Fifth Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2018
Today we are continuing on with the book of Acts. I have been following along with all of Heinrich’s messages while away and what a journey it has been.
Coincidentally the church where Garry and I attend in Phoenix over the winter, has also been studying this book. Every single week Pastor Jeremy begins his message with the same introduction and I find the repetition very helpful so I want to share it with you. The Book of Acts is the story of what happened after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. What happens to those first followers after Jesus rescued us from the power of sin and death. The book begins and Jesus is with the disciples and He gives them some instructions. He says, “I want you to wait in Jerusalem. And I want you to wait for something significant, I want you to wait for the Holy Spirit. Now realize that the Holy Spirit had been given in the past to an individual person, like a king or a prophet or a judge ….but basically only one person at a time. But now the Spirit is going to be given to all flesh, anybody who is a follower of Jesus; male, female, Jew, Gentile…it doesn’t matter. If you are in Christ, Christ will put his spirit in you. And that Spirit is given for a reason. The Spirit is given… not to give us warm fuzzies, not to give us ecstatic experiences, but the spirit is given to empower us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ. To tell the story and to share the invitation. Jesus said, “I’m not going to leave you alone, I’m going to give you my spirit. He’s going to dwell not beside you or near you in close proximity, He is going to be ‘in you’. He’s going to guide you and lead you and strengthen and encourage you to share the story And that is exactly what happened on the day of Pentecost and the Spirit was poured out upon them and they began to share the story and the invitation and people began to come to faith and the church was born.
Now… here’s the most significant part personally for me. Pastor Jeremy stresses that the Book of Acts is our story too. The Book of Acts was born about 2000 years ago in another land, speaking another language, in really different cultures and customs. But the spirit that started the church thereis the same spirit in us today,guiding and leading our church here. We are part of the story of the book of Acts today. We as God’s people, as believers, are part of this story. You and I are participants in the chapter entitled 2018.
Now IS IT easy to share the drama of the resurrection with others? Sometimes. But often we come up against many types of obstacles just as Paul did in our scriptures today.
Paul has arrived in Athens. He has travelled many miles in his missionary outreach. He left the Middle East and has now come ashore to Europe. Try to picture his arrival at the center of the Gentile world in a very busy Greek metropolis. Athens was not only a major center for art and athletics but at this time it was also the intellectual capital of the world. How could Paul connect with these people, many of which knew nothing about Jesus, the son of God?
Now that we’ve set the scene, let’s go to the scriptures.
Acts 17: 16-34
Marilyn  Now while Paul was waiting for Timothy and Silas at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw the city was full of idols
[17-18] So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.
Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him and some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.
[19-21] And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
 And So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said:
Sam  “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
[24-29] The God who made the world and everything in it, this Master of sky and land, doesn’t live in custom-made shrines or need the human race to run errands for him, as if he couldn’t take care of himself. He makes the creatures; the creatures don’t make him. Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable.We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’ Well, if we are the God-created, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to think we could hire a sculptor to chisel a god out of stone for us, does it?
[30-31] “God overlooks it as long as you don’t know any better—but that time is past. The unknown is now known, and he’s calling for a radical life-change. He has set a day when the entire human race will be judged and everything set right. And he has already appointed the judge, confirming him before everyone by raising him from the dead.”
Marilyn [32-34] Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst and some men and women joined him and believed.
Heather – At the core of Paul’s resurrection message to the Athenians was that the true God is so much bigger than the idols they were worshipping. Is that also true of any of us?
In the Children’s story given earlier, Shane questioned the younger ones about who their idols or heroes were. But who are yours? Who are mine?
Money, Sports… what does it do to you? It’s ok to be impressed… but does it also bother you that more glory is given to these things than to God? Or do you idolize education and degrees, information and power? What will a person sacrifice to get those letters after their name? When you watch things like the Oscars & Academy Awards… what emotion fills you? Admiration or heartbreak?
I read an interview with Zac Efron from May of 2014. He tried to explain why in his mid 20s he had to check into an alcohol-rehab facility. He said, “I had done films back-to-back-to-back. I was burnt out. There was something I was lacking, some sort of hole that I couldn’t really fill up. I was just so deep into my work, it was really the only thing I had. . . .
Zac was rich, famous and doing what he loved. He had all of the things many of us give our entire lives to obtain. But he was obviously still missing something, deeply, in his life.
In closing, we’ve been given quite a few things to ponder after hearing Paul’s Speech in Athens. Let us be aware of false idols. Let us have faith in the resurrection story and be part of it. But what is faith? It’s complicated and somewhat hard to define. But my friend, Marilyn was able to find a very eloquent description: Faith “a gift from God, a response to God’s presence in our lives. This gift is freely given but is not to be kept in a gift box, instead it is to be circulated and actively re-gifted to others.” This goes well with Pastor Jeremy’s weekly explanation of how the next chapters of the Book of Acts are being written today, by us as God’s followers. Let us take God’s gift and be part of this unimaginable journey. Amen
Copyright 2018 – Heather Tansem, elder at Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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