On Sunday 28 June 2020, Apostle Harold Swartbooi conducted the Sunday morning divine service at Sandton congregation. The divine service was conducted in Afrikaans and translated into English at the altar.
He was accompanied by Bishop Vernon Rudolph, a small music ensemble and the NACTV crew. This divine service was made available on NACTV, Cape Town TV on DSTV channel 263, as well as Radio KC, Radio Teemaneng and SABIE stereo. Members could also listen to the divine service by calling in from either a mobile phone or landline. This divine service was also streamed live on the NACTV Facebook page.
For members who were unable to watch the divine service, please find a detailed summary of the sermon:
Opening Hymn: To God be the glory (EH 67)
Bible word: Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say. (Philemon 21)
My dear brothers and sisters, the situation we have in Sandton church, is somewhat abnormal. We don’t have a physical congregation here today. And when I read the letter from Apostle Paul to Philemon, I realised that his situation was very similar. When he wrote this letter, he was in jail; there wasn’t a physical congregation in front of him. Paul wrote this letter primarily for Philemon, but there are also other individuals that he included in this letter. And in a portion of the second verse, Paul says: I also write this to the congregation in your own home.
Dear brothers and sisters, we gather in our houses where we are. Some might be at work, others might be in other places where you are listening to or reading the word. Why do we do this? Why do we listen to the word of God? Why is it so critical to us? I want to explain this by using an example. There was a man who begged for money and he constantly walked past the house of a rich man. And one day, as he walked past the house of the rich man, the son of this man joined him. And that is how it became a daily occurrence. Through this daily gathering, a beautiful friendship developed and it went on for a period of time. On a day when the beggar walked past the rich man’s house, the son of the rich man did not join him. And he thought maybe something had happened because this went on for a few days. Eventually, he went to the gate of the rich man’s home and asked the guard: “where is the son who joined me on a daily basis?”, and he was told that the rich man’s son passed away. And the beggar thought about what he could do so that this beautiful friendship could be entrenched. And what the beggar did was that as he remembered the face of the son, he painted the son. After that, he rolled up the paper and he took it to the house. He asked the guard at the gate to give it to the father of the son. And the guard did exactly that. A few months had passed, and the beggar once again walked past the house of the rich man. The guard called him and told him that the rich man had also passed away and that his funeral was about to take place. The guard also told the beggar that the rich man was a collector of paintings and those paintings would have to be auctioned off. The guard continued and gave the beggar the time and the date of the auction. And on the day of the auction, the beggar put on his best clothing and he attended the auction. When everybody was ready the auctioneer said that they can start with the auction, as he pointed to the paintings. He said there is a condition that the first painting that must be auctioned is the painting of the rich man’s son. The rest of the people who came to bid for the paintings were extremely unhappy. But the auctioneer said that is the condition. Then he asked if anyone wants to make a bid on that painting. No one came. The beggar put his hand in his pocket and felt that he had a few coins and he counted it, and he said he wanted to make a bid on the painting. The auctioneer accepted it and asked if anyone present wanted to make a better offer – but nobody was interested in the painting. He knocked his hammer and granted to that man, and he told the beggar that he is welcome to collect the painting. The beggar walked forward to collect the painting, and while doing so, the auctioneer told everyone who was present that there is a second condition, and the second condition is that the one who takes the painting of the son will be able to take all the other paintings as well. The one who takes the son gets all the other paintings.
Let us come to what I originally said: why are these services so important? He who has the Son gets all the other things. So, what is the Son to us? We can read it in the book of John where Jesus says: I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If I have Jesus, then I have God as well. Jesus also said: I am the bread of life; I am the Good Shepherd; I am the door. If we have the Son, we have everything we need to become worthy. Therefore, let us see to it that we always have Jesus Christ. And that is what Paul wrote to the people even when he was in jail.
