Monday, November 21, 2016

The Story 31. The End of Time

Readings:  Psalm 37:1-13, Ecclesiastes 3:1-11, Acts 1:1-7, Revelation 21: 1-4
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 20th, 2016

Are any of you here fans of the TV program “Extreme Makeover – Home Edition?” If you have never seen it, the premise is simple. A family in need is chosen and a group of generous folk go into their house and totally renew it, while the family are sent on a vacation. When the family return a bus is parked in front of their new home, blocking the view. The highlight of the program is when the crowd begin chanting “Move that bus, Move that bus!”  When the bus is moved, the new home, usually with tears of joy and excitement, is revealed.

We have reached the end of our journey through 'The Story” and arrived at chapter 31, a summary of the Book of Revelation, titled “The End of Time.” In the liturgical calendar it is also Christ the King Sunday, a day when the church celebrates that at the end of all things, Christ will be enthroned as Lord. Revelation pictures the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, where all is well. Revelation could be described as “Extreme Makeover – Heaven and Earth Edition.”

Revelation is a vision attributed to John on the island of Patmos, given to him during a time when the early church was undergoing great persecution. It begins with seven letters to seven churches. Each church is evaluated for its weaknesses and strengths and given instruction as to how it should move forward. Following this there is much talk of angels and horsemen and seals being broken. There is judgment and and the casting out of evil.

It's like a 4D movie invading the senses. All the things that make the world such a terrible place; war and famine and plague and disaster come to an end. All the forces of empire and violence and persecution are silenced. And at the center of all things is God... and the Jesus the lamb of God... and endless waves of praise and wonder that emanate from the Holy Spirit.

I've printed in the bulletin some of the final words in all scripture, and invite you to say these words with me, as they give a wonderful taste of what the future holds for the people of God. Join me in reading Revelation 21: 1-4;

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with all people. He will dwell with them, and they shall be His, and God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

The whole Bible leads us to this picture in Revelation. The seed that was planted in Genesis reaches full bloom. What is promised in the first pages of the first book of the Bible is accomplished in the last pages of the last book of the Bible.

  • Genesis tells us God created the heavens and the earth - Revelation describes a new heaven and a new earth.
  • In Chapter 1 of Genesis, God makes  the sun and the stars. In the last chapter of Revelation, the city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it because the glory of God gives light and God's presence is its lamp.
  • The lost paradise of Genesis - is the found paradise of Revelation.
  • Satan appears in the first garden as a treacherous snake but in this eternal garden, evil is banished.
  • The tree that couldn’t be touched in the Garden of Eden becomes one we are  invited to eat from in the garden of heaven.
  • In Genesis, humanity hides from God, but in Revelation, God dwells with people.
Right from the start of “The Story” we saw how God’s desire is to be with us. The story of Adam and Eve pictures for us how each of us rejects that idea, preferring to go our own way and vainly presuming we know better than God.

Yet God had a plan from the very beginning to get us back. As we have been journeying through “The Story” at times it it has looked bleak in the “Lower Story,” but God has never taken God's eyes off that “Upper Story” plan.

In the Old Testament God established a brand new nation called Israel. What begins as a an act of faithfulness on the part of Abraham and Sarah, grows and moves forward so that eventually the Hebrews become a nation whose whole purpose is to demonstrate what living as God's people could look like.

But people, even God's people, are fickle and wayward, and the ability to turn away from God, never leaves. Through laws, through prophets, through Judges, through Kings, through times of blessing and times of judgment, through times of great expansion, and through times of exile and abandonment, the message is proclaimed, “Come Home. Trust Me. Serve me and I will bless you.”

All of this is a preparation for an awesome moment when, in Christ, God steps into the world of time. Jesus came to us. His life is a demonstration of awe inspiring love. He heals, He delivers. He teaches lessons we still struggle to get our minds around. 

And on that day, when He hung on the cross, the claim was made that He was taking our sins upon Himself, that we may live free and forgiven. In case we doubted God could do such a thing, on the third day He was raised, demonstrating the absolute victory of life over death, of hope over despair and of love over hate.

