Prayer:  May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts together be acceptable in thy sight our Lord and Redeemer.  Amen

New Testament Lesson:

Acts 14: 21-28 New International Version

They preached the good news in Derbe and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

Paul and Barnabas appointed eldersfor them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed.

On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed there a long time with the disciples.

This is the word of the Lord.

I don’t know about you—but I have a clear memory from my school days about returning to school each fall.  One of the first assignments was to write an essay titled “What I did on my summer vacation.”  I grew up in Indiana and most of my friends and I had been no farther than to visit our grandparents.  So I hated that assignment.  But there were always two or three who had been to what I considered glamorous places like the beach or the mountains.  Their essays always sounded so exciting!

Our scripture reading is a little like those exciting reports from school years ago—What Paul and Barnabas did on their first missionary journey.  As you recall, Paul had been converted from a zealot Jew to a faithful Christian.  God called him to preach to the Gentiles—all people who are not Jewish.  The world at that time was filled predominantly with Gentiles who were spread throughout what we call Southwestern Asia and Southeastern Europe.  Paul took his call seriously and was determined to spread the gospel far and wide.  In his lifetime he made four major journeys throughout this part of the world preaching, teaching, establishing churches and encouraging church leaders.  Our scripture today is a report of his first trip.

I would like to read an abridged version of the scripture again and I invite you to listen to two things—what Paul and Barnabas did and where they went.  There’s a map on the front of your bulletin if you’d like to follow along with their travels—or you might want to write a few notes about what they did.

They preached the good news in Derbe. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.

After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them. 

The Kirk’s youth have been a little like Paul and Barnabas—and like Abraham—this  summer—going lots of places and doing lots things.  You can read about the five youth summer trips in your bulletin and throughout the service you have heard a little bit about each adventure.  Many of the youth and adults who went on the trips are wearing their t-shirts and sitting in the choir loft today.

I’d like to spend a few minutes comparing what Paul and Barnabas did with what our youth have done.

Acts tell us that first of all Paul preached the good news.  Our youth have done that in many ways—but most of all with hammers, shovels, screwdrivers and with only their hands.  Once again our ASP youth and adults made homes warmer, safer and drier for families in Appalachia who cannot afford the repairs.  Two crews installed tin roofs on homes with miserable leaks.  The foundation under a mobile home had to be reconstructed which required the crew to dig footers while lying on their stomachs!  Other crews repaired flooring, created a second safe exit, and constructed a room addition for a family that did not have enough sleeping space for their children.

And not to be outdone by the high school counterparts, the Kirk middle schoolers at Summer in the City “preached” in some amazing ways as well.  They packed 1300 dozen eggs at the Food Bank.  They gleaned 550 lbs of tomatoes and 620 lbs of eggplant.  This meant that families who don’t often eat fresh vegetables, had eggplant and tomatoes for dinner that night.   Our Summer in the City youth also sorted clothes at North Raleigh Ministries thrift shop, weeded the garden at the Interfaith Food Shuttle, organized canned goods at Catholic Parish Outreach, packed school supplies at Loaves and Fishes, and washed cars at Wheels for Hope.

You’ve heard the quote attributed to St. Francis that says, “Preach the gospel always.  When necessary, use words.”  Our youth and adults did just that.

Our scripture also tells us that Paul and Barnabas strengthened the disciples. I’m confident one of the ways they did that was by developing friendships and fostering a sense of community.

When we do youth group planning we sometimes talk about doing more with Cary Presbyterian since they are our closest Presbyterian neighbors.  However we’ve been remiss in actually doing that—until this summer.  Our youth and adults at Massanetta Springs Middle School Conference shared a cabin with the youth and adults from Cary Pres.  Living together for four days turned out to be an amazing avenue for forming new friendships and developing a stronger sense of community.  Our youth at Triennium and Montreat also spent time with their peers from other churches in our Presbytery.  All these events were just what was needed to strengthen our bonds with other disciples.

Some of the strongest friendships among our own youth also develop during summer trips.  There is nothing to compare with the fun of shared adventures, the camaraderie of daily worship, or the memories of group laughter to strengthen friendships that will last throughout the year—and often for many years to come.  There is no doubt that no matter the trip, it plays a key role in strengthening friendship and faith all our youth.

We also read that Paul and Barnabas encouraged everyone on their travels to remaintrue to their faith.  I don’t know exactly how they did that—but I’m certain it involved talking and an intimate sharing of their lives of faith.  One of the hallmarks of Montreat, Massanetta, Summer in the City, and Triennium is small groups.  These are groups of the same 12-25 people that meet once or twice a day to share with each other about their faith.  They enjoy fellowship, explore the Bible passages read in worship; ask questions and seek answers.  This can be one of the most faith-filled times on these trips.

Paul and Barnabas mentioned hardships and we all know they can crop up anytime—like when the Kirk van broke down on the shoulder of I-77 going to ASP.  When that happened every youth did what they could to provide encouragement—some offered suggestions, some sat quietly so we could make phone calls, and they all safely followed instructions.  And then there was the group at the airport at 5:45 a.m. to fly to Triennium—that required a lot of encouragement—especially for Stephanie who hates early mornings!