Let’s have a look at the greater context of this letter Paul wrote to Philemon. There are three important individuals who play a role in this letter. The first one is Paul, the second one is Philemon and the third one is Onesimus. I want to start with the third one. Onesimus was a slave, and he worked in the house of Philemon. Onesimus ran away from the house of Philemon, and some Bible experts reckon that before he ran away he stole some of Philemon’s possessions and ran away with it. In one or other way, Philemon came into contact with Paul. And Paul made the evangelism of Jesus Christ known to him, and this brought about a change to the life of Philemon. Philemon became a follower of Jesus. And now, Paul writes this letter and addresses it to Philemon and tells the story of Onesimus and says he is going to send him back. And in the letter, he says that when Onesimus is sent back, Paul didn’t want Philemon to accept him as a slave but as a beloved brother. And that is how the story played out.
We want to focus on the story of Paul who was in prison. Most Bible experts are on the same page, they reckon that when this letter was written, Paul was in prison. During Apostle Paul’s time as an Apostle, he spent 5 years either in jail or in containment. So we can say that in a certain context he went through a containment period. When he was in that containment phase, he did not have a victim mentality. He didn’t have the mentality that he was an innocent man placed in jail and now he’s going to rot. Instead, he used the opportunity to determine his options in the circumstances. Before he could do that he had to determine what was at his disposal. And I would like to focus on two of these things. Paul had a pen and paper. And with this means of communication, he wrote letters. And he wrote letters to congregations and to individuals. And through this means of communication, he changed people’s lives drastically. This included people in biblical times, as well as people in the present time. Dear brothers and sisters let us apply this to our lives. In our time, in this period of lockdown, let us assess and look at what we have at our disposal. We can say that we can SMS, WhatsApp, Email and communicate in other similar forms. But I want to focus on another form of communication: our way of acting/behaving. What is the message we bring across through our actions? I am sure that the guards in prison watched Paul. His means of communication must have sent a message to them, and this must have been wonderful. In this lockdown period, may our actions inspire others to become children of God. Let our actions inspire others to become followers of Jesus Christ. People must look at us and say that instead of complaining, we praise our God.
A second thing that Paul had at his disposal was time. He used that time on 2 things. The first was the time he spent on himself because he said: I die daily. You can only remove things you are aware of. So, he must have sat quietly and realised that there are certain things in his life that God isn’t happy with. What did he do? He decided to remove those things. And then he came to an important point when he could say: I live no more; Christ lives within me. He spent the time that he had at his disposal to improve himself. Now beloved, let us apply this to our own lives. You and I have lots of time. Let’s sit still and do some introspection. Let us have a look at our lives. And it is a wonderful dialogue you can have with your God. When you speak to God you can take off that veneer; figuratively, you can take off your mask. You can say: Lord, this is who I truly am. Sometimes, you can hide behind a mask when people truly see who we are. We want to say to God: this is what we do in silence when people can’t see us; I don’t want to be like that. I call on the powers of heaven. God, please help me! And dear brothers and sisters, we can “play open cards” with our God. In this time, we can tell Him who we truly are and He is the One who is listening and who will help us.
The second way in which Paul used his time: he made time for others. He was interested in Onesimus and that is why he wrote to Philemon saying he must not accept him as a slave any longer but as a brother. Let us make time for others. I think of a little boy. His father came home from work, and he always used to work overtime. And while his father was sitting and reading the newspaper, he went to his father and asked him to play with him. And his father said that he does not have time. The boy must go to his room. The child went to his room very disappointed and sat on his bed. After a while, his father stood at the door of the bedroom and asked the son what he wants him to do. He asked his father how much money he earns in an hour. Irritably, the father responds and says he earns R20 an hour. Thereafter, the son put his hand under his pillow and he took out the money and started counting it. He then took a R20, offered it to his father and asked: “Father, can I please buy an hour of your time so that you can come home and hour earlier and spend that time with me?” Brothers and sisters, there are so many who require our time. Make time for our loved ones. I think of what is written in Matthew 25 we read the words “for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me. Then the righteous asked: when did we do this for you? And then it said, “what you did unto the least of Mine you did unto Me”. Do not forget this dear brothers and sisters: What we do unto others, we do to God.
In summary, we are in this lockdown period and we have two things at our disposal. We have the means of communication – this is the messages we send out. And then, we also have time at our disposal – let us use it to our own advantage and to the advantage of others. Amen.
Thoughts from Apostle Harold B Swartbooi
(Divine service conducted in Afrikaans, translated into English at the altar)