Jesus does for us what we can never do for ourselves. He reconciles us to God. He opens the doorway into God's nearer presence. Following numerous resurrection appearances, Jesus promises, following His ascension, that the Holy Spirit will come to those who trust in Him and empower them for service, in such a way that His work will continue and the message of the Kingdom will be proclaimed in Jerusalem, in Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

On the day of Pentecost, amid flames and rushing wind and a mingling of tongues, the church is born. God takes those first disciples, a random group of fishermen and  everyday people, and they become the vanguards of a movement that will change the world. He takes a character called Saul, and so turns his life around that he becomes this new movements great spokesperson, the apostle Paul, uniquely positioned through his background and circumstances to share the message with Jew and Gentile alike.

Despite incredible opposition and persecution the church grows, the message is proclaimed and over the centuries thousands upon thousands upon thousands bear witness to the saving power of Christ's death and the empowering resurrection presence of the Holy Spirit that enables them to achieve things they had never dreamed of.

And part of the churches vision, part of the message of the 66 books of the Bible is that “We ain't seen nothing yet.” That life on earth is but a prelude. That, though it be a slow train coming, there will come a time when all is well, when Christ will take His rightful place as ruler and Lord and King over all.

The Book of Revelation offers this amazing perspective of “Extreme Makeover – Heaven and Earth Edition.”  A new city, a new garden where fellowship with God will be complete and the vision of the “Upper Story” will be fulfilled.

Church... thank you for giving me the opportunity to travel through “The Story” with you. I know that not everybody has been engaged, not everybody has been as excited about it as I've been. As with any attempt to offer a summary, there have been moments when I've thought, “Well, why miss out that story” and times when I've not really identified with the authors theological perspectives.
But overall, for me it's been so worth it. If I take nothing else away, then I will at least recall that there are two stories that flow through our lives. The “Upper Story” of God's purpose and the “Lower story” of the way we perceive things. 

Discipleship happens when our story becomes part of that “Upper Story,” when our life becomes connected and empowered by the vision that this life is not all there is, that through Christ, and in the power of His Spirit, we have an opportunity to live faithfully, purposefully and meaningfully. 

When John was on the island of Patmos and it seemed like all he had hoped for was coming to an end, God gave him this mind boggling vision that he passes on to us in the Book of Revelation.  Many years from now, I'm pretty sure that scholars will still be trying to figure it all out, people will be predicting that the end of the world is near and claiming to know all the intricacies and ins and outs of the end times.

I say “Good luck to them!” So far everybody who has gone down that path has been united by one result. They've all got it wrong. Jesus tells us in the Book of Acts, 1:7 "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority.”

The book of Revelation was never intended as a pre-emptive calendar to chart the end of the world. What it is... is a gift of grace. What it is... is an amazing picture of hope that tells us that at the end of all things, love wins.  What it is.... is a document that encourages us to believe that, in God's time, in God's way, even though it it may not look like that right now, all things will be made beautiful.

To John it was an assurance that Rome did not have the final say in the world in which he lived. To us it can remind us that wherever we perceive power to be invested, be it Washington, or Moscow or London, or Wall Street, or the media or the big corporations, they will never have the last word.
Justice will come. Peace will come. God's Kingdom will come. Christ's love will reign. And it is for us to embrace that message and do everything in our power to hasten that day by involving ourselves in actions that proclaim the reign of God is alive in our hearts and lives, through acts of compassion and care and deliverance that reflect the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. 

Our calling is not to stand back and chant “Move that bus. Move that bus.” Our task is to get busy on the next restoration project God places before us. And to do so with overflowing hope and expectancy and passion, because we know that “The Story” is a story of amazing grace that neither began with us, nor will end with us. 

Again, I thank you for the opportunity of exploring the great sweep of the Bibles 66 books with you over an extended period, and I pray that as we look to the future we have a greater grasp on who we are called to be and what we are called to do... all to the glory of God, in whom it all began and with whom our destiny lies.  To God be all praise, for the wonder of the Word, for the testimony of the 66 books of the Bible. 

