August 27, 2023 – Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
There is no livestream this week. Previous livestreams and other worship and musical content is available on our YouTube channel. You can also check out our entire worship services archive. Our SoundCloud channel has more music and worship content.
Call to Worship
One: Come, let us sing to the Lord;
All: let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation
One: Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving:
All: Let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise.
One: O come let us worship and bow down,
All: Let us kneel before the Lord our maker.
One: For he is our God,
All: and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.
Lighting of the Christ Candle
This is the Christ Candle. We light the candle to help us remember that Jesus Christ, the light of the world, is with us in every place and every time.
“Immortal, invisible,God only wise” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 290). Words (1867) by Scottish minister and hymnwriter Walter Chalmers Smith (1824–1908), based on 1 Timothy 1: 17. Tune (“St. Denio”), Welsh folk ballad, arranged and published in 1839 by Welsh musician and minister John Roberts (1822–1877), also known by his Welsh bardic name Ieuan Gwyllt. Words and music in the public domain. Copyright information given for information purposes only as the service was not streamed.
Prayers of Adoration and Confession; Lord’s Prayer
Almighty God, whose love for us is endless, and whose compassion reaches out to include even those who have strayed the furthest, we praise you. We rejoice that you invite us to come, to be one in community with each other, to enter your presence, to hear your word, to join our voices in prayer and song. As we come, accept the prayers and praises of our hearts, for you alone are holy.
God of mercy, as we gather to be a community in worship, we recall the times when we forget you, when we put other things before you, and when we become divided from one another and let our unity be destroyed by being small-minded or mean to one another. Our thoughts, our words, and our actions, sometimes betray the goodness you have shown to us, and that has diminished the witness to your love that we give to the world.
Forgive us, we pray. Mend what is broken. Heal the wounded relationships that separate us from you and one another, in Jesus’ name. And hear us now, as we join in the prayer that he taught 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.
Declaration of Pardon
Friends in Christ, Paul writes, if anyone is in Christ there is a new creation; everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! Know that you are forgiven, and be at peace. Thanks be to God.
One: The Peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
All: And also with you.
Special Musical Presentation
Fun with the young at heart (children’s story)
The Life and Work of the Church (Announcements)
Acts 5:27–42 <– this links to on-line text of the NRSV bible
27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35 Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him, but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”
They were convinced by him, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go. 41 As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. 42 And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.
The scripture reading is followed by:
One: The Word of God.
People: Thanks be to God.
“Lord, speak to me” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 767). Words (1872) by English poet and hymnwriter Frances Ridley Havergal (1836–1879). Music (tune: “Winscott”) by English organist and composer Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810–1876). Words and music in the public domain. Copyright information given for information purposes only as the service was not streamed.
We’re starting to see a pattern here. Why, it was just a week ago that the same defendants, Peter and the group known as Christians, stood on the carpet before the same prosecutors, the High Council. And the charge is pretty much the same thing. It seems the stern talking-to that they received last week went in one ear and out the other. They went right back to their old tricks.
So here they are again. For the second time in as many chapters there is healing and the sharing of good news in the name of Jesus. And just as predictable as the disciples with their preaching, there is the opposition of the authorities telling them to stop.
It’s strange when you think about it that the good news of the grace of God would be received as such a threat. But it is, so entrenched is the world in its own ways of doing things, and so ready are some people to protect their own place in it, their own way of understanding it.
So there it is. There is healing and acceptance and new life, and the people in power manage to see it as bad news. Jesus was on the receiving end of this kind of backlash. The disciples now discover as his followers that it will be no different for them.
So here is ‘round two’ in the confrontation between the powers that be in Jerusalem and the Spirit of God burning within the hearts of the disciples. The real concern of the Council is that public favour is swinging quickly away from them and toward the disciples and that they seem powerless before this bunch of soap-box preachers.
The irony today is that the Council is already in session, still trying to decide what to do in the aftermath of last week’s confrontation with the apostles. A messenger runs in, interrupting the meeting, “They’re at it again — the ones who were in jail. They’re right on the temple steps as we speak, preaching and teaching like before.”
For a few seconds, no one on the council says anything. The members are shaking their heads in disbelief. They aren’t used to such brazen challenges to their authority. This is going to be harder than they thought. What are they going to do with these guys? The chief priest finally says to one of the temple guards, “Round them up and bring them in.”
When the prisoners arrive, they stand straight and tall before the council. The high priest, already furious with them, starts in, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name.” It almost sounds like he’s wagging his finger at the disciples like they’re a bunch of disobedient little children. “How many times do I have to tell you?”
Their complaint is that the disciples continue to preach Jesus even though they’ve been ordered not to, and that they are trying to blame Jesus’ death on them, the Jewish authorities.
