Text for the Week: This Jesus God raised up and of that we are all witnesses. Acts 22:32
Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time.
Welcome and Call to Worship
193 God is love: his the care
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Words to Change the World
Sticks and stones may break your bones but words can never hurt you!
The wisdom of the ages has some truth in it – I can remember taking some comfort from the thought after people had been calling me names when I was little.
However, that only goes so far.
You will have to live with the consequences of everything you say.
What you say can preserve life or destroy it; so you must accept the consequences of your words.
Just think how large a forest can be set on fire by a tiny flame! And the tongue is like a fire
Words of thanksgiving and cursing pour out from the same mouth: brothers and sisters this should not happen! Verse 10.
Words count and make a difference.
Shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded room causes a stampede to the exit in which people are crushed … and it’s just a joke – no, words have consequences, words can kill.
I was there yesterday – I’ll cheer for my side for all I’m worth: but I don’t like calling the opposition names for real – tongue in cheek maybe! But there’s something ugly in an angry football crowd.
And as for social media. Take care what you say.
Don’t call names.
Diplomacy by tweet has its consequences.
But … words can have a life-transforming power.
That’s the power of the words the risen Jesus wanted us to share.
He wanted us to share words to change people’s lives.
Reading: Matthew 28:16-20
Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’
That’s what we are involved in together … passing on that word, making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything Jesus has commanded.
A Hy-Spirit Song
A new way of working – Iain as our new Church Secretary
We would usually welcome people and commission them … I had thought we would do that around now – but I have thought again. Things are falling into place for the vacancy – and we are going to have a re-commissioning of our team of officers, Diaconate, Ministry Leaders, I hope, in June when we will be very much looking forward to new things in church.
But now Iain is going to have a word about how things will work as Church Secretary – and tell us of the appointment of an Adminstrator.
Activities for all 0ver 3
There’s a lot of truth in the old children’s chorus I sang as a youngster in the annual CSSM beach mission on Criccieth beach, a beach mission that still meets each year!
The best book to read is the Bible,
the best book to read is the Bible:
if you read it every day it will help you on your way:
the best book to read is the Bible.
Lots of people at church are doing just that with the help of Fresh From the Word – there are still one or two copies of the notes available and a leaflet with all the readings and themes for the year.
There’s a catch, however.
How you read the Bible makes a world of difference.
Over the years the Bible has been used to justify all manner of hateful, vengeful things. That’s particularly apparent in the pages of the Old Testament. There are ways of reading those bits of the Bible that lead on to massive hurt and massive pain.
Think of the way whole swathes of the Bible were used to justify slavery. The defenders of slavery justified their position turning to passages in the early part of the Bible and through the Bible that accept having slaves and give instructions on how to deal with them. They pointed out those passages and justified retaining slavery. Others read other passages in the Bible, that we are all made in the image of God, that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile, male nor female, slave nor free for we are all one in Christ. And they opposed slavery. a century and a half later there's no Christian who would justify modern slavery from the Bible. Ways of reading the Bible do change.Whole swathes of the Bible were used to justify the supremacy of one race over another in Apartheid South Africa. Whole swathes of the Bible can be used to justify all manner of hatred.
We've just marked the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King. The last speech he gave was as inspirational as his speeches had always been ... and it's moving to listen to. It's a reminder of the power of words for good. They are rooted in a way of reading the Bible that sees at its heart the love of God in Christ for all people. As a sixth former we would listen to his speeches and they became part of us. Shortly after his assassination my father took me to a memorial service in a black-led church in Leicester. It was one of those moving occasions that has remained with me for a lifetime.
This weekend marks the 50th anniversary of another speech. Enoch Powell's Rivers of Blood speech had an incendiary effect, arousing the fears of racism. Never broadcast in full on Radio or TV it's to be included in a Radio programme this weekend to mark the 50th Anniversary and that has aroused great controversy. And yet he was rooted in a Christian tradition that took seriously the Bible.
How do we measure up which way of reading the Bible to follow?