Maybe you remember what the very first words in the first book of the bible are? Genesis 1:1 “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” But do you know what the final words of the final book of the Bible are? Revelation 22:21... and I'll read them as they are in the King James version...  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.” 

In that grace, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, is our forgiveness, our hope, our purpose and our mission. We were created by grace, for grace, in order that we may share that grace with God, with each other and all creation. 

It is through grace that we live into the promise that there will come a day when “God Himself will be with them; He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.
And with that thought in mind I have only one more thing to say... the bibles final word... Amen!

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Story 30. Paul's Final Days

Readings: Psalm 32, Lamentations 3:22-33, 2 Timothy 1:3-14, Matthew 16:24-27,
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 13th, 2016

Sal Hepplewhite made his fortune directing and producing budget movies in Hollywood. None of them were huge, many were made only for TV or limited release but he made enough of them to earn a lot of money.

Enough money to have a house in L.A. and an apartment in New York. He liked flashy cars and had a habit of trading them in for new models, a habit he replicated with his wives, his latest being a Puerto Rican beauty half his age. Sal Hepplewhite wasn't expecting to die in a restaurant whilst contemplating whether or not to have the cheesecake … but that's what happened.

Sal found himself at heavens gate standing before a rather ordinary looking angel holding a guest list. “Name” asked the angel. “Well... y'know me” said Sal, “Sal, Sal Hepplewhite.” The angel scanned the list in his hand. “Hmm. Not seeing you on the list.”
“Look...” said Sal “I know how this goes. Gotta be some way I can make it worth your while to let me in. That's how it works, isn't it?”

“No entrance fees here, Sal” said the angel. “Everything's already paid for.” “What d'ya mean, already paid for?” “Jesus paid the entrance for us all,” replied the angel, “All we have to do is trust that He has everything taken care of. You do trust in God, don't you, Sal?”

“God” said Sal “Never really needed God. Always taken care of myself. I've done all right. Look at my houses. Look at my cars. Look at the ladies who hang out with me. The movies I made, the people I've met, the places I've been... trust me, I worked hard for all of that!”

“Sal” said the angel “You worked hard. But for what? Where does all of that leave you now? Only way here is trusting in God.”

In our journey through “The Story” we have reached the penultimate chapter titled not “Sal Hepplewhite's Final Days” but “Paul's Final Day's.” Sal Hepplewhite is a fictional character but there was nothing imaginary or fictional about the Apostle Paul. Chapter 30 of “The Story” continues the account of his life from the Book of Acts, and includes excerpts from many of the letters he wrote to the churches.

We read about his visit to Jerusalem where he reiterates his conversion experience and sets the whole place in a spin. We are told of his arrest and transportation to Rome. On the way the ship in which he is traveling becomes shipwrecked and offers an unexpected opportunity to preach the gospel on the island of Malta. He eventually arrives in Rome where, whilst under house arrest, he composes many of the letters that form such an important part of the New Testament. For Paul, his trust in God enables him to see every setback as an opportunity.

Chapter 30 of “The Story” finishes by speaking of Paul's friendship with a young man called Timothy. Historically, this is when Nero becomes the emperor and a great persecution of the church begins. Timothy fears for Paul's life. His fears are well grounded as it is thought that Paul was executed by Nero around the year AD68.

In what is thought to be one of his final compositions, his second letter to Timothy, Paul writes to encourage his young friend not to be disheartened by the persecution they were enduring, but to continue soaking up sound teaching that built up faith and love of Jesus Christ and to “Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim 1:14).

When we began looking at “The Story” at the beginning of the year, we spoke about there being an “Upper Story” and a “Lower Story”. The “Upper Story” is the way God sees things. The “Lower Story” is the way we see things. The challenge is to take our own story and relate it to the “Upper Story” of God's purposes for the world, rather than constantly reverting to a “Lower Story” perspective, in which life is simply a matter of doing our best and hoping that the worst never happens.

Going back to my opening illustration of Sal Hepplewhite, a man who in the eyes of the world may have had a lot going for him, from an eternal perspective he totally lacks any sense of trust in anything but his own ability to save himself. Time and time again we have seen in “The Story” that when we seek to be our own salvation, that nasty little thing called “sin” trips us up every time. It is a twist of our nature not to pursue God, but to head in the opposite direction of trust, faithfulness and commitment and believe we can do much better without God's help!

