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Arrogance Is Never the Gospel (May 21, 2017)

Acts 17:22-31

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For 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. 24 The 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, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From 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, 27 so 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. 28 For “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.’ 29 Since 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. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because 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.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Have you heard of this apostle Paul? He is the one who opened up this new Jesus movement to the Gentiles. He’s the greatest evangelist of all time. He is credited with writing most of the New Testament. In this text in Acts, we get to hear one of this great man’s sermons. This famous follower of Jesus, after being chased out of two towns because his speaking about Jesus is so powerful, is now brought to this incredible venue to explain his views. The Areopagus in Athens, world-famous for its speakers and its court hearings. This is the big time.

Our bishop, Jim Gonia, preached Easter morning at Red Rocks Amphitheater this year. But as big a deal as that is, it can’t hold a candle to the Areopagus in Athens Greece in Paul’s day.

So here he is, on the biggest stage of his life, in front of a whole lot of people eagerly awaiting his speaking.

With all that heightened anticipation, he begins. And the response from the crowd is, “Meh.” Oh, a few were moved to follow Jesus. But the vast majority just kind of went, “What’s the big deal?”

To be honest, that’s pretty much my reaction too. Really, Paul? That’s the best you’ve got? You Greeks have a Unkown God, but we know who that God is? God doesn’t really live in statues? That doesn’t do much for me.

To be fair, perhaps Paul was having an off day. After all, the Thessolonicans won’t leave him alone. They’ve run him out of two cities now, and if they knew he was in Athens, they’d probably try again.

And this sermon was rather impromptu. He had been talking in the synagogue and then in the marketplace, which was his usual pattern, and those people whisked him off to the Areopagus, put him up on the stage, and said, “Go.” He had no time to prepare.

So we can cut him a little bit of slack. Even on his best day, no single sermon of Paul’s could ever touch everyone. Even Jesus couldn’t reach every person who heard.

But that really is true. Each person has unique experiences and histories. We’re all wired just a bit differently so that what has deep meaning to me is hardly worth hearing to you. That which reaches inside and touches the depths of your very soul might just sound like dogs howling to me.

The context of our lives matters. That’s the amazing thing about this gospel—it is good news in every context because it is solely about love and grace.

If it’s not sounding like good news to you, you’re likely hearing it from the perspective of someone else’s context. And if they’re telling you that what moves them and connects with them is the only way this gospel is real, they don’t know the gospel of Christ. They are putting their faith not in the gospel, but in their own interpretation of it as it touched them. And trying to make their unique perspective universal for everyone has got to be the height of self-centeredness. I can’t tell you that my history is the only one that matters. I can’t tell you that my interpretation of the gospel is the ultimate interpretation. I can’t tell you that what excites me has to, by my definition, excite you. And that if it does not, then you are obviously less, inferior, not as godly as me.

I’m glad some aspect of God’s love was moving to people who think that way, but no one can demand everyone else twist their lives to fit into one person’s perpective. Your life experiences are different than mine, so what would ever make me think that what makes sense for my life would have to make sense for yours before your life can be legitimate? What kind of arrogance is that?

The bottom line—and that which makes the gospel so universal—is that God is love. Which means you are worthy of love. So the question we need to ask ourselves is, “How has  love made a difference for you? How has love touched you and made you new? What does love look like for you?” This is the gospel. This is what Jesus came to show us. This is what God is like. And your story about this love, which is God, which is what Jesus is about, makes a huge difference.

Your story of love, of God, of Christ, is likely different than other people’s. Which means some may not be as moved by your story as you are. That doesn’t mean don’t speak about God’s love in your life, quite the contrary! It means you need to speak it clearly and boldly! It will touch someone! Just don’t be discouraged or upset if it doesn’t resonate with everyone. It’s not supposed to. It will touch some people, but it won’t—it can’t—touch every other person. No one’s story can do that. Christ is too genuine for that. Christ will reach other people with other experiences. We must affirm and recognize the validity of others’ stories of being made new in love too. They are genuine and just as legitimate as yours.

