September 6, 2020 – Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost
A message from the Rev. Bob Smith
We have always thought of the Labour Day weekend as the symbolic end of summer, and the beginning of a new year at school, in the church, and even to some extent in the workplace. This year, however, that new beginning is overshadowed by our continuing to be restricted by the presence of the Covid-19 pandemic. While we worship with the same words and hymns and readings, we are not together the way we wish we were, not how we used to be.
We are, however, one body in Christ, bound to one another by ties deeper than physical presence, filled with a Spirit which embraces us all, and guided by a Word in which we all find life. May God be with us all and speak to us as we come to worship, and may these resources be a blessing to you as we gather.
Grace and peace to you all,
Rev. Bob Smith
Book of Praise – 314 “God is love: come heaven, adoring”
- video with on-screen words; major differences to the words in the hymnbook; follow along on the screen
- Words (1922) by English clergyman Timothy Rees (1874–1939); music by English clergyman Cyril Vincent Taylor (1907–1991), tune Abbot’s Leigh, 1941.
- This recording from an episode of the BBC TV show Songs of Praise.
Prayers of Approach and Confession, Lord’s Prayer
O God in whom we live and more and have our being, we have gathered in your presence to sing your praise and listen for your word. Gather up the prayer of each heart, the praises of each mouth, into one harmony of worship and service, so that we might truly be one body in Christ. Accept the words of our mouths, and the thoughts of each of our hearts, for we are your people, in Christ Jesus our saviour and our friend.
God of mercy, as we come before you, we confess that we have not always listened for your word, preferring the easier messages that the world around us offers. We know that in your word is our hope, but we often think it asks too much of us, calling us to align our wills with your own, and to give ourselves in devotion and service to the building of your reign. Forgive us, we pray. Help us to hear and respond, to receive your word of life and then by grace to give ourselves to proclaiming it to the world through our words and actions. We ask this in Jesus’ name, and join together now in the prayer he gave us:
Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those
who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Assurance of Pardon and the Peace
Friends in Christ, hear the good news. Anyone who is in Christ is a new creation. The old life has gone; a new life has begun. Know that you are forgiven, and be at peace.
Receive the new life God offers you in Christ. Amen
The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
(And also with you.)
Acts 20:7–12 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
While Christian Education Coordinator Laura Alary is on holidays, we’ll be featuring a few resources she has recommended. This week, it’s the “Godly Play” YouTube channel. She notes that “Godly Play” has a similar philosophy and style to the “Children and Worship” program we use at GCPC.
To finish off our summer special
of focussing on minor players of the Bible,
today our little person is Eutychus —
and don’t worry if you haven’t heard of him.
His name is in the Bible exactly once, in Acts 20.
The name means “lucky”,
but that must refer to some other incident in his life.
His only claim to fame today
is that he falls asleep during one of Paul’s sermons.
See, I said at the beginning there is something we all have in common
with these people from the Bible.
The bad news for him
is that he is sitting in an open third story window,
and, unlucky for him,
when he dozes off, he falls out.
But I’m ahead of myself.
First a bit of background from my family.
My Mom was an Anglican before she married my Dad,
and after that she adopted my Dad’s Presbyterian faith.
But Mom’s sister, my aunt Helen,
remained a proud Anglican until her dying day.
And frequently when the two families were together,
there was a lot of friendly banter between us
on the relative merits of our two faiths.
And my aunt loved to take me particularly to task
for how long Presbyterian ministers preach.
A standard Anglican homily is a fair bit shorter
than a standard Presbyterian sermon.
It all started at my brother’s wedding,
where I was officiating
and at which I preached a standard Presbyterian sermon.
Afterward she took me aside
and shared with me her belief
that if you can’t say whatever you want to say in 8 or 10 minutes,
then you don’t know what you’re talking about.
And I said, if it doesn’t take you 15 or 20 minutes
it’s not worth getting on your feet.
We never resolved our argument.
The apostle Paul would have agreed with me,
not my aunt.
On this particular occasion, recorded for us in Acts 20,
he’s on such a roll,
and he has built up such a head of steam
that he preaches right to midnight,
then thought of some things he’d left out,
and kept right on going.
Like many preachers,
he has so much to say,
and he is so impressed with his own ability to string words together,
that he doesn’t even notice the hour,
or how hot it is in the room,
or how the poor young man who’s sitting back on the window ledge
keeps nodding off.
Poor Eutychus —
the longer Paul goes on,
the deeper his sleep.
We don’t know if he was partying too late last night,
or put in a long day at work.
We do know, though,
that Paul’s sermon is like the Energizer bunny —
it just keeps going and going.