The lives of Paul and Emporer Nero, which overlapped in Rome, make for an interesting comparison. While Nero was making headlines, Paul was a nobody. Late night chat show hosts would have wanted Nero on their show. Heads of State would invite him to dinner.

Paul was an annoying preacher who kept talking about Jesus all the time, as though Jesus were alive and as if believing in Him was what really mattered in life. He so upset the religious folk of his day that they had him locked up on ridiculous, unfounded charges.

If you asked anyone in Rome at the time, “Who will have the most impact on the world, Paul or Nero?” they would pick Nero. At age 25 Nero erected a 120 foot tall statue of himself. People looked up at Nero, they looked down on Paul. Paul was beat up. He was a fanatic. He was in prison for crimes they were still trying to concoct.

But while in prison Paul was busy writing letters that would change people lives and bring them to a faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. He had an “Upper Story” perspective about things. He believed that as he trusted in God, God's purposes would be achieved.

Paul anchored his life to a hope out of this world. He talks a lot about grace. To his young friend Timothy he writes that grace “... has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Paul entrusted his life into the hands of God, even when, from a “Lower Story” perspective, things were totally messed up.

Paul ended his life well. Nero did not. Paul's new life had begun on the Damascus Road when Jesus stopped him in his tracks and turned his life around. He ended his days giving his life for what he believed in. Nero, at the age of 29, was lonely and paranoid. His second wife killed his first wife and then, while she was pregnant, Nero assaulted her and she died. Four years after Paul's death, Nero committed suicide. Nero was no hero. Paul still impacts us today.

There are no Saint Nero cathedrals. People tend not to name their children Nero, though many call them Paul or Pauline. Who are the real difference makers in the world? Throughout the whole of “The Story” we have been given the perspective that it's not the rich and powerful and those who are important in the eyes of their peers who make the eternal difference, but humble people of faith, who trust God to lead them and guide them, and who prayerfully seek to live lives that honor God, evidenced in the way they live out their calling.

I hope that as we have traveled through “The Story” there have been characters and situations and moments when you have been seriously challenged to consider why it is you were put on this planet.

Probably not to be a Saint Paul or an Emporer Nero. But it's easy to be a Sal Hepplewhite. No... I don't mean to be a multi married, fairly successful, fictional movie producer with homes in L.A. and New York, but to adopt a philosophy of life that, at the end of the day, leaves us spiritually bankrupt.

If we take scripture seriously there will come a moment, beyond this life, when we have to account for what we've done with the time God has given to us. Many, many times in His teaching Jesus points out that the way the world does things, doesn't work. That much of what people value and place their trust in is empty and vain.

Nowhere is this more clearly stated than in Matthew 16:24-27. “Jesus said to His disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.

The phrase used there, that each person will be rewarded “according to what they have done.” has nothing to do with earthly achievement but has to do with what has been achieved in a persons life through allowing the love of God to direct them and guide them.

Earlier in Matthew 6:33 Jesus encourages us “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness.” Most of the time we ignore how deep and raw that commitment really is. Jesus is telling us that His commandments, His desires, His love, should be at the center of what we are and desire to be. That if we do that, then everything else in our life will line up in the right way.

Remember that little story at the beginning? Sal Hepplewhite trying to buy his way into heaven? That's how he made it through his earthly life. That's how it was meant to be.

No entrance fees here, Sal” said the angel. “Everything's already paid for.” “What d'ya mean, already paid for?” asked Sal. “Jesus paid the entrance for us all,” replied the angel, “All we have to do is trust that He has everything taken care of. You do trust in God, don't you, Sal?”

This is the 30th week this year we have looked at a chapter from “The Story.” Chapter 30 has been all about a guy, who at one time trusted in his own understanding and ability to get him through. God changed him. Saul the persecutor of Christians, became Paul, the unashamed, unapologetic, apostle of Jesus Christ.

Time and time again the challenge that has come through these chapters has been, “You do trust in God, don't you?” The only person who can give an honest answer to that question is ourselves. We have a choice. Go it alone or go with God.

