APC 25th April 2021 ‘God’s Hidden Presence’ (Part 2)
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Sunday morning worship. Today I want to continue with the second part of our mini-series as we reflect on ‘God’s hidden presence’. But to begin let’s worship God together as our good friends in Arklow Revival Gospel Choir remind us that even when it’s hard to see Him, God is always with us and His love never fails us…
(End Part 1)
Opening Song “Unfailing Love”
Last week we thought about how Mary was unable to recognise Jesus through her tears even though he was standing right beside her. When she realised who the gardener was, she and the other disciples were overjoyed. Unfortunately that joy was short-lived as a few weeks later Jesus left them to return to heaven. Once again they felt like God was absent. Listen to how Luke describes this in the first chapter of the book of Acts…
Reading Acts 1 v 1-11
4 On one occasion, while Jesus was eating with His disciples, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. 5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
6 Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
7 He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
9 After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.
10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Menfolk of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”
Since that day, we’re all still waiting for Jesus to return. But this morning we’re going to reflect on a surprising place where we can still discover God’s hidden presence in our world. But before we do that let’s talk to God, let’s pray…
Lord Jesus Christ, we remember today how your apostles stood gazing into heaven, troubled and confused fearing they had lost you, struggling to make sense of their experience.
Open our eyes to your glory.
We remember how the days following your ascension they remained hidden behind locked doors, bound by the weakness of their imagination, tied down by the feebleness of their vision, restricted by the smallness of their faith.
Open our eyes to your glory.
Instead of worshipping you as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, they thought you had gone from them. Instead of rejoicing at your exaltation they felt that they were separated from you once again.
Open our eyes to your glory.
Despite what they had been told, they looked still for the man they knew and understood, the man who had walked the streets of Nazareth, who had talked with them beside the sea of Galilee, who had suffered and died for them in Jerusalem.
Open our eyes to your glory.
But you showed them that Jesus was greater than they had begun to imagine – not bound by space or time, not tied down to one particular place, not restricted to one particular people, but ascended to your side and one with you for all eternity.
Open our eyes to your glory.
Lord Jesus Christ, forgive us that all too often we make the same mistake as the apostles – we expect you to fit in with our expectations, we assume we know all there is to know about you, we settle for a comfortable, cozy picture of you that offers much and asks little; and when that way of thinking is challenged or threatened we are puzzled, suddenly overcome by a multitude of questions.
Open our eyes to your glory.
Forgive us that our horizons have been too narrow, our sights set too low, our expectations too limited.
Open our eyes to your glory.
Help us to glimpse the wonder of who you are and the untold possibilities of all you can do, catching our breath in awe and captured by a new vision of your Kingdom.
Open our eyes to your glory.
Join with me now as we say the Lord’s Prayer thoughtfully and sincerely together…
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
Introduction to Kids Video
We come now to the part of our service that’s especially for the younger members of our church family. So if your kids aren’t beside you right now, why not pause the recording, and call them in to watch a short video explaining why Jesus ascended back into heaven. And at the end of this video I’ve a few words to say to the children so don’t let them rush away.
(END Part 2)
Kid’s Video Saddleback Kids “The Ascension”
Kid’s Talk Summary
Hey boys and girls, I hope you enjoyed the video today. It’s amazing to think that Jesus came back to life after he died and that a few weeks later He went back up into heaven. That’s where Jesus is today. We can’t see Him but we know He’s alive in heaven because He has sent His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to be with us. The fantastic thing is that the Holy Spirit can be with every person in the whole world all the time! Jesus could only be with a few people at a time. So in one sense, it’s good that Jesus went up to heaven so the Holy Spirit could be with all of us all the time. Having the Holy Spirit is just like having Jesus with you as your best friend. That means you can talk to God and ask the Holy Spirit to help you anytime and anywhere. Don’t be afraid to ask the Holy Spirit to be your best friend. And don’t be afraid to talk to Him every day and ask Him to guide you, to give you wisdom and to make you happy and kind to others. The Holy Spirit loves you and He will help you. Don’t forget to ask your mum or dad to download the colouring sheet from our Facebook page to help you remember today’s lesson. But Bye for now!
