May 14, 2023
Sixth Sunday of Easter
· Please join us in Calvin Hall following worship today for a time of fellowship. Would you like to bring after worship goodies? The sign up sheet in in Calvin Hall.
· Bible Study will be this Wednesday at 9:00 AM.
· Please see bulletin insert for items needed for Senior Hospitality Center.
· Find the address for Rich and Lois Lewis posted on the bulletin board.
JoAnn Grimm who struggles with health problems.
Arlene Pawlik who is recovering from a broken leg.
Joan Pinkston, on hospice.
*CALL TO WORSHIP
God holds out to us the promise of new life.
Life as unpredictable, as unrehearsed, as explosive as life at the very beginning.
God calls us to respond to this gift with creativity, with joy, and with courage.
In worship, we can begin to accept this gift of new life. Let us worship God.
God, you are the source of our life. Gather us now together, we pray. Form us into a holy community of your own people, molding us by the breath of your Holy Spirit, and revealing in us the face of your anointed Christ. Amen
*HYMN Come Sing to God #181
(You may be seated.)
CALL TO CONFESSION
God’s love is steadfast, and God’s faithfulness endures from age to age. Our love falters and our faithfulness wanes from day to day. Let us confess our sin and our need for God.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious God, you encourage us with your love, bringing new life out of death. We confess that we need your life-giving power in our lives and our relationships. We have hurt others and been hurt by them. We are often angry or afraid. We are not sure when to assert our needs and when to care for others’ needs. We continue to live in ways which do not lead to peace and justice. Forgive us, O God. Pour your Spirit of wisdom and healing upon us, that by our lives and our loving, we may glorify you. Amen.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE
We are the forgiven people of God! We are the awakened disciples of Jesus! We are the Body of Christ sent forth into the world! The chains have been broken! God’s love is poured out for us. Let us dance and sing because joyful is our God. Alleluia. Amen.
SONG OF PRAISE Gloria Patri #579
PASSING THE PEACE
May the peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you.
PRAYER FOR ILLUMINATION
Open our ears and soften our hearts, Holy Spirit, that we might hear Christ’s love and grace poured out in the words of scripture this day. May the dry places in our soul be refreshed and enlivened to serve you and declare our love to all the world. Amen.
Acts 17: 22-31
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring. 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
John 14: 15-21
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”
SERMON The Advocate Shows Us the Way
The Advocate Shows us the Way!
“Are you saved?” It’s a question most of us have been asked at some point along the way. I’m guessing it might also be the point at which you started looking for the exit. There’s something pretty judgmental about that question. It implies that the one quizzing us, not only knows themselves to be saved, but now they are going to give us tell us what we must do. Who decided the criteria for being “Saved.” In Presbyterian theology, we believe that God is the only one who knows the answer to that question. We humans are to connect ourselves to Jesus Christ and leave the eternal life question to God’s grace. We can trust in God’s goodness. I’m skeptical about someone else’s answer. What if my version of “saved” is different than yours? Are you going to ask me to now get re-baptized into your theology? Is there a checklist I need to keep? Do I need to write a check to be assured of my everlasting salvation? Do I need to avoid my friends, vow never to allow alcohol to touch my lips and pass out religious pamphlets at the airport?
But that leaves the question of how we share with others the incredible love of Jesus? How do we invite our neighbor to join us for worship? How do we tell our grandchildren about a God who loves them so much?
We live in a world where talking about faith issues is awkward. There’s a strange dichotomy out there. People are incredibly hungry for meaning and a spiritual link, but they have a profound distrust of religion. It comes in the wake of some groups who have used religion to line their own pockets. In other cases people have been quite beaten up by “experts in the faith. There are significant wounds. Some in religious positions have taken advantage of other, or outright abused the respect that was offered to them. How do we tell the story in today’s world?
Last week we looked at the scripture where Jesus told his disciples that he is the Way and the Truth and the Life. It’s a pretty clear and straight-forward understanding being offered. To follow Christ is our path to truth and life. It’s a joyful life in relationship with God where we care for others and live the teachings of Jesus. In that we can know a deep and abiding peace.
