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Sermon and Prayers for The First Sunday after Epiphany - Year C
Acts 8:14-24
"Passing On The Flame"

READING:  Acts 8:14-24
SERMON :  "Passing On The Flame"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
c-or01sm.y-c 590

Loving God, your grace and your mercy towards all human flesh is
so rich and good and all encompassing that we often fail to truly
appreciate it.  Your glory is hidden by the very light you shine
with - your goodness is concealed by the very blessings that we
enjoy from your hand - your power is made invisible by the very
strength that you display within our lives.  Help us to
appreciate all that you are doing in us and around this day. 
Grant that through this hour of worship we might be more firmly
grounded in our faith and more able to speak of it and pass it on
to those around us... we ask it in the name of Jesus -  Amen.

Billy Strayhorn, the Pastor of the First United Methodist Church
in Groesbeck Texas tells the story of a Sunday School teacher who
taught her class to recite the Apostles Creed by giving each
child one phrase to learn.

     At the Sunday School presentations, the class was asked
     to give their recitation.  They began beautifully. 

     "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven
     and earth,' said the first child.

     "I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son our Lord",
     said the next.  And so it went perfectly until they
     came to the child who said, "He ascended into heaven,
     and sitteth at the right hand of God the Father
     Almighty: from thence he shall come to judge the quick
     and the dead".

     At that point an embarrassed silence fell until a
     little girl spoke up and said, "Uh, the little boy who
     believes in the Holy Spirit is absent today."

There is a dimension to our faith that goes beyond us;
a dimension that goes beyond what we believe and beyond what we

That dimension is the dimension in which God dwells.
It is the dimension of the Holy Spirit,
and our acts,
and our rituals,
and our beliefs
and all our good deeds in the name of Jesus,
and all our works of love,
remain strangely empty until that dimension is encountered
until that dimension overwhelms us and sets us afire with it's
own peculiar flame.

     As the people were filled with expectation, and all
     were questioning in their hearts concerning John,
     whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of
     them by saying: "I baptize you with water, but one who
     is more powerful than I is coming, the thong of whose
     sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  He
     will baptize you with Holy Spirit and Fire."

I believed in Jesus Christ for close to three years before I
really began to understand these words of John.
     I believed that Jesus was the lamb of God, come to take away
     the sins of the world.
          I believed that he deserved to be Lord of my life -
          that he should rule all my actions and all my thoughts,
               I believed that he loves me and that he calls me
               to follow him -
                    I believed that in him is life and that
                    abundantly -
          but despite my belief something was missing - 
- in some way I was not touched in the way that other believers
that I knew were touched.

I was conscious of how hard I had to labour to do what I thought
to be right and despite the assurances that my faith told me that
I had from God, I still felt uncertain a lot of the time.

I had a relationship with God 
     - I prayed and I worshipped 
and God had a relationship with me 
     - he most certainly watched over me and guided my steps
but it wasn't exciting and it didn't come easily.

I didn't feel God's presence very often even though my faith told
me he was in me and all round me;
     and the sense of peace that I saw resting so deeply within
     some of my brothers and sisters
          and the inner energy that seemed to radiate from so
          many others - 
     wasn't part of my personal experience.

One day - shortly after I moved from logging camp and took up
residence in the city of Nanaimo and began attending church
regularly - a friend of mine invited me to a prayer meeting that
was held in the basement of the local Catholic Church.

I went with him - and there I witnessed for the first time a
little bit of what the Holy Spirit did on the first day of

I saw over 120 people praying and praising God 
     - I saw men and women sharing their needs and others
     gathering round them and laying hands on them and asking God
     to meet those needs 
     - I heard still others talking about how God had answered
     their prayers or led them to someone they could help the
     previous week 
      - and others yet who spoke of how their decent God-fearing
     lives had been empty until the Holy Spirit had filled them.  
I saw people who prophesied in the name of Jesus -people who in
the midst of prayer and praise urged us all to be faithful to the
Lord - and reminded us of the dangers and pitfalls that would
attempt to draw us onto other paths and to the worship of other
- And during the entire gathering - I heard singing - such as I
had never heard before - spontaneous and free - and full of
thanksgiving - some of it in English - and some of it in
languages beyond my comprehension.

Quite frankly I thought that much of what I saw was silly - that
it was some kind of mass hysteria -
    yet the following week I returned, and the week after, and
     the week after that,
          until finally - like the folk who gathered around the
          disciples on the day of Pentecost - I understood what
          was going on.

What was going on in that basement was the ministry of the Holy
Spirit, the Spirit sent by Jesus - the Spirit sent by God - to
help those who believe in him;
     and it was a powerful help - a powerful spirit - one able to
     prompt tears of joy and cries of laughter in all those whom
     it touched.

I saw people come into those prayer meetings bowed down by
concern and by guilt leave erect and with hope written all over
their face.

I saw the dynamic old woman who ran our church's UCW and who
visited the hospitals for the congregation and sang in the choir
- raise her hands in prayer and shine with inner bliss.

I saw the Catholic priest pray without a book in front of him,
- and the United Church minister sit in a chair and receive the
blessing of over 100 people as he asked them to pray for his work
in his congregation.

I saw a woman who was angry and hostile and afraid being
ministered to in a private room by the elders of the prayer
meeting - and witnessed her identify and relive the incident of
sexual abuse that had been hidden in her heart for so many years
- and receive such assurance about herself during that time of
prayer - that she was able to hug each and everyone of us and
walk out of that room with a tearful smile - the first smile that
those with me had seen her smile in the year that they had known

I saw men and women who entered the meeting believing in God,
leave those meetings in the knowledge that God believed in them
and was present with them in a dynamic and living manner. 
Present with them, and present in them.