I believe that, at the end of the day, the second option makes most sense. In my own imperfect, stumbling way, that's how I'm trying to live out my life. I know that without the love of Jesus, available through the Holy Spirit, it's not even an option. But every moment I place my trust in Him, it seems like everything else starts to fall into place.

I believe Paul is right on. It's all about grace. It's all about love. It's all about what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. It's all about what God can do through God's resurrection power. That's the only way the “Lower Story” of my life can ever connect with the “Upper Story” of God's purpose. And my prayer as we near the end of our journey through “The Story” is that we'll all discover that living God's way is the best way to live.

Next week, in the liturgical year, it is Christ the King Sunday, we'll be taking a look at the book of Revelation. Chapter 31 “The End of Time!” Hope you are ready for it.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Story 29. Paul's Mission

Readings: Psalm 116, Deuteronomy 11:8-21, Matthew 26:26-30, 1 Corinthians 11:14-24 & 14:4-7
Preached at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church, MD, November 6th, 2016

As we continue our journey into the latter chapters of “The Story” we will focus the next couple of weeks on the apostle Paul, a one-time opponent of the Christian faith who became it's greatest interpreter. In chapter 29 we are given an account of Paul's visits to cities such as Philippi, Ephesus, and Corinth, names familiar to us because of the letters he would later write to them that became Biblical books.

We observe how he follows a pattern of going firstly to preach in the local synagogue, to draw a congregation from the Jewish population, but then moves on to the town square, where he seeks to address the Gentiles and let them know that the message of Jesus Christ was also for them.

He receives opposition from both secular and religious authorities. Secular, because he is outspoken against idolatry and pagan practices, activities that formed a significant part of the financial and social structure of many Roman provinces. His message was seen as being bad for business. To the orthodox religious authorities it was a challenge to their power. They brand his “good news” as heretical and dangerous, ironically a position that he himself, when known as Saul, once totally ascribed to.

In many places Paul visits, he barely survives. He experiences arrests, beatings, and imprisonment. Yet God's Holy Spirit is mightily at work through him and we witness miraculous escapes, and testimonies of miracles and healing. At one point the local residents believe that Paul and his colleague Barnabas are gods, something he is anxious to refute!

The second part of Chapter 29 offers excerpts from the letters Paul wrote to the churches. These writings become the bedrock of Christian theology. Many of the letters are written as answers to questions that arose in the earliest life of the church. Important themes shine through.

  1. Paul is keen to present Jesus not only as the promised Messiah of the Hebrew people, but as a Savior for all people of all places for all time.
  2. Paul often focuses on the theme that we are saved by grace through placing our faith in what Jesus has done for us upon the Cross. In Jesus we find reconciliation, forgiveness, freedom and peace.
  3. He, unashamedly, even in the face of ridicule and disbelief, maintains that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the Holy Spirit is God's way of indwelling our lives with resurrection power. No resurrection, no hope. No Spirit, no power.
  4. The most important thing of all, declares Paul, is love. He offers a definition of love that is a pen portrait of the life of Jesus. Love is the source of unity that binds all things together and ultimately God's love is the one thing that nothing can separate us from.

He answers questions on church order and practice and behavior, some of which seem universal in application, others that appear to be associated with the cultural context of the community being addressed. Because of that he can at times seem obscure. He is easily misinterpreted and misrepresented.

Though this chapter in “The Story” is given the title “Paul's Mission” I suspect he would be the first to say that whatever he achieved, all glory was to be given to God, for without the presence of the Spirit of Jesus Christ within him and around him, he could do nothing. That is not to say that he was not an incredibly gifted, able and uniquely placed individual, rather that Paul's mission was the same “Upper Story” mission we have been reading about since we looked at the first chapters of Genesis.

What was new and radical about Paul's teaching was that kingdom life was not confined to any chosen group of people or through obeying a particular set of rules. God's love was available to all though faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul often speaks in his writings about the importance of coming together in fellowship around a table laid with bread and wine, as we are doing this morning. He saw communion as one of the most special gifts Jesus gave to His church.

