Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

Greek Idols

April 29, 2018
Martin Baker

Sermon 29 April 2018                        Greek Idols                               Martin Baker


We’ve been following Paul over these last weeks.

He is one of the people, like us, who Jesus spoke about when he said ‘blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.’

He was a highly educated, multi lingual Jew who gained permission by the religious authorities in Jerusalem to go to Damascus to persecute the Christians there.

He experienced a huge conversion experience.

Filled with the Holy Spirit, was baptised by Ananias, one of the people he came to persecute.

Paul lead the mission to the world outside of Jerusalem and especially to the gentile world.

Last week he was with Silas when they were imprisoned and then released.

Now he comes to the ancient centre of the then, civilised world. The centre of culture religion and ideas. When the teaching of Plato Aristotle are so well known. Where the ideals of democracy were first articulated.

A mixture of Oxford, Cambridge, Harvard, Silicon Valley, New York, London.

He comes to Athens. And now in front to these educated cultured knowledgeable people, Paul gives voice to this new faith. The Way.

Acts 17:16-31

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, "What does this babbler want to say?" Others said, "He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities." (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means." 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new. 22 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."

 (May my words and our thoughts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and redeemer. AMEN)

I think it was Rex who told me that the two happiest days you ever have with a boat are the day you buy it and the day you sell it.

I’ve experienced both those days in the last few years. I bought my little tinny Laura Palmer about 6 or 7 years ago and I sold her last week.  The engine meter tells me I, or my friends, have spent well over 500 hours fishing over that time. A little bit better than 1 fish every 10 hours.

And yes, both really happy days for me.  We are going to get kayaks now.

It’s a powerful thing, I realise.

Imagining what it’s going to be like if this happens. Getting that boat. Buying that thing. Having that bigger thing.  The average NZ house size is 60% larger than it was 20 years ago – despite the fact that family sizes have diminished over that time. What’s going on for us? 

Is this a symptom of the idol worship that Paul was so concerned about?

The ideas and dreams we have about our own sense of happiness and well-being and success and fulfilment. Often that works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes we even feel we have failed.

So a critical question. A question we heard last week and comes up again and again in different ways. What must I do to be saved?

Could that be the most important question we ever ask ourselves? The Athenians have a lot of answers to that question.

But we find the Gospel has such an unusual answer. You don’t have to do anything to be saved. God’s done it. So loves the world.  In Jesus, born lived, healed others, restored, freed, and then tortured and executed. On the cross he said it is done. Completed.  He rose. We are asked to believe in the most profound love possible. A love that even overcomes death. 

Paul, Timothy, Silas, Luke, Tabitha, Priscilla, Julia, Phoebe.  These were men and women persecuted, arrested, tortured, jailed, executed in that first hundred years of leading the new mission proclaiming the Gospel. And yet, saved.

What’s going to save us?

Let’s put those things alongside another imagination today.

Imagine you came here today this morning. Just coming along to church.

And I was thinking about the next boat I would like to have.

And the first thing you notice is a new sign. A big sign right at the front door. And it says the government has passed a law prohibiting the following from entering this church. No one who is in the military, no one who is a student, no one who received government funding, no one who worked for the government, no member of a political party, may enter this church.

And maybe you turn away at that point. Or maybe you enter into just outside the doors there. And there you notice a camera. And the camera is taking pictures of all who go by. And you know that they will go onto a facial recognition data. So that forever after you will be known by the government as person who attends church.

Our brothers and sisters in China are facing this very reality. And the churches are growing and growing.

So do you stop there?

Losing the things you own. You’re right to travel. Your movements being monitored. Your economic security. All those things.

Everything taken away from them.

There is that question that Jesus asks that is behind Paul’s address today, the Gospel asks, could it be that despite all you have built up around you, the priorities you have established the things that give you security and a feeling of safety.  Could there still be another way of thinking?  About ourselves, about our world, about our relationships and priorities. Could there be another way of living and thinking about things that provides us with a greater, even a whole new way of understanding fulfilment and safety and joy and achievement?

So what must I do to be saved? The prison guard asks last week in our story.

Just believe Paul says.

Then the Jailer learns more and more about this Jesus.

Love those who hate you, do good to those who despise you. And ultimately it would be for Jesus disciples found in the proclamation that Christ has risen from the dead that the earliest Christians would affirm that a new way of seeing, a new creation had come into being.

Onlookers asked questions of those early Christians. What are they doing that for? What does this mean? They asked.

We’ve got Paul here today in our story.  He’s not speaking to the Chinese authorities but he knows that the people he is speaking too will compare what he has to say with their own reality of their own experiences. He’s at the Aeropaus. (air eee opogus) Ares hill.  The Greek God of War.  Mars in Latin.  Just out of Athens. The great seat of learning.  Nearby was the temple of Aphrodite or Venus. The goddess of love. Who in mythology was a wife of Mars. And then all the other alters around the place. Unnamed Gods.  For home worship.  A god for all occasions. Mars Aphrodite which way are you going to go here?  Wouldn’t that be easier?

This is a sermon. Paul looks around him and says, Athenians I see how extremely religious you are in every way. So Paul’s teaches us a lesson here. He’s telling us something which our church reformers thought of as being very important. That everybody believes in something. That everyone believes that some things are very important. Paul doesn’t see these people as enemies; he doesn’t see these people as heathen masses dancing with the devil. He acknowledges the reality of belief in everyone’s life.  Pauls knows that Christian belief as Paul speak about it here is a belief among many - it can and will be compared with every other system of beliefs that speaks about meaning and purpose and direction and fulfilment and so on. Including the beliefs we have today around consumerism and success. The unquestioning value of being busy.

Paul speaks about the God he believes in a way that anyone could understand. He sees these shrines, he sees these idols which people have made, he doesn't simply condemn them, and he takes them seriously. These embody your beliefs but let me tell you about mine. The God who made the world and everything in it, one God monotheism here, -

God made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allocated the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live.  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. For in him we live and move and have our being as even some of your poets have said.  For we too are his offspring. There is no sense of exclusiveness he, there is no sense of self-righteous judgement.

Paul is opening up opportunity as wide as possible. God created you and me. Let's search out creative ways to respond to the loving creator together. For people with little private God, for people who establish exclusive little groups, for people who insist that God is interested only in one people or place this Gospel message is  revolutionary. 

Look at the choices the people are making.

We need to follow Paul here. To talk about this Jesus. Not because we are arrogant but because we want to talk about the things that make a difference, the things that lead us to reset our priorities. Our connection points are around the things we all have in common. Our common search for something greater, for God, who Paul tells us is not far from anyone.  Paul is talking about overcoming our fears. Discovering what the most important things really are.  There is another way of thinking believing, understanding ourselves and our world. 

There is a tough question here. We don’t face the persecution as Christians do in so many places. Where there are stark choices to be made. The comfort of Athens, the comfort of Clevedon. Choose your idol. Ares, Mars, even a generic unnamed idol if you can’t make up your mind. 

The proclamation that God raised Jesus, and that new life and salvation are found in him. Paul tells us that all people are created in the freedom to discover that truth. And that truth will make you free.  The truth is to believe as Paul says, that in God we live and move and have our being. AMEN