May 14, 2023
Sixth Sunday of Easter
You alone, O Lord,
are the Maker of heaven and earth.
In you we live and move and have our being.
We are your children,
and you are our God.
Teach us to turn away from false idols
and to turn to you in faith;
through Jesus Christ our Savior,
who is risen from the dead.
PRELUDE “Deo Gracias” arr. Daniel Burton
CALL TO WORSHIP
As a hen gathers her brood under her wings, God desires to gather us together.
Gather us, O God. We are here to worship and sing your praise!
*HYMN No. 258 “A Hymn of Glory Let Us Sing”
1 A hymn of glory let us sing!
New songs throughout the world shall ring:
Christ, by a road before untrod,
ascends unto the throne of God.
2 The holy apostolic band
upon the Mount of Olives stand,
and with his followers they see
their Lord ascend in majesty.
3 To all, the shining angels cry,
“Why stand and gaze upon the sky?
This is the Savior!” thus they say;
“this is his glorious triumph-day.”
4 “You see him now, ascending high
up to the portals of the sky.
Hereafter you shall Jesus see
returning in great majesty.”
5 O risen Christ, ascended Lord,
all praise to you let earth accord.
You are, while endless ages run,
with Father and with Spirit one.
*CALL TO CONFESSION
No one is lost to God. All our welcome to witness and receive God’s saving grace. Let us confess our sins before our Savior.
*PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
Holy God, we are quick to criticize, quick to judge, quick to blame. We fail to offer others the same grace we receive from you. We hold our- selves up as superior and fail to address the patterns of dominance we perpetuate. Forgive us. Help us seek understanding and compassion. Help us accept the love you offer us and share your love with others. Amen.
*SILENT PRAYER FOR CONFESSION
*ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Christ transforms, redeems, and renews. Through Christ’s death and resurrection, we are a new creation, ready to sing God’s glory and testify to God’s grace. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven. Amen.
*RESPONSE No. 260 “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus”
Alleluia! Sing to Jesus;
his the scepter, his the throne;
Alleluia! his the triumph,
his the victory alone!
Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion
thunder like a mighty flood:
“Jesus out of every nation
has redeemed us by his blood.”
*PASSING OF THE PEACE OF CHRIST
Our peace comes from knowing how much God loves us in Jesus Christ. With God’s help, we try to love and forgive one another as Christ loves and forgives us.
“The peace of Christ be with you,”
“And also with you.”
ANTHEM “Worthy Is the Lamb” Alan Pote
UNISON PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Savior God, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Walk with us. Guide us with your wisdom and grace. Open us to discerning your will and your way. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Acts 17:21-31
21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.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.”
SERMON “Something New”
What’s your favorite idol?
- Retirement savings?
- Eagles Football?
- College Sports Team?
- Children’s sports?
- Our vocation?
- The church building?
- The Memorial Fund?
We have plenty of idols – plenty of things that we place before our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not the first people to have hundreds of idols that we worship! The city of Athens was absolutely chocked full of idols. Nothing irks a Jewish Christian more than idolatry. It’s a violation of the Shema, the Jewish confession of faith which, of course, begins, “The Lord our God is one.” Our entire theology is rooted in monotheism. Athens was a violation of the first two commandments of the Law: Thou shalt have no other gods before me and no graven images. A monotheist in a polytheistic town? Of course, Paul was irked.
An ancient historian once said of Athens: “It is easier to find a god there, than a man.” Everywhere Paul looked, there were altars, shrines, and temples. There was one to Athena, one to Zeus, one to Ares, Mars, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Neptune, Diana. Athens was a veritable forest of idols.
But in spite of the fact that Paul was irked by the culture, he didn’t detach himself from the people. He engaged the community. It’s impossible to be a witness unless you engage the culture. It’s impossible to influence the world if you never leave the church. Typically, when Paul visited a new town, he would begin at the synagogue. There he would find hospitality. There he would find a place to stay, food to eat, a bed to rest, fellowship, community. There he would teach on the Sabbath and explain the Scriptures. But Paul would not remain at the synagogue. He would actually go into the marketplace, into the street, and this is where trouble begins. As long as we keep our faith private and confined to the church, we are alright, but when we go public, there’s trouble.