In 1 Corinthians 10:16 Paul asks a question; “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share one loaf.” The context of the question is that in Corinth, an extremely multi-cultural, multi-faith environment, sometimes at meals, or even down at the market when folk were out getting their groceries, the food on offer had been dedicated and offered to idols.

There is a division of opinion in the Corinthian church. Some suggested that if they ate the food, they were doing something terrible that compromised their spiritual lives. Others were saying, “Ah. Forget about it. Doesn't matter what you do. Didn't Jesus die to set us free from rules and regulations?”

In characteristic fashion Paul recognizes that the problem they were having was nothing to do with food. It was the way they were judging each other and treating each other. In verses 23 and 24 he writes, “Everything is permissible.” But not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible.” But not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

To help them reconcile their differences he offers an invitation. “Come to the table.” In chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians he gives them the words of institution we say every time we meet for communion. “The Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and after giving thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.”

People,” he says “Think about what you are doing when you eat this bread and drink this wine! Church? It's not about you and your rights and your opinions. It's not about “Oh they shouldn't be doing that” or “Get off my case, I can do what I like.” It's about demonstrating the love of Jesus Christ. It's about participating together, in the life of Christ, who died that we may be as one body, sharing His love with a needy world. Look at this table? What do you see? One loaf. “Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share one loaf.

It's an appeal for unity, unity based on consideration for others. Unity found through allowing Jesus to be the measure of our actions. Jesus who came down from heaven, denied Himself all kingly glory that was His, and lived and died and went through hell for every one of us in order that our lives may be reconciled to God.

Paul's Mission? Because he understood what Jesus had done for him, he was prepared to go through all the troubles that presenting the gospel brought his way. Because he believed with all his heart, that the salvation of humankind depended on the gospel being preached to all the world, he was prepared to give his all to seeing that churches were planted and grown and became vibrant power houses for spiritual renewal and communities where people got to experience the life changing love of Jesus Christ.

So when Paul writes “Is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? he is not sayingIsn't it nice to think about Jesus by sharing bread and wine?He is pleading with his readers to be a part of what Jesus had started, part of a revolution that began in Galilee, to be people who change the world by participating in actions and deeds and programs that the Holy Spirit had placed within their hearts and upon their lives. “That” he says “Is being church.” That's what participating in the body of Christ is about.

He recognized that in communities (yes, even God-birthed church communities) it was so easy to become caught up in arguments and disputes that had very little to do with the gospel. He saw it happening time and time again and his answer was, “Come to the table... consider what Jesus has done for you and participate in doing that for each other. Maybe, if you can do that, then this world that so desperately needs the love of God will sit up and take notice!”

Paul's mission, like the mission of Jesus, can be summed up in one word. “LOVE.” I've sat in bible studies where people have said, “Well, didn't he say this” and 'Wasn't he wrong about that” and I'm thinking; “Look when you have the courage to lay down your life for the gospel like he did, then you can get on your high horse.”

But that is very much the kind of thing Paul wouldn't say. I think what he would say was “Come and sit with me at this table. Come and participate in breaking bread and drinking wine. You see that bread? That's the body of Jesus. You know He died on a cross, allowed His body to be tortured and broken, because He loved us. And there was I doing everything in my power to destroy His message. I even helped others kill and persecute His followers. Can you believe that someone like me could be forgiven and used in His service?

And that cup. It's His blood. His life. His love. A man called Isaac Watts wrote a song about it. “See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?” What kind of crazy love is that? When we bless the cup of blessing we are sharing in the blood of Christ. When we break the bread we are sharing in the body of Christ.”

And” Paul would insist “You do know, don't you, that Jesus didn't do that just for me? He did that for all of us... which includes you. I don't know what you may be struggling with or going through right now, but my Jesus lives and loves and I know He can help you through whatever it is. You're in the right place at the right time!”

Paul's mission. As we gather around this table let us pray we are granted a glimpse of the love that so inspired Paul to give his life in the service of our Savior. Let us seek for God, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, to empower our lives with the resurrection presence of Jesus Christ. And to God's name be all glory. Amen.

The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D.