Introduction to Bible Reading
When Jesus went back to heaven, for the second time the disciples felt abandoned by God. So too in our world today many people feel as if God has gone on holiday. Because they can’t see Him many don’t believe in God, and don’t give any thought to the truth that he is coming back. Our second reading today is the fifth of a series of 5 stories that Jesus told about this period of history between His ascension into heaven and His return to earth as judge. I find this story fascinating for many reasons but today I want to use it to help us to reflect on another unexpected place in life where you and I can find God’s hidden presence. It will be read for us by the newest member of our church Mr Stuart Ferguson who I’m delighted has joined us from Adelaide Road since recently coming to live in Arklow.
(End Part 3)
Bible Reading Matthew 25 v 31- 46 Stuart Ferguson
The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Welcome to Stuart
Stuart, I am so delighted that you have decided to join our church family now that you have moved to Arklow and at some point hopefully in the near future we will give you a very warm and official welcome. For now thank you for reading for us today.
Reflection ‘God’s hidden presence’ (Part 2)
What are the things that have happened in your life that have made you ask, “Where is God?”
If we’re honest, there are times for all of us when God seems absent, even though we know that He lives inside us by His Holy Spirit.
Last week we reflected on how Mary Magdalene couldn’t see Jesus through her tears. Even though he was right beside her, she mistook him for the gardener.
Today I want to reflect on another aspect of God’s hidden presence as we think about how Mary and the other disciples must have felt after Jesus left them to go back to heaven.
Jesus’ death had left the disciples devastated. Their dreams of everything He had promised were shattered. But then Mary brought them the extraordinary news that somehow He’d been resurrected from the dead! The next 6 weeks must have been completely bizarre, and yet amazingly exciting and happy to say the least. One by one, Jesus appeared to the disciples and chatted with them for hours. He could eat. They could touch Him. He even allowed Thomas to put his finger in the scars of the nails in his arms. In many ways he looked and sounded exactly as they’d remembered. But He was definitely different. I mean, there aren’t many of us that can enter a room by walking through the wall!
But then, just as they were getting used to having Him with them again, out of the blue, in the middle of one of their meals together, Jesus suddenly begins to float up into the clouds and eventually he disappears from their sight.
As they stand there looking up into the sky in bewilderment, again two angelic beings appear and rather ‘mater-of-factly’ break the latest devastating news…
“Why are you standing there looking up into the sky? This same Jesus who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”
Once again the disciples are left reeling, feeling abandoned by God. It would be a few more weeks yet before they would realise that this was Jesus’ great plan all along. When the Holy Spirit came to earth at Pentecost, not only filling the room, but filling their hearts with the Spirit of the risen Christ, then the penny would drop. All along it had been Jesus’ plan to live His life on earth again, only this time through the bodies of His followers. What Jesus was able to bring to a few people - healing, grace, the good news of God’s love, He would now be able to bring to billions through people like you and me, people in whom His Spirit now lives. Like those first followers, for you and me it can also be an amazing light bulb moment when we realise that the Spirit of Christ actually lives inside us!
When the circumstances of life cloud the presence of God in our world, it’s always an encouragement to remember that His Spirit is still living inside us. Somehow, however failingly, that means that you and I can bring Christ to our world. Our words, our actions, our prayers matter. They do make a difference.
Yet, despite the truth of all of this, and despite the fact that most of us believe it, isn’t it easy to forget? When certain things happen, when difficulties continue for long enough in our lives, it’s easy to forget that the Holy Spirit is inside us. It’s easy to forget that we can make a difference and that God does hear our prayers. It’s easy to look up at the blue sky, and see, nothing!
You see, by ascending into heaven, Jesus took the risk of being forgotten. That’s why he told the disciples a number of interesting and related stories before he left. You’ll find them all towards the end of Matthew’s gospel. All of these stories reflect how many people will live in the period of time between Jesus leaving earth and when He returns. In one of the stories, an owner leaves his house vacant. In another, an absentee landlord puts his servant in charge. In the third, a bridegroom arrives so late that the guests grow drowsy and fall asleep and in the fourth, a master distributes talents among his servants and then takes off.
In effect, all of these stories anticipate the question on the lips of many people in our modern - “Where is God now?” Ever since Jesus went back to heaven most people, in our world have decided that God has simply abandoned us and left us to our own devices. Throughout history we have witnessed many examples of what happens when people stop believing in God and when they don’t believe that one day He will return. They live selfishly and they treat animals and other human beings in horrible ways.