During Jesus’ ministry, he didn’t settle at the synagogue. He went out to where people lived and worked and played. In fact, Jesus didn’t call a single disciple at the synagogue. He called disciples at the dock, at the tax office, on the hillside. Luke, chapter 5, even goes so far as to say that Jesus invited Peter to follow him while Jesus, they were fishing. The truth of the matter is you can’t catch fish unless you go where the fish are! And so, Paul went to the streets. He went to the agora. The gathering place. The hub. The place where people assembled. The agora was the central spot in Greek city-states. In Athens, a university town, academicians, and philosophers gathered there and debated, argued and discussed the latest ideologies.
Paul himself was no slouch intellectually speaking. He was a graduate of UT (the University of Tarsus), educated in Jerusalem by the finest Jewish scholar of the 1st century, Gamaliel (5:34), a PhD in the Jewish law. Gamaliel was the grandson of Hillel the Elder, one of the great minds of the day. Paul could stand toe to toe with these sophisticated academicians. It’s interesting, also, that at first Paul didn’t just lecture and preach. Paul used an Athenian technique. We call it the Socratic Method. Q&A. Question and Answer. Dialogue. So, Paul’s not just using Jewish methodology, he’s playing by their rules.
The initial response to Paul was largely negative. They called him a babbler, a cock sparrow, a bird-brain. A retailer of second-hand scraps of philosophy. Others referred to him as a propagandist for foreign deities. Suffice it to say, many of these cultural elites were not buying what Paul was selling. Paul would later say in 1 Corinthians 1:23 that the Gospel message is, in fact, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Greeks.
Some, however, were impressed, impressed enough to invite a second hearing. Verse 19 says: They brought Paul to the Areopagus, that is, the hill of Ares, the Greek God of War, the son of Zeus. The Roman name for Ares is Mars. They took Paul to Mars Hill, the place where the Supreme Court of ancient Greece gathered. And here at the place built in honor of the son of Zeus, Paul proclaims the Son of the one true God.
In many ways, I think, this is Paul’s finest preaching. He’s having to adapt. He’s communicating to people who do not share his Bible. These Athenians don’t know the Scriptures. The Bible is not their story. It has no authority for them. Of course, as people belonging to the way, the Bible is our starting place. But how do you teach people who have no concept of Scripture? How do you teach folk who don’t recognize the Bible as inspired, God-breathed?
Paul has to find a bridge, a cultural connection whereby he can begin to teach biblical truth. So, what does he do? Though he’s irked by their idolatry, he actually uses their idolatry as a point of contact.
“Athenians,” he says, “I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” It’s actually an under-handed compliment. In other words, he’s saying, “I appreciate your piety. I thought I was pretty spiritual ’til I met you. But you guys take the cake! You’re up to your ears in religiosity!” Do you see what he’s doing? Rather than Paul using their idols to beat them up, he uses their idols to relate. “You guys are very spiritual!” he says. I see in your statues and shrines–your spirituality. And I applaud that!
“But as I looked carefully at your objects of worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘to an unknown god.’ What you therefore worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.” And starting with creation, he tells the Gospel story. He shares his witness. It’s interesting that when we don’t really know God, anything and everything can assume the place of God.
When I’m not living in devotion to God, anything can take his place. Oh, I may never actually build a shrine or burn an offering, but my attachments and obsessions reveal my idols. Again, where do we spend our time, time and treasures?
We’re all made with a god-shaped hole in our hearts, and we often try to fill it with god-substitutes, which cannot possibly satisfy. Indeed, those substitutes only serve to make us hungrier. But everybody’s looking, everybody’s searching, everybody’s groping. We all have an instinct for God. “We are His offspring,” says Paul. Notice, that’s a direct quote from one of the Athenian poets, perhaps Aratus. Then Paul quotes another, “In Him we live and move, and have our being.” Paul knows the music of Athens. He knows their poets. He understands their culture. Paul has been studying the Athenian culture, not because it’s cool, but so that he can relate, connect, and bridge the gap between the unknown and the known. It’s true that the better you know the culture, the better you can empathize with the people, the better you’re able to be a conduit to God.
This is incarnational ministry. When God chose to make himself known to the world, He didn’t come as some alien that nobody understood. The shepherds didn’t come to Bethlehem and say, “Whatizit!” They said, “It’s a baby.” And the unknowable became known! Not in some generic child, but in a Jewish kid from Nazareth. A bi-vocational carpenter-teacher, who was nailed to a tree, who rose up from the grave, who is coming again to judge the earth. This God is not just a divine mystery. You can know Him! In fact, He wants very much to know you. Indeed, He is not far from you now!
