(there’s about a minute and a half in the beginning of the recording where I’m correcting a problem with the PowerPoint.)
April 21, 2017 – like it or not; you’re religious!
What do baseball, Bette Midler, and Rachael Ray all have in common with the gospel? We’ll circle back to that but for now let’s turn our attention to the reading from Acts. It’s a long reading and marks an interesting point in Paul’s life.
Notice that Paul was distressed by the many idols he saw in the city. But rather than leave and take the gospel away with him, Paul brings the gospel into that mix of religions. Now we know from history that Christians were persecuted in that day especially because they did not have idols or any sort of representation of a God that could be seen.
For Christians God was, and is, present by the promise of Jesus in the gospel lesson today. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
Our form of religion was not something that was easily received by the people of that day. They needed idols and talismans, temples and trinkets that they could see and use to show how religious they were.
The same is often true today in our culture. Look at all the religions and fanatics around us that use trinkets and talismans; everything from the lighthearted to the evil and deadly. There are the fun and trivial fanatics – sports teams and music fans. We can all indulge in the fun aspects of those things.
However, we all know some people for whom such things really do become their religion. Not just by the bumper stickers on their cars but also by the way they talk and act and spend their time and money. It can become so pervasive in their lives that their families are hurt because of how much money and time are squandered and wasted.
And then there’s the darker side of the religions around us. And beyond that, we’ve all encountered people who think they choose no religion. And also those who, in our society, are free to practice religions that truly hurt the soul. The satanic and cultic religions that draw people away from healthy loving relationships and into sad and twisted things. So how do we spot them? Well it’s the same way you can spot a fellow believer. It’s by how they talk, act and spend their time and money.
Often times, a person’s religion is revealed by their checkbook and their date book. Where time and money are spent, that reflects what a person values. In keeping with the epistle reading from Peter that speaks of baptism, the story is told of a new convert who when he was about to be baptized in the river was asked if he wanted someone to hold his wallet so it wouldn’t get wet. His reply was, that he wanted all of himself baptized including his wallet. He wanted his religion to be reflected in his spending.
After all look how God has spent His time and resources, His valuables. He sent His only Son to earth to gain for us the inheritance of heaven! God spent all He has on you – on this world. God showed us that His love for us will not be stopped, even by death. Death has been overcome. All cultures know death, but only the Christian can bring the good news that Christ is risen… He is risen indeed into any culture. And because He lives, as we read in to gospel, we too shall live.
The idea is that how we spend our money and time is important. We all need religion. Even if our religion appears to be no religion at all. And, we get rather religious about it! That’s because we’re more than body and mind; we have a soul – a spirit that has need to express itself in devotion, commitment and zeal. We’re created with a spirit, and that spirit will find a way to express itself. The question is how… how will your spirit be expressed? Will it happen by chance or choice? Will your spirit be given the freedom to receive the gift of grace from its Creator, God the Father in heaven above? That mercy is what we long for and that’s why God has given us His word, to allow our mind and spirit to learn of His love, grace and mercy, of His religious devotion to us!
That mercy and grace, that passion of God for His creation is what St Paul brought to the Areopagus in the lesson from Acts today. The setting of the Areopagus was that of a ‘public square’. It was a place used for open discussion and the debate of ideas. And into this arena St Paul brought the teaching of God in Jesus Christ raised from the dead. And how he did that is what leads us back to baseball, Bette Midler and Rachael Ray. And I’ll tell you how. St Paul found something in the culture he saw in the Areopagus that he could use to relate the gospel to them and their situation.
He quotes two poets that they would have known. From Crete a poet named Epimenides who said, “In him we live and move and have our being.” And from the Cilician poet Aratus “We are his offspring.” St Paul takes what they knew in their culture and used it to introduce the gospel to them.
