Scripture: Acts 17:16-31
Two weeks ago I was away for a couple of events in the Toronto area. The first event I was supposed to go to was a retreat at a friend’s church, a retreat we may end up offering here at Carman at some time. But it was on the Wednesday, just two days before I was supposed to fly out when I got an email telling me the retreat had to be unfortunately cancelled.
Once I got over the initial disappointment, I began to think, “What am I going to do for 3 extra days in Toronto now?”
I thought about changing my flights. I thought about where I might stay if I changed things around. I thought about how am I going to get around when I was planning to hitch rides to and from the retreat with friends.
Then I remembered an email I had received a couple of months ago. It was from some Presbyterians who had asked about my group, Cruxifusion, and if there was a chance we could get to know one another and there was an invitation to come to their meeting, which just so happened to be in Toronto the same weekend of the retreat. Unfortunately though, because I had already made plans to go to the retreat I had to decline their offer.
But now my weekend was free! I quickly emailed the organizers to see if it was too late for me to attend. They replied there was no problem, in fact there was already a place on their weekend agenda for me to speak!
So I got on my 6am flight to Toronto via Halifax, which is waaay too early to be travelling in my opinion, especially since you need to be at the airport at something like 5am. When I got to Toronto I rented a car and headed to the Presbyterian gathering. I listened to a couple of their speakers, knowing I was going on stage at noon to address the room of probably 150 people. I had drawn up a sketch of what I might say on the plane, but I needed to know more about them before I could really finish the message.
What I learned is that there were two groups coming together for this weekend, and part of their concern was the direction of the denomination, the Presbyterian Church in Canada. You see, they are about 20 years behind the United Church. They are just now beginning the tough discussions about what to do with sexuality.
And I honestly felt bad for them that they have to do this right now. I was also thankful that I wasn’t involved with the United Church in the late 80s when we dealt with this, because all the stories I have heard of how people were treated, good people on both sides of the debate, I heard and see how this debate effectively split our church.
So when I got up to speak, I shared with them a couple of those stories. I shared with them how Cruxifusion came to be. I shared with them our vision and our passion for supporting Christ centred leaders in our church, and being the ones who boldly share that Christ is the most important part of this thing we call the church, and how Christ is the one we desperately need at this time, including our churches.
When I finished, I had many great conversations with lots of people about the importance of what I said. And each one seemed to grasp on to different parts of my talk. Some were just trying to gain a little extra insight about the more recent history of the United Church and also what we do at Cruxifusion.
What surprised me most of my time hanging out with Presbyterians was how many came up to me and said, “I used to be United.” There were at least a dozen who shared that thought with me.
Their structure of a conference was quite different than what we have at our Cruxifusion gatherings. With the Presbyterians, there were just a lot of speakers and very little worship. There was time for some questions to the speakers, but not a lot of time to unpack what we heard.
At Cruxifusion we worship several times a day, with excellent preaching. Our speakers are told to engage us in conversation, to give us things to consider which we can take to small group discussions. And we pray… we pray a LOT!
While I did enjoy the speakers and my time with the Presbyterians, and I really did, I find coming out of Cruxifusion a much more filling experience for me. To know we pray for each other. To know we are spending quality time in worship. To invite the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst. All these things are what refill my tired body after a busy Lent and Easter time.
This year at Cruxifusion we had people speaking passionately about what they see happening in the communities in which they serve. Some of it was very challenging to hear, stories of racism and the like. But it was also something that causes us to rethink what we do as clergy and as churches in the face of such events and others in our own communities.
It caused me to ask myself, who are the ones who are being hurt the most? Who are the forgotten? Who needs help? Who needs someone to champion their cause? And what can we do? What gifts do we have to offer?
It surely is something that needs to be prayed about.
What is most important for us as a church in Sydney Mines?
In a way, this is the question Paul was putting to the people of Athens.
Paul was trying to tell people about Jesus and the God who loves us, but the people just weren’t getting it.
You see, the Greeks, and especially those in Athens, they worshipped many different gods. All over the city there are statues of various gods, so they don’t know what to make of Paul who comes in and tries to tell them about yet another god they should know about.
Part of the challenge facing Paul is that the Greeks are thinkers. The Greeks are what we have largely built western society on. They are scientists and seekers of knowledge. They want to understand things.
Meanwhile, Jesus is relational. Jesus doesn’t want to get into our head and fill us with knowledge of God, he wants to get to our heart and fill us with the love of God.
