June 20, 2021
*Call to Worship
Leader: Great Spirit of God, you have healed our wounds.
People: You have brought us from paths of hurt and anger.
Leader: You have blessed our life that we might be a blessing to others.
People: Let us worship you in great joy.
Leader: Let us remember the ways you have turned our mourning into dancing.
People: Let us give thanks to you forever. AMEN.
Ministry Matters, Abingdon Press, 10 April 2017, https://www.ministrymatters.com/all/entry/3724/worship-connection-april-10-2016
God of power and might, let your love shine on us and through us to others. Take the blindness from our eyes and our hearts. Give us the joy of knowing and serving you in all that we say, think and do. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.
*Hymn UMH #354 I Surrender All (v1,4,5)
Scripture Acts 9: 1-6 The Conversion of Saul
Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 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.
Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Have you ever thought you were headed in the right direction, only to discover you are way off course? Maybe you had to make a U-Turn. This week we will examine the story of the Apostle Paul’s U-turn in life. Paul’s life takes a radical turn when he hears Jesus. I wonder how many times Jesus has communicated with me, and I didn’t hear him! How does Jesus direct us to turn around?
When one prepares for ministry, you must identify and be able to tell your story. Everyone’s story is different and here is mine.
My birth – 12 years old were in little, small town Lutheran churches. My mom was brought up in the Methodist tradition, but my dad was from a Lutheran family so mom turned Lutheran. Not unlike many families’, my dad didn’t attend church after mom changed for him and mom was left with the responsibility of raising her four kids in the church.
By the time I was 12 my dad had left our family and we moved to Marshall, a town with many options of where to attend church. My mom made a U-turn and we joined the Methodist church.
Mom made sure we were involved as much as possible in the life of the church. That included, Sunday morning Sunday School and Worship, Youth group, confirmation, and a variety of other activities. By the time I graduated from high school I had taught Sunday School a couple years and sang in the adult choir.
Once I was on my own I made a U-turn, and only attended church on the big holidays – you know Christmas and Easter. This sparse attendance lasted until Rod, and I married. Once we were married in 1978, we did some church shopping and landed at Portland UMC in Bloomington.
While members at PAUMC I did all the “things” I thought one should do. I sang in choir, worked on committees, lead the senior high youth program with Rod and chaired almost every team and even co-chaired a two-day church Bazaar.
Our son was born in 1987 and our daughter in 1989. Not long after our daughter was born, we felt we needed a church with more programming for children, so we started church shopping. About six months of church shopping can to an abrupt stop when one Sunday morning on the way home from yet another new church Our son said, “I think that was a friendly church, don’t you mommy” That little question was a message to us to get our act together and make a decision, so we did.
We found a church across town and before joining we took the pastor to lunch. I am sure I totally embarrassed Rod because at that lunch I told the pastor that I had done all the “things” I was going to do, and I promptly told him to not ask me to be involved in anything. Pastor Don just nodded and did not say a thing about all the doing of stuff.
Within a year at the new church things changed, another U-turn. Yes, our kids got involved in age-appropriate activities and we worshipped regularly on Sunday mornings. Then someone invited us to attend this thing called Cursillo. We didn’t question what we were signing up for but instead we just said yes. And off we went to this weekend retreat type of thing. And this my friends was the best U-turn of my spiritual journey. This was a life changing experience. My conversion, my coming to faith in Jesus Christ.
This Cursillo thing is when all the stored-up stuff I had learned in my childhood and youth went from head knowledge to heart-knowledge. Head knowledge” was the stuff, the stories, scripture, prayers that I had stored in my head, without any thought to how they impacted my life. On the other hand, “heart knowledge” is what happens to that information that resulted in a transformation in my life.
This Cursillo weekend is when I gave my life to Christ, and I longed for Christ to be my Lord and Savior from that time on.
Some of us here may have experienced this kind of radical turn around. Others of us may have grown into our faith from childhood on. There may be some of you that are at the beginning of your journey or still questioning what you believe. No matter where you are right now, let’s take a moment and tune into your own experience. Where are you in this journey? (Let there be a moment of silence)
The Apostle Paul is one that had that kind of radical experience, this U-turn in his life. The kind of experience that blows you away. The kind of experience that causes one to make big-time changes.
The Apostle Paul, formally known as Saul was a Roman citizen who was born in Tarsus. He was a Pharisee who was an expert in Jewish Law, and he hated Christians. He dragged Christian men and women out of their houses and threw them into jail. He even stood by and watched as an angry mob stoned the disciple Stephen to death.
But Saul was not satisfied with arresting Christians in Jerusalem only. He asked the high priest to send him to the city of Damascus so that he could hunt down Christians there.
Saul was a Roman citizen who was born in Tarsus. He was a Pharisee who was an expert in Jewish Law, and he hated Christians. He dragged Christian men and women out of their houses and threw them into jail. He even stood by and watched as an angry mob stoned the disciple Stephen to death.
But Saul was not satisfied with arresting Christians in Jerusalem only. He asked the high priest to send him to the city of Damascus so that he could hunt down Christians there. As Saul got near the city, a bright light suddenly flashed all around him, and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice say: ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Saul asked: ‘Who are you?’ The answer: ‘I am Jesus. Go into Damascus, and you will learn what you must do.’ In an instant, Saul had become blind, and he had to be led by the hand into the city.
In Damascus, there was a faithful Christian named Ananias. Jesus told him in a vision: ‘Go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight and look for Saul.’ Ananias said: ‘Lord, I know all about that man! He is throwing your disciples into prison!’ But Jesus said: ‘Go to him. I have chosen Saul to preach the good news to many nations.’
