3rd May 2020 Morning Worship APC “The Gift of friendship”
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Sunday morning time of worship together. Today is the second reflection in our series “Counting our Blessings” as we think about some of the gifts God gives us. It’s my hope and prayer that reflecting on these will help us maintain our spirits in these challenging times. Today we will be thinking about the gift of friendship. But to begin, as always, let’s take a moment to thank God for our family and friends. Let’s pray.
You have blessed us, O God with the gift of friendship,
the bonding of persons in a circle of love.
We thank you for such a blessing:
for family and friends who love us,
who share our sorrows,
who laugh with us in celebration,
who bear our pain,
who need us as we need them,
who weep as we weep,
who hold us when words fail,
and who give us the freedom
to be ourselves.
Bless our friends and family with health, wholeness, life, and love.
Let’s 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.
Bible Reading Philippians 2 v 25 -30
“I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow-worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, who you sent to take care of my needs. For he longs for all of you and is distressed because you heard he was ill. Indeed he was ill and almost died. But God had mercy on him and not only on him but on me also, to spare me sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I am all the more eager to send him, so that when you see him again you may be glad and I may have less anxiety. Welcome him in the Lord with great joy and honour men like him because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help that you could not give me.”
Reflection “The gift of Friendship”
One of my favourite singer songwriters of all time is Neil Diamond. I discovered him by accident really. Growing up my mum and dad had a record player and I used to love to put on an album, sit on the sofa and sing along. The truth is, they didn’t have much of a collection. It was a choice between Neil Diamond, Nana Mouskouri and Buddy Holly. Over the years my musical tastes have varied and I love to listen to all sorts of music ranging from classical to Rap. But to this day, I’m still drawn to my childhood days listening to the warm, gravelly voice of Neil Diamond. One of my favourite songs is his version of the classic, “He ain’t heavy he’s my brother.” I’ll play it for you at the close of today’s reflection. But for now let me read you the lyrics,
He Ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.
The road is long
With many a winding turn
That leads us to who knows where
Who knows where
But I'm strong
Strong enough to carry him
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
So on we go
His welfare is of my concern
No burden is he to bear
We'll get there
For I know
He would not encumber me
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
If I'm laden at all
I'm laden with sadness
That everyone's heart
Isn't filled with the gladness
Of love for one another
It's a long, long road
From which there is no return
While we're on the way to there
Why not share
And the load
Doesn't weigh me down at all
He ain't heavy he's my brother
He's my brother
He ain't heavy, he's my brother
It’s a beautiful song written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell in sad circumstances. Russell had been diagnosed with terminal cancer at the time. But it speaks of a wonderful aspect of the human spirit. That inner desire to care for another human being, no matter how painful the experience, no matter how uncertain the path, no matter how long the commitment, simply because we love them and want what’s best for them. I have seen it again and again in the lives of so many people- an elderly lady sitting for 15 hours in a chair beside the bed of her dying husband, a mother carefully filling the lunchbox of her child for the 1000th time, a rugby coach standing in the pouring rain, a young person cutting the grass for an elderly grandparent, an individual donating a perfectly healthy organ to save the life of another, a busy student taking time out from their exams to listen to a friend who has just split up from their boyfriend, a father throwing a ball for his son again and again, despite knowing that his shoulder will ache for the next 3 days. And so the list goes on….
No matter who we are, no matter how emotionally strong, there are times when we feel that the road is long and the way is hard. At those times, as another song puts it, “we all need somebody to lean on”. We call these people ‘friends’ and they are an amazing gift to us from God.
It’s essential to have friends and to do what we can to be a good friend. It is only the unwise person who tries to do life on their own. The writer of Ecclesiastes describes it like this… “two are better than one for when one falls down the other can pick them up.”
Take a moment and think of your best friends… Name them.
In our reading today we discover that the apostle Paul was no different. Chained to two Roman guards in a Roman prison he spells out his thankfulness to God for a faithful friend. His name was Epaphroditus.
When the church in Philippi had heard about Paul’s imprisonment in Rome, the leaders had decided to send Paul a gift and some practical help. Epaphroditus was chosen to complete both tasks. He travelled 800 miles, over a 6 week period to get to Rome. He carried the gift that the Philippian church had sent and gave it to Paul. He then stayed on with Paul in Rome in order to be his personal assistant.
True friends always go the extra mile for us, especially when we are in trouble.
Take a moment and think of specific times and ways that your best friends have gone the extra mile for you…
But why did Paul feel it necessary to include a personal assessment of this man in the letter that he was writing to the Christians in Philippi?
