22 Because of the LORD’s gracious love we are not consumed, since his compassions never end. 23 They are new every morning – great is your faithfulness! — Lamentations 3:22-3 (ISV)
Song of Worship
The story of Acts, Maze, colouring and craft linked to the story of Paul. If you enjoyed last weeks WhaTSaP prayers there is a sheet you can use today.
As we take time to look back over the past week, perhaps we could bring to mind those things that have prevented us from seeing God clearly. An unkind thought or word, a request from our Heavenly Father that we have ignored, opportunities to share Jesus, missed or anything else that has distanced us from Him.
He is here with us now ready and willing to listen to us, to receive us as we say the one word that we need to say to Him: “Sorry”. As we say sorry, our sins are wiped away as our Father fully reveals His love for us. Please keep this last image in your mind as we use the following words of Confession. Please join in with the words written in bold.
We have not always worshipped God our creator. Lord, have mercy: Lord, have mercy.
We have not always followed Christ, our Saviour. Christ, have mercy: Christ, have mercy.
We have not always trusted in the Spirit, our guide. Lord, have mercy: Lord, have mercy.
May the God of love and power forgive us and free us from our sins, heal and strengthen by his Spirit and raise us to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen.
Acts 19:1-22 (NIV)
Read by Amy Lockwood. Please follow along with the reading in your own Bibles!
Written by Tony Coulson
Write upon our hearts, O Lord God, the lessons of your holy Word, and grant that we may be doers of the same and not forgetful hearers only, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
As we journey through the Acts of the Apostles going in our imagination alongside St. Paul, we must feel caught up in the excitement of it all. This was the Good News of Jesus being taken on from one place to another in the countries we now call Turkey and Greece. We pick up the story today with Paul leaving Corinth, that bustling seaport in southern Greece – leaving in company with his new friends, Priscilla and Aquila who were fellow leather workers. They landed at Ephesus where Paul went into the synagogue and entered into discussion with the Jews there, who would have liked him to have stayed longer, but he wanted to hurry on, promising to come back, “if it is God’s will” he said.
He sailed from Ephesus and went to Caesarea and then to Antioch, and travelled back to some of the places in Asia Minor – that is Turkey – to see how the little Christian fellowships were doing in those places where he had preached earlier. I wonder if he went to his home town of Tarsus. It would have been on his route. It would have given him the opportunity to see his family – perhaps to try and convince them of the truth about Jesus.
Almost as though it is in brackets, we are told about a man named Apollos, an enthusiastic follower of John the Baptist, who turned up in Ephesus and was instructed by Aquila and Priscilla and so became a committed follower of Jesus before going on to Corinth.
Paul’s quick tour of some of the fellowships of Asia Minor ended with his visit to Ephesus, where he was to spend some two or three years. It was a time of great activity, of excitement seeing God at work in remarkable ways; a time of tremendous intellectual activity for I think it was there at Ephesus that Paul wrote I Corinthians before a brief visit to Corinth, and then, when back in Ephesus, wrote Philippians, Colossians and Ephesians . You may be surprised at the idea of Paul writing the letter to the Ephesians from Ephesus but I believe that the so-called letter to the Ephesians was a circular letter to several churches, and that because a copy bearing the words ‘in Ephesus’ has survived, it is called ‘Ephesians’ , but you will notice in your Bible that there is probably a note at chapter 1 verse 1 against the words ‘to the saints in Ephesus’, saying ‘some early manuscripts do not have ‘in Ephesus’’. So, as I say, I think it was a circular letter.
Early in Paul’s long visit to Ephesus, he met some disciples who, when he asked them about their experience of the Holy Spirit, said “we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit”, but they were clearly more eager to discover the reality of the Holy Spirit in their lives than someone I heard of years ago bringing their child for baptism and saying to the Vicar “I don’t believe in the Holy Ghost and all that caper”!
Paul went back to the synagogue and spent three months talking and discussing there, but the opposition was such that he then started daily discussions in a lecture hall, and this went on for two years. At the same time there were some remarkable signs – people were healed of their sicknesses, even by contact with handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had touched. And some people who thought they could use some of Paul’s power for their own purposes found themselves supernaturally attacked. We are not actually told that Paul was imprisoned at Ephesus but it seems likely. And it was from prison, I believe, that he wrote those letters.
But that is not the only thing we are not told. We are not told why when he wrote II Corinthians he was so upset – even depressed. That doesn’t sound like the Paul we are getting to know – singing in prison, unstoppable in his proclamation of the Gospel and incidentally being so positive about that Good News that he didn’t spend time condemning paganism. After the great riot at Ephesus, the city clerk managed to calm the crowd down saying “You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess”. They had not done that – they hadn’t needed to, for the craftsmen who made the idols of the many-breasted goddess Diana realised the implication of Paul’s preaching was that “man-made gods are no gods at all”, and the crowd were stirred up to repeat at the top of their voices the slogan “Great is Diana of the Ephesians” or, if you prefer the Greek, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians”.
No, there was nothing in all that to depress a man like Paul. His friends only just managed to stop him going to face the crowd in the theatre and perhaps being trampled to death. No, there must have been something else which made him write in such an uncharacteristic way II Corinthians or at least the first part of it. In chapter one of that letter, Paul talks about “the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all troubles”, verses which I heard quoted at the beginning of the lockdown for the pandemic – but he continues “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.” We don’t know for certain what this is about, but we have to admit that he sounds very depressed. He felt absolutely crushed. If he really was imprisoned in Ephesus and these words were written a little afterwards, perhaps on the journey back through Greece, that could have affected him. But far more likely, Paul was bitterly upset by the breakdown of his relationship with the Church in Corinth. He had been told that there were personality cults spoiling the fellowship. Some thought Paul was great, others said “I follow Apollos” and others “I follow Cephas” – that is Peter.
