How Can I Help? April 28, 2019 Rev. Donald W. Hackett, D.Min.         Acts 6:1-7

Centre Presbyterian Church New Park, PA

Faith Conversations with Children – Towel

  • What is this?  What is it used for?  Drying off after a bath, shower, or swimming?
  • Do you remember a time Jesus used a towel?  Wash and dry his friend’s feet.
  • Why did he do that? Their feet were dirty and no one was serving.
  • He wanted them to learn and remember something important by doing that.  What do you think it was?  Serve each other.
  • What are ways you like to help around the house?

Prayer:  Thank you Jesus Christ for loving and serving us.  Show us how to help others today.  Amen.

Introduction

What do we do after Easter? Clean up. Eat leftovers. Finish off the chocolate bunnies. Make something out the eggs we have left.  Some people like like to make a contest out of eggs and slingshots.  Basically, we move on with life. What do we do as a church after Easter?  We move on to spring activities, concerts and looking for more ways to love and serve. Tonight a group is going up to Columbia to help serve a meal. The Deacons will visit friends who cannot make it to worship and write cards to encourage.  What are some ways you and I can help someone else this week?  This is the question for followers of Jesus Christ, “How do you want me to help others this week?”

Background

In our Bible passage today the early disciples are trying to answer that question.  They are a new community centered in Jesus the Messiah and are discovering ways to live, love, and be with each other.  Jesus has died, been resurrected, and came back to encourage them. The disciples chose Matthias to replace Judas as one of the twelve apostles. Then 50 days after Passover and Jesus’ crucifixion, the Holy Spirit comes to live in each follower of Jesus at the feast of Weeks or Pentecost. We will be celebrating that event in six weeks on June 9th. 

After the Holy Spirit arrived, many people came to faith and they met daily in the temple courts and their homes to worship, learn, share, eat together, and serve.

As their numbers grew, some problems arose where believers were not being served like others in the community. This is one of the first internal challenges for this new faith community.  Let’s see how they handled it together. Join me in reading the passage in your bulletin. 

Scripture Reading                                              Scripture    Acts 6:1-7

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food.

And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task,  while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 

What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.

The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

The Word of our Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Three language notes:

– “Food” is not in the original Greek text. It is assumed by the context.

– “Deacons” are not mentioned here or the whole book,  The word, “diakonia” – means ministry, service, administration.

– “Tables” – The Greek word trapezai used in Acts 6:2 can refer generally to four-legged tables or specifically to banking tables.[2] Banks are still called trapezai in Greece today. https://margmowczko.com/the-ministry-of-the-seven-men-in-acts-6/

Serving in the same language 

What is the problem?  Were some widows being past over in serving the community meals?  Probably not.  Would you or I skip serving someone just because they were a widow who spoke another language?  Of course not.  If the tables being referred to here are banking tables, then that was the place where donated funds were distributed.  Widows in the first century had very few financial options and needed help.  Would it be a problem to distribute funds to widows who spoke Greek?  Not likely, you just needed someone to translate. Would the Apostles need to do this?  They probably started to this because they had a position of trust.  Maybe they found they were spending so much time handing out funds that they could not do their other tasks.

Maybe the issue was much bigger.  John N. Collins proposes another ministry for the seven Greek-speaking men. In his book Deacons and the Church Colins explains because of the culture at the time Greek widows were neither free to attend large gatherings in the temple forecourts nor linguistically equipped to understand what these Aramaic preachers were saying when they returned from the temple to speak in the intimacy of the household (5:42). Accordingly, the Hellenist’s widows were in need of preachers who could teach them in Greek, and preferably at home when Greek speakers came together at their tables (6:2).”

Source: John N. Collins, Deacons and the Church: Making Connections Between Old and New (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002), 51 and Marg Mowczko’s blog at https://margmowczko.com/the-ministry-of-the-seven-men-in-acts-6/.

Where does that leave us in understanding this text?  Were these Greek women forgotten in the distribution of food, funds, or hearing the Word of God?  In all three scenarios the problem was a language issue.  The Hellenists were believers who were Greek speaking Jews who came from other lands. They were likely in Jerusalem to worship and became followers of Jesus Christ at Pentecost after hearing Peter preach.  The locals, the Hebraic Jews spoke Aramaic, a Semitic language. So you know the confusion that can some from not knowing another’s language?  It was not an intentional oversight, but still a problem.  Widows were being left out.

The Apostles came up with a great solution!  They appoint mature leaders to oversee the care of these Greek speaking believers. congregation.  Notice, they appointed men who were Greek so they could serve this growing population.  

