Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 17, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Today marks the tenth Sunday sermon that we have put on our web-site, You-Tube, or Facebook, since the middle of March, the last time we met as an entire congregation. I have seen it grow from just a 15 minute sermon to a worship service with music, video-clips, even a children’s message.
Some folks have said that they appreciate the sermons and the services. Thank you. But then I get some of the reasons that they like them so – One guy tells me he doesn’t even have to get dressed to go to church now – he watches me in his underwear. That’s a little more information then what I needed!! Another couple that were somewhat critical of folks who walked into church with their coffee said they really like getting a bagel and their coffee and turning on the show. I think they’re going to be kinder to folks who bring their coffee in with them to church from now on. And one of our young parents remarked that having worship online has allowed him to listen to an entire sermon – something he hasn’t been able to do for some time. I’m glad that with comfortable clothing (or a lack of it), with coffee and something to eat, or with peace and quiet, many are tuning in.
What is even better, at least to me, is the larger number of people who are “coming” to church over these past few months. Many churches, including ours, are seeing larger numbers of people watching the broadcast then would be in the church building on a Sunday morning. For years we have been saying that everyone should come see us in our building for worship. But once our building got closed the message has been heard by many more folks. We didn’t see that one coming.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the beginning, or the renewal of faith, in many people. Maybe some of the big questions of life are now being asked in these days when everything has been turned upside down. Maybe you, and others, are wanting to know what part God should play in your life.
If you are asking questions about faith and God, or if God was once a part of your life but that hasn’t been the case for some time, or if you are a person, like so many of us, who struggle with following God daily in faith, I’d like to talk about deeper faith today.
The reading from Acts 17 is about Paul coming to the great Greek city of Athens. It had been a place to study philosophy for hundreds of years. Paul looks around the city and sees statues and shrines to the many gods they had. It had been said that there were more statues to gods in Athens than in all over Greece put together. When Paul begins to address them, he says, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.” (Acts 17:22b) They would worship anything – gold, wood, silver, sex, the military and money. In fact, they even put a shrine “To An Unknown God” just in case their hundreds of shrines didn’t catch them all. You wouldn’t want to offend anybody or anything – no god should be overlooked.
Paul uses their faith in the unknown to speak to them about something and Someone who is known. He desires to take them to a much deeper faith. His conversation with them begins with some common ground. He begins with the natural knowledge of God, “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 hands.” (Acts 17:24) We look up at the stars and marvel at a maker who is powerful and ingenious. But a natural knowledge of God is limited. We need much more than a God who is generic, nameless or faceless. Paul begins his conversation with a common understanding of God and then he goes deeper.
Deeper faith calls for a change within us and then a hope that God provides. God gets specific and personal. Deeper faith means a true repentance and an unchanging hope. Paul saves his best words for last in his talk that day, “Now he (God) commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30b-31)
There is going to come a day when everyone of us will be judged by an authority higher than our own opinion. On that day we won’t be able to give excuses or justify ourselves. The Bible is clear that Jesus has come “to judge the living and the dead.” Here are some words, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Of this judgement we read in Matthew 25, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” (Verses 31-34) Paul would say, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced, and the whole world held accountable to God.” (Romans 3:19) In the Book of Common Prayer (1928), The Collect for The Order for Holy Communion begins, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…”
A deeper faith sees God not as nameless or faceless but as one who calls for a true heart that would turn to Him in repentance asking for a life greater and better than we now live. He calls for a higher standard, one not directed only by our own ways or lived only by our own rules.
In natural theology, the one that begins and ends with “God who made the world and everything in it”, the first words that Paul used that day on Mars Hill, life would end with nature simply taking its natural conclusion. In nature all things decay and decline and die. Dead is dead. Done is done. All is over. Finished. The end. The patron goddess of Athens is Athene and she expressed this thought, “Once a man dies and the earth drinks up his blood, there is no resurrection.” (The Book of Acts, F.F. Bruce, Eerdmans, Pages 363-364) That is where the folks who were “very religious” in Athens had their hope. Dead and gone.
Deeper faith stands strong. Earlier in our chapter it tells us that Paul was “preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.” (Acts 17:18c) And then he tells us that “he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” He then adds why Jesus can do this – it is His resurrection that gives Him such authority. “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from death.”
Dead is not dead when Christ enters the scenario. Deeper faith means everlasting life. John would write in his epistle, “And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (I John 5:11-12) He can give life to those who trust in Him because He has risen from death. Paul gives this wonderful contrast because of the resurrection of Jesus, “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (I Corinthians 15:21-22)
Paul speaks of a deeper faith. He begins with the natural knowledge of God in creation and then goes deeper asking for their heart to repent and seek God’s forgiveness and then he asks them to believe that Jesus came back to life.
The response? There were three different ones. Some ridiculed such foolishness. Others said they wanted to hear more. And some believed. Some came to deep faith.
When I write this sermon, and when I deliver it, I pray that God will use this for His purpose. I know that I can’t make anyone a Christian, but I know God’s Holy Spirit can. May God’s Holy Spirit tug on you, or maybe hit you right between the eyes. You need Him. He wants you. He wants to begin a new life in you. Trust in Jesus.
Can there be anything better than deep faith? God takes you from where you are, to a true desire to be better in life, seeking Him with your whole heart. And, then in Jesus, you live in the deep faith that sins are forgiven, completely, and that you will live in heaven’s pleasure forever. Jesus lives and so do you. Jesus lives and so will you.
Today, wherever you are during this broadcast, whatever you’re drinking or eating, whatever you’re wearing, (or not wearing), I’m glad you’re here. God give you a great and deep faith. Amen!!