CALL TO WORSHIP
“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
*HYMN OF PRAISE #550 “When Morning Gilds the Sky”
*INVOCATION (the Lord’s Prayer) Eternal God, in whom we live and move and have our being, who has created us for yourself, give us such purity of heart and strength of character that no selfish passion will hamper us from knowing your will. May this hour of worship empower us for service. May we find in you perfect peace and freedom.
Our Father who 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 debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
*GLORIA PATRI (Sung together) #575
*PSALM FOR TODAY Psalm 30 (NRSV)
1I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up, and did not let my foes rejoice over me.
2O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
3O Lord, you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the Pit.
4Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
5For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
6As for me, I said in my prosperity, “I shall never be moved.”
7By your favor, O Lord, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face; I was dismayed.
8To you, O Lord, I cried, and to the Lord I made supplication:
9“What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10Hear, O Lord, and be gracious to me! O Lord, be my helper!”
11You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth
and clothed me with joy,
12so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.
SCRIPTURE READING Revelation 5:11-14 (NRSV)
11 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels surrounding the throne and the living creatures and the elders; they numbered myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 singing with full voice, “Worthy is the Lamb that was slaughtered to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, singing, “To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the elders fell down and worshiped.
OFFERING TO GOD “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labor is not in vain in the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58 KJV).
*DOXOLOGY (Sung together) #572
*PRAYER OF DEDICATION Lord, help us to become unobstructed channels through which your love and light can be channeled to a world in need. May these gifts be used for preaching the good news of Jesus Christ to all persons everywhere.
*HYMN OF PRAYER # 321 “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us”
"But [Jesus] would withdraw to deserted places and pray." Luke 5:16
Praise God for... for Easter services around the country, for the non churchgoers who were touched by the love and grace of salvation in Jesus Christ.
Ask God for... provision and peace for those going through a very tough time due to legal and financial issues.
Thank God for... a new homeless shelter opening on April 23 in Richland County, Wisconsin.
Healing for... Madonna, who is gradually recovering from serious heart surgeries.
Loving God, we give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit that you have sent to us, drawing us into the body of Christ and making holy the commonplace. The fresh winds of your Spirit are like a cool, refreshing breeze that flows over our hungry souls. You bestow upon us a variety of gifts that we might carry on the work of Christ in this hurting world. We confess, O God, that often we have difficulty even recognizing and acknowledging our gifts.
We confess that sometimes we misuse the gifts you grant us. And we confess that, at times, we are reluctant to use our gifts to build up the body of Christ, thinking others will carry on your work in our place. And so, this morning, we recommit ourselves to be Christ’s body in the world. We recommit ourselves to seek healing in relationships—mind, body, and spirit.
We recommit ourselves to speak the words of justice and compassion. We recommit ourselves to work for unity and reconciliation in difficult situations. We lift up and remember those who have gone before us, who have fought the good fight, who have finished the race and who now celebrate life eternal. And we recommit ourselves to move forward in their memory, to make the vision of your Kingdom a reality for all of your children. We pray that you would come to us and empower us with your Spirit, which unites your people everywhere— people of every color and of every nation. May the mighty winds of your Spirit lift all of us to higher visions, to greater dreams, and to a renewed strength to make those dreams a reality in this world. May we be open today to the new creation you seek to bring about within and among us, through Jesus Christ our Lord.—Susan Gregg-Schroeder
*HYMN OF PRAISE #200 “The Church’s One Foundation”
Scripture Text Acts 9:1–20 (NRSV)
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless because they heard the voice but saw no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” He answered, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 The Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; 16 I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and his sight was restored. Then he got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
MESSAGE Rev. Esther Irish
I. Paul was such an incredible apostle that we tend to overlook his humanity. He was such an amazing disciple that we can forget he was a person. Renewed awareness of how, with his flesh-and-blood humanity, he became a “new creation in Christ” inspires and instructs us to trust that God re-creates us through discipleship.
Paul felt what he wrote: “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ for it is the power of God unto salvation.” Paul had been saved from his sinfulness, including his self-righteousness and his need “to control” other people, as well as himself. His self-righteousness caused him to participate in the murder of the Lord’s disciples. On his way to Damascus, “breathing murderous threats,” motivated to kill others through his ever-growing hunger for power, the saving grace of the Lord Jesus Christ blazed into his life. Paul was saved from himself, and followers of the Way were saved from his blind ambition.
Paul was never ashamed of what saved him. The saving even made it possible for him not to be ashamed of his need to be saved. In our weakness, false pride (hubris) is lowered, and the Spirit is given freedom to roam with healing power. Through God’s holy breath, our wounds are transformed into wisdom. And we come to know ourselves for the first time.
II. Paul later wrote, “Anyone in Christ is a new creation where the old is transformed by the new.” Through his new identity he could see his real identity. Through Christ, his life came into view. During his years as a youth, Paul was raised in the cultural city of Tarsus. His father was a Pharisee and Roman citizen. His mother was Jewish. From extra-biblical sources we know that he had at least one sibling, a sister. His Hebrew name was Saul, and his Greco-Roman name was Paul. Still living
in Tarsus, Paul was educated in the Torah and Jewish tradition; he studied Greek philosophy and literature.
Paul entered his adulthood by living with his married sister and studying with the great Jewish teacher Gamaliel. He also learned the occupation of tent making.
