For three days he was not able to see, and during that time he did not eat or drink anything.
10 There was a believer in Damascus named Ananias. He had a vision, in which the Lord said to him, “Ananias!”
“Here I am, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord said to him, “Get ready and go to Straight Street, and at the house of Judas ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying,
12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he might see again.”
13 Ananias answered, “Lord, many people have told me about this man and about all the terrible things he has done to your people in Jerusalem.
14 And he has come to Damascus with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who worship you.”
15 The Lord said to him, “Go, because I have chosen him to serve me, to make my name known to Gentiles and kings and to the people of Israel.
16 And I myself will show him all that he must suffer for my sake.”
17 So Ananias went, entered the house where Saul was, and placed his hands on him. “Brother Saul,” he said, “the Lord has sent me—Jesus himself, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here. He sent me so that you might see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”
18 At once something like fish scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he was able to see again. He stood up and was baptized;
19 and after he had eaten, his strength came back.
Saul Preaches in Damascus
Saul stayed for a few days with the believers in Damascus.
20 He went straight to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God.
Today’s second reading is also from the New Testament, John’s Gospel, Chapter 21, and verses 1 to 19.
In John’s Gospel this event comes after the resurrection. The disciples were no longer travelling about with Jesus, and it is clear that they felt lost, and that they didn’t know what to do. Some of them went fishing, because that had been how they had made a living before Jesus had called them to follow him.
When someone on the shore asked about their catch they had no idea who it was. They certainly did not expect to see Jesus.
Now let us read from John, Chapter 21, starting at verse 1.
1 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way.
2 Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples.
3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
4 Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.
5 Jesus said to them, "Children, you have no fish, have you?" They answered him, "No."
6 He said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.
7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea.
8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.
9 When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread.
10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught."
11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.
12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, "Who are you?" because they knew it was the Lord.
13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.
14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.
15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."
16 A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep."
17 He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.
18 Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go."
19 (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me."
Amen, and may God help us to a better understanding of His ways.
One of the first songs I was taught in music at Stirling High School was the old Shaker hymn, written by Joseph Brackett, Jr was 'Tis the gift to be simple,
'Tis the gift to be simple,
'tis the gift to be free, 'tis the gift to come down where you ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the valley of love and delight. When true simplicity is gained, To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed. To turn, turn will be our delight, 'Til by turning, turning we come round right.
It is a simple hymn, whose tune has been made widely known by the composer Aaron Copland used its melody for the score of Martha Graham's ballet Appalachian Spring.
Deciding to turn is something we often have to do if we are to live fully and live well.
For each of us knows what it is to head the wrong direction in life; and we also know how relieved we feel to turn around again.
By turning, I do something about the course I've taken. I may not be able to change what I've already done; and I may not be able to fully escape those unpleasant consequences of past choices. But I need not continue in the same, destructive path. I can turn. I can find my way again.
Both our Scriptures today speak of turning and coming out right – but both speak of more than that. They challenge us as followers of Jesus.
If we look at four characters in the story, there is a profound lesson for us all – not just about turning and getting our lives right, but about being who God intends us to be.
Saul was a Pharisee. He was a successful and ambitious man who had a mission to destroy what he saw as an heretical sect of Judaism, a cult.
He discovered that he was wrong, that he had persecuted the God he sought to serve; and he discovered something even more important than his own wrongness.
He discovered the power of God’s grace. And through that grace everything changed.
Saul discovered that everything he had done - as totally wrong, as misguided, as fundamentally evil as it was - was so completely overwhelmed by the reality of the presence of Christ that it wasn’t even mentioned.
Saul was not condemned for his past. Instead, he was told how to begin something new.
Ananias is mentioned here, and only here. We know that he was a follower of Jesus who had to make a choice between doing what he felt God wanted him to do, and doing what made sense.
He knew about Saul, he knew Saul was his enemy, and the enemy of the Church.
He doubtless knew the comfort that comes from having someone to hate and fear and name as “evil”—and so make it easier to name himself “good.”
He knew that to reach out to the one he had named evil was dangerous, stupid, and, well, uncomfortable.
Like us, Ananias would prefer that grace and transformation happen to him or to his friends.
The idea of an enemy being chosen upset his entire world. So he argued with God, and he had to choose. If he chose to obey, he had to do something with his hatred, and with his fear.
He had to leave them in order to be able to go to his enemy, call him “brother,” touch him, and heal him. The main thing we know about Ananias is that he chose well: he gave up his old ideas and took a big risk. And that risk gave to the church and to the world the ministry of Paul.
Then there is Peter. Peter who, in spite of everything that had happened after the crucifixion, had gone home to Galilee.
It is about Peter, who decided to go fishing because that was who he was—he was a fisherman. Here Peter met the Lord and was restored and commissioned —Easter became real.
We don’t know much about the beloved disciple, but we are told that he - the one Jesus was loving - said to Peter, "It is the Lord." Then Simon Peter heard that it is the Lord. He put on the outer garment, for he was naked, and threw himself into the sea.
The beloved disciple is identified as one of the "other" disciples.
The beloved disciple speaks to Peter--curiously, not to the others--and is the first to recognize that the mysterious stranger is indeed Jesus.
Paul and Peter stand as the significant leaders of the church that is to come; Paul taking the Gospel to the Gentile world and Peter being the rock on which to build, the first appointed leader of the Church.
Ananias and the beloved disciple have a quieter but no less vital role. They are able and willing to see things in a new light and go where the vision takes them.
Ananias is obedient to go and establish Saul in the faith and meet him as a brother, while the beloved disciple is the one who recognises Jesus and the hand of God at work when others are still trying to catch up.
Ananias and the beloved disciple are people of deep faith with eyes to see the world in a new light, while Paul and Peter are men who are ready to follow Jesus even into dark and difficult roads.
Each has an important role in following in the Way of Christ – suited to their God-given gifts.
God does not let us off the hook, and calls us so that God’s grace and glory may be seen in and through us, and so that God’s life may touch others through us.
Our calling is simple:
Do you love me? Feed my sheep.
Where are you in the story?
What are you called to be and do?
God of wonder and mystery:
You have called us to follow in the way of your risen Son,
and to feed your sheep,
not only with words of comfort, but with acts of love.
Bless us as we seek to be a blessing for others,
bringing the promise of your kingdom here on earth.
We pray for our world.
Where there is conflict bring peace.
We pray for those at war, knowing only terror, fear and sorrow.
Comfort them, give strength to the peacemakers,
And a desire for peace-making from the aggressors.
Particularly today we pray for places where communities are divided
torn apart by divisions masquerading as faith;
where people are suspicious of the “other”
where refugees are not welcome
where asylum is abused.
Lord, today we pray for those in our church and our community
who are troubled and upset as were the disciples
on the first Easter Day.
Assure them of your presence and strengthen them in their faith.
We pray for those who reach out in our church and our
community to minister to others your healing presence,
where the hungry are fed,
the homeless housed,
the sad and distressed comforted.
Bless them in their love that they may ever more fully
experience the love that they share.
Gracious One, be with those who need you this day
We pray that where there is uncertainty and anxiousness
may you bring inner quiet.
We bring to you our own personal prayers
For those who have a special need at this time.
May you bring healing to those who need it and comfort to the distressed.
We ask all these things in love as you first loved us.