Suddenly there’s a shout!
The poor kid in the window has fallen out.
Paul stops in mid-sentence.
In all the confusion,
someone runs downstairs,
only to discover Eutychus is dead.
“We’ll see about that,” says Paul.
He goes down,
takes up the limp body in his arms,
and declares that there is life in him.
And there is!
He’s a little dazed, but fully alive,
and in his right mind.
The text, which doesn’t even mention Eutychus by name again,
tells us that Paul goes back upstairs,
breaks bread with the gathered faithful,
and runs over the main points of the sermon one more time
just to make sure that no one has missed them.
And it is dawn, mind you,
before he finally gives the benediction
and sends them all on their way.
You have to wonder how many others had fallen asleep
but were lucky enough not to be sitting in an open window,
how many were shaking their watches,
rolling their eyes.
“These out-of-town preachers are all the same —
when is he going to shut it down and let us go home?”
But when Paul leaves,
the boy Eutychus is still alive.
Luke, the author of Acts,
is obviously a man of few words.
He tells us, in a concise style
from which Paul could have learned something,
the people were “not a little comforted”.
I’ve no doubt.
That would be a worship service they would not soon forget.
But it’s interesting to note
that as Luke tells us this story,
he tells us nothing about the content of Paul’s sermon,
just how long it was.
For you, the people in the pew,
there’s a moral to this story.
Actually, it’s a good news — bad news moral.
The bad news is that if you fall asleep in the sermon,
nasty things may happen to you.
But the good news is that they aren’t usually fatal.
I know we’re on the ground floor here,
but I think you should still take it as a warning.
Pay attention, or you never know what will happen,
and I don’t think I have the gift of healing
quite like Paul did.
But for the preacher, there’s another message,
and it’s pretty much all bad news for us.
We preachers are all a little chastened by this story.
I guess it’s a bit of a comfort
that even the great Paul went on too long,
and had people fall asleep in his sermons.
It’s a bit of a reminder to us
not to take ourselves too seriously,
and that as good as what we have to say may be,
if we can’t keep the congregation awake,
we might just as well save our breath.
At a deeper level,
it’s a sober reminder that the word of God is life to us all,
and how dare we treat it in a way that puts people to sleep.
The word of God,
if we could interpret it faithfully,
should have us all squirming in our seats,
or pleading for mercy,
or grovelling in fear.
Psalm 119 tells us:
“God’s word is a lamp to my feet,
and light to my path.”
Hebrews 4 says:
“God’s word is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword,
piercing, dividing, judging.”
II Timothy 3 says:
“All scripture is inspired by God,
and useful for teaching, reproof, correction and training.”
I fear for the day when we are called to give an account
of our stewardship of the things God has given us,
and we preachers have to say,
“Well, I preached sermons on the word of God,
and it was a wonderful cure for my congregation’s insomnia.”
John Stott the great British preacher,
told the story of a prospective young preacher
seeking the approval of his church to be ordained.
Maybe not the brightest light in his class, he said,
“Well, my sermons are not going to set the Thames on fire.”
To which, one of his examiners said,
“What I want to know is if we were to pick you up
and drop you in the Thames, would it sizzle?”
We need to be on fire with a passion
for what God still has to say to us all through Scripture.
If you want a quick look at a great “fire and brimstone” sermon
check out the one preached by the prophet Micah
In the first half of chapter 2 of his book.
The prophet spends the first half of the sermon
delivering a blistering denunciation of the well-to-do for their evil,
for the fact that the more they have the more they want,
for their oppression of their poor fellow citizens etc. etc.
“God,” he says,
”lies awake at night trying to think up neat ways
to give you what you deserve,
and make you the laughing stock of all your neighbours.”
You can bet they don’t file quietly out of church that Sunday,
shake Micah’s hand, and say,
and say how lovely it was to be in church that day.
No, they tell him to keep quiet —
good preaching can do that sometimes.
They want him out of town —
“God wouldn’t do that to us,” they say.
But Micah gets the last word.
To this people who are interested only
in how God smiles at everything they do, he says,
“You don’t want a preacher —
you just want someone to cater to your interests,
bless you in your wickedness
and prophesy for you plenty of wine and beer.
That would be your kind of prophet.”
Now they might not have liked what they heard,
but you can bet they didn’t sleep through that one.
To turn to God’s word
is to enter dangerous territory,
the territory of life and death,
of good and evil,
of illness and healing,
of hope and despair,
of love and hate.
The things that make our hearts dance,
and our stomachs turn.
To submit ourselves to God’s word
is to place ourselves under its judgement and its gospel,
and to be pointed to the God of grace
who wants only our devotion and love.
