Sharing the Gifts God Gives Us

Pastor Kim Gilliland
Easter 2
SCRIPTURE: Galatians 5: 16-26 and Acts 4: 32-35
With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no need persons among them.
Acts 4: 33-34a (NIV)

TENARES, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC

We have a very exciting week ahead of us as we prepare for our anniversary Sunday. It will be the 151st anniversary of the founding of this congregation back in 1867. We have a very special guest speaker coming in the person of Tony Campolo. I can’t wait to hear him speak. I’ve heard Tony a couple of times over the years he is always very inspiring.

It’s also pretty neat that we’ll be joined by Essex United and Bethel-Maidstone along with Woodslee and Belle River United Churches. So we’re hoping to have a pretty full house which is exciting too. I’ve had some feedback from the other churches they really looking forward to joining with us as well. It’s going to be quite the day.

I first encountered Tony Campolo back in 1982. Back then he ran an organization called the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education that was doing mission projects in poor areas all over the world. The young adult group that I belonged to in my home church in Hamilton went to hear Tony and got inspired. In fact, we got so inspired that we took on the project of building a church in a place called Tenares, Dominican Republic.

We had no idea where Tenares was. We had no idea how to get there. We had no building skills. We had no idea where the money would come from because most of the group was university students. I was one of the few that actually had a job. Did I mention that the project was going to cost us $10,000 and that did not include the cost of us sending a team down there to help with the construction? $10,000 was a whole lot of money in 1982. But we were committed to going ahead and getting it done.

Unfortunately, I was not able to actually go to Tenares because I was saving money to go to Emmanuel College that fall to study for ministry so cash was tight. With my background in accounting, my job was to look after the money which I did. Long story short, we managed to raise the required money and send a team to the Dominican Republic. In the summer of 1983 our little team of about a dozen people boarded a plane to fly south and that’s where it got interesting.

We soon discovered some difficulties. Did I mention that this was all going to be done with manual labour? It was to be a cement block structure but there were no cement blocks to buy. Instead we had to get cement powder, mix it up and pour it into forms to make our own blocks. That was hard work for people with no experience with construction.

Did I mention that it’s blazing hot in the Dominican Republic in the summer? Our people simply were not used to the heat and found that they could only work in the early morning and later in the afternoon. And all they had was two weeks to get this building up. There were a lot of locals standing around with nothing to do so we decided to hire them because they were quite used to the heat and some of them actually knew what they were doing when it came to construction.

And did I mention that the church we were building was part of a Brethren fellowship and that the town of Tenares was predominantly Roman Catholic? And that was a problem because the local priest was not too thrilled about having a second church in town – a Protestant church at that.

But we needed people to work and made the decision that it made no difference if those people were Catholic or Protestant. We would hire them equally. So what we ended up with were Roman Catholics and Protestants working side by side to build a Protestant church in a Roman Catholic village much to the chagrin of the local priest. It would have been a great plot for a movie.

The bottom line is that working together, Roman Catholics and Protestants, local black folk and well meaning white Canadians – the building was substantially completed by the end of the two weeks. The finishing touches were completed after our team returned home and the church opened its doors soon afterwards.

What always struck me about that project was the amount of people who shared their gifts of time, talents and money to create something for the work of God that none of us could have done on our own. Everyone working together accomplished something amazing that changed the lives of many people for the better.

WORKING TOGETHER

Today’s reading from Acts 4:32-35 tells a somewhat similar story of what can happen when people share what they have. It might just be one of the most challenging stories in the Bible because it talks about putting faith into action in a most radical way. The story happens after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus into heaven. The Holy Spirit has come to the Church and filled the believers with power. Those early Christians are just beginning to understand what it means to be Christ followers. Let’s begin by look at Acts 4:32 (NIV) which says, “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Note two things about this verse. It says that all of the believers were one in heart and mind. What that tells us is that as the Church of Jesus Christ, we should share a common purpose and a common goal. That’s a good thing. It means that we should know what we are about. I’ve often preached and you’ve heard this before that everyone was put here on earth for a purpose. No one is here by accident. In the same way, the church does not exist by accident. It is here because God wants it to be here and it is here because God has purpose for it to fulfill. You are not an accident. You are here on purpose and so is the church.