So Paul begins trying to speak to the hearts of the Greeks in Athens. He makes a connection with their own gods, pointing out the many he has seen and heard of as he walks the city. But in his travels, Paul found an altar put in place for an “unknown god.”
Here is his chance to share. He wishes to teach them about their unknown God, because this is the God he knows!
And so Paul does share. He speaks of the God who created the earth and all that is in it. He speaks of how this God is reaching out to us and that we should seek him in our lives, because unlike the Greek gods, this God is closer than we may think! So close that we are to be considered his offspring.
And if we are his offspring, we should think that we are like our God, and that he is like us. Not to be worshipped as an idol, not to be made in our image, but for us to be formed in his image.
We do this by repentance. We repent of the things which are sinful in our lives, including putting other things of worship in our lives.
For the Greeks, these offences were the other gods they worshipped. For us it could be something very different.
That was part of my worry when I was with the Presbyterians. They were so focused on the sexuality issue, I fear it may have been blinding them of more important things they could be meeting about. Such as how God is still moving in their church.
I was worried about this because I believe our own church focused on it too much and forgot about what else God was asking us to do. And as result, our church, our broken denomination, a denomination which was already in steady decline, it broke even more.
Our world has made so many other things more important than God. Our worship has been placed at the feet of things made from human hands, and our world suffers greatly because of it.
We worship politicians. We worship television and movie stars. We worship entertainers and sports stars. We worship material things and we even worship sex.
And then, if we think about it, we’ll eventually get around to worshipping God.
We have placed many statues in our midst, statues which speak of the greatness we place on these other people, but none can come close to our God.
Politicians fail. Entertainment and sports stars come and go like the ocean tide. Sex outside of God’s plan is meaningless and often painful.
Yet these are the things we will worship in our homes. We have shrines, altars even for these things.
Every once in a while you will see someone’s “man cave” decked out top to bottom with everything they can possibly find to represent their favourite sports team. Jerseys, posters, mugs, curtains, chairs, sweaters, and so on and so on.
We worship these things, and we worship them over God himself.
Paul goes on to say this,
“In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 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.” (Acts 17:30-31)
Jesus has come to draw us back into worship with our God who loves us deeply. The sin of the world troubles him, it always has, but instead of destroying his creation as he did with the flood and saving certain things through Noah and the ark, God sent Jesus.
Could God have flooded the earth again? Could he have called upon plagues and disease. Sure he could. But that wasn’t his plan.
God’s plan was to send his Son Jesus into the world in order to save it. The flood didn’t work and it broke his heart to do it. So he promised to never do it again. So he used another way.
Which is why it’s so important for us to realize God is not far off at all. God is as near as he can be, just waiting with open arms for us to reach out to him and know him.
Our God is relational. He wants a personal relationship with us. Which is where Jesus comes into the picture. Creating rules and doling out punishment is not a relationship.
A relationship is a mutual partnership of love for each other. A willingness to grow together and to get to know one another more. It is through Jesus that we experience this personally with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Our worship belongs to God. He is our creator. He is the one who put all of this together. He is the one who knit us in our mother’s womb. He is the one who loves us greater than any one else could ever love.
He can do this because he is our perfect Father in heaven. All other objects of our worship will let us down. No one can live to the standards of being worshipped. It’s just too hard. No one else is perfect. Only God is perfect.
If you feel your object of worship is someone or something other than God, then you need to follow Paul’s instructions.
We repent of our sin and turn to Jesus, who is the perfecter of our faith, the one in whom we find redemption and, more importantly, we find the love of God offered to us freely.
From there, God will reveal to us how we may get even closer to him, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It is a lifelong process, and the reward for taking such a journey is grand! Life with our heavenly Father forever more!
So let’s lose our other so called “gods” and let Jesus lead our way as we lift him up to the church and also the community in which we serve. Offering hope, joy, love and peace, which only God can truly bring, to the world which is searching for those exact things.
Let us pray,
Jesus, you are the light, the true light of this world. You are the hope we cling to, you are the love we long for.
So help us Jesus, to see how we may draw closer to your Father and our Father in heaven. Help us to repent of our sin, those other objects of our worship, and turn to you.
For you are the one who deserves all our praise. You are the one who lives in us because you truly are near to all who reach out to you.
So live in us, walk with us, and love us as we seek to love in your name.
We pray this in your strong and powerful name, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen and amen.