The simple reason was that Epaphroditus had been extremely sick. He may have caught the dreaded Roman fever that often swept the city like a plague. News of his sickness had reached the Philippians already. Thankfully in God’s mercy Epaphroditus had recovered after many months of illness. But he was still distressed that his friends and family in the Philippian church were worrying about him. He longed to get back to them at some stage soon, so that he could tell them and show them that he was ok.
Paul as a wise pastor, knowing the sacrifices this man has made and the recent sufferings he has experienced, decided that the best course of action is to thank Epaphroditus for his help and send him back to Philippi with his blessing. Knowing how churches work and how people sometimes think, Paul also wisely decided to send Epaphroditus back with a note of explanation and a report of recommendation to the leaders in his home church.
You see, Paul knew that there was always the potential for some wagging tongues in the Philippian church to spread the rumour that Epaphroditus was a quitter. So Paul takes time to wisely include an explanation of his illness and a glowing report of his character in his letter which Epaphroditus could deliver to the church on his return to Philippi. With such a glowing report from the apostle Paul accompanying Epaphroditus on his return it is hard to see how anyone in the church in Philippi could accuse Epaphroditus of being a failure.
Friends stick up for us and they always see the best in us no matter what other people might say…
Take a moment and think of ways that your best friends have stuck up for you and made you feel good about yourself over the years…
There is so much more that we could say about Epaphroditus, but this morning I want to leave you with one final thought. It’s simply this. In describing him Paul doesn’t call Epaphroditus his ‘friend’ be calls him, “my brother”.
It’s interesting that this is how Paul describes his friend. You see, they weren’t related. In fact, their background should have meant that they would have remained their whole lives without ever having any relationship. Paul had been a Jewish Pharisee. He would have looked upon someone like Epaphroditus as a Gentile Dog- someone to be avoided at all costs. But Christ had changed all that. Paul and Epaphroditus had both come to love Christ. Christ had given them a new love for each other that was sincere and real. They were now family!
What Christ did for Paul and Epaphroditus he has done for us. We’re all from different backgrounds. There isn’t much from the world’s point of view that would ever have brought us together. But Christ has changed all that. He has brought us all equally into his family. I hope that’s how you view the people in our in our little church. I hope that’s how you view every Christian in Arklow or wherever you meet them on your travels. I hope we don’t just see ourselves as a collection of individuals who happen to meet together for one hour in the same place every week. We’re family! I’m your bother, you are my sister. You are my father and I’m your son. Sure like any family we have good times and bad. There are times we help each other, there are times we let each other down. There are times when we’re having a laugh and times when we’re arguing. But we’re family, brothers and sisters in Christ. What a blessing that is.
That’s why I’ve been ringing round to see how you’re all getting in these difficult days. That’s why it’s been so encouraging when you’ve asked me how Emma and the kids are doing, and when you’ve told me that you are praying for our wider family too. Listen, I just want you to know that however difficult we are all finding these days, you are not alone. I’m so proud of how you have all been doing your best to look after your children and your parents and each other. Let’s keep going. Let’s keep phoning and emailing and encouraging one another. Let’s thank God for the gift of friends and for the amazing blessing that it is to be part of His big worldwide family… And when all this is over and we’ve spent a few moments in silence remembering all who have died, we’re going to have one great big party to celebrate our friendships together. That will be a day worth waiting for…Let us pray.
Loving God, we thank you again today for the fellowship that we share in our church family. For all that this offers, all that it means to us and all the ways it enriches our lives and enlarges our experience.
We thank you for the unity we have discovered in Christ for the love of God which binds us together. We thank you for the experiences we have shared over the years, for the bonds they have created between us. We thank you for the care we have been able to show and the care we have in turn received. We thank you for the opportunities we have had to discuss our faith and the way our understanding of you has grown as a result. We thank you for the way we can talk together openly and honestly and know that our friendship will not only continue but flourish.
Loving God, we do not claim to be a perfect family for we are all too conscious of our weaknesses as individuals and collectively. But we praise you that you have brought us together even this morning online in fellowship with you and with one another.
Take a moment and think about another member of our church. Someone you’ve got to know in recent days or over many years. Pray for them and for their family asking God to be with them and help them at this difficult time…SILENCE…Amen
Thanks again for logging on. I hope you have found our time together to be an encouragement. Do join me again on Wednesday morning when we will be reflecting on the gift of laughter. Don’t forget to look at our church website or on Facebook for latest information. Stay tuned in to listen to Neil Diamond singing, “He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” Keep everyone in your prayers and look out for anyone you can help. So let me close with a benediction after which, as always, I invite you to join me in saying the grace together…
May God give you...
For every storm, a rainbow,
For every tear, a smile,
For every care, a promise,
And a blessing in each trial.
For every problem life sends,
A faithful friend to share,
For every sigh, a sweet song,
And an answer for each prayer.
So may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all evermore, Amen.
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