I saw lives being remade, reformed, changed
and God receiving the glory for it.

     "Now when the disciples at Jerusalem heard that Samaria
     had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John
     to them.  The two went down and prayed for them that
     they might receive the Holy Spirit - for as yet the
     Spirit had not come upon any of them; they had only
     been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.  Then
     Peter and John laid their hands on them and they
     received the Holy Spirit."

My friends - when Peter and John laid their hands on the
disciples in Samaria and prayed for them - they did so for a
reason - they did so because they saw the believers in Samaria
hadn't yet encountered the transforming and energizing power of
the Holy Spirit.  

And when Peter and John touched the believers of Samaria and
prayed for them - something happened. Something that was visible. 
Something that was obviously powerful and effective - so much so
that Simon the Magician offered the disciples money if they could
grant him the same power of touch that they had.

Two thousand years later we don't know exactly what happened in
Samaria - but we can guess a bit about what happened from what
continues to happen today when believers assemble together and
pray for one another that the Spirit might come upon them and
that God himself might minister unto them.

Tears flow, laughter is heard, hands are raised in holy praise,
wounds are healed, fears dismissed, and joy and peace is written
upon every heart and every face.

And more yet - conviction becomes deeper - mission becomes
stronger - zeal increases - and commitment becomes enthusiastic -
it becomes breathed full.

In short - when Jesus baptizes a person with the Holy Spirit and
fire - faith moves from here - in the head - to here - in the
heart - and it makes it everything different from what it was

This change - this transformation, this awakening, happened to me
one day as I sat in a chair and asked the disciples gathered
around me to lay their hands on me and to pray that I may receive
the fullness of the Holy Spirit in my life. 

And it has happened to many others - some who are in this church
- and some who are in others.
     It has happened when those around them have reached out and
     touched them and called on God's name,
          it has happened when they have been sitting and
          listening to the word of God being proclaimed,
               it has happened when they have been gathered in
               prayer and anticipation with fellow believers.

Truly, as Peter and John told Simon - it is the gift of God.  
It is a gift that we can all have and that we all can pass on.

My friends, each one of us can bring the gift of the Holy Spirit
to another 
- by our touch,     - by our laying on of hands, 
- by our prayer     - by our personal concern and care for them. 

We help God make himself real to others - we can help God to
dwell within another by what we do in the name of Jesus for them.

We can help them realize the gift that God has for them within
their lives.

This we ought to do - this we should do - for I have learned over
the years that there are many people who believe as the people of
Samaria believed - and yet for one reason or another do not have
the gift that God promises to all who believe.

I have learned over the years that people who believe in God
often do not know just how much God loves them or how personal
that love is.

I have learned that believers often have a head knowledge about
God's power and are grateful for what God has promised to them
and for how God watches over them - but do not sense that God is
alive within them and able to really show himself in powerful
acts of assurance towards them and towards those people to whom
he sends them.

Don't let your brothers and sisters struggle without the
knowledge of the immediate presence of God in their lives - pray
for them - reach out and touch them - and together give praise
and thanks to God and to Jesus Christ his Son for the gift of the
Holy Spirit.  

Let us Pray:
     Make O God the Spirit real with us 
     Make O God the Spirit real within our brothers and sisters
     that we and they may know your power and rejoice in your
     complete and total care.  Amen

          Credits: Billy Strayhorn "Passing On The
          Flame" in The Abingdon Preaching Annual 1995
          Edition, for the title and the opening

HYMN: Breathe On Me, Breath of God

We remember today, O God, that we are the people you have called
and set apart for ministry in the name of Christ.  You have
granted us the fire of the Spirit in our most inward beings and
graced us with the gifts that we need to live each day in the
fullness of hope and love.  Grant O Lord, that we might always be
aware of the power that you are willing to channel through us -
and make us a people who eagerly seek to grace those around us
with it --  Lord hear our prayer...

Make all the people of this church come alive in faith - let them
show passion and energy in your cause - make their light shine
brightly and their faith glow with the warmth of conviction and
compassion and certainty.  Purge us, we pray, of worldly loves,
and fill us with the love of all things that are sacred unto
you.... Lord hear our prayer...

We pray O God, today, for transformation - for ourselves and for
others - 
     - we ask for your truth and your assurance for those who
     find meaning only in worldly honour and praise...
     - we ask for your energy and for your power to flow in the
     veins of those whose only encounter with you thus far has
     been in the pleasure and the assurance of our rituals and
     - we ask for your living word to speak to and guide those
     who only experience of you is that of belief in empty
     doctrines and creeds... Lord hear our prayer...

Grace, we pray, this day - each one of us with a healing touch -
grant us the gift of discernment and the willingness to reach out
and to bring the wholeness you promise to those around us -- Lord
we hold before you those who suffer alone this day - those who
ache and throb with pain or hunger --- those who tremble in fear
and anxiety - and those who feel empty and unfulfilled --- we
pray for them and for those whom we have named before you and our
brothers and sisters this day -

Lord hear our prayer - 

All these things and so many more that lay upon our silent hearts
we offer before you O God, praying to you through Jesus Christ -
even as he taught us to do - saying "Our Father....

copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1998 - 2006
            please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.

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