Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 21, 2017
He Gives Life - May 21, 2017 - Sixth Sunday of Easter - Text: Acts 17:16-31
Our text for this morning sounds very much like Paul is speaking to many people in our modern world. There are some in our world today that would have us believe that we all worship the same god, we just call him different names. There are those in what we call the “ecumenical movement,” that is the movement which wants to join all the religions and churches of the world into one big church, who would have us believe that the differences which we have really are only minor or superficial. Interestingly enough, as was the case with Paul, whenever we hear people espouse such nonsense such as the belief that we all worship the same god we simply call him by different names, when we, in the Christian church get to the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection, that is where our paths diverge and that is where we are called all kinds of names. The fact of the matter is, we do not all believe in the same god and simply call him by different names, rather, we, in the Christian Church, believe in the one true God who shows Himself to be God, who lived, suffered, died and rose from the dead.
Our text for this morning is the first reading from Acts 17. I know this is a favorite texts for some people and it is an intriguing text to me. I do not think I am alone as a pastor when I say, “Boy, I wish I could preach like Paul.” Paul always knew the right words to proclaim to the right audience. It is no coincidence that his words are also applicable to us today. So, this morning, I will attempt to let Paul preach as we look at his sermon on Mars Hill.
Ladies and Gentlemen of Westfield, Spring, Houston and the surrounding area! I see that in every way you are very religious. And here I will change the pronoun and say that we are very religious. We are in the habit of making our own gods and our own gods come in many shapes, forms, and sizes. Our gods today consist of idols of work, money, power, prestige, fame and fortune. Think about it, what do you hear being bragged about these days? “I put in an 80 hour work week last week.” “I make $250,000 a year.” “I am the CEO of my company.” When is the last time you heard someone say, “I spent 80 hours with my family, with my wife and my children last week”? Or, “I made a lot of money, but I gave most of it back to my local congregation because I do not need so much and others have greater needs.” Or, “I make just enough for us to get by, but that is okay because I really enjoy my work, it brings me fulfillment, and I am able to touch so many lives”?
We are religious, but the word religious as Paul is using it really means ‘fearful.’ The sense that Paul is trying to get across is that we are demon-fearing. We read our horoscopes, not because we believe them, but “just for the fun of it.” We call the psychic friends hot-line, do not walk under ladders, do not break mirrors, and do not step on the cracks in the sidewalk. Of course, we all know that these things are silly, are not true and we do not really believe them, but you can never be careful, so just in case - knock on wood.
We are religious in that we make our own gods. We even make our own god in a box. We watch the religious shows on television. We listen to the “Christian” (make air quotes) radio station. We watch the religious movies. We read the religion section in the newspaper. We listen to the politically correctness of our society. We think all these things through in our own minds and then we speak what we think the Bible says, but unfortunately, what we very often forget to do is to go back and check out what the Bible really says. How often have you said, or heard said, “My god is not like that,” or “My god would never do that?” In the past we have met the Bereans and as I have encouraged before, so I encourage again, be as the Bereans. Paul tells us, the Bereans were of a more noble character. They listened to what was preached and carefully checked it against the Bible to see if it was what God really said. The God of the Bible is not necessarily politically correct or the god of this world’s design.
We are Americans and as Americans we pride ourselves on the fact that we are self-made people. We pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. We did it our way. And we still do it our way. Today our gods may not be idols shaped in silver or gold, but our gods are images made by man’s design and skill nonetheless. In many and various ways we are very religious.
Paul says, “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” (v. 23). Those are Paul’s words. Today he might say it this way, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at the things you have made in this world I have seen buildings erected to money, churches, cults, religions and sects of all kinds, and people who have boiled it all down to these simple terms, ‘it does not matter what you believe as long as you believe something, as long as you are sincere and are good enough.’ Now what you worship in a pluralistic way, not knowing who you worship, I am going to proclaim to you.”
This is what God is really like. God is God. He is almighty. He is bigger than big, stronger than strong and smarter than smart. He is the one who made the world and everything in it, out of nothing. God shows His might in this, He said, “let there be” and it was. He gives us life at conception and new life through Holy Baptism. He gives us skills, talents and abilities to work, a job to perform, a way to make a living in order to be able to afford a roof over our heads, clothes on our back and food to eat.