Peter and the others respond. “Number one, we obey God and not you. Number two, you did have a hand in Jesus’ death, even though he is the Messiah sent from God, and the one who will redeem Israel.”
You would not call this “trying to soft-peddle their differences” with the council. Instead, their answer pushes the hostility factor in the room, which was bad before, up by a quantum leap. The council explodes in a rage. Some want to kill them on the spot, others want to take a breath and then kill them. The disciples are in very deep trouble.
However, there is one dissenting voice in the room, and it belongs to Gamaliel.
He’s a Pharisee, and a member of the council, and on top of that is highly regarded by everyone. Somehow, he manages to make his voice heard over the uproar and calms everyone down a little. The apostles are sent out of the room, someone brings a glass of water to the high priest who looks like he’s about to explode, and Gamaliel brings a note of calm to the moment.
“Now, let’s not be too hasty. We need to be very careful what we do here. This bunch is unlike anything we’ve ever dealt with before, and clearly, our way is not working.
“I’d say these Christians are either right or wrong, right? If they’re wrong about this Jesus fellow, and it turns out their little movement is a scheme they have cooked up themselves, then it will soon fade away without our help — it will certainly not live beyond any of these leaders before us today.
“But if they are right, and Jesus is the Messiah, and there is something of the hand of God in this, then nothing that we can do will stop them — we would be working against God. Right now, what we need to do is nothing.”
Just to finish the story, the council listens to Gamaliel, sort of. They release the disciples, but not before having them beaten and ordering them again, not to speak any more in the name of Jesus. And what do they do? You guessed it. In Luke’s words in the text, “They go out rejoicing that they are considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name of Jesus, and every day in the temple and in their homes they do not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.”
They go out with sore backs, but also with their lives, and so their work goes on. Like Gamaliel says, “If this is of God, our little threats are not going to stop them.” And they didn’t.
Don’t you admire people like Gamaliel who have the nerve to say something that is the opposite of what everyone else is saying? to go out on a limb? to risk ridicule and rejection and being thought wrong by having the courage to try to sway everyone to their way of thinking?
And don’t you admire them even more when what they are saying proves to be true, when they have the courage to stand alone, and end up having the right solution. How could they know? Where did such insight come from? That’s where leadership comes from.
There is a wisdom to Gamaliel’s words that goes very deep. What he says is one of those things that is obviously true, at least to people of faith. It’s just that no one has had the clarity of thought to say in quite that way until now.
So Gamaliel is smart, and an independent thinker. But what is his personal verdict on the disciples and their message? Well, we really are not told. We don’t know what motivates him.
Gamaliel could be no more than a pragmatist, a reconciler, a deal-maker, someone who can pick the easy, quick way out that offends the fewest people. Maybe he’s a coward who can’t make up his mind, who decides by not deciding, who avoids taking a stand, and then picks the winner at the last possible moment.
Or maybe this teacher of the law, steeped in the writings and the tradition of God’s holy people, suspects that he hears some truth in the words of these followers of Jesus. Maybe this Jesus who was crucified was — is — the Messiah. Maybe Gamaliel and his friends on the council are the ones who have missed the truth, and these commoners from Galilee are the ones who have found it in the itinerant preacher and healer from Galilee. Maybe in them he can see the power and purpose of God that he has been waiting so long to see and for the people of Israel to experience.
I don’t know, but I like to think it’s this latter line of thinking that motivates Gamaliel. That there is something of God’s Spirit moving in his heart. That what he has heard of the disciples’ message sounds to him like truth from above bringing life and hope to God’s people. Why else would he take such a risk at such a volatile time? What do these trouble-makers mean to him that he should stick up for them?
I wonder when the disciples are brought back into the room where the council are deciding their fate, what they figure happened when they were standing out in the all. When they left, the council wanted to kill them, and a few minutes later it’s just a stern talking-to that they get, along with the flogging, and then they’re out, free on the street again.
Now sure, flogging is no picnic, but it sure beats beheading. What happened in there? What did God do to intervene for them, in there behind closed doors, to save their lives?
What God does is make sure that Gamaliel is there, that his heart is stirred by the disciples’ teaching, and that he has the courage to speak out.
It’s too bad the apostles are out of the room when Gamaliel makes his little speech to the council. The lives of these early Christian witnesses are in the hands of these decision makers who have almost unlimited power. You’ve got to imagine that however charitably they view the council these are the bad guys, the enemy.
Too bad they’re not there to see first-hand that one of them, Gamaliel, is on their side. Not really enthusiastically, maybe, but enough to save their lives from certain death. Enough to get them out of the present danger, and give them an opening to continue their holy work. Enough to indicate that he understands something about the power of God to move forward any human endeavour, and maybe even that he senses some of the presence of God in these believers.
