Sixth Sunday of Easter: Called to Live
PRELUDE: Centering in Life. Rev. Alejandra Zareth
OPENING SENTENCES (Psalm 66:8-20)
All you peoples, bless our God! Let the sound of God’s praise be heard! God preserved us among the living; God didn’t let our feet slip a bit. Come close and listen, all you who honor God; I will tell you what God has done for me: My mouth cried out to God with praise on my voice. Bless God! God didn’t reject my prayer; God didn’t withhold God’s faithful love from me.
HYMN: Listen to Come All You People (Uyai mose) GTG 388
CONFESSION (Based on Acts 17: 22-31. MGV)
Lord, we depend on your mercy, because we are a people without direction, who do not know the God that we worship, and get confused by the altars that surround us; altars that call us to worship money, power, and pleasures. We are your sons and daughters, and you call us not to be ignorant, looking at gold, silver or precious stones, as gods, but putting our eyes on you, who is our Creator, in whom we live, we move, and have our being. Thank you for your mercy, that does not take into consideration our ignorance and that has sent our Lord Jesus Christ, to give us salvation. In his name we pray. Amen.
PARDON AND PEACE (1 Peter 2: 24)
Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. This salvation is possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. These are the good news of the gospel: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. We can live in peace.
PASSING THE PEACE
Take time to think about one thing during the week that has given you peace. It can be the sound of birds chirping, flowers coming out, or hearing from someone dear.
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION (MGV)
God, you gave us your Word through your Son Jesus Christ. We hear it through people that like Paul, prepare and witness. Open our ears so that we can hear the words that were said so long ago, and that are still as powerful and transforming now. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.
SCRIPTURE: Acts 17:22-31 (NRSV)
22Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 29Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
REFLECTION: (K.T. Ockels)
Our reading today finds us in Athens. Mirroring Christ’s time in front of the council in Jerusalem, Paul has been brought before the Areopagus or the supreme tribunal of Athens. These are the movers and the shakers of decision making in Athens. This passage comes after a number of stories in which Paul is accused of being a rabble-rouser in a variety of settings. Here in Athens, the people believe he is extolling foreign gods. But we also know from the verse just prior to this passage that the city enjoyed discussing new things. And in the verses after this passage, some of those who had listened ridiculed him while others believed. So it is hard to know whether the crowd was hostile or interested in hearing Paul. Whatever the overall atmosphere, Paul is speaking to a diverse crowd, much like any crowd that might gather in New York City or Los Angeles or even downtown Louisville. There were people who practiced different religions and praised different gods. There were rich and poor people, citizens, and servants. And to this beautiful diversity of God’s children, Paul attempts to bring God’s truth. As he speaks, Paul understands his audience and uses their own culture and beliefs to explain the One True God. He praises their religiosity. He comments on their many places of worship. He even quotes from their own poet to speak to the fact that we are all the children of God. Only after he has given them context does he begin to explain monotheism to a crowd of polytheists. Paul demonstrates how we need to speak to each other across the schisms of cultures and beliefs. Paul doesn’t say, “This is what the true religion is. I am right. You are wrong.” He uses the audience’s context to share from his heart. He finds some shared points of understanding. He speaks of the God who is true for us all. All of us. He points out that the God who had been unknown to them was now known. And he asks them to repent—he asks them to be in a relationship with the True God. Monotheism was a pretty radical concept in those times. The Jewish scriptures are a testimony to how hard it was to overcome worship to other gods. Remember the world of the Israelites? They were surrounded by peoples who believed in many gods and who scoffed at them for their singular God. In difficult times, it was easy to fall prey to the attraction of idols. As God was giving Moses the ten commandments, the people were making a golden calf to worship. God gave commandments that helped them move firmly into monotheism. The first two of the ten commandments state 1. You shall have no other gods before me and 2. You shall not make for yourself an idol of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath or is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.
God made it really clear what we are to do. One God; no idols. It is so easy to accept that in a superficial way and to say to ourselves, well, we are not like THOSE people who made statues to worship—nor are we like the people of Athens with their many gods and temples. We know that there is only one God. Thank goodness we have come so very far. But is that really true? Are we any better than the Israelites who wanted something concrete to worship, or than the Athenians who worshiped a lot of different gods and who threw in the “unknown god” just in case they had missed anything? If we are honest about our own lives and our own culture, you know that we are not without idols. Some are religious, for example in this time of pandemic some have made it sound as though we can only find God in a church building. That is idolatry. But there are also much more subtle versions of idolatry to which we, even as Christians, are attracted. Remember Christ commanded that we have to love God with our whole selves. Our whole selves. Not just the parts which we find comfortable to commit to God. Not just the parts of our lives that we have to spare. Our whole selves. To do anything less is to admit that we are worshiping some other idols. One definition of an idol is “anything that is not God but which we elevate to a position of God and serve as if it were God.” Surely we don’t do that… or do we? If we are honest, we know that there are lots of idols in our world, and it is really hard to avoid occasionally giving at least a nod towards one or another of them. Absolute freedom of choice. Personal financial security. Time for ourselves. The desire for success. None of these are inherently evil, in fact, they can all be really positive, but all of them can become stumbling blocks to living out our faith as God has called us to do if we make them the most important thing in our life. For example, if I worship my personal freedom by refusing to wear a mask in public places, I put my freedom about any love for others. That is idolatry. If I open my business without concern for the health of my employees and customers, that is idolatry. If I care only for those who look like me and don’t fight for justice for those who are different, that is idolatry. If I take advantage of the privilege I am granted by the place I was born, the color of my skin or my gender, and allow others to be oppressed. That is idolatry. In these stressful times, we can easily see ourselves worshiping idols of self-care and self-protection, ever looking more inward. Please don’t hear this as saying that God doesn’t want us to take care of ourselves. Of course, God wants us to eat healthy food, exercise and take time to rejuvenate ourselves, but those things can’t become what is most important to us at the expense of our relationship with God. You are God’s hands and feet in this world; care for yourself! But remember that you are called to live your life in a way that will glorify only one being: the One True God. To do this in light of the idols in our lives, Paul calls us to repent. Repent is kind of a scary word. It feels old fashioned and conservative. Yet the word repent has a meaning beyond confession, it is also a call to re-orient. We need to re-orient ourselves and our lives to put God at the center. We need to reorient ourselves to live our lives as servants of the resurrected Christ. That means acting in ways that raise up the name of Christ as a saving power in this world, rather than in ways that make Christianity seem small, petty, or without value. We need to repent: to open our eyes to the One True God—not the one we find convenient to worship nor the one we keep in our little box marked “Sunday morning” or “Christian beliefs”. To try to confine God is to distort the reality of God. God is so much bigger than anything we can imagine. Our God is an awesome God! These words in Acts find us, just as they found the Athenians, surrounded by idols. And just as the Athenians heard those words as a call to re-orient their lives to a different relationship to God, so too should we. Repent. Reorient yourself towards Christ; and away from the idols of our culture—away from all of those things that keep us from loving our God and our neighbor. And rejoice, for there is only one God, a Savior who overcame death on a cross in order to offer us new life. For that, we can say Hallelujah! Amen.
HYMN: Listen to For Your Steadfast Goodness
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION: Take some time to present your joys and concerns and those of others to God.
SENDING SONG: Listen to "Hallelu, Hallelujah" and do the movements that you remember from your childhood.
May the blessing of the God of Shiphrah and Puah, that God who sees us, who protects us, who saves us and who moves us to resistance and protest, be with you and with all God's people now and always. Amen.