On Sunday May 5th I led worship at Killinghall Chapel. As it is still the Easter season I opened worship with ‘This joyful Eastertide, what need is there for grieving?’ The theme of the service was being prepared to cross boundaries of cultures and traditions to be ready to share the love of God shown us through Jesus with all we meet, not in our words, but in the way we live our lives; reflecting the accepting and unconditional love Jesus showed to all those he met who recognised their need and frailty. Having discussed whether the children remembered dreams I told them of how Paul responded to the vision to go to Macedonia, Europe, to spread the good news of Jesus, after the Holy Spirit had prevented him from taking the good news to the places he had first thought of. In Macedonia Paul went to Philippi and Lydia, a worshipper of God, believed in Jesus and was baptised. We then sang ‘One more step along the world I go.’ As Trevor our minister had often demonstrated we read Psalm 67 responsively as a congregation with the left side reading the words in lighter print and the right side responding with the words in darker print and I felt we were all giving praise to God. We then heard the reading from Acts 16v9-15 before we sang ‘Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed his tender last farewell.’ Then John 14v23-29 was read before I preached. Psalm 67 was a psalm of praise but it included the encouragement by the psalmist to the nation of Israel not to keep their God for themselves but make His way known to all nations, so they too could worship him. In the gospel reading Jesus was trying to prepare his disciples for the time when he would no longer be with them, but he assured them that he would not leave them bereft, in fact they would be better off as they would receive the comforter and helper of the Holy Spirit, who would remind them of all he had done and said and continue to teach them. He gave them his peace which was different from what the world could give and would help them to cope no matter what happened to them. Jesus knew it would not be easy for them but he would be with them in those difficulties although no longer physically with them.
Paul must have felt frustrated when the way for him seemed to be blocked when he was bursting to share the good news of Jesus, but like Peter, who before him had responded to his vision, which led to the blessing of Cornelius and his household, Paul responded to his vision. Luke, who is thought to be the compiler of Acts and a doctor, now joined Paul, probably to care for him with his ‘thorn in the flesh and the narrative changed from ‘they’ to ‘we’. In the Roman Colony of Philippi there was no synagogue, so on the Sabbath day they made their way outside the city and on the riverbank joined the worshippers and talked with the women. Lydia a wealthy woman and a worshipper of God opened her heart and believed in Jesus and like Cornelius, she and all her household were baptised and she was no longer just a worshipper of God, not fully accepted as she was not a Jew, but an equal member of the growing Christian community and she was so overjoyed that she opened her home to them and it became the base of the fledgling Christian community. Barriers were indeed being broken down and Paul was coming to realise that Christianity was not just a Jewish sect but a community which included Gentiles as equals. It was the fulfilment of the psalmist’s vision their God was there for all peoples, Jews and Gentiles, through Jesus, when Peter and Paul had responded to the visions God had given. May we too be open to the leading of God’s Holy Spirit and ready to share Jesus with a needy world, not just in our words but through our lives, so all may come to know the unconditional and accepting love of God.
As I finished preaching I realised time had gone quickly, so I selected verses of the next hymn, ‘I need thee every hour’ to sing, before the intercessions and also I reduced the number of verses we sang of the concluding hymn ‘Lord of creation, to you be all praise!’ I was able to conclude the service 10 minutes later than I had intended, but I was reassured by many members of the congregation afterwards that it was not too long; apparently I was only able to begin worship after 10 or more minutes of notices, so then I did not feel as bad! My father was a stickler for keeping a service to an hour and I can get carried away when I preach, as more thoughts come to the fore as I preach and I need to share them. I find it is a privilege to share how much Jesus loves us as we are and with his help we can begin the journey to become the person we have been created to be.