So Ananias found Saul and told him: ‘Saul, brother, Jesus has sent me to open your eyes.’ Instantly, Saul could see again. He learned about Jesus and became his follower. Now baptized as a Christian, Saul began to preach in the synagogues, along with his fellow Christians. Can you imagine how shocked the Jews were to see Saul teaching people about Jesus? They said: ‘Isn’t this the same man who used to hunt down Jesus’ disciples?’
For three years, Saul preached to the people living in Damascus. The Jews hated Saul and made plans to kill him. But the brothers learned about the plot and helped him to escape. They put him in a basket and lowered him down through a hole in the city wall.
When Saul went to Jerusalem, he tried to join the brothers there. But they were afraid of him. Then a kind disciple named Barnabas brought Saul to the apostles and convinced them that Saul had truly changed. Saul began to preach the good news passionately with the congregation in Jerusalem. Later, he became known as Paul.
Saul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was very dramatic. God steps in and literally stops Saul right in his tracks. Saul was actively working against Jesus and persecuting the Christians. How do we actively and passively do this? Some of the decisions on our path are moving us away from Jesus. Others are not so certain, we might not be doing anything actively hurting our journey, but our inactivity is not moving forward the kingdom of God.
Jesus meets Paul on the road of despair. He literally stops him in his tracks. Paul’s life is turned around and is forever changed. Recognize that this is not the last time Paul needs to make a turn, Paul does not always get it right from this moment on. There are times when he argues with other followers, he parts ways with Timothy and Bartholomew, and he writes how he does what he does not want to do. In our Christian life we will go in the wrong direction, but the love of Jesus will be there to turn us around.
Some of you are here today and you are in the middle of the road to Damascus. Maybe you were once so sure of where you were going, but now you find yourself wondering. For various reasons you have not opened yourself fully to the presence of Jesus. For others, something in your life has pulled you away from your faith – like Paul, you end up doing what you never wanted to do. Jesus wants to encounter us on our Damascus Road – for those who have never done so, receive Jesus now. For those who are already on the road, recommit your lives to Jesus Christ. Open up to the fullness of God’s love, reaffirm your faith, commit to living fully as the disciples that Jesus has called you to be.
Earlier I shared my story of going from head-knowledge to heart knowledge, as I call it. My road to Damascus story didn’t include literal blindness but it sure was an eye-opener for me. I saw life differently. I experienced life differently and I even loved differently.
Saul had to make a radical change, and so do we! We have to think in terms of a whole new life, a whole new identity, because this is precisely what Christ offers us! Saul was so changed and so adjusted that he even changed his name! And Saul the old Pharisee became Paul the new man in Christ. Saul the old persecutor became Paul the new preacher. Saul the old struggler against sin became Paul the free spirit, Paul who talked about his joy in Christ. Saul made a major adjustment, a total adjustment, got a new name and a new identity, in order to join in God’s work. God calls all of us to major adjustments.
So, do you have your own Damascus Road experience? Sometimes people have a dramatic encounter, a dramatic U-turn like Saul, but more often it is a slow process. Can you today say that you are all in for God? Offer your heart to God. Genuinely confess your sins and claim God’s mercy. Repent, reject your idols your false gods, and turn to the one true and living God, seek His salvation and submit to His rule over your life.
Express your faith in Christ today. Join me in praying this prayer:
O LORD, I come to You now. I know I am a sinner, forgive me. Lord Jesus, from today, I accept You as the LORD of my life. Change my heart from a disobedient heart to a heart that will obey You. With my new heart, I believe that it is because of me that You came into this world; You died for my sins, take away my problems, fill me with Your Holy Spirit, write my name in the Book of Life, and make me brand new in Jesus’ name. Amen
*Hymn UMH # 393 Spirit of the Living God
Pastoral Prayer and The Lord’s Prayer
Gracious God of all people, every new day is a chance to live a stronger faith, a more committed and disciplined life, an opportunity to strengthen ourselves for the work ahead.
We come to this place not because we want to come to church but because we are the church when we are together.
We have designated this building as your house, and it only becomes the church when we are here in community, prepared for worship in heart, and ready for service in body.
We bring all of ourselves, those parts fully alive, ready to show those around us, and those parts that are hidden and broken.
We recognize we carry all these things in our hearts, and we lift them up to you as we gather in the spirit of community, we bring all of ourselves to you, those things we partake in joy, those things we mourn over, and put them in your hands, God of all.
Holy God, we understand that this journey of living and sharing the Gospel is not an easy one.
Our world preaches that we cut corners, but when we truly honor and love your people, to cut corners is to treat our neighbors not like neighbors.
This life of evangelism is a life dedicated to you, and that has consequences on how we should live.
As we seek to embody this life of preaching the Gospel really and truly, help us recognize that it all begins with a life rooted in you.
We recognize our responsibility, not an overestimating or underestimating how we live with you in our lives.
Let us truly discern and learn what that means through all parts of our lives.
We pray to be like Jesus and In the name of Jesus the Christ, who taught us to pray as one community we pray.
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 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, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Hymn UMH # 357 Just as I Am, Without One Plea (v1,5,6)
Vision should always demonstrate God’s love. That love should result in a passionate love for others. That love in exchange should compel us to share about the love of God. Let us give today so that people can know the love of God.
*Doxology UMH # 95 Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow
*Prayer of Dedication
Holy God, you work wonders beyond our imagination. Thank you for all of the faithful people you have inspired in the history of the church. You have sent into our lives kind Christians who have encouraged us in beautiful ways. Help us to keep growing as disciples led by your Spirit. May we become more devoted to good works and acts of charity, so that others will be blessed in turn. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Ministries, Discipleship. “Offertory Prayers and Invitation for April 2016.” Discipleship Ministries. https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/offertory-prayers-and-invitation-for-april-2016
*Hymn UMH # 593 Here I Am Lord
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
the Lord turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”
Go now to love and serve the lord