Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Journey of Faith - Seeking Common Ground

Sunday 3rd June 2018

Text for the Week: 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, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all people life and breath and all things. Acts 17:24-25

Welcome to our services today and a special welcome to any worshipping with us for the first time. It’s a big, bustling modern city on the verge of being overwhelmed by air pollution. But Athens is also a wonderful ancient city opening up a window on to the world of the New Testament. Long ago I visited in the company of a good friend who went by the name of Paul. We made for a hill overlooking the Acropolis: was it somewhere nearby that another Paul had long ago debated with the philosophers and thinkers of that great ancient city? Now it’s in ruins: then it was in its splendour a wonderful temple to the goddess that gave the city her name, Athene. A remarkable feat of engineering, a remarkable design, it remains a wonder of the world. And yet it is nothing compared to the breath-taking views of sea and mountains that Paul and his travelling companion, Luke, must have enjoyed. The God of creation cannot be contained in buildings made from stone, for God is Lord of all and gives to all people life and breath and all things. Paul looks not just to the God of creation but to the God who in Jesus Christ comes alongside us and stays with us wherever the journey leads us.

Welcome and Call to Worship
182 Now thank we all our God
Prayer and the Lord’s Prayer
Paul’s Story
Reading: Acts 20:7-12

A Hy-Spirit Song
Activities for all over 3

A Focus on Jesus

How do you come to be here?

And I don’t mean, how did you get here?

Where did your journey of faith start?

Is it something that’s just grown, is it something that’s always been there, is it something that had a moment when it began?

Share with someone near you …

A time to share

And then a time to share with the rest of us too … if anyone wants to.

We first meet him under the name of Saul in Acts 8 looking after the cloaks of those who are stoning Stephen to death and he is approving of that brutal execution. The next we know something has happened to change him. And it’s not long before we know him as Paul. He’s had a new start.

There was an encounter
He saw in a new way
He had a new strength within
And he had a message.

And at the heart of it all was Jesus. He thought of it as a meeting with the risen Christ.

And it happened at that very moment when he was bent on pursuing the followers of Jesus and eliminating them from Damascus as he had endeavoured to eliminate them from Jerusalem.

It was life-changing.
It wasn’t just a flash of light he saw or a voice he heard it was the one he met that make a difference. IT was nothing less than the risen Christ.

It wasn’t just a healing he experienced – it was as if he had a whole new way of seeing things. And it came about not just through the faithfulness of Ananias but through that time of prayer Ananias was devoted to.

And then he had a strength from beyond himself in the Holy Spirit that filled him – and standing up he was baptized.

He stayed with the believers and went to the synagogues and he had something he did.

He has a message to share – for Gentiles and kings and the people of God

He began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God.

The focus was on Jesus. And it was to make a difference.

This was a message for Gentiles – and for Kings – this is a message for the Roman world – with the heart of the region in Damascus and the Roman province of Syria. It’s for Gentiles – who is son of god in that Gentile world but the Roman emperor – Tiberius has given way to Caligula and then to Claudius – but no Jesus is the one to look to. Straightaway a message that is to the powers that be.

But it is also for the people of Israel – who looked to their kings as sons of God to. But Jesus is the one to look for who demands our allegiance.

Look to Jesus – it’s the start – but it sets the scene for the rest of his life. He takes time out maybe as long as 14 years but then he begins – and he journeys a little way into Asia minor, Eastern Turkey today, then further afield and over into what we think of as Europe. And then Athens and Corinth – makes a collection to go to Jerusalem and finds himself arrested – on trial he tells his story twice more. Until finally, the shipwreck in Malta over, he makes it to Rome albeit under arrest. And Acts finishes with that wonderful statement.

He lived there for two whole years at his own expense and welcomed all who came to him, proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance.

And it all finds its focus on Jesus

No matter what our story, no matter what it is that brings us here – it is to Jesus we turn and to Jesus we look.

A Hy-Spirit song – focusing on Jesus

Common Ground

What Paul does is interesting – we find him there preaching of Jesus the Son of God. The words are interesting – he proclaims – it’s the proclamation of a herald – Jesus -the son of God we look to.

Paul teaches, he declares the good news, he preaches. But there’s one more thing we find Paul doing.

He argues, is one way of putting it. The word is the word we get dialogue from – he enters into dialogue. He does that in the synagogue with those who are Jewish and he draws on the Hebrew Scriptures – again he is influenced by the way of reading the Hebrew Scriptures the very first followers of Jesus have been directed to – they have at their heart, Jesus. He is the fulfilment of all those Scriptures.

The Hebrew Scriptures are the common ground he has.

But when he finds himself with people who do not have the Scriptures as their sacred text he seeks common ground. And again he enters into dialogue, he enters into discussions with them.

6While Paul was waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy, he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was. 17So he held discussions in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentiles who worshipped God, and also in the public square every day with the people who happened to pass by. 18Certain Epicurean and Stoic teachers also debated with him. Some of them asked, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?”

So it is that he gives an account of himself.

He moves from discussion to declare the good news

Others answered, “He seems to be talking about foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection. 19So they took Paul, brought him before the city council, the Areopagus, and said, “We would like to know what this new teaching is that you are talking about. 20Some of the things we hear you say sound strange to us, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21(For all the citizens of Athens and the foreigners who lived there liked to spend all their time telling and hearing the latest new thing.)

And he finds common ground with the people he is engaging with.

aul stood up in front of the city council and said,

“I see that in every way you Athenians are very religious. 23For as I walked through your city and looked at the places where you worship, I found an altar on which is written, ‘To an Unknown God’. That which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you.

He starts where they are … and leads them to new ground.

 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands. 25Nor does he need anything that we can supply by working for him, since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything else to everyone. 26From one human being he created all races on earth and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live.

A wonderful sense of the awe and majesty of the God of creation. A sense of seeking – maybe a common strand in so many people.

 27He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt about for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; 28as someone has said,

‘In him we live and move and exist.’

It is as some of your poets have said,

‘We too are his children.’

Paul finds the common ground – he quotes now from the works his audience are reading.

29Since we are God's children, we should not suppose that his nature is anything like an image of gold or silver or stone, shaped by human art and skill. 30God has overlooked the times when people did not know him, but now he commands all of them everywhere to turn away from their evil ways. 31For he has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world with justice by means of a man he has chosen. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising that man from death!”

And now he turns to Jesus – and again the focus is on Jesus. The one who opens up a window on to God and discloses God to be the God of love.

32When they heard Paul speak about a raising from death, some of them made fun of him, but others said, “We want to hear you speak about this again.” 33And so Paul left the meeting. 34Some men joined him and believed, among whom was Dionysius, a member of the council; there was also a woman named Damaris, and some other people.

Among all the people named is one woman – named Damaris – the inspiration for an initiative that has used film as a starting point for discussion – maybe an area of common ground to explore further.

Common Ground
Reading: Acts 17:22-31
470 Jesus shall reign
Prayers of Concern
604 Holy wisdom, lamp of learning
Words of Blessing

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