The discussion continues in this week’s reading. Jesus is leaving. That was the message from last week. But he wants his disciples to know that they are not going to be on their own. He’s not abandoning them. He’s leaving, yes, but he will request that the Father will send back to them the Advocate. Later he refers to this as “The Spirit of Truth.” It’s a spiritual guide to be with them forever. The disciples will be able to receive this Spirit, the Advocate, because they will recognize it. In other words, they have developed the sensitivity and the expectation which will allow them to perceive and follow this guide. This is John’s version of the Holy Spirit which we will celebrate in two weeks at Pentecost.
Think about having the power and the comfort of having an interior guide that shows us the way, and then helps us get there, all at the same time! It reminds me of my grandson who just knows math. He is very gifted in numbers. He can do advanced calculations in his head without a pause. It just makes sense to him in a way that I have to work at. 329 + 414. Give me a piece of paper and a pencil and I can give you the answer. Brody, though, just knows. 743. It’s so clear to him, so apparent. What would it be like to have that clarity and knowing about the way we need to go, the decisions we need to make to follow Christ? Instead of offering us a numeric answer. The Spirit offers us a path to God and to love others. Of course it’s not always that way. There will be times that the answer seems to evade us. It doesn’t come automatically. We need to pray about it, maybe to struggle with the question. We need to recognize that living into the question while we wait for the answer is part of the process, too. At times there’s pain involved, maybe people won’t understand. Maybe it will require extra work or inconvenience. But the Advocate is right there with us all the way.
That’s half the equation. The other half is this, “They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me and those who love me will be loved by my father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”
So we’re right back to Jesus as the Way. To follow his commands is to know the love of God and to be aware of Jesus in our midst.It means to forgive our friend or brother—even if they have not asked our forgiveness.
It means to sacrificially care for another—not just the crumbs that fall from the table, but to share from the essence of our being. It means to love someone who seems at first glance un-loveable, to accept them and offer respect and care.
It means to let go of our own ego and instead lift up the accomplishments of others.
These are not the practices of our world. Hollywood thrives on revenge movies where the little guy gets back at the bully….and don’t we all cheer?! But revenge isn’t Christ’s path. To grow rich and live in luxury is the national aim for so many, but Christ is more concerned with making sure that those at the bottom of the ladder of our society have the basics that they need to thrive. To be suspicious of those who are different is a human survival response, but Jesus calls upon us to accept others and to open our arms of friendship, to be a little vulnerable. To promote ourselves and to enjoy praise and recognition is something we all crave, but it can also diminish others and keep them pushed into the background.
The Advocate shows us a better way and then helps us walk that path. Jesus’ teachings and commandments are the sign posts that help us to know the way, as well.
Paul’s story in Athens is a case in point. Have you noticed that Paul is pretty good at stirring up controversy? He rolls into town and a week later he’s often running for his life! He tells the story of Jesus. Paul is the one who helps us to define the meaning behind Jesus life and resurrection. Sometimes people welcome and accept this truth that he brings, but often, not so much.
Well, Paul has done it again. He got himself and Silas thrown in jail when he cast out the Spirit from a slave girl who earned her master a great deal of money by telling people’s fortunes. The Angel of the Lord frees them, and when the jailer was about to kill himself, assuming his prisoners had escaped, Paul stopped him and then told them the story of Jesus. But they are still seen as troublemakers. Then to Thessalonica and finally Beroea where in each of those places Paul needs to get out of Dodge quickly.
So Paul goes on alone to Athens. It’s about 140 miles distance, so he has some time to think and pray. Once there he walks around, getting acquainted with the new city. Everywhere he looks there are idols to various gods—fertility, crops, weather, health. How upsetting!
Paul begins speaking to people in the synagogue. That was his practice, but then he goes to the marketplace where philosophers tend to gather. It’s where Plato and Socrates and Aristotle once offered their wisdom. His words seem so strange to the people’s ear. They assume he’s the equivalent of a snake oil showman! They are suspicious, and so they bring him to the council.
