12th Sunday after Pentecost (Prop 14 – C)
Sermon Series on Acts
August 7, 2016
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The text that I have chosen for this morning’s sermon is the Epistle, which was read a few minutes ago.
The author Terry Pratchett said, “There are times in life when people must know when not to let go. Balloons are designed to teach small children this.” If you’ve ever watched a child breakdown as their balloon floated away, you know what he’s talking about. On the other hand, there are plenty of situations when you have to know to let go. Whether it’s guilt, sadness, or a past love, it’s said that letting go leads to healing. Then there are times when you let go of one thing to grab another; like a child who’s trapped on the monkey bars but let’s go to grab their parent’s hand. It’s this last example that I want you to take to heart this morning; not monkey bars of course, but how God wants us to let go and to grab on.
If there had been airplanes at the time of Paul, he would’ve had a billion airline miles. He visited booming port cities and dusty little hamlets all around Israel, Syria, the Mediterranean and modern day Turkey. One of the most fascinating places he visited had to be the city of Athens. By Paul’s time, it had lost much of its previous luster, but it was still a beautiful city with monuments, temples, and a large marketplace. While its fame was diminished somewhat, Athens was known for two things; philosophers and idols. Luke tells us, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” Athens was the place to be if you wanted to debate philosophy and other topics of the day. Athens was also the place to be if you wanted to worship something. A Roman comic said that it was easier to find a god in Athens than it was a man. Athena was their primary goddess, but the Greeks had idols for every god and every situation. And just so they wouldn’t anger a god by forgetting him, they had a shrine to “an unknown god”.
It was in this environment that Paul comes also preaching something new; the God who became man, died, and after three days came back to life. Some of the philosophers thought Paul was babbling, but others wanted to know more so they brought him to the Areopagus. The Areopagus was the council of Greek leaders who evaluated religious and philosophical arguments, and they would give Paul a hearing.
As Paul begins his sermon, you might have noticed that he didn’t start by bashing the various idols and the people who worshipped them. To the contrary, he complimented them, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.” Paul recognizes the importance of faith in Athens, so he uses the opportunity to tell them who God is and how He’s different from the gods they know. Paul continues, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.” The true God is different; He’s not restricted to a temple or condensed into a stone statue. He’s a living and ever present Creator.
You may have heard people say in the past that they’re “spiritual but not religious”. All this means is, that like the people of Athens, they’ve constructed their own gods, idols and form of worship. Now, I would hope that none of you have little statues of Buddha or shrines of any sort in your home, if you do, we need to talk. But since the first commandment condemns idolatry, I’m guessing it’s one that everyone wrestles with.
When God says in the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me”, He wasn’t saying that He wanted to be the first of the gods in your life, He wants to be the only God. How often though do we break this commandment? All the time, right? We don’t bow down to bronze statues of Athena, but we’ve found plenty of idols to replace her. Just take an objective look at your life and you’ll see what your putting your fear, love, and trust into. What’s pushing God out of His rightful place in your heart? Are they material things like your paychecks or your boat? Are your gods less tangible things; like a Jesus who thinks as you do or sports or even yourself? Do you worship lust, alcohol, or anger? Each of these things is vying for a spot in your heart, mind, and life, and when you worship a god of our own making, you’re pushing God off His throne and replacing Him with something else.
But what do these gods give us? Oh, they might give us joy or satisfaction. They might fill a void we have. They might mask our pain. But everything we find or feel is temporary. All these idols we worship are fake! These idols made out of stone, paper, feelings, or what have you are nothing. They can’t possibly provide what you need. So you’ve got to let them go! Let go of your favorite idols, repent of your idolatry, and in their place, grab onto to the living, loving God.
Paul has a great analogy in his sermon that fits the first and the latest hearers perfectly. He says, “They should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward Him and find Him.” He’s saying that idolaters, those who worship false things, are in the dark. But if they grope around and if they reach beyond the physical they will find the God who created all things. In Romans 1 Paul says, “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”
Let go of your idols and grab onto God because He’s truly the only God with any power whatsoever. He created all things. He created you and me. He formed us together in our mother’s wombs in the most miraculous of ways. But when He’s done creating, He doesn’t just sit back and relax, but as Paul says, He’s close by. Jesus says in our Gospel, “If God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you? and “Instead, seek His kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” God gives us everything our idols can’t and unlike them God He keeps His promises. God created you! How could He possibly make you survive on your own?
We let go of our gods and we grab on to the True God, the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit because He alone can give us what we really need. We want satisfaction, joy, hope and comfort, and while idols may give us these things, their presence is fleeting. But God? He gives them permanently. He bestows on us the riches of His blessings, even if we can’t see them right away. And nothing He gives us is more important than the forgiveness of sins that is ours in Christ Jesus.
Paul says, “[God] commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed.” God is going to judge the world and all the idols and idolaters in it. But you are, as Paul says, God’s offspring and because you find your life in Him, you have nothing to fear. You are forgiven and you are holy in God’s sight. In Jesus, we see God as He is – the loving, creating God who gives all good things, most especially the forgiveness of all your sins.
One of the things that separates man from animal is religion; the knowledge that there is something greater than us out there. There are some who are atheists who say that there is nothing out there, no Creator, no God, but they’re blind to the truth that’s revealed all around us. People are spiritual beings and most are looking for what they want and need in their idols. But fake, mute idols can’t give what everyone needs, only God can do that through Christ Jesus. Paul was a unique voice in ancient Athens, proclaiming something not just new but revolutionary – a God who lived and died to save mankind. We too are unique voices in contemporary America as we proclaim something that’s new to most people – a God who lived and died for all people. The loving and gracious God who said “Let go” and was there to take our hands and save us.
Now the peace which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen