Leighmoor UC 17.4.20
Be still, for the presence of the Lord
TIS 121: God himself is present, let us now adore him.
TIS 161: Tell out my soul
TIS 233: I will sing the wondrous story
TIS 245: We have a gospel to proclaim
TIS 276: There’s a light upon the mountain
[we have to be careful re copyright, so I am not listing possible youtube links. Just type in the title, and if there is one on youtube, it should pop up.]
Acts 17: 22-31
Psalm 66: 8-20
1 Peter 3: 13-22
John 14: 15-21
Prayers of Praise and Confession
Creator God, we your human creatures bow our heads and hearts before you,
We acknowledge our utter dependence upon you for every breath.
We praise you for the unique revelation of your love, sending Jesus the Christ into the world,
Good news for a needy humanity.
We worship you, O God, and we ask that you make us midwives, carrying your Word into the world, and laying it gently into the hearts and souls of those around us.
And yet, we confess that we who bear your name, ‘Christian’, often fail to proclaim your presence and power in our own lives.
We confess that we have many idols of wood and stone.
We focus much upon what we build, and use much of our energy for the amassing of property, possessions, and successes, happy to talk about finances, scorecards, and fashion-but often leaving unspoken, words of witness to your goodness, kindness and mercy.
We complain about what we feel life has not delivered to us, rather than attending to that which we can give to life.
Forgive us and restore us, we pray.
(in a time of silence, we remember other things for which we seek forgiveness).
God is love.
Through Christ our sins are forgiven.
(thanks be to God).
Take hold of this forgiveness
And live your life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Sermon May 17, 2020
Tell the story
Acts 17: 22-31
According to an ancient story, there were four men walking through the woods. Suddenly, they came across a high wall. Intrigued, they built a ladder to see what was on the other side. When the first man climbed to the top, he cried in delight, and jumped down. The same thing happened with both the second and the third men. When the fourth man reached the top, he smiled at what he saw: lush, green gardens with fruit trees of every kind, streams, teeming with fish, and animals, wild and tamed, in abundance. Like the others, he was tempted to jump down. But then he thought of his family, friends and neighbours, and went back to share with them the good news, that he had discovered.
-he went back to share with them the good news he had discovered.
Acts 17: ‘The Paul stood…and said- ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way…’
Sharing your faith.
Do you find it hard to talk about your faith outside the church family?
When was the last time you attempted to share your faith with someone else?
Let’s be honest.
It’s tough to talk about these matters outside the church, and, even, sometimes within the church.
We don’t want to come on too strong with others, we don’t want to be regarded as some kind of religious fanatic.
-after all-this is the Uniting Church!
William Buckley said that you may be able to mention religion at a dinner party once, but if you bring up the subject twice in one evening you will not be invited back.
Besides, as we sometimes say-
‘I’d rather see a sermon than hear one’
‘actions speak louder than words.’
The best way to tell people about Jesus may be the lives we lead, rather than the words we speak
‘Be careful how you live your life…you may be the only Bible someone reads.’
-our faith is a faith with words.
-our faith is a faith with words.
Certainly, actions are important.
But there are times when we must use words, when we must speak.
And how do we do this-in a world that is often very negative and misinformed about religion?
How do we speak?
How do we share our faith?
Today’s Scripture, from the Book of Acts, may be of some help.
-it may help us in our own struggles to talk about our faith.
Paul goes to Athens, to the pinnacle of Greek culture, and there he tells people about Jesus.
Up to this point in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, we have seen the power of the gospel to reach rich and poor, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female.
But here comes another challenge-that of sophisticated intellectuals.
Paul is in Athens, the heart of the very best of pagan culture, the town of Plato.
Frankly-Paul is unimpressed.
Paul sees Athens as little more than wasteland ‘full of idols.’(v.16)
He argues with Jews, Epicureans and Stoics-with philosophers, pagans-who looked down at Paul:
v.18: ‘Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?”
Now-Paul is a preacher who is eager to argue with anyone, in whatever world he finds himself.
Here is the only speech in the book of Acts made to Gentiles by the missionary to the Gentiles (who seems to prefer debating with the Jews).
Paul had said that was his mission-to go to the Gentiles, to the non-Jews, to share the good news-back in Acts 13.
Today’s reading records an episode in the life of Paul.
He is a masterful preacher-even in the face of opposition.
He talks to them about the Christian faith.
And, like a good debater, what does he do first?
He flatters his audience!
‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.’
Is this a compliment or a criticism?
Throughout Acts, Gentiles are shown to be religious-they will worship many things-gold, silver, wood, the military, money.
When Cornelius meets Peter in Acts 10, he tries to worship Peter!
When Paul and Barnabas heal a man at Lystra, the whole town names them as gods, and tries to worship them! (Acts 14).
So-Gentiles are very religious.
Yet Paul knows that our chief human problem is not atheism-not not believing in God-but idolatry. Worshipping other things.
Couldn’t that apply to our modern Western world too? One writer said: ‘some…worship at the shrine of the Western Way of Life.’
Idolatry can come to us quite naturally-which is a problem in itself.
Or perhaps Paul is praising the Athenians. Their groping after the ‘unknown god’ is a sign that at least they are searching, seeking.
Their impulse to worship is right, even if the objects of their worship are wrong.
