Sermon Options: May 14, 2023

April 6th, 2020


ACTS 17:22-31

Writing in his Spiritual Biography, William Barclay told how his twenty-one-year-old daughter and her fiance were both drowned in a boating accident.

He also told of an anonymous letter that said, "I know now why God killed your daughter; it was to save her from corruption by your heresies." Barclay wrote, "If I had the writer's address, I would have written John Wesley said, 'Your god is my devil.'"

This is what the apostle Paul told the Athenians as he preached in the middle of the Areopagus.

I. Religion Is a Good Thing
Paul said, "I see how extremely religious you are in every way" (v. 22). This is a wonderful attribute. I hope that others think I am religious in every way. I wouldn't want people to think that I am not religious in any way. I like being considered a religious person, especially since I am clergy. To be viewed as a nonreligious ordained minister would be an insult. I will never write the book, How to Be a Minister Without Being Religious . It is a nice compliment to be considered religious. The Athenians were religious.

II. Religion Must Have a Focus
Their only trouble was that they were worshiping everything and everyone, and hence, in reality, no one. They should be complimented for their religious yearning. They should be encouraged in their religious search, for that is what life is all about. We are on a journey of faith.

William H. Willimon, summed up their difficulty and our modern difficulty in this way in his book "Acts": "Pagans criticize the Christian faith as being 'simplistic,' 'pre-scientific,' 'superstitious' and then rush to the strange consolations of astrology, transcendental meditation, parapsychology, esoteric cults, or happy hearted humanism." Paul is telling us that a religious journey is by definition what life is all about, but every journey must also have a destination. Where will you be when you get where you're going? If life is only a search, only a journey, only an adventure with no "arrival," then God is, in fact, "unknown" (v. 23 a ).

III. True Religion Finds Its Fulfillment in Jesus Christ
Paul believes that the Christian faith is more focused than simply feeling good and smiling and being nice. It is more than having peace of mind, giving generously, worshiping regularly, and attending Sunday school. A Christian worships a God who is like Jesus Christ, and we learn about this Christ in the Holy Scripture. Paul said, what you call unknown, "I proclaim to you" (v. 23b ). The way to learn about God is to know Jesus Christ.

To take a picture with an unfocused camera is to produce a picture that is so unacceptable that the main characters may appear unknown. It can be so out of focus that the picture loses all meaning. The same thing can happen to "extremely religious" people who have not focused their faith on the Christlike God. Your god may be my devil, depending on how Christlike your god is. (C. Thomas Hilton)


1 PETER 3:13-22

Every Boy Scout knows the motto: "Be prepared." That is good advice for scouting kinds of events. If you go camping, take dry matches, a sharp knife, and a leakproof tent.

We read these words from Scripture, too: be prepared. These words do not come as friendly advice, though. They come as part of our very life skills. Simon Peter tells the church to wake up, get ready, and be prepared. As Christians, for what do we need to be prepared?

I. Be Prepared to Live Without Fear
Verses 13-14 touch first on the theme of suffering. Peter reminds believers that we might end up suffering for the sake of Christ. Suffering might come about even if we are not doing anything wrong! We might balk at that kind of justice but do not stop yet.

In verse 14, Simon Peter quotes the prophet Isaiah and says, "Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated." Who are "they" mentioned here, and what do they fear? They are people who live their lives with no reference to God. What they fear is losing the respect of other pagans. Anyone who colored outside the lines, who did things differently, was suspect.

Guess what? That is you and me. We are considered abnormal for believing in Christ and for orienting our lives toward him. The good news is that we need not fear the put-downs of others. Christ is alive and among us. Be prepared to live without fear. Nothing can harm us that God cannot handle.

II. Be Prepared to Recognize Christ as Lord
Peter implied that people who reject Christ have their hearts filled with fear. Their lives are guided by what others think and do. But people who accept Christ have their lives filled with new attitudes and actions. We are to be prepared to recognize Christ as our Lord. We are to orient our whole lives to him and his work. The love of Christ flushes our hearts clean of fear and replaces it with peace and courage.

III. Be Prepared to Give the Reason for Faith
If we love Christ, we will be different from other people. As we have just seen, we will not fear what other people fear. Further, we will have a new frame of reference for all of our thinking. That frame of reference is Christ dwelling in our hearts as our Lord.

Since our lives will be different, other people will notice that difference. They will ask what makes us tick. When they do, Peter tells us to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for our hope. We cannot brag on our financial expertise or the savvy we might have in business. When it comes right down to it, the reason for our hope is Christ in our lives as Lord.

Peter was concerned about the way we answer people. We are to reply to the questions of others with gentleness and respect. The goal is to win those who ask. The Scouts and the Bible are right. Be prepared. (Don M. Aycock)


JOHN 14:15-21

The "Show Me State" it is called: Missouri. It has become a folk saying: "I'm from Missouri. Show me! If I see it, I will believe it." So we get the saying, "Seeing is believing." It's like the person who was asked if he believed in infant baptism. "Believe in it?" he responded. "I've seen it!" But in this bit of monologue from Jesus' Farewell Discourse with his disciples we get just the opposite perspective. Jesus is talking about the promised presence of the Spirit with the disciples, and he is talking about his own presence with them. He keeps dropping hints that he will soon leave them, but he keeps reassuring them as well that he will not leave them alone, or "orphaned" as the New Revised Standard Version so correctly puts it. And he makes an interesting contrast between what the disciples will see and what "the world" will see. The world will not know the Spirit, "because it neither sees him nor knows him." In the same manner, soon the world will not see Jesus. But it is altogether different with disciples. They will know the Spirit because the Spirit abides with them and in them. Likewise, the disciples will know the resurrected Lord because he is in them and they are in him. Disciples do not believe in the Spirit and in the resurrected Lord because they see the Spirit and Jesus. It is the other way around: Disciples see, or know, the Spirit and the resurrected Lord because of their faith. The revelation is as much to faith as it is through faith.

William Barclay puts it in a fascinating way: "The point of Jesus' saying is: 'We can see only what we are fitted to see.'" An astronomer will perceive much more in the night sky than an untrained eye. Someone trained in art will see far more in a painting than another person who has never studied art. The trained musician will enjoy a symphony much more than someone who is unfamiliar with musical style or technique. What we are able to perceive in any situation depends on what we bring to the experience.

Likewise, someone who has given up on the very notion of God won't be listening for him. If we hope to receive the Holy Spirit in our own lives, it requires waiting and watching for him, in expectation of his arrival. If you want to know the presence of the Spirit in your life, don't challenge God to "Show me!" Don't take the attitude that if God wants me to know his Spirit, then God will make it happen. Don't take the position "I'll believe it when I see it." Rather, if you want to know that presence, then expect it, wait for it, prepare for it, believe in its coming. You'll see it. After all, believing is seeing! (J. Lawrence McCleskey)

comments powered by Disqus