SER # 21Wa
FIRST UMC – NEBRASKA CITY
COLOR: WHITE OR GOLD
SUNDAY MAY 17TH 2020
TEXTS: ACTS 17: 22 – 31
THEME: THE UNKNOWN GOD MADE KNOWN.
God is Good! All the time! And all the time! God is good!
Our Scripture today is Acts 17: 22 – 25 “Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walk around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an alter with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So, you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in Temples built by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
Word of God written for the people of God – Thanks be to God.
The Lord’s Prayer:
We encounter Paul in our passage today wanting to reach to the Pagan world. We know Paul used to be a big persecutor of believers before he got his conversion. He was on his way to persecute believers when God met him on that Damascus road and struck him blind with a flash of light. That time he used to be known by the name Saul. After his conversion experience then he became an apostle who went wherever he could to preach about the same God that he persecuted people for doing. Then there were people who were after his life now as a believer. The hunter becomes the hunted so to speak.
Athens in those days was the center of philosophy and all the people who wanted to argue their new found theories whether scientific or religious will find themselves there. Paul comes to Athens in one of his mission Journeys and find a community that is worshipping all kinds of gods depending on what each teacher would convince their audience. There were gods that dealt with issues of nature like rain, harvest, social issues like fertility and the list goes on. But in every place where these gods were placed the was a special place that was left empty but with these words “The place of unknown god” Because this god was unknown, they could not assign him or her a name and the functions that is supposed to perform. It is here that Paul then start to educate his audience who the unknown God was. It was Yahweh the living God. Paul then approaches his audience from the unknown to the known. Most people will approach issues from the known to the unknown. This is the approach that Jesus used as he would remind his audience often of the facts that were in the Old Testament that were confirmed in the New Testament. I remember the time when the Methodist Church was doing some work among the Maasai of Kenya that this approach of Paul was very relevant. The Maasai had the traditional way of worship. They had names for their gods like most communities in 18th century that were passed on. One time myself and another pastor with his wife found ourselves in a Maasai Manyata (Village) in El-Mukutani in Kenya. They were very hospitable and they invited us to sleep in their little houses (huts). It is hard to explain to those who have not seen those huts usually smaller than American Indian tipi. The walls were made of mad no window except the door about five feet high. That means a person of normal height would not stand inside you had to stay bed. So, at night it would get real dark. The hut my pastor colleague was given to sleep with his wife, the chief’s son sleep in the same. I was woken up at the middle of the night by the noise of people everywhere including the little hut I was sleeping in. They were speaking their mother language that I did not understand. After inquiring what was happening, I learned that the chief’s son had be beaten by a snake. So, I offered to drive him to the hospital (2:00am) at night. The nearest hospital was about 150 miles away on a bad road (Minimum maintenance). I was not sure I would make it before the venom could kill him. Thanks to God I got to the hospital in time for him to be treated. It was almost 4:00pm by the time I got back and there was a huge crowd waiting for us. there were no cellphones to check the progress. When the chief saw his son get out of the car, he was so happy the he declared the Methodist church is now allowed to do mission work there and become the first convert. It been many years now but the church has really spread in that area I am told. This experience reminds me of Paul experience in Athens.
The Maasai came then to believe in this God who was able to save the life of a chief’s son. Our challenge as believers today is to make sure we are fully employed in the work of sharing the Good News of Jesus whenever we find ourselves. We have to remind ourselves of the following as we reach out for Jesus:
- Never assume people know God: Some of us listening or reading this message you started your faith journey from baptism, then children Sunday School, maybe youth and so on. Others got in this train much later in life and are trying to catch up with what goes on there. Others hear about this train of faith never tried to get in and are not even interested. Some have known the language to keep us from sharing the good news of Jesus. Our call is to invite them to come in. Remember we believe in Open door, open heard and open mind. Makes sure nobody is left out or left behind. Keep on checking. Early believers used to share testimonies whenever they gathered to encourage one another. John Wesley had a class of 12 that would meet regularly to hold each other accountable. In other word we live in a world where people are influenced by different teachings and persuasions of life. Our mission statement at our church here is “Knowing Christ and Making Christ known.” You are out there in the world today and that becomes your mission field. My encouragement to you is to invite people to Jesus whom you already know and you can testify because this Jesus has done things in your life that are special. Many people have not come to a place where they know Jesus in a personal way. Paul was inviting the audience to make that personal commitment the unknown God who he made known to them
- Never condemn people: Paul approach in Athens was not to condemn them but to use what they already knew to introduce them to this God who can’t be confined in a house or a place. Paul was letting them know that they God he preaches in an Omnipresent God. God who is everywhere. That means you can fellowship with your God at home, at work place, while driving, walking, in the gardening or wherever you find yourself. Even when in prison God is there. We are all forgiven sinners, and it is by the grace of God we are where we are in our faith. Jesus never pre-judged those he me but rather invited them in love to turn their lives to him. Even the woman who was brought to him caught in adultery, he never condemned her but told to go and sin no more. “Jesus straightened up and asked her, Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? No one sir, she said. Then neither do I condemn you, Jesus declared. Go now and leave your life of sin (John 8:10-11) NIV.
- Share God’s love in humility: Our call is to preach the word of God to the people that we get in contact. We have to believe and assume Jesus way of teaching. He was always humbled in his approach. Those who humble themselves will be lifted up the bible teaches. Paul in this story could have easily let people know who he was. He was a respected scholar of his days and would have carried a lot respect. But Paul approach was that of not imposing himself but rather trying to educate people on the difference between the gods they worshipped and the one he was presenting. You are also invited to share about the God you believe in with humility and love. Our living God is merciful, kind and gracious. God gives us more than one chance to turn to him. when we make a mistake in life our God does condemn us but invites us to repentance. Once we do that like the prodigal son, he was accepted us back not only with a kiss but was fully reinstated to his place in the family as a son not a servant. Remember the prodigal boy, had a welcome kiss, a coat, a ring as well as a party in his honor. God welcomes us back to his kingdom when we turn back to him. Let us tell people that they are not late to board in.
- Let God change people himself: One person once said our duty is to catch fish and let Jesus clean them up. Our work is to bring the harvest to the Lord without pre-qualifying or judging them. It is God alone who can change people. We can only point people to Jesus and once they respond to that invitation then, he is able to transform them from inside out. When he called his disciples, he told them to come as they were. He knew that their time together was going to transform them.