Then Paul appeals to their knowledge of creation, asserting that his great God ‘made the world and everything in it.’(v.24)
This God cannot be captured in shrines made by human hands but exists over the face of the whole earth that we all might find our true purpose in his service alone. (vss 28-29)
Paul observes nature and its wonders as a forerunner of faith.
How can people look up at the stars, or ponder the mysteries of life in the world without imagining a real, though still unknown, divine force behind it all?
How can we, looking up into the night sky-not marvel and wonder at God’s creation?
Paul hopes to move them toward faith, by way of the natural world
Start where people are-their own life experience. You can’t share your faith, ignoring others’ lives.
I think we have all experienced that for ourselves at some point in our lives.
-someone ramming religion down our throat.
Be sensitive, don’t ignore and discredit their experiences.
Yet, Paul cannot convert his audience solely through an appeal to observe the world.
Too many people look at grass growing-and see only cells dividing.
-or look at the sky and see bits of matter and swirling balls of gas.
They do not see the Creator’s mind, heart and touch in creation.
I often think that if you take a cup of tea and sit in the garden-not only do you feel close to God-you can see and experience God’s handiwork, have a little insight into God’s wonderful design-just sit still in awe.
But for the pagans-something more than nature is needed
-and that something is: the resurrection.
-a fact that is contrary to our observation of the way the world works.
In nature-things decay, decline, die.
Death is death.
What is done, is done-over, finished, ended.
YET Paul concludes his speech with the resurrection-for resurrection is, for Christians, our assurance.
Something that is beyond the natural.
-which is the final assurance that this one is ‘Lord of heaven and earth.’
Paul then mentions judgement-and risks rejection by his audience.
-there is no evidence, from nature, for the resurrection.
-there is no evidence that our actions shall be judged by an authority higher than our own opinions.
The response to Paul’s address was mixed-some mocked him, others believed, and others wanted to hear more.
‘We will hear you again.’
They wanted to hear more.
One of Paul’s converts was Dionysius, who became the first bishop of the church at Athens-so it may not have been a stunning success at the time-but it was certainly not a failure.
Sharing your faith.
What can we learn from this episode?
- Don’t be discouraged.
As in this episode, some will believe, some will scoff. Happened in the gospels too, with Jesus and his disciples.
We know that many do not go to church now. Gone are the days of large congregations and overflowing Sunday Schools.
The love is still there!
Once children leave our communities of faith we might not see them again- -BUT if the seeds have been planted-their moral compass is in the right place, pointing due North.
- Our best opportunities for sharing our faith will not be in fancy speeches, but in our daily, ordinary contact with people.
- Keep at it-by our words and deeds. You have no idea what seeds you plant. Sunday School teachers-they have no idea what seeds they plant. I remember my Sunday School teachers with love-they were very special people. They loved us.
We can’t compel people to believe-faith is a gift from God.
Some of us share our faith via words, but, I think, most share the love of Christ quietly, through deeds of mercy and love.
Or through a hesitant question from someone. Perhaps asking what do you do at Christmas time? Are you going away at Easter? These are little opportunities to be able to say: “No, we stay home so that we can go to church-as Christians, it is our biggest celebration.”
Or if someone is sick: “Would you like me to “say a prayer for her when I get home?
Or-‘what gave you strength during the time of covid 19?’ ‘What kept you going?’
You don’t have to reply with mountains of words…sometimes it be just one: ‘God.’ ‘Christ.’
Or two: ‘My faith.’
We share our faith in our own particular way.
Loving others, wanting the best for our fellow human beings-is the starting point.
Love and respect.
Be like the fourth man in my opening story-he saw the beauty of the garden-and knew he had to share that with others.- the ‘good news’, the ‘God news.’
Share the beauty, the jewel, the preciousness of the Christian life, with others.
-in what ever way you can. The world needs this love more than ever,
Prayers of the People
We pray for the world-your world, our world.
Our hearts are heavy.
Our worry enormous.
Our burdens increase day by day.
We pray for our troubled world-for those affected by the recent suicide bombings in Afghanistan this week.
We pray for their families, for the survivors.
Prayer in the time of Coronavirus (by our Moderator)
God of love, God of grace, God of surprises,
We are grateful for the moments of love and community we share.
We know you are with us. We know the promise we have in you. Yet we live with our hurt in the present and uncertainty in the time ahead, and wonder what the future holds for us and our communities.
We pour out our hearts and souls to you … and pray:
for your world, your peoples and all who inhabit the face of the earth;
for those who are grieving for loss of loved ones, for those who fear for their safety, for those who feel most isolated and alone;
for those who give of themselves to support others: health care workers, cleaners, teachers, truck drivers and delivery personnel, pharmacists, grocery sales assistants, phone counsellors, personal care assistants, those who prepare meals for emergency food relief
… bring your comfort, hope, strength, and healing love.
We pray for our communities of faith, that we may be beacons of hopefulness, of promise, of peace with each other, and of inclusive love for neighbour.
We pray in the hope we know in Jesus, in whom we see and know the fullness of the grace and love of God.
Denise Liersch, Moderator, Synod of VicTas 14 May 202
Let us go out, or stay in, to sow the seed of the good news of Jesus Christ, trusting God for its growth and its fruit.