They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. Many feel these men were commissioned at preacher to the Greek world.  They would be able to serve these Greek widow and many more. In fact we see Stephen preaching at the Sanhedrin just he is stoned in Acts 7 and Philip sharing his faith with an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.  The result of this preaching and their witness is evident.  The passage says:  The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.

What is our take away from this?

  1. Scripture is sometimes hard to interpret.  We are two thousand years later and in a wholly different cultural context.  The Bible is clear that we are to love God and love other like ourselves.  We need be careful, however, to assume we know what going on in all the details of first century life.  There is still much to learn.
  1. The Word of God is primary.  Though encounters with God and his Word people and nations are transformed. The message of new life in Jesus the Messiah was meant for the whole world. It was and is vital that it gets out in every language. This is why Bible translation and teaching is so important in every tongue and dialect. 
  1. The Apostles modeled flexibility and creativity in serving God.  Can you image being one of the Apostles at this time?  They were being pulled in every direction.  They were welcoming and organizing new believers (three thousand had been added in one day at Pentecost). The Apostles headed up leading teaching and preaching sessions in the Temple and homes.  Theirs was a ministry of prayer and teaching. Now they needed to organize logistics for this growing faith community who spoke different languages.  It was too much. They could not do it all!

Have you ever felt stretched like that?!  You are needed in more places than you can be.  You have a “Do List” that never gets completed.  You feel scattered and never focused. So what do you do?  You stop. You go to a place where you can rest, clear your head, and pray. You get on the balcony and look at your life so you can make some changes. That is what the Apostles did. They pulled all the disciples together and got the issues on the table and came up with a new approach.  They were getting pulled from their main responsibilities of leading this faith Jewish believer community.  It was time to delegate other duties to others so they could focus. 

Let me say that again, it was time to delegate other duties so they could focus.  In our age of multitasking and competing demands, focus is what will save you and me.  As we ask God, “What do you want me to do right now?”, clarity and priorities will become clear to us. We can only take one step at a time.  We focus on that.  Then we ask the Holy Spirit for the next step. The question for all of us is: “What does God want you to focus on this season of your life and how does that play out day to day?” So many of your in this church are doing this.  

For example, I am so thankful for Roger Wilson.  What a wonderfully gifted and encouraging man!  I am very thankful that in this season of his life he feels called to focus on our church’s building challenges. We have a wall in this sanctuary that is bulging out more and more.  He is bringing his unique set of skills and spiritual maturity to help guide us through the critical work that needs to be done on our sanctuary.  It is important for Roger and the others to focus on this issue so we can have the best results.  Thank you, Roger, Trustees, and all who have stepped in to help! We partner with God and each other by taking one step at a time.

I want to give thanks, as well, to our Deacons.  Though this passage is not directly about you in ways I thought it was, the word deacons does come from the Greek word for servant and you serve us so well!  I want to take a moment to outline some of the ways deacons and other helps us in time of crisis.  You will find a summary of this in our May newsletter.

How Do I Help?

We all want to help.  Especially when neighbors are hurting.  In the last few months three families in our church have experienced the tragedy of suddenly losing a loved one. Like them we have been in shock and wondering what to do next.  We want to support and love them, but how?  

What I love about Centre church is that you rally to help.  Here is what we do:

  1. As soon as the word is out that someone is in trouble, the emergency prayer chain can be activated when a family member or point person contacts Judy Harrison with that request.
  2. Next Marg Graybeal is contacted and the person or family is listed on our prayer list that is in the Sunday bulletin.  
  3. Jo Ann Clement, Connie Anderson and the Deacons determine how we can help with meals, cards, and other tangible help. 
  4. As pastor, I find out about situations when one of you call or email me. Though I live in Lancaster, I try to come down whenever there is an emergency pastoral situation.  When I am out of town, Rev. Doug Friant of Stewartstown Presbyterian Church has agreed to cover for me (and likewise I cover for him when he is away).
  5. When needed, we recruit a point person to handle all the calls to take the pressure off the family in crisis and to direct callers to the best ways to help.
  6. We will announce on Sundays and via emails updates as we have them so we all have the same accurate information.

That is what we do as a church body. 

Let the Holy Spirit guide you to your best way of helping in these situations.  

  • Offer a prayer at mealtime for the family.  
  • Make a meal and coordinate with the Deacons when to deliver.  
  • Send a card a week, a month, and six months later. 
  • If you see an obvious need like cutting grass or picking students from school, step in and offer what you can.  

Together we can be the hands and comfort of Christ to others.  Thank you for joining us in this great ministry!