Share your story of God’s love in Christ. And don’t let anyone tell you, no matter how famous they are, that because their story is different, it’s more legitimate than yours. Christ has come to you in love. Nothing is more legitimate than that. Recognize God’s love in your life. Claim it. Share it. And encourage others to do the same. Even if the way God’s love touched them is different than yours. Share your story with me. I’d love to hear it even if it’s different than mine. Who knows, I might learn more about Christ’s love from your experience. Wouldn’t that be great?

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Posted by on May 22, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Cinderella and Faith: The Condensed Versions

Acts 10:34-43; Acts 17:22-31

If I were to ask you to tell the story of Cinderella in two sentences, could you do it? Anyone willing to give that a try? . . . (volunteer?)

How did s/he do?

Now, there’s a lot of detail that had to be left out, but the main points of the story can be covered, right?

Most of it, probably. If we were all to do share the story of Cinderella in two sentences, each of us would do it a bit differently. None of us would have identical sentences.

Why would that be? Some of us have influenced by the Disney animated version from 1950. Or the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical version. Or any of the at least 36 movie versions of this story. Then there’s the Grimm’s Faerie tale version. Or even the original version from France published in 1634.

Add to that, we each use language a little differently.

What if your life resembled Cinderella’s?

And because of my own personal perspective, what may be a critical point for you might be a little different than a critical point for me. Are the glass slippers an essential part of the story? How important is the goodness of Cinderella even in her circumstances? Is the moral of the story an important aspect? And if so, would we all agree exactly on what that moral is?

Trying to boil down a story with a lot of detail and a lot of history into a couple of sentences might be more difficult than we thought.

Then there’s the audience you’re telling the story of Cinderella to. What if your audience was preschool children living in poverty? Or a wealthy person who abuses hired help? Or a group of college professors, all of whom have PhDs in literature? It might change a bit.

That is Paul’s difficulty in Acts 17. And Peter’s in Acts 10. Both are trying to condense a history-changing story down into a few sentences. To people they don’t know well, but who’ve asked to hear it.

How would you do that?

Peter and Paul each tell the story of Jesus differently, in part because of vastly different audiences. Peter starts out by saying, “You know the message [God] sent to the people of Israel”. But Paul starts by saying, “I found among [the objects of your worship] an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’”

Peter’s version of the story of God’s forgiveness and love is based on his personal friendship with Jesus; as an apostle and disciple who witnessed the crucifixion and the resurrected Christ.

Paul was not one of the original disciples. He knew very little about Jesus until the resurrected Christ came to him on the road to Damascus.

So of course their accounts will be different. They are telling this story of God’s grace and new life based on what is important to each of them. They have different experiences of God’s grace in Christ, God’s forgiveness in Christ, and God’s new life in Christ. So the story is going to come out differently for each of them. They even argue about a few of the important points, but they know their story, their experience, the difference in their lives. They tell it from their perspective.

Just like each of us. We have a story to tell because we have experienced God’s forgiveness, love, grace, and compassion. Each differently. And so the way each of us tells about that is unique.

The story is ours to tell according to our experience with it. And we might even argue about what are the  most important parts.

So, what are the very foundational, most important parts of God’s story in the world for you? If you had to reduce your faith down to two sentences, what would those be?

Whatever those two sentences are, they are yours. They are unique based on your experiences with Christ. They are yours. And those two sentences need to be spoken.

Next week we’ll talk about whether people hear our stories or not. That actually isn’t our problem. Knowing what our stories are, and having the ability to articulate our own story in our own unique way is essential.

So take some time now, and like [name] did with Cinderella, write out two sentences that encompass the main points of your faith, your experience with God.

Once you have that, if you’re willing, I’d like you to go back to the prayer table, write them again, and place them in the prayer basket.  As part of the prayers of the people later on, it would be really cool to hear a whole bunch of two-sentence faith statements, our collective stories of God in Christ, forgiveness, and grace.

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2014 in Sermon

 

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