Throughout all the trips there were lots of “you can do its,” and “Good job” or “just a little longer and we can have a break.” Encouraging words from Paul and Barnabas helped their congregations through hardships the same way our youth helped each other on hot days in the sun, through difficult tasks, and through tedious jobs like supper clean up!

Paul and Barnabas preached and worshipped and boy did our groups worship, too!  At Triennium and Montreat it was every day—and with hundreds or thousands of others right along with us.  If you’ve never been in an auditorium with that many youth you’re missing some real joy and excitement that worship in other settings just cannot duplicate.  It is quite an event to share hymns and praise with that many faithful people all in the same place at the same time.  It is dynamic, uplifting, loud, and truly an experience not to forget.  Sharing prayer and communion in those settings is also an awesome and spirit-filled experience.

And finally we’re told that at the end of their journey, Paul and Barnabas called their home congregation together to share their stories and we’re doing that, too.  We want you to know how our faith grew, how we encouraged each other, and how our friendships are stronger.  We also want to say thank you to all the adults who volunteered part of their summer to make these trips possible.  And we especially want to say thank you to the congregation for providing resources to go on these amazing, life-changing trips.

So—you’ve heard the story of Paul and Barnabas and you’ve heard our stories.  How did you spend your summer vacation?  Have you taken a trip—or is yours still to come?  How did you spend it?  Did you share your faith, encourage those you visited or those who visited you?  Did you help others?  Did you worship?

If you did all these things, great—keep up the good work—plan your next trip to include preaching, teaching, sharing and caring.  If your summer vacation didn’t include these elements, then I encourage you to plan your next trip to include ways to share God’s love, to build your own faith and then to come home and tell us all about how you spent your summer vacation!



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An Indescribable Joy

If you were here for the sunrise service last week, you heard Warren joke that the staff chose straws for that early service. Well, today’s services are sort of like that, too. The pastors and musicians have been incredibly busy during Lent. They led weekly studies, extra services, and Jody had considerably more sermons than usual since he preached every day of Holy Week at Greenwood Forest Baptist Church.

So-I’m the short-straw winner for today! As many of you know, I finished lay pastor training about 8 months ago and really I am honored to preach today. Thank you.
Please join me in prayer:

God of all that is good and faithful and joyful, send your Spirit to our time together. May we hear your words and respond in ways that are pleasing to you. Amen

1 Peter 1: 3-9

Easter was a week ago. The Kirk was crowded; we had extra chairs that went into the narthex. There were girls in new pastel dresses and boys in new khakis and button-down shirts. There were complete families sitting together because their college student was home. We had three services including the one at 7 a.m. and everywhere there was special music. It was a glorious day of celebration and joy!

Now it’s a week later. The crowd is smaller; the brass ensemble has gone home. The extra chairs are put away. We went back to work and school this week. Jesus has risen-but well, that’s old news, as they say.

I’d like to suggest that in the season of the first Easter maybe emotions were just the opposite. I think that a week after Jesus rose there was more excitement than on Easter day. Although the Bible is clear that the first Easter morning included joy-it is also clear there was confusion and uncertainty. The women who went to the tomb and the disciples who heard about it, reacted with bewilderment and questioning. We certainly don’t know all their questions, but we can imagine some of them. You saw what? Wait, who rolled the stone away? You saw Jesus? You talked to him? Think about how they must have wondered a hundred things all day long.

I’m guessing there were plenty of others just like Thomas. Even though we know him best, I’m sure there were others who would have agreed with his statement "Unless I put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe."

And Jesus was generous and understanding when he told Thomas a week later to "Reach out your hand and put it in my side." There is no mention that Thomas actually touched Jesus, but he certainly saw him. And that was enough for Thomas. He immediately responded with a clear and concise declaration of who he now knew Jesus to be, "My Lord and my God!" Those words might sound routine to us, but when Thomas spoke them, they were anything but routine. They were an amazing affirmation of faith. Thomas was decisively announcing that Jesus was God. Jesus was not just Lord as in king or leader, but more importantly Thomas was saying this man with whom he and the others had spent the last three years was truly God! Thomas certainly doubted no longer. His faith was firm and he announced it to everyone. My guess is that all around there was more certainty and joy than a week earlier. So unlike those of us who may be feeling a little less joy today, I suspect the disciples were feeling more excitement than the day Jesus rose.

And now fast-forward several decades. By then the Holy Spirit had visited the disciples at Pentecost with power and excitement. Peter had baptized thousands. Paul had been converted and was traveling throughout the known world. Christianity was spreading far and wide. Can you feel it? There is excitement everywhere! And the writer of 1 Peter wants everyone to hear all about it. Did you hear his words like indescribable, imperishable, and glorious? Anyone who uses all those adjectives, and more, within three sentences has something amazing to relate!

