Service for Sunday 20th September

Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. Psalm 100:4 (NIV)

Knowing the way into God’s presence is so important, so let us come to God with thanksgiving and with praise, as through that we have access into His presence.

Hymn StF 11 – Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty!

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty! We come before you with thanksgiving in our hearts and praises on our lips, as together we join with the hosts of heaven this Sunday morning, to worship you.

You are the alpha and omega, perfect in every way, and master of all that we see and perceive with our senses. Yet there is so much more to the world around us that is beyond our sight, hearing, touch and imaginations. In wonder we offer our praises to you, Amen.

READINGS Isaiah 53:7-9 (The Message)
7-9 He was beaten, he was tortured,    but he didn’t say a word.Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared,    he took it all in silence.
Justice miscarried, and he was led off—    and did anyone really know what was happening?
He died without a thought for his own welfare,    beaten bloody for the sins of my people.They buried him with the wicked,    threw him in a grave with a rich man,Even though he’d never hurt a soul    or said one word that wasn’t true.

Acts 8:26-40 (NIV)
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road – the desert road – that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means ‘queen of the Ethiopians’). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ Philip asked.
31 ‘How can I,’ he said, ‘unless someone explains it to me?’ So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,    and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,    so he did not open his mouth.33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.    Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
36 As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptised?’ 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptised him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and travelled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.

Philip was a man who witnessed to the Kingdom of God, through his actions, and words, whilst meeting people at their point of need. The Ethiopian Eunuch, the treasurer of Ethiopia, was one such person that Philip met, in this case on the desert road between Jerusalem and Gaza.
From the passage in Acts, we hear of Philip, a Greek-speaking Jew, who led a very successful ministry in Samaria, where he performed many miraculous signs and healings. However, in the midst of this, Philip was visited by an angel of the Lord and in effect told to leave his work in Samaria and immediately travel down the desert road towards Gaza.
The Ethiopian was a person of great importance, probably not a convert, but someone seeking God. His questions concerning the reading we heard from the Book of Isaiah this morning, are leading him along a road to faith in Jesus Christ, assisted by the words and explanations of Philip. Philip was the man who God, through the actions of the Holy Spirit, placed in the Ethiopian’s path, to help bring him to faith. In a similar fashion, God also has a purpose for asking you to move or placing you in particular situations, whether the “why” seems clear or not.
Philip listened and obeyed
The very nature of Philip’s faith and ministry is in effect encapsulated in the words, “an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south” down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza. So he started out, ….” (Acts 8:26). He listened to the Lord and was obedient to him! Leaving Samaria and his ministry there at a moment’s notice to go south, for no other reason than because the Lord asked him to.
Listening is a key thing in relationships, as is responding to what you hear. The exaggerated nature of sitcoms, helps bring alive something of the nature of relationships and our interactions between colleagues, friends and family members. There are many examples.
When we look at the context of the relationship between Philip and God, it is the complete opposite to that of a sitcom. He listens to God, there is nothing selective about his hearing, he speaks with God, and because of that he is aware of God’s will. In v.29, when Philip hears the Ethiopian reading from Isaiah, the Holy Spirit says to Philip, “Go over and walk beside the carriage.” And Philip ran over. He is obedient, he listens and responds to God. He has a close, intimate relationship with his Lord, placing Jesus at the centre of his life.
We too can have a relationship like that, we can speak to God through prayer, and of course it can be anytime, not only on a Sunday morning, it can be about anything, our wants, our fears, our joys, our disappointments. Being obedient to God is also about attentively reading the Bible, conversing with God about guidance and direction, and reflecting on God’s Word while being attentive to the prompting’s of the Holy Spirit. Let’s not also forget, there is the doing and acting out of our faith, being witnesses to the Kingdom of God, a commitment we renew annually as part of the Covenant service.
Philip appears to have Jesus at the centre of his life – a man without prejudices
Philip had no prejudices. He is a Greek-speaking Jew, who lives amongst people considered outcasts in Jewish society. He may well have been considered as an outcast himself. Similarly, he is equally at home with talking with the Ethiopian, a man clearly from a far and distant land.
How particularly apposite that is at the current time, with the Black Lives Matter movement, which is all about prejudice – overt, subtle or subconsciously.
Philip answered the question
One of the most frustrating things that people experience, and politicians are considered some of the guiltiest of this, is when people do not answer a specific question, or if they do answer it, they do not give straight answers. From a previously recorded interview that I watched of Andrew Marr speaking to a former prime minister, it was evident from the start that answers were going to be in short supply. This was not an exception, as studies have shown that although on average 39% of questions put to politicians are answered directly, that still leaves a massive 61% that aren’t. What’s more, some analyses show that there are as many as 35 ways that a politician avoids answering a question, such as ignoring the question, questioning the question – the list goes on and on.
According to one explanation for this, questions can pose a so called “communicative conflict” – what a great expression! A communicative conflict being where all possible responses can have negative outcomes, but yet a response is expected. Perhaps a common situation might be receiving an unwanted present, but when faced with a direct question of if you like it or not, you have a quandary. The choices are to pretend you do and say yes, or risk upsetting the friend by saying no. There is perhaps the politicians response, “it was a really kind thought”, which avoids any awkwardness, and no lie, or hurt feelings.
Perhaps, in some ways, it is equally difficult to speak about faith and Jesus, going to church, praying etc. Someone with probing questions, seeking God, might ask, do you really believe that Jesus Christ lived on this earth? What about the miracles that he undertook, or even, how could prophesy in the Book of Isaiah, written hundreds of years before 30 A.D., relate to Jesus Christ? All questions that for some will pose issues about where they stand on Christianity, potentially opening them up to criticism. One easy solution to this “communicative conflict” would be to side-step the issue, i.e. a politicians answer. Dare we even consider the consequences if this had been Philip’s response!
Fortunately Philip had no such issues. Philip answered the Ethiopian’s questions about the scripture from Isaiah that he found so puzzling. He also linked it with the Good News of Jesus Christ, and the Ethiopian responded there and then, committing himself to Christ, and furthermore making a physical statement of his own personal commitment through baptism. It was an important step, with no one of official standing to see, only his attendant staff.
The Good News
At times, we should aim to remind ourselves of the Good News of Jesus Christ that Philip would have been recounting, that Christ died and rose again, giving all the hope of salvation and eternal life through belief in the Son of God. Part and parcel of this is acknowledging our shortcomings before God, accepting His forgiveness and committing and leading a life centred on Jesus, i.e. in the footsteps of Philip. This is a commitment that we can all respond to, or renew, as appropriate, at any point in our lives.
Summary and Challenge
We have heard how Philip listened to God, responded to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, and to the questions of the Ethiopian official at his point of need, doing so without prejudice.
How challenging would you find it, to respond to similar things in the same way as Philip. For example, would you drop everything to respond to the needs of someone and in so doing demonstrate the Kingdom of God in action, an act of mercy for a neighbour, or perhaps assisting a refugee crossing the Mediterranean financially or physically. And what about direct issues of faith, how would you respond to a question about faith from a complete stranger or friend or colleague, or talking about Jesus Christ, and what he means to you. If we are to progress on our journey of faith, it is questions and challenges such as these, that we have to address and work out our responses to.