Later, when the disciples think back about it, the most bewildering part of this encounter is how God brought up support for them from the most unexpected source, from within the council itself. Who would have thought?
Imagine. Wherever we go no matter how much against us the world might seem, we can look for someone God has put there who will be on our side. Wherever we find ourselves, no matter how alone we feel or how uphill the road seems, we can remain open to the possibility that God will provide someone who will speak up on our behalf. Whatever we are trying to do for God, if we look around us and are open to it, we might just find that God is providing us with a friend who has a sympathetic ear.
Gamaliel reminds me, that God takes a broader view of things than we often do; that, despite how it looks to us, God’s resources are never exhausted; that when I’m looking around for signs of God Spirit at work in the world, I should cast my gaze wide; that when I’m seeking a kindred spirit; I should not rule out any quarter as a place to look for it; or that when I’m looking for truth it might come to me from a source I’ve overlooked or from an unexpected ally.
Listen for it, that voice that is somehow distinct from the other voices around you. That voice which so unexpectedly becomes the voice of God for you, saying, “Go for it. Press on. You’re on the right track. And may God be with you.”
May we present our gifts to God in response to what we have received from God?
We remind everyone that we must continue to pay our bills; in the absence of being present at Sunday worship, you may sign up for pre-authorized remittance (PAR), donate online, 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.
Dedication of our Gifts
Our offering will now be received.
“Praise God from whom all blessings flow” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 306). Based on the tune “Old 100th” with words (1989) by English hymnwriter Brian A. Wren (1936–). Words copyright © 1989 Hope Publishing Co. Music public domain. Copyright information given for information purposes only as the service was not streamed.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow;
praise God all creatures high and low;
praise God in Jesus fully known,
Creator Word and Spirit One.
Prayer of dedication
Great God, you show us who you are by the many things you give us. We know too that we are known by what we give to others, and that our offerings are a sign of what is in our hearts. Bless our gifts, that they may do your work, bring hope to your people, and build up your church. In Jesus name. Amen.
Prayers of Thanksgiving and Hope
God of life, you have made your home among us and you love us just as we are. Help us to show your presence to everyone, and especially to those who are alone and lonely, needy or suffering.
You draw all the world together, to be one family. Teach us to be open to welcome and include everyone. Work in the affairs of the nations of the world to bring peace, reconciliation and stability.
You give us great gifts — time, resources, talents, and insights. Help us use these gifts in your service to tend and care for all you love. Teach us how to care, and give and share, and to make the suffering of the neediest in our communities and in the world, a burden that we are willing to help them carry.
You sent your son, Jesus, to be with us as a teacher, companion, and leader. Help us remember his ways of being open and unafraid. Speak to those so caught up in themselves that they cannot hear your invitation to life or receive the gift of your grace. Come into the hearts of all people to bring your healing and give your hope.
We pray today for individuals or families who are troubled and desperate, that you would grant them a friend who is able to stand with them and to help them get the help they need, and we ask that you would show us when we need to be that kind of friend, and how we can all try to put in place support for families in that kind of stress. We pray for those who are sick or in hospital, that you would hold them in your love, give them your peace, and bring your healing and recovery.
Loving God, in Jesus you give us the peace that the world cannot give, a unity that can empower us, and a sense that we have a share in the work of building your kingdom. Give us the courage to give ourselves totally to that work. Keep us steadfast in love and faithful to your word, so you will always find a place in our hearts, and through us carry your love in the world, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
“Be Thou my Vision” (Book of Praise 1997, Hymn 461). Words traditional Irish, various attributions and dates from the 6th to the 12th centuries. See the hymn title link for more details. English translation (1905) by Irish linguist Mary Elizabeth Byrne (1880–1931). English verse setting (1912) by Anglo-Irish writer and scholar Eleanor Henrietta Hull (1860–1935). Music (tune: “Slane”) Irish folk tune. Harmony (1975) by English minister and hymnologist Erik Reginald Routley (1917–1982). Descant (1983) by English musician, educator and arranger John Whitridge Wilson (1905–1992). Original Irish words, English translation, English verse setting, and music public domain. Harmony copyright © 1975 and descant copyright © 1983 Hope Publishing Co. Copyright information given for information purposes only as the service was not streamed.
Commissioning and Benediction
Go out into the world in peace, and whatever you do, in speech or in action, do everything in name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God through him.
And 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.
“Go Now in Peace”. Words by American educator, lyricist and composer Don Besig (1936–) and American lyricist Nancy Price (1958–). Music by Don Besig. Words and music copyright © 1988 Harold Flammer Music, a division of Shawnee Press. Copyright information given for information purposes only as the service was not streamed.
Copyright © 2023 Guildwood Community Presbyterian Church
Last updated 2023-08-24 21:20 – First version.