This was Paul’s moment. He needed to get it right this time. He needed to speak in a way that they could hear him. So he lifted up something he had seen, an altar that was inscribed, “To an Unknown God.” Instead of asking them to trash everything right at the beginning, he appeals to something they already acknowledged. He used that altar as a fulcrum, a lever to offer a new understanding. Take a look at this god. You already worship this one who is as of yet unknown to you. Let me tell you about that one. And she shares the story of Christ. He tells them how God made the world and everything in it. God made us! Humans can’t fashion gods. It goes the other way around. God is pretty sufficient all in himself. So here’s the good news. God is with us, and it’s in him that we live and move and have our being. And God continues to call us to accountability. He tells them about Jesus and his resurrection.
Now not everyone accepted, but some did. They continued to seek more information, more clarity, more truth about our amazing God.
I want to suggest that the Advocate, the Spirit of Truth showed Paul how to connect with the good people of Athens. Paul was able to relay the story of Christ because the Spirit showed him the opening.
That’s what we need. I suggest that we don’t walk up to someone and ask, “Have you been saved?” It’s a conversation stopper. But I do believe that if we are patient, if we take a bit of time to build a relationship, if we can love this other and show them the love and joy of our relationship with God, a door will be opened in which they might be able to hear something new. It’s a YES moment. It affirms that this other is ready to hear. It invites us to tell our own story of Christ and how he is at work in our lives.
Relationship and listening is the key. We are called into relationship with others, and that’s where we can hear about their sense of identity and their understanding of our world.
Here in this church we are welcoming new friends, new neighbors into our space where we hope to build relationships and offer a needed place to connect with others. I hope that there will be times when they ask about our faith and what we as Presbyterians believe, and then I hope we can tell them, much as Paul spoke to the Athenians.
The Advocate will lead us. Our job is to be open and willing, to risk a little and to love as Jesus loved. In the process we will be blessed to feel Christ in our midst. We’ll feel the love of God carrying us forward.
Are we saved? You bet we’re saved, not by some equation or a specific prayer. We’ve been saved because we feel the Advocate near us and we walk into God’s amazing grace. Praise be to the Father!
Our Father, who 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.
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, and the power, and the glory, now and forever. Amen.
OFFERING OUR GIFTS TO GOD
*DOXOLOGY Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow #592
PRAYER OF DEDICATION
*HYMN We Come as Guests Invited #517
(you may be seated.)
INVITATION TO THE LORD’S TABLE
THE GREAT THANKSGIVING
O Lord, throughout the span of creation’s history, you have taken our hand to show us the avenues of life. You have led us to tables overflowing with the bounty and goodness that you have provided. You have offered us forgiveness that drives us to our knees and love that takes our breath away.
And when we have pushed you aside, and wandered out into dangerous avenues on our own, you followed close behind, waiting for us to turn back to you.
You came into our midst in the person of your Son, Jesus, to show us who you are and to make the most costly gift of all in order to win for us salvation and life.
Obediently Jesus became one of us. He loved us to the end and then he carried our sins to the cross so that we might be able to call ourselves the children of God.
Let us proclaim for all to hear:
Christ died, for all our sins;
Christ rose, for all our sakes;
Christ will return to take us by the hand once more to lead us into your presence.
So we gather at Christ’s table, joining our voices with all who proclaim your name to seek your spirit of life, that we might be filled with your mighty love, that we might live into the hope of your calling.
In the breaking of bread in the pouring of the cup, in the sharing of Christ’s holy gifts of life, we offer ourselves to you. Take us, Lord, and lead us to be agents of healing in our families, in our community, and in our world.
Let us praise God of life and hope.
Awesome is our God. Hosanna. Amen.
RECEIVING THE BREAD AND THE CUP
*HYMN Song of Hope #432
(You may be seated.)
*CHARGE & BLESSING
* Sections of the service preceded with * are times to stand if you are able to do so.
Bold text is to be read together aloud as a congregation.