The choice between the way of Martin Luther King and the way of Enoch Powell is not a historical choice. It's real today as well. We encountered directly the Government's policy of having a 'hostile environment' for immigration, when our Caretaker was summarily dismissed from her job of 37 years by her employer here in Cheltenham. The employer had no option as she was required to provide documentary evidence of her citizenship. She had been born in Pakistan of a British born father who had spent a lifetime in the British army and at independence had been asked to stay on by the newly independent Pakistan government because he was held in such high regard.
When tiny, our Caretaker came to this country on her mother's passport. She has worked a lifetime here, paid taxes, voted, been a County Councillor. But after travelling as a teenager on a temporary passport she had not been abroad and so didn't have a passport.
In the six months that led us to having a date for an Employment Tribunal hearing we found how hard it was to get advice. With 40% cuts in the Home Office there was no advice to be had - phone calls simply said call back in 6 months time. Emails bounced back with the same message. There is no solicitor in Gloucestershire offering brief pro bono advice on immigration matters - there is no legal aid either. It took more than 60 hours of my time, and a wonderful solicitor linked to a member of teh church who put us in touch with a Barrister specialising in citizenship law and eventually she simply got a passport.
It was a nightmare.
And that nightmare is now happening to the young children who would have been in that Congregation 50 years ago in Leicester. They had come from the Caribbean with their British parents, settled here, worked a life time here. And now they are being summarily dismissed from employment, are being asked to produce four official documents for each year since they arrived in teh country [I thought Government advice was to keep tax records etc for 7 years!!!].
And they are facing destitution.
50 years on from those two speeches I know which one I support. And I know why. It accords, it seems to me with the way Jesus opens up for us to read the Bible and especially those bits of the Old Testament that can be taken to justify all manner of hate and separate people out.
If you do find bits of the Old Testament hard to get your head round you are not alone!
Initially, the first followers of Jesus didn’t get it at all.
And that exasperated Jesus: “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! (Luke 24:25).
Jesus opened their eyes, their minds and their hearts to read the Old Testament and see him at the centre of it all. It’s as we put Jesus at the centre of it all that it comes alive in ways to transform our lives too.
That’s what we are going to explore in our services today.
Staying with Luke, I get the feeling that the priority Jesus had on the day of Resurrection was to open the eyes of those two on the Road to Emmaus so that they could read the Bible and see Jesus at its centre, Jesus as the fulfilment of it all: Law, Prophets and Writings.
I get the feeling that the priority Jesus had on the day of Resurrection was to open the eyes of the other followers he had meeting in that upper room so that they could read the Bible and see Jesus at its centre, Jesus as the fulfilment of it all: Law, Prophets and Writings.
The two on the Road to Emmaus got it. So did the others in the Upper Room.
They met in the Upper Room. They prayed. They read those Hebrew Scriptures we think of as the Old Testament with new eyes.
They saw things differently.
And on the fiftieth day after the Resurrection they were gathered in that upper room once again when the Holy Spirit came upon them. Like tongues as of fire, like a mighty rushing wind – it was that strength, that power from beyond themselves they had been waiting for, that Comforter, that Strengthener, that unseen yet so real Helper they had been waiting for.
And they rushed down on to the streets … all understood something of what had happened but some were skeptical.
And so it was that Peter got up and addressed the crowds.
Speeches have the power to change things. On the 50th Anniversary of his death, the PM programme played the last of Martin Luther King’s speeches in full. It was powerful to listen to as he spoke of being on the mountain top and having to return to the valley.
Those speeches of his we played on LP’s at school when I was a sixth former – they were powerful and they shaped a generation in their thinking – my generation.
What you notice in Acts as Luke tells the story of the journeys that take the good news of Jesus from Jerusalem to Rome and the heart of the Roman Empire is that there are a sequence of speeches. They are great speeches. And they have a similarity to them.
It is as if in those speeches you catch a glimpse of something that transformed people’s lives then, has done down through the centuries and still does today!
And so many of them start in the Hebrew Scriptures, in the Old Testament. And all of them see Jesus at its centre, see Jesus as the fulfilment of all those Scriptures stood for.
This is the way of reading the Scriptures, Luke would have us believe, that Jesus opened up on the Day of Resurrection for the two on the Road to Emmaus and for the others in the Upper Room.
Four things leap out at me, reading the first of the great speeches that somehow encapsulate the preaching of the early church and the very first followers of Jesus.