Preaching — the interpretation of Scripture —
is crucial to all of us as we try to live as Christians in the world,
and Eutychus is a reminder to all of us to be aware of that.
None of us should ever take it lightly.
Paul, in Romans 1 writes,
“But how are they to call on one
in whom they have not believed?
And how are they to believe in one
of whom they have never heard?
And how are they to hear
without someone to proclaim him?”
And in Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch,
struggling with a passage of scripture, asks Philip,
“How can I understand, unless someone guides me.” [Ed. Acts 8:31]
It’s an important process for all of us.
Maybe those of us who come to listen to sermons need to come
expecting not to be dazzled, entertained,
or kept awake by the preacher,
but for the sermon to be an instrument for God’s Spirit
to feed us,
to give us life and hope
and maybe even to jolt us out of our seats
by the life-giving word of God.
And maybe those of us who are in the business
of writing and delivering sermons
need to remember the people like Eutychus
who need to hear from God’s word
a bit of encouragement
for the things they face everyday.
And maybe we should also remember with humility and awe
that it is a wonderful and dangerous thing we do,
to handle these ancient sacred texts,
and stand under the burden
of what the Spirit would say through them.
And maybe what happened to Eutychus
is a clue to all of us, preachers, and preached-to alike,
about what we ought to expect to happen
when God’s word is faithfully proclaimed.
Sure it was a long sermon, and a hot night,
but we could do a lot worse
than to leave our worship fully alive
and, as Luke put it,
not a little comforted.
May that be our hope.
- “Fairest Lord Jesus”, also known as “Beautiful Saviour”. Words, originally anonymous, in German from 1677. Music: the tune is originally a Silesian folk song, but has become known as “Crusader’s Hymn”. The tune was first published in 1842. Read more information at the Wikipedia article.
- This arrangement by American composer Wallingford Riegger (1885–1961). Copyright © 1939, renewed 1967, Harald Flammer, Inc.; represented by Shawnee Press, Inc., part of the Hal Leonard Corporation; used by permission of One License, license number 722141-A.
- Video recording © copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church.
Listen to more music
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online via our CanadaHelps page, or drop off your offering envelope in the mailbox at the church. Do not leave a cash donation unattended in the mailbox; instead, please call the office (416.261.4037) to ensure someone will be there to receive it. The building will be checked daily for mail and phone messages. If you are not comfortable leaving an envelope, you are welcome to contact the office (once again, 416.261.4037) and someone will pick up your offering.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
Gracious God, we praise and thank you for how abundantly you provide for us, for family and friends who care for and support us, for a country of opportunity where we are safe and secure, for excellence in education and health care, for jobs that provide for them, and summer rest to recharge our batteries, and for a community of faith where we can offer our gifts and learn of your love. For all your gifts we give you thanks.
And as we are reminded of our blessings, we remember those who are in need of an extra measure of your grace, and lift them up to you now in prayer.
We remember the poor and homeless, and especially those even within our own city, that you would protect them and supply their needs, and use us as people of faith within the city to be their advocates and support.
We pray for refugees around the world, who find themselves without the security and protection of a home or homeland, that you would work to provide for them what they need and to alleviate the conditions and tensions that force them to flee.
We pray for those who are sick or hospitalized, those within our congregation or families, and those who we alone may know. We pray for them your healing and presence, for peace and freedom from the anxiety that accompanies illness. We remember medical professionals who provide their care and family members who give their love and support.
We remember people we know who are close by, and others all around the world, whose lives have been in turmoil and upheaval during the global pandemic. Guide those who lead us and make decisions surrounding how we deal with it, and be with us all in these times of particular stress as schools will soon be re-opening. Help us to work together with compassion and understanding, so that we can all get through it together.
And for ourselves, great God, we ask that you would instil in each of us a love for your word, that helps us to look to it for guidance and inspiration, and gives us the courage to form our lives around what it tells us of your will. May we find our own story within its story, and so come to understand the grace by which we live. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Book of Praise – 472 “We are God’s people”
- Video with on-screen words. The sung words differ in some places from those in the hymnbook, and there are a series of sung “Amens” at the end.
- Words (1976) by Anglo-American hymn-writer Bryan Jeffery Leech (1931–); music (1877; tune; “Symphony”) by German composer Johannes Brahms (1833–1897).
- Video by Islington Baptist Church, Etobicoke.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go in peace
to carry into the world
God’s word of love
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit
be with you all, now and forever. Amen.
© Copyright 2020 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Updated: September 6, 2020 – added musical meditation video and descriptive text