This is what Incarnation means. It’s not just our theology. It’s our ecclesiology. It’s the way we do church. It’s the way we do ministry. It’s the way we witness. We seek to make known the unknown, by building bridges. Chuck Swindoll once said, “People who inspire others are those who see invisible bridges at the end of dead-end streets.”
Friends, we need to leave the building and build bridges. We need to make known the Living God by conversations with family & friends. This is scary and not what Presbyterian are comfortable doing, but people are seeking – people have a god-shaped spot that they are seeking to fill with everything but the Divine. We can build bridges between people we know and Jesus Christ – invite them to set aside their god-substitutes and get to know their Savior!
Commentary and Liturgy from the Book of Common Worship, Daniel Heath, Teri McDowell Ott, Mikael C. Parsons, Matt Skinner, C. Clifton Black, Davis Chappell and Martin Luther King, Jr.
*AFFIRMATION OF FAITH The Apostles’ Creed
I BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.
*HYMN No. 250 “In the Bulb There Is A Flower”
1 In the bulb there is a flower;
in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise:
butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter
there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
2 There’s a song in every silence,
seeking word and melody;
there’s a dawn in every darkness,
bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future;
what it holds, a mystery,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
3 In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
in our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity.
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER AND THE LORD’S PRAYER
I invite you to assume a posture of prayer.
Nurturing God, we give you thanks for another day. We are grateful for a time set aside to honor motherhood. Earth’s history has been formed by mothers like Mother Mary and Mother Theresa, surrogate and foster mothers, godmothers and fairy godmothers. We even acknowledge motherhood in nature with mother hens under the care of Mother Earth. Today we ask your acute attention upon all current, trying, and future mothers gathered here, one by one and name by name. You know their stories. You know their needs. Remove all sources of sorrow, scars and fear that they may live more fully into your promises.
For all current mothers, we pray that you surround them with abundant support. We pray for attentive partners and spouses, faithful worshiping communities and prompt support services. We pray that each one would be equipped to expose the pain they carry, knowing that silent suffering is not a virtue. Help each to know that motherhood is a call and not only a result. Help us to call out abuse for them and with them for the enslavement that it is in all their forms, psychological, verbal, physical and otherwise.
For all trying mothers, we pray that each would embrace agency over their bodies. We pray against any person, situation or thought that would prevent the freedom to make decisions regarding their own bodies. We pray for mothers who have experienced miscarriages and other losses while waiting.
Finally, we pray for future mothers in our midst and everywhere. We pray your protection against violations to their bodies at parks, in churches, schools, homes, and places of work. We pray against any unhealthy notion that abuse is God’s will.
We now silently lift up the names of all women whose healing we seek from you, faithful Creator.
God of grace, we offer our prayers for the needs of others and commit ourselves to serve them even as we have been served in Jesus Christ. Finally, hear us now, as we pray the prayer Christ taught us to pray by saying together, “Our Father….”
Our Father, who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
OFFERING OF TITHES & OFFERINGS
Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, who said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
*RESPONSE N0. 609 “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow”
Praise God, from whom all blessing flow, Praise God, all creatures here below. Alleluia, Alleluia Praise God in Jesus fully known; Creator, Word, and Spirit one. Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
* PRAYER OF DEDICATION
Holy God, these offerings are only a portion of all that you have given us. We gratefully present these gifts and entrust them to your work in this world. May our gifts share the Good News of the gospel to those who are in need. May these gifts help unburden those with the heaviest of loads. Amen.
*HYMN No. 264 “At the Name of Jesus”
1 At the name of Jesus
every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him
King of glory now;
’tis the Father’s pleasure
we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning
was the mighty Word.
2 Humbled for a season
to receive a name
from the lips of sinners
unto whom he came,
faithfully he bore it
spotless to the last,
brought it back victorious,
when from death he passed;
3 Bore it up triumphant,
with its human light,
through all ranks of creatures,
to the central height,
to the throne of Godhead,
to the Father’s breast,
filled it with the glory
of that perfect rest.
4 Christians, this Lord Jesus
shall return again,
with his Father’s glory
o’er the earth to reign;
for all wreaths of empire
meet upon his brow,
and our hearts confess him
King of glory now.
May we leave this house of worship strengthened by the Spirit
renewed by God’s Grace and
reminded that the Body of Christ surrounds us for help, comfort, and support.
May the grace, hope, peace and love of the God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with us now and always. Amen.