God does not live in temples or churches built by human hands, so that we come to see Him on Sunday and then leave Him in the building until next week when we come to see Him again. No, God is everywhere present. He is always everywhere at the same time. He is bigger than the universe itself and at the same time He is as small as the smallest molecule. He knows our every thought. He sees our every move. And usually, we never think about that fact when we are in the middle of doing something we should not be doing, sinning in other words, He sees us. We come here to this place and worship God, not because He needs us to worship and adore Him, but because of our need to express our worship and adoration to Him and because of our need to come here to be given the gifts He has to give as He gives them through His means of grace, His Word and His Sacraments.
God is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. If our God needed something from us, He would not be a very mighty god. Rather, if God is the one who gives all things as we said, what would we have that He would need from us? It is very much like the relationship of a parent and a child. How often do children talk about their bed or their bedroom when it reality these things belong to the parents. We talk about the things of this world being our things when in reality all things are God’s. What we have when we are born and what we take with us when we die is what is really ours, nothing. Our response to God is to give back to Him. We give of our selves, our time, especially our time in divine service and Bible class, we give our treasure, not because God needs these things from us, but because of our need to recognize and return a portion to Him.
God Himself gives all people life and breath and everything else. We come to God and we pray to Him, not because He needs to hear from us, because He already knows what we need even before we ask, but it is because of our need to acknowledge our needs as well as our need to express ourselves to Him.
In Him we live and move and have our being. God is so almighty that if He were to remove His all powerful preserving hand from this universe it would collapse. And yet, He does not do that, but He is with us, keeping and sustaining us in all our needs every day. We are His children.
God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. What a comfort to know that God does not change and that He does not change His mind. In an ever changing world it is good to know that what were God’s commands years ago are still His commands today. And yes, that means that what was a sin long ago is still a sin today. In the past God overlooked this ignorance, as Paul calls it, but not so today. Today we are accountable. Today, He commands all people everywhere to repent. To repent means to turn 180 degrees, to turn away from sin.
God will judge the world with justice by the man He has appointed. There are absolutes in our world. The is an ultimate authority. There are things that are right and things that are wrong. God will judge and His standard for judgement is Jesus. We like to compare ourselves with others and we can always find others who are “worse” than we are, at least in our own minds, but the standard we need to go by is Jesus and He is perfect.
Thanks be to God that the Standard is also the one who gave Himself for us. Jesus was born, true God in human flesh in order to live for us, that is in order to completely and perfectly obey all God’s commands, laws and decrees for us in our place because we cannot. God put our sins all our sins on Jesus so that He was worse than all of us. He was the worst of the worst, because He had on Himself the sins of all people of all places of all times. He suffered the eternal death penalty, which was the verdict that was placed on us, for us in our place. But Jesus did not stay dead. God raised Him from the dead. Now He is seated at the right hand of the Father where He is ruling over us, interceding for us and watching over us. This does not mean that He is only in heaven, because as God, Jesus is also with us, right here.
It is at this point that Paul had a difficult time and at this point we still have a difficult time today. The cross is not what we like to talk about. The cross, that is a bloody thing, that is a means of torture and death, that is something we like to avoid, but it is unavoidable. The cross is front and center. The cross is what brought us forgiveness and life. There are many people today who have a problem with the cross, but this is where we rejoice. Thanks be to God that Jesus gave His life for ours. Thanks be to God for this forgiveness, earned and won for us, given to us. And with forgiveness, we have eternal life in heaven.
This world and life in this world is short, perhaps a hundred years compared to eternity, forever, millions, billions, and trillions of years, which is forever. Your time in this world will run out. The Lord will return or we will die. No amount of knocking on wood will save us. No amount of good works will save us. No amount of obedience will save us. No amount of just believing in anything or with sincerity will save us. If just believing in anything would be sufficient, then why did Jesus die on the cross. It does not make sense. Narrow is the way to everlasting life and that narrow way is Jesus and Jesus alone. Just Jesus, that is our message and that is our hope and confidence. And the best thing is that it is a gift. God gives and we are given to, thanks be to God. May the Lord fill you with His Holy Spirit and work through His Word to give you, strengthen you, and keep you in faith. To Him be the glory for Jesus’ sake. Amen.