Hymn # 370 This Is My Father’s World
Prayer of Invocation
Call to Confession
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
In keeping with this truth and Word of God we believe in one God, who is one single essence, in whom there are three persons, really, truly, and eternally distinct according to their incommunicable properties— namely, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause, origin, and source of all things, visible as well as invisible. The Son is the Word, the Wisdom, and the image of the Father. The Holy Spirit is the eternal power and might, proceeding from the Father and the Son.
Nevertheless, this distinction does not divide God into three, since Scripture teaches us that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each has his own subsistence distinguished by characteristics—it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. In Christ, by the power of the Spirit, we are forgiven. Thanks be to the triune God.
Passing of the Peace
Minute for Mission: Beth Sulzberg
Prayer for Illumination
40 And he testified with many other arguments and exhorted them, saying, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” 41 So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Sermon: Setting the Table
Good morning. Our reading this morning is one of my favorite stories in the Book of Acts. In fact, it’s one of my favorite stories in the Bible. Though I think it’s one of those stories a lot of people overlook, if they even know it at all.
This story picks up where we left off last Sunday, more or less. It’s still Pentecost. Peter—the disciple who denied knowing Jesus, right after Jesus was arrested, that Peter—is now an apostle. Peter is now the rock, upon which Jesus will build his church.
And the rock came to preach!
Last Sunday, we heard the beginning of Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost. In that sermon, Peter witnessed to the love and truth of Jesus Christ. Peter testified that Jesus was the Messiah. Peter was a witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And he came to preach!
It worked. That sermon succeeded beyond the wildest hopes of any of the apostles. On the morning of Pentecost, there were 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem. As Peter preached, crowds came. They listened. They asked Peter what they should do. Peter told them to repent of their sins and be baptized.
Three thousand people presented themselves for baptism on that day! Three thousand! People kept coming to Jerusalem; people kept joining the community of believers who were gathered there. The Holy Spirit was up to something and people came to be part of the movement.
When we talked about this story in Koinonia on Wednesday evening, one of the women in the class asked, “Who did all the cooking for these new believers? Where did they eat?” Those are really good questions and they speak to the challenges of managing this new community of believers.
The Pentecost story reminds us that people came from Jewish communities all across the Mediterranean and the Near East: Rome, Libya, Egypt, Greece, Turkey, Mesopotamia, and many others. We don’t know how many of those 3,000 were from far away, from the Judean countryside, or residents of Jerusalem. But they all had to stay somewhere and they all had to be fed.
As I said last Sunday, some of the stories in Acts are a little hard to believe. The tongues of fire in the Pentecost story seem a little strange to our modern ears. But today’s story may be even harder to believe: people holding their possessions in common. People selling their belongings and contributing the money to this new community, this new church.
How did they feed and house every new believer who came to Jerusalem? The members of the new community gave everything they had! They welcomed total strangers into their homes. They fed them. They prayed with them. And eventually, they went with them to other cities and towns across the Mediterranean and the Near East and they built new worshiping communities there, too.
Hard to believe, huh?
I’ve heard people argue that every word of the Bible is literally true. I’ve never heard any of those people use this passage to make that argument.
When’s the last time any of you sold a car and donated the proceeds to the church? Anyone?
What about a house? Anyone?
Some stock? Or some old jewelry? Anyone?
Okay, full disclosure, I’ve never sold my car or any of my possessions to make an offering to the church. And I’ll admit, it’s a little heavy-handed to use this passage from Acts on stewardship Sunday. Then again, we’re not asking you to sell all your possessions and give the money to the church. We’re just asking you to give a little more, if you can. We’re also asking you to make a pledge, an estimate of what you can give over the next year so that we can forecast what’s coming in to the church.
Here endeth the lecture. Instead of me telling you how you can support this congregation, I’m going to let some more of our members share their stories with you. And then you can figure out how you are being called to support First Presbyterian Church.
Beth and Larry and Sandra all testified to how their lives have been changed by their time here at First Presbyterian Church. Barry practically preached a sermon. They were all more eloquent and thoughtful about this church than I could ever be. And they’ve been a part of this community longer than I have. Listen to them. Their stories speak volumes.
Their stories, and this story from Acts, all of this is about us, but it isn’t just about us. The story of Pentecost shows us how powerful a community is when we listen to one another. This story shows us how powerfully a community can be drawn together when it shares with one another. Physical possessions and money, yes—and also our burdens, our joys, our concerns, our losses, and our fears.
We have to practice community like this inside and outside of our walls. I believe that if we live into this, people will see what we’re doing and how we’re living and they will want to be a part of this community. In turn, they will offer more of their time, talent, and treasure to the work of being the Church and building the kingdom of God.
That work, the work of reconciliation, includes listening to and working with people who don’t look like us. We can participate in that work more fully and effectively when we are in active relationships with lots of different communities. I believe that this sort of engagement can prevent a lot of the ugliness that we’ve seen in our nation these last few weeks.
Healing these divisions in our society is a nearly impossible task, but it’s not bigger than the Holy Spirit. Building this congregation into a body that’s committed to that work is also a huge task, but it’s not bigger than the Holy Spirit, either. And I’m certain that if we take on that work, people will see us, and they’ll want to get involved. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Hymn # 482 Baptized in Water
Prayer of Thanksgiving
We give our thanks through our talents, our time, and our treasure.
Thanks be to God; whose love creates us!
Thanks be to God; whose mercy redeems us!
Thanks be to God; whose grace leads us into the future! Amen.
Prayers of the People
First and foremost, as we see all the brokenness in our world, and especially the broken bodies of black and brown people, God, we ask that you break our hearts of stone and give us hearts for love alone. Purge us of our indifference, our complacency, and our tolerance for racism around us. Send us your Holy Spirit, so that we may mend the breaches in our society. Equip us to heal the divisions and take up the work of reconciliation.
We offer prayers for everyone who is cut off from loved ones during this time; those who can’t visit their loved ones in hospitals and nursing homes; those who are in hospitals and care facilities; and most of all, those who have been unable to visit and sit with their loved ones as they have died.
Finally, we offer a prayer of thanksgiving—and prayers for health and safety—for all of the helpers out there. We lift up all the nurses, doctors, lab techs, nurses’ aides, housekeeping staff, and first responders who are on the front lines of this pandemic. We give thanks for all they do and we pray that God continue to watch over them in this time.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn # 306 Blest Be the Tie That Binds
I want to bless you before I send you out into the world, but I think we all need to spend a little more time in prayer. We need to devote ourselves to prayer, like the apostles did, in that time between the Ascension and Pentecost. Let us pray the prayer that’s attributed to St. Francis:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offence, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
O Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.