Erdenet The Word of the Lord
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 29, 2022
7th Sunday of Easter
Prior to our reading from The Acts of the Apostles, allow me to provide some information regarding today’s sermon, which will be interactive in nature. Dr. Graham Standish, a Presbyterian pastor, church leader, and author has written a book entitled In God’s Presence: Encountering, Experiencing, and Embracing the Holy in Worship. In it, Standish asserts that when we gather to worship God on any given Sunday our purpose is two-fold: to offer God honor and praise and to connect to the Holy. From his perspective, what is lacking in too many churches is intentionality in allowing sacred space to connect with the Holy. He believes that too much of our worship is about maintaining what was, satisfying who is already here, attracting who is not here, or adding to our numbers. Instead, he encourages the church to consider how people experience God in diverse ways—through a variety of music styles and art, in words and silence, in performance and participation, through sensory experience and observation.
Over the past few years at First Presbyterian Church, we have explored a variety of ways to intentionally allow space to connect to the Holy. While words—spoken and sung—are part of our worship—so are moments of silence. We sing a variety of hymns that are provided in the Glory to God hymnal—hymns that are centuries old, contemporary hymns, Taize songs, African American spirituals, and much more. Another method of engagement that we use, particularly during the Contemplative worship services, is the spiritual practice of lectio divina. Since it is participatory in nature, that how I want us to experience Scripture this morning.
So, in just a moment, Walter Elliott will read our text from Acts using the NRSV translation. After a moment of silence, we will share what speaks to us from the text. Afterward, Walter will read it a second time and we will follow the same pattern of reading, silence, and sharing. Finally, I will read the Scripture passage using The Message translation, and we will do the same. Now, as you hear the Word read, open your heart to one word of phrase that strikes you as important. After a moment of silence, we will share with one another.
(Walter reads/ Silence/Sharing)
Now let us hear this passage again. This time, listen for what surprises you most about Paul and Silas’ experience.
(Walter reads / Silence / Sharing)
Finally, I will read our text aloud from the more contemporary language of The Message. As you listen, pay attention to a message that God might have for us today?
(Glenda reads / Silence / Sharing)
Last week we learned that Paul is on his second missionary trip because of a vision he has of a man from Macedonia pleading for help. In Philippi, Paul and his friends search for a place to pray and find some women down by the river doing just that. There, the seller of purple cloth, Lydia, who is already a believer in Yahweh, becomes a believer in Christ and is baptized, along with her whole household. Afterward, we find Paul and Silas again going to a place of prayer day after day. And day after day, they are aggravated by a slave girl who makes her owners a lot of money as a fortune teller. Finally, Paul has enough and says to the spirit, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” When her owners realize they have lost their profitable resource, they incite the people against Paul and Silas, who are then severely flogged and locked in prison.
Although this is surely a dark moment in their lives, Paul and Silas are not deterred. Quite the contrary, they pray and sing hymns to God (not quite the worship setting we would expect). Still, they worship, and even when an earthquake breaks their bonds asunder, they do not escape. One wonders if they are so caught up in worship, they cannot tear themselves away. When the prison guard sees their faith, he is struck to the heart and asks, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul and Silas speak the word of God to him and to all who are in his house—and that night he and his entire family are baptized.
Paul and Silas speak the word of God to them. The word of God is powerful. It is powerful when we approach it humbly and prayerfully during our private devotions. It is powerful when we reflect upon it together and it is powerful when we hear it preached. As Christians, we are people of the Word, dedicated to God’s Word—read, prayed, lived, and shared. Individually and together, let us commit to reading the Word, praying the Word, living the Word, and sharing the Word so that all peoples may come to know the love, mercy, and grace of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Cover Art “Icon of the Apostle Paul” via Wikimedia Commons, used by permission