The well known biblical scholar, Tom Wright, says “There must have been a deeper sense of personal hurt. He was the one who had told them about Jesus in the first place. He had rejoiced as the Spirit worked powerfully among the new believers. He had loved them, prayed with them, worked among them, wept with them…He was made to feel decidedly unwelcome. He found it best to leave in a hurry. It was suggested to him – and unless you have been a pastor yourself you will not know just how deeply this would be – that if he ever wanted to come back, he would have to have letters of recommendation from someone the Corinthians trusted.”
Changed circumstances can suddenly catch us out and lead us to depression.
I wonder how many people at the beginning of the pandemic said “Nothing like this has happened before.” I read recently an article about the Great Plague of London in 1665. In September of that year – just one month – the Rector of St. Brides Fleet Street buried 636 people. Their names are in the burial register, except that some were unidentified and record says simply ‘a child from Kingshead Ally’ or ‘a man from New Street’. The symptoms of bubonic plague were horrific; the recovery rate was effectively nil. That must have been depressing indeed. And some of us heard on St James’ Radio a reminder from Bishop Olivia, the Bishop of Reading, that there are those in the world today whose situation sounds depressing indeed. She said “Social distancing and hand washing are not helpful advice when families are crammed fifteen to a tent in refugee camps, and the township has only one tap for hundreds of families.”
“We were under great pressure” wrote St. Paul, “far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.”
As we follow that remarkable Christian on his journey, we realise that he too had times when he felt down, but we take courage by hearing him say by the end of the letter that he has heard the Lord telling him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” That is why Paul says “I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong.”
That was Paul’s discovery, and it can be ours too as in all the changing circumstances of life we learn to trust not in ourselves but in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Christ alone, Cornerstone Weak made strong in the Saviour’s love Through the storm, He is Lord Lord of all.
We say together in faith:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.
We believe in God the Father who created all things for by his will they were created and have their being.
We believe in God the Son who was slain: for with his blood, he purchased us for God, from every tribe and language, from every people and nation.
We believe in God, the Holy Spirit: the Spirit and the Bride say “Come!” Even so come, Lord Jesus. Amen.
Song of Worship
Written by Virginia Patterson
Dear loving Father God,
How we thank you for all your blessings and your mercy shown to us in the past week, for our homes and families, for our health and strength especially during this time when many are ill and sad. We thank you for sparing us from the effects of the coronavirus, for the fact that this area has not been badly affected, but we want to bring to you all those people whose lives have been torn apart by this illness and who have lost those they love because of it. We lift to you all the medical staff we know here and all those who are working to save those who are seriously ill; please give them your strength and compassion for others. We continue to pray that you will deliver this whole country from the effects of this devastating virus and we ask especially that you will bless and guide the efforts of the scientists who are seeking to produce a vaccine which will help us all.
We are conscious, dear Lord, that there are many other countries in the world where the coronavirus is wreaking havoc and many are dying. Today we want to pray for the USA, for Brazil, for India , for all those people who are not able to protect themselves or whose governments are not providing help or instructions for those who want to keep safe. We specially pray for all those who are working to spread your Word in other countries and who are themselves at risk because of their commitment to your Gospel; please especially bless the Fletchers (back in the slum in Bangkok), the Ray family (working alongside disabled people in Tanzania), the staff at Kimbilio (working in Lubumbashi where the virus is taking hold) and for the staff at Lamb Hospital in Bangladesh, who care for anyone who comes to the hospital whatever their problem. Amen.
We continue to bring to you our country as we emerge from lockdown , that everyone will still remain vigilant so that second waves of the virus will be avoided We pray for the government as they decide on how best to lead businesses and schools safely out of the lockdown; we commit to you all the children who are expecting to return to school in September and ask for your protection for them as well as for the headteachers and staff who will also be affected.Along with our country we bring to you, our merciful God, those in other countries who are affected by domestic violence which has increased sharply; please guide and strengthen the churches in those countries where Christians can be so helpful in caring for those suffering such tragic circumstances. Give us all understanding and compassion as we pray for our brothers and sisters in Christ, because we pray in His name, Amen.
Father, our hearts are full as we think of so many who are suffering today; as we think of them we commit to you all the leaders of your church worldwide as they consider how best to serve you and all their people. We pray for the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York as they make decisions which will guide the church everywhere into the new way of worship; we lift to you all leaders of local churches who will have to reorganise the way they have held services and meetings for a long time. Please give them all the ability to seek your way forward as they seek the common good, while realising that every church in each diocese may have to choose a different way. We pray earnestly for your guidance, Lord, as we all learn to draw closer to you and worship you with all of our hearts. In your wonderful Name we pray, Amen.
Song of Worship
Lord God, You hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our anger and sorrow, and give peace to your Church, peace among the nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts, in Jesus Christ our Lord.
May the peace of the Lord be with us all. Amen.
Thank you for joining us for worship today! You can continue in fellowship now on our St James’ Slack group – click here if you’d like to sign up. You can also join us this coming Wednesday at 10am for a new episode of St James’ Radio, which will feature some old friends of the church, plus some thoughts about our future. We pray you all have a wonderful week!