But there is a fifth story in this series, which not only reminds us that Christ will come back, but that also gives us a fascinating insight into where we can actually find God’s hidden presence in the here and now. It’s the parable of the sheep and the goats that Stuart very kindly read for us earlier. In this story, we are reminded that a day is coming when Jesus will return. On that day there will literally be hell to pay for those people who have lived selfishly as if the Sovereign landlord does not exist.
The parable spans what is often called the ‘end times’ in scripture. That is the entire length of time between when Jesus ascended into heaven and the day when He will come back to earth again. Throughout this period, to many people, and at times perhaps even to us, it will look and feel as if God is absent. But amazingly and perhaps even shockingly, this parable teaches us that although Jesus is in heaven, He is never absent from our world. In addition to being with us through His unseen Spirit, this story teaches us that God has chosen to disguise Himself in the cloak of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick and the imprisoned. “I tell you”, Jesus says, “whatever you have done, for one of the least of these brothers of mine you, have done it unto me.”
You see, when Jesus left this world, He knew that He would be leaving behind a planet that would continue to be filled with the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned and the sick. But He made plans to cope with this. We call this plan redemption. The long term part of this plan is that one day in the future Christ will return to restore this entire cosmos to its state of original perfection. In that new world, there will be no more tears, no more pain, no more disease or disaster or suffering. Those of us who love Jesus will be allowed to share in this amazing new life.
The short term part of this plan is that in the meantime, God has deliberately left you and me in charge. Christ now lives in us by His Holy Spirit. That means we are His eyes and ears and hands and feet throughout the world. It is our job to look for Him in the poor, the sick, the hungry, the abused and imprisoned. And when we see Him, He expects us to help. He has given us His Spirit to motivate and enable us to carry out this task.
The story is told that one day a rich American tourist asked mother Teresa, “Why are you so committed to the very dregs of Calcutta?”
Her reply was this,
“We are a contemplative order. First we meditate on Christ and then we go out and look for Him in disguise.”
I wonder, do you feel as if God is absent in your life and in our world?
Could it be that you are looking for Him in the wrong place?
Let us pray…
Prayer for Others
Living God, you came to our world through Christ to help, to heal and to rescue. So now we pray for all those in any kind of need. Reach out to them in your love.
We pray for the sick and suffering, the poor and hungry, the oppressed and exploited, the lonely and unloved, the aged and infirm, the frightened and anxious, the sorrowful and the bereaved, the helpless and the hopeless. Reach out to them in your love.
Living God, there is so much need around us, in our neighbourhood, our town, our country and our world – so many people crying out for help. Reach out to them in your love.
Lord, you come disguised in those who are in need. What we do for them we do for you. So help us to see where and how we can respond as individuals and as a church. Give us the means, the will, the commitment and the love to reach out in the name of Christ, offering something of ourselves to others, even as he offered His all for us. Lord, reach out to them in your love, through us…
Take a few moments now to bring your own prayers for others to God at this time….
All these prayers we offer in the name of the one is always present with us in the poor and through His Holy Spirit, Amen.
Introduction to Song
When he was on earth Christ brought hope and encouragement to so many people. As His people, with the help of His Spirit it’s our job to do the same. Let’s remind ourselves of that as we sing together the beautiful modern song, “Hope has a name…”
(End Part 4)
Song “Hope has a name”
It’s been a joy and privilege to share in worship with you this morning. Thanks for logging on. I hope you’ve enjoyed it and found it to be both a challenge and encouragement.
I’ve still no further definite confirmation of when our church can reopen for services but I’m hoping that it will be in the first half of May.
I want to remind you to take your time and carefully complete the GDPR form that we have sent you out. Please make any amendments to any of the details that you would like us to hold for you and your family. And do ask all the relevant people in your household to sign the form. If you require any additional forms for a young adult in your household for example, then please just ask and we will happily send it out. Once you’ve completed please do email it to us or drop it into Aleida or into me at the church in a sealed envelope.
I’m conscious that many of us are weary and really struggling the longer the lockdown restrictions continue, so please do continue to keep in touch with one another and encourage one another.
But for now, as always, let me lead you in a Benediction after which I invite you to say the grace together…
People of God, we are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit, to be God’s witnesses; to proclaim the Good News to everyone we meet, to share the love that God has lavished on us in Jesus Christ. So go from here in the power and strength of God, to bear witness to all you have seen and experienced.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
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