But there is something else in verse 32. It says that everyone shared their possession so that everyone had what they needed. So it’s not just about the individual. It’s also about the community. The church is a community of faith. It is a body of believers. And each of us is part of that body.

MEETING NEEDS

Acts 4:33-34a says, “With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them.” The apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, testified about the risen Christ. That’s good stuff. Not only did the believers share their possessions. They also shared the Gospel. And then it goes on to say that the grace of God was so powerful within then they there were no needy people among them. That’s good but I want to point you to something that often gets missed here. When we see the phrase “needy person” we assume that it’s talking about physically needy. And it is but that’s not all it’s talking about. This phrase comes directly after the affirmation that the believers were also meeting the spiritual needs of the people because there were sharing the Gospel. People have lots of needs but it is paramount that we, as the Church of Jesus Christ, seek to address all of those needs whatever they may be.

The United Church is really good at meeting the physical needs. We are great a funding food banks and shelters. We are really good a feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. There are many examples of that. There’s the Downtown Mission in Windsor that is doing great work with the poor, the homeless and the hungry. There’s the Windsor Youth Centre that seeks to provide a safe place for homeless youth and those in danger of being homeless. This congregation does all sorts of things from food bank donations to Christmas hampers and Good Samaritan shoe boxes.

But do you know what we could get better at? We could use more practice on sharing the Gospel. We could get better at sharing our faith with others. I know that it’s not always easy to talk about your faith because it is such a personal thing but it’s also a very needed thing in our society. In many places it is even more needed than clothing, food and shelter. It is our gift to share and when we do it right no one around us who is need of anything. The work of the church is to address the needs of the whole person, physically and spiritually just like the early believers did in Acts 4.

MONTANA DE FE

The last part of the story, Acts 4:34b-35 says this: “For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.” What does this mean? In general what it means is that we need to be willing to give up some of our abundance in order that others may simply have enough. Acts does not say that everyone needs to sell their homes and give the proceeds to the poor. But it does say that we need to be willing to give sacrificially in order to help others who may not have enough.

Next week, when Tony Campolo comes, he will also be here as an ambassador of World Vision. I want to take a few minutes to talk about what that means. World Vision is a child sponsorship programme whose purpose is to help lift poor villages around the world out of poverty. But it does it in a way that is somewhat different from some of the other child sponsorship programmes because it does it not child by child but village by village.

World Vision identifies villages that need assistance and it works with the entire village to build the infrastructure and education system that will improve the life of everyone in that village. That means that when someone sponsors a child, that money actually goes to the village.

With that money, World Vision may drill wells to ensure that the village has fresh water for everyone. It builds schools, provides educational supplies and hires teachers. This ensures that your child gets the education they need to succeed in life. Small business loans are provided to assist villagers to create businesses so that over time the village becomes self-sufficient and self-supporting. Livestock such as goats and chickens may also be supplied so that protein can be available. Farming techniques can be improved to ensure that more food is grown and that no one goes hungry. These are the physical needs that are addressed by World Vision.

Then there are the spiritual needs. World Vision does not require that anyone becomes a Christian before they are supported. Everyone is treated the same, Christian and non-Christian alike. But worship is also provided as is Bible study and prayer meetings. This is done to ensure that the people’s spiritual needs are met by giving them the opportunity to hear to Gospel message and come to Christ.

While that is happening you get to know a child in the village through writing letters back and forth. In that way you build a personal connection with the project. When you sponsor a child through World Vision, you help not only the child and the family but the entire village as well which helps to secure the welfare of your child for the long term.

I just want to remind you that Tony Campolo will be speaking in three different places next weekend. Besides having him here on Sunday morning, he will also be at Riverside United Church on Saturday afternoon and at Charing Cross United Church on Sunday evening. At each of those events, people will be invited to consider sponsoring children through World Vision. And the neat thing about that is that all of the sponsored children will be from the same village. It’s a village in El Salvador called Montana de Fe. It’s located in an area called Ciudad Barrios which is in the south east part of the country not far from the Honduras border.