The Old Testament so often looks to the day of the Lord, a time when all is fulfilled and the glory of God is revealed.
There’s a forward momentum in so much of the Old Testament and in so many of the prophets.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the Book of Joel.
Joel looks to the coming of the Day of the Lord – is it to be feared? Is it to be welcomed? Is it to come soon.
It’s here says Peter.
For the first thing to realise is that Jesus is the fulfilment of all the prophets spoke of – now is the Day of the Lord.
The crowds had mistaken the exuberance of the apostles and the language they spoke, a language somehow understood by people of all languages gathered in that city for drunkenness.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them: ‘Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
“In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.
The last days are here – this outpouring of the Holy Spirit is it. Sons and daughters will prosy, young men and old men see visions and dream dreams. Even on slaves the Spirit poured out – on men and women equally – and all, slaves and free, men and wome will have words to share that will change people’s lives and transform them as they all of them prophesy.
Peter had in mind the darkness that came over the face of the earth as Jesus had been crucified – somehow the elements themselves spoke out that day …
And I will show portents in the heaven above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
Thatt’s the excitement of the message they have to share.
Everyone will be saved, made whole – restored, renewed – so many words to describe it.
And it all comes to a head in Jesus.
All that |Jesus had shared meant so much and Peter wanted to share it too.
‘You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.
Something remarkable has happened – death itself does not have the last word.
The authorities thought they had had the last word – they hadn’t death could not contain him. Roman powers, the religious leaders of the time thought they had had the last word.
But they had not had the last word!
Through the suffering of the cross, the devastation of the death and the victory of the resurrection something had happened!
From the prophet Joel Peter turns to the greatest King of the Old Testament, David, and finds again straight away his gaze is turned back towards Jesus.
[For David says concerning him,
“I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand so that I will not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
moreover, my flesh will live in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One experience corruption.
You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”
‘Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying,
“He was not abandoned to Hades,
nor did his flesh experience corruption.”]
But the Jesus who is God’s anointed is one who goes through suffering and opens up a way through the darkness of the world.
This Jesus God raised up, and of that all of us are witnesses.
Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“The Lord said to my Lord,
‘Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’ ”
Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.
Wonderful to see the witness Peter and the others bore.
It is so that we may know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah – this Jesus, who was crucified.
This is the perverse, scandalous yet liberating insight.
And you have to do something about it! As with the greatest of speeches it leads on to action [maybe we should do something about the scandal of the hostile environment for immigration and do something - maybe write to our MP] – what must we do to be saved – have a whole new way of thinking, be baptized – everyone one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.
3000 people are added to the number of the followers of Jesus that day.
The movement is off – in a sense already that day it’s going to move in all sorts of directions.
For among that crowd were people from, all over the Mediterranean world – and after the festival was over they would be journeying back home, taking the message with them.
And it shaped the way they led their lives as they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
Healing was brought into hurting people’s lives. They shared with a selfless generosity and they were filled with the praise of God.
And day by day people were added to their number.
This is an exciting message – a way of seeing Jesus at the centre not just of the Old Testament but at the centre of all of our lives.
436 Christ triumphant
Prayers of Concern
673 Let us talents and tongues employ
The Lord’s Supper
643 For me to live is Christ
Words of Blessing
There’s a lot of truth in the old children’s chorus I sang as a youngster in the annual CSSM beach mission on Criccieth beach, a beach mission that still meets each year! The best book to read is the Bible, the best book to read is the Bible: if you read it every day it will help you on your way: the best book to read is the Bible. Lots of people at church are doing just that with the help of Fresh From the Word – there are still one or two copies of the notes available and a leaflet with all the readings and themes for the year.
There’s a catch, however.
How you read the Bible makes a world of difference.
Over the years the Bible has been used to justify all manner of hateful, vengeful things. That’s particularly apparent in the pages of the Old Testament. If you do find bits of the Old Testament hard to get your head round you are not alone!
Initially, the first followers of Jesus didn’t get it at all. And that exasperated Jesus: “‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! (Luke 24:25). Jesus opened their eyes, their minds and their hearts to read the Old Testament and see him at the centre of it all. It’s as we put Jesus at the centre of it all that it comes alive in ways to transform our lives too. That’s what we are going to explore in our services today.