But who was this writer? Despite its name, the letter was most likely not written by the apostle Peter, but instead by someone using his name. Although we might consider that unethical, it was common practice during much of the time that Biblical texts were written for a writer to use the name of someone better known than him to give his document more credibility. So, it is believed the writer was someone who lived after Peter. When this letter was written, the author was probably in Rome writing to the early churches in Asia Minor. It appears he was trying to encourage them during a time of trial or hardship. We don’t know exactly when the letter was written but probably near the end of the first century.

Despite not knowing these exact details related to the letter, we can certainly hear the author’s excitement. He clearly has a message of hope and joy that he wants to share. And he’s not only sharing his joy, but also his faith. Just like Thomas, he wants us to know he believes in Jesus the Christ, in the resurrection, and in the living hope it brings. He’s excited about it and wants to share that with his readers then and now. He wants us to grab hold of this excitement and let it permeate our lives. He wants us to take this to heart and know it really matters.

I want to spend a few minutes considering this great news from 1 Peter. If it would be helpful to you to have the text in front of you, it is 1 Peter 1:3-9 which is on p. 232 in the New Testament of the pew Bibles. Listen again to some of v. 3 and 4: "The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has given us a new birth… into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading." Although I’ve written a statement of faith a few times and may have talked about our new life in Christ, I’m certain I didn’t use words like those. My words were more measured, analytical.

What would you say? How would you explain the meaning of Jesus’ resurrection? My guess is that most of us would use a sort of standard phrase like, "eternal life" or even "the life everlasting" from the Apostle’s Creed. Those phrases work-they cover the basics. But they are sort of like saying the "bride was pretty" or "gas prices are high". If we really want to others to know how we feel about the situation wouldn’t it be more effective to say: "the bride was exquisite in her cream-colored gown" or "gas prices are going through the roof."

That’s what the 1 Peter writer is doing with his words. He’s got some amazing insights and he wants us to know all about them. And this is a great day to hear his news. Our Easter excitement may be fading and the reality of life and work and struggles and conflicts are back again. So we need to be reminded about the trumpets playing and the great news of the angels at the empty tomb.

1 Peter goes on in v. 5 to say we are "protected by the power of God". It’s easy to hear those words without thinking about them-but consider for a minute, "protected by the power of God." That’s the power that created the universe; the power that led the Israelites; the power that raised Jesus. And 1 Peter says that through our faith that same power protects us-by believing we are surrounded and upheld, protected, by that same power.

And this faith that gives us protection is "more precious than gold" says the 1 Peter writer in v. 7. Again-think about that. Think about the value of gold-what we pay for jewelry or what it costs for those who might purchase gold. That’s valuable. That matters-and yet, he says our faith matters more than that. Our faith is of more value than even our jewelry. Women, look at what you are wearing today, would you give it up for your faith? All who are married, would you give up your wedding ring for your faith? I ashamed to say, but I’m not sure I would. My wedding ring is something very, very important to me. But we’re reminded our faith is of even greater value than all our jewelry and all our gold!

And then in plain simple words v. 8 reminds us that we love Jesus. We are not often so straight-forward. That’s hard to say. Remember how hard it was to say "I love you" the first time to someone very special you were dating. But here we are reminded that Jesus is indeed someone very special whom we love.

And finally our ecstatic writer says we "rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy" because we are receiving "salvation for our souls." This goes back to his words on eternal life. Our statements of faith are dry in comparison to his poetry. Who says "salvation for our souls?" But that’s exactly what will happen when we get to heaven our souls will be kept safe for eternity. And truly that will be more joyful than we can imagine.

So is this guy, this first century writer using the name Peter, just some "pie in the sky" sort-somebody with a "too-good-to-be-true" message? No, he understood the reality of his audience, too. He told them, and tells us clearly in v. 6 and 7 that we might "suffer various trials" and that our faith may be "tested by fire." The folks in the first churches to read these words may have been harrassed by the authorities for their faith and some may have been arrested. We have trials, too; some big, some small. Work is challenging. One of the children is struggling in school. Your marriage is difficult. Dad has taken a turn for the worse. It’s hard to make the mortgage payment. In the middle of all that, it’s easy to lose the joy, to put Easter behind us. We can quickly forget the benefits of our faith. We see and feel the reality around us and the encouragement of our faith looses its luster.

But these words from 1 Peter are a gift to wake us up, to shake us loose from whatever troubles us so we can remember how absolutely amazing it is to have a faith more precious than gold. We can remember God does not leave us. Jesus’ resurrection does not fade. These truths never die. Our faith can stand firm. Our joy can remain.

And then we might even sing a song I suspect many of you remember from a retreat or camp:

I’ve got the love of Jesus, love of Jesus,
Down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy
Down in my heart, down in my heart to stay.

So friends, let’s keep the excitement of Easter. Let’s remember the gift of our faith. Then we will sing with a joy that only knowing Jesus as our Lord and our God can bring!







Continue ReadingAn Indescribable Joy