Paul aspired to be an emerging leader of Judaism. So he debated disciples of Jesus in Greek-speaking synagogues; he participated in Stephen’s martyrdom.
Rationally assured but emotionally confused, Paul traveled to Damascus in zealous pursuit of his opponents: Jesus’ followers. He chose this enterprise as the avenue to fulfill his youthful dreams and ambitions.
Paul’s career advancement was not as fulfilling as he thought it would be. His conversion experience awakened him to what he had never experienced—God’s transforming grace. He became “his own man” by becoming a new person in Christ.
The gospel of Christ was Paul’s life source. He was not ashamed of what gave him life. Paul grew as an apostle by growing as a disciple. Paul became strong by successfully trusting God in stressful situations. A scene that reveals this sweaty work of successfully trusting is revealed in the pivotal scene of being healed of his physical blindness by the bold faith and kindness of Annanias. Saul became Paul and learned to trust that God would lead him in knowing what to do and how to do it. ////
III. Guilt is what we feel when we know we’ve sinned. When our sin becomes public, we feel shame. Guilt and shame have served their purpose once they have motivated us to learn from our mistakes and commit to change. God doesn’t want us to feel guilty just for the sake of feeling guilty or to let every threat of public exposure control us through shame. False forms of guilt and shame are oppressive, and the world is full of people who falsely try to liberate us from them. So on several occasions Paul retold his conversion experience as a witness of Christ’s transforming power.
God wants us to feel the twin forces of guilt and shame when we’ve knowingly walked away from his best. This “best” is called God’s will. The inner feeling of having done wrong flows from a Christ-formed conscience. Guilt functions as a warning signal to pay attention and repent as a corrective course.
Attempting to lie ourselves out of a guilty conscience only makes matters worse, because the lie (whether to ourselves, to others, or to God) intensifies the sin’s power. Enough of these lies create an addiction. Then our lives really get out of whack. Christ-filled hope clears up our vision so we can see life beyond sin. Our life can recover.
Christ gives us strength to make U-turns in our life. Hope shows us there is another way to go when we realize the way we are traveling is taking us in the wrong direction. Repentance means to do just that: “turn around.”
Hope is powerful. Without hope, faith stalls. Without hope, love stutters. Without hope, tomorrow appears as an enemy. Hope is our vision for the future by which we live in the present. After we have stumbled, hope enables us to get up.
Paul left Damascus a changed man because of the gospel, and the world would feel the gospel’s impact from Paul’s ministry. Has the gospel of Christ exposed your spiritual blindness?
Are you seeing with corrected eyesight? Have you asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The world needs from you what you need for yourself: “to be a new person in Christ.”—D. Leslie Hollon
HUMILITY BEFORE THE CROSS. The Associated Press carried this story about a man who lost hope. The corporate life of Enron had dealt him a tough blow, and in response he committed suicide. Before he ended his earthly life, he wrote this note addressed to his wife. The seven-sentence statement read: I am so sorry for this. I feel I just can’t go on. I have always tried to do the right thing but where there was once pride now it’s gone. I love you and the children so much. I just can’t be good to you or myself. The pain is overwhelming. Please try to forgive me.
Humility before God keeps us honest and true to ourselves and each other. The spiritual giant, St. Bonaventure, “warned” in an example from the monkey: “The higher it climbs the more you see its behind.” No one stands taller than when kneeling at the cross.—D. Leslie Hollon
ADVENTURE IN GOD’S WORLD. I enjoy traveling, whether it’s down the street or around the world. Every step, every drive, every flight, every ride is an adventure in God’s world. Sometimes I’ll consult a map designed by a person who has been where I want to go. I will see what their approach is and learn from their efforts. Along the journey, I’ll make adjustments to personalize the experience. I continue to learn from the road map by which Saul became Paul.—D. Leslie Hollon
*HYMN OF RESPONSE #342 “Near to the Heart of God”
*SENDING FORTH Go and be God’s people, living as those who love and feed the world.
RENEWAL. Hearing the Shepherd’s voice, one day at a time, is the key to obedience. For instance, when my morning alarm clock goes off, I hit the snooze button. Half awake and half asleep, while turning over in bed, I utter, in the morning, “God, I give you my life this day. I give my heart, my mind, my body to you this day. Go before me into the daily schedule and
surprises. Guide me through the challenges and help me to seize the opportunities. Let me serve you and be helpful to people.” The intent of these words is prayed before the alarm rings again.
Bzzzz—I hit the snooze button and stay horizontal, glad for the bed’s comfort. I recall my night’s dreams and ask God to reveal their message. I remember if any phone calls came during my night’s sleep and pray through what needs to be done.
As the alarm rings a third time, I am glad for my family’s patience with the noisiness of my morning routine. A biblical story or verse comes to my mind. As the Shepherd awakens me to a new day, I know afresh the meaning of hearing his voice.
Renewed by a night of rest and moments of meditation, I am ready to get up. The Spirit has made me safe for others. My flesh and bones have rested in God’s presence. Touched from heaven, I am ready to live on earth. And thus I pray for God to bless all the people I will see during the coming day. With feet on the floor, I set the alarm to “off” and live the day before me. Through this exercise, I focus to see more clearly how God’s best comes to us one day at a time and leads to eternity.—D. Leslie Hollon