I went to the World Vision website where I found out some information about Montana de Fe. It is in one of the poorest and most isolated regions of El Salvador. Most people exist on subsistence farming. There is a lot of work to be done. And the other really amazing thing about this is that after the mission is established and progress is being made, World Vision will invite us to go down and personally see what has been accomplished by our child sponsorship and to get personally involved in the mission if you want to do that. To me that is really exciting and something that we could do together as a group of churches in this area. What an difference we could make in the lives of so many people.

Our Mission Committee has been searching for a few years to find an overseas mission project to support and it might just be that God has placed this one right in our laps. So I want you to go home and think about it. I know that quite a few of you already sponsor children. Right now we sponsor a Compassion Child in Burkino Faso. We plan to sponsor one in El Salvador as well.

The early Christians got together and pooled their resources for the good of all people in order that all of the needs – physical and spiritual – could be met. The Church today is called to do that same thing and with God’s help, we will do that.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

We come to you, O God, in this season of resurrection. We await the newness of life that you promise to us every day. How great you are and worthy to be praised. We your children come to you just as we are with all of our faults and foibles knowing that your love is unconditional. Speak to our hearts as we lift our prayers to you. Keep us mindful of those around us who need the blessing of your special touch.

We look forward with great anticipation to our anniversary worship next Sunday. We pray for inspiration and encouragement. We pray for travelling mercies for Tony and Terry to share their messages through both word and song.

We lift up on prayer, O God, the people affected by that crash in Saskatchewan involving the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. Such a tragedy Lord but bring those people together with the support that they need. Strengthen them by the power of your word and by the inspiration of your Spirit. You, O God, are a worker of wonders. Bring your Spirit to bear O God.

We pray for the elected officials who govern our nation, whether they be at the local, provincial or federal level. Public office is certainly very public but it can also be a very thankless job. Help us to support those who offer themselves for public office. May we be fair with them. May they be wise and discerning in their decisions for all of us.

We lift up in prayer the people of our congregation and community who are sick this week, either at home or in the hospital. We pray especially for Sharon, Lyle, Helen and John. Touch them and all of us with a special measure of you Healing and Holy Spirit.

Bless us with your Spirit. Clothe us in your truth. Bind us together by the power of your Spirit that we may walk as your people to share your Good News with every nation. We pray these prayers in Jesus’ name. Amen.

WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE

April 8, 2018 / Easter 2

SCRIPTURE

Psalm 133; John 20:19-31; Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 1:1-2:2

CALL TO WORSHIP

ONE:   How wonderful it is when God’s people live in peace.

ALL:   God’s love is like the anointing of a precious and holy oil.

ONE:   It is like the fresh dew on an early morning hillside.

ALL:   May God bless us in our worship.

May the Lord be glorified in our praise.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

We come to you, O God, in this season of resurrection. We await the newness of life that your promise to us every day. How great you are and worthy to be praised. We your children seek you presence in a new and refreshing way. Come fill our world. Come fill our lives. Come take our hands. Come walk with us. Fill us anew with your refreshing Spirit to renew and enliven our lives and ministries. Amen.

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

Merciful God, creation shouts its praise for we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. We are renewed by the power of your love and lifted above the depths of our sinfulness. Forgive us when we fail to fully appreciate this most precious gift. Forgive us when we forget about you and what you have done for us. We hurt our neighbours. We destroy our enemies. We take from those who have less that we do and still complain that we do not have enough. Lift us above our self serving attitudes that we may give to others without counting the cost, the same way that you give to us. Amen.

ASSURANCE OF PARDON

There is no need to wallow in sin. By true and honest repentance, our sins are forgiven and we are blessed with the gift of life both here and forevermore.

DEDICATION OF OFFERING

As you anoint our lives, O God, we ask you to anoint our offerings. There is so much that needs to be done and hardly enough to do it. By your hand, all things are possible. Bless our gifts in Jesus’ name. Amen.

COMMISSIONING

New life bursts forth from the tomb. New hope springs eternal. We are blessed with new hopes and possibilities through faith in Christ. As we leave, let us remember that the Spirit is with us wherever we go. We are never alone. Thanks be to God.

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