That’s something you and I can learn from. Taking baseball as an example, we can use the idea of the sacrifice out. When a player deliberately lets the other team get him out so as to advance or score a runner, he sacrifices himself for the sake of the team. And there’s the natural bridge to speaking of Christ sacrificing Himself for us. He took the penalty so that we could advance to heaven.
Then there’s Bette Midler. She sang a song years ago called The Rose that speaks of how a rose, that lies dormant in the winter will, in the spring with the sun’s love, becomes a rose. Again, like our cold dead hearts are brought to life with love of the Son of God poured out on them, we come to life and become a thing of beauty, not because of ourselves but because of the love of the Son. So, songs can be used.
And finally, Rachael Ray. What she’s famous for is making meals in 30 minutes. But notice with her stuff, that it takes preparation and planning. You need to know what you’re going to do, where the ingredients are and have all the utensils at hand ahead of time if you’re going to accomplish the task of preparing a meal in 30 minutes.
Again you can use that to point out that God prepared all that was needed for the time of Christ’s coming to earth. Everything that was needed and necessary had been done and was ready for when Jesus was born. All the parts, pieces and people were in place so that Jesus could do the work He came to do. And, by the way, the work He has done feeds us now and for all eternity. He has accomplished all that was prepared for Him to do.
These are just a few examples of what you can take from our culture, and like Paul, use them to introduce the gospel. That’s important because of what Jesus promises in the gospel lesson today. That promise is what Paul was trying to make clear.
Jesus accomplished the work that He did on the cross and rising to new life again and in doing that He could make the promise His did to not leave us as orphans. But that He would care for us and send the Comforter who would be with us till Jesus return.
That idea of orphans really touches home. Our veterans have seen a lot of war and in war you wind up with a lot of orphans. In the recent years of wars, we’ve all seen pictures of war orphans, some infants, who have no idea that they’ll never know the love of their parents.
And then there’re the orphans from the tornadoes and storms in the south. Reuters reported, “Five-year-old Garrett LeClere survived the devastating twister, with two broken arms and a fractured skull. His parents did not make it. Rescuers searched for a day before finding the bodies of Jay and Amy LeClere beneath the rubble of their home.
“They are with Jesus,” Garrett told reporters. Many children lost loved ones in the killer tornadoes. “The trauma is deep. The wound is deep. Being orphaned is what we call a forever loss,” said Dr. Jane Aronson, Chief Executive of Worldwide Orphans Foundation. “You cannot tell them when to heal, and that can take a very long time.”
That reality is a very powerful way for us to realize that the promise Jesus makes today, that I will not leave you as orphans, is a promise that gives us a hope that many may never know. And yet if we can reach them with the promise of the gospel, they will learn what we’re learning, that Jesus keeps His word and He will be with us and watch over us always.
Take note that when Jesus is making this promise He is in the upper room the night before He goes to die on the cross. He knows that’s coming and this helps make it clearer to the disciples. Though they will not understand it for some time. They only know of orphans what we know, that they are those whose parents have died. It is a picture of lost intimacy.
Jesus says this will not be so of you. You will have security and protection because I will send that to you and it will be the Holy Spirit who is your guide, comforter and protector.
The idea of orphans also matches up with what Paul did back in the story from Acts when he spoke about the ‘unknown God’ in the Areopagus. Those people were abandoned by their ‘gods’, which never existed apart from the work of their own hands anyway, as idols. They were abandoned, orphaned, before they even began. But in the promises of God through Jesus Christ and His resurrection we have the assurance that we are never alone.
He is with us through His word of promise and the power of the Holy Spirit. So, though we can’t see Him bodily, He is with us. And we can still take His word into our culture and proclaim His death and resurrection as St Paul did so that others too may know that Christ is risen… He is risen indeed. Amen.
Sermon #892 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Acts 17:16-31
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18 A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19 Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.
Epistle Reading 1 Peter 3:13-22
13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” 15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. 17 For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. 18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. 19 After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— 20 to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.
Holy Gospel John 14:15-21
15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”