Dear Lord, we come before you now, with all our faults and misgivings, but knowing that your limitless love is all encompassing and that there is nothing that you will not forgive us for, such as when we have been angry with family, friends or colleagues, thoughtless to those we love or ignored those seeking You. We ask now for your forgiveness Lord as we bring these thoughts and our own before you (PAUSE). Forgive us Lord. Thank you that through Christ we are offered complete forgiveness and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are empowered to move forward in our faith. Amen.
Lord in our prayers, help us to know when to listen to you, help us to be open and receptive to the presence of your Holy Spirit within and around us, as we lead our lives, working for the glory of your kingdom in our homes, neighbourhoods, towns and cities, but always putting you, Jesus, at the centre of our lives. Amen.

Hymn StF 447 Jesus, be the centre

Dear Father, we speak to you this morning for our world and those around us, knowing that you hear all that we ask and pray for. We bring to you the work that is on-going to develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19, and ask for your blessing on this. We particularly think of those countries and regions of the world known to us that have inadequate health infrastructure to treat patients and victims of this disease.
We pray for our government and parliament as the process of leaving the EU continues, asking for wisdom and pragmatism on both sides.
We continue our prayers for health and care workers in Southampton, safety amongst the returning student population and unpaid carers as local authorities struggle to balance their budgets.
We pray for our church family, those living away from their own families or unable to see them for health reasons.
Finally we bring ourselves and our own thoughts to you (PAUSE). We thank you for listening and responding to our words and thoughts, Amen.
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 for ever, Amen.

Hymn StF 407 Hear the call of the Kingdom

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
The love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us now and forever more, Amen.

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