While You're Waiting

Series: Fired Up

July 29, 2018 | Andrew Crosby
Passage: Acts 17:16-34

Grieve the Idols:

"While Paul waited for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to find that the city was flooded with idols." — Acts 17:16

This passage starts off by saying, “While Paul Waited”: Paul was waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy to arrive. Athens wasn’t his final destination, and in fact we see right before this that he was there because he had gotten himself in trouble again. He was preaching about the resurrection of Jesus in Berea and this angered some of the Jews, so he had to make a quick exit and wait in Athens. So, we can think of Athens here as a kind of layover for Paul. But instead of eating Cinnabon and shopping for souvenirs, like I would have, he kept himself focused on the mission while he waited.

I’m often tempted to compartmentalize “missions” in my life. When we do this, we make missions into a specific event or a trip. So, when I go to feed the hungry at the Oz I’m on mission. Or when I teach at the nursing home, I’m on mission. Or when I go to Zimbabwe I’m on mission. But on a Tuesday when I’m at work I’m not. Or, Friday when I’m at a kids baseball game I’m not. This view removes missions from our everyday life. And when we do that we forget that as followers of Christ this is our life calling. It makes us think of missions as something we will do someday; when we’ve got it all figured out,

  • When life isn’t so busy,
  • When the kids are out of the house,
  • When the semester is over,
  • Just any time when life is not crazy.

But life is always crazy. There’s never going to be a time when all of your life circumstances line up perfectly. So, we better figure out how to live on mission even in the midst of our hectic lives.

I experienced this compartmentalization of missions, oddly enough, while we were on our mission trip to Zimbabwe this summer. We spent 7 days focused on working and serving in specific ways and that was the on mission part of our trip. When we were running the medical clinic it was clear that we were on mission. When we were leading the evangelism and discipleship training it was clear that we were on mission. When we went into the village of Domboshava to meet families and share the story of the 2 Kingdoms with them it was clear we were on mission. But after those 7 days we travelled to Victoria Falls for the “Fun” part of our trip. Were we still on mission? We were, but I needed to remind myself. We stopped for a snack break at a gas station and I got out to stretch and walk around for a bit. While I was walking a man who was working as a security guard for the parking lot came up to me. He asked me who we were and where we were from. I told him that I was Andrew and that we had traveled here from the United States, from New Orleans, but then I had to ask myself, “What have you been doing all week? Why are you not offering him the same hope you offered those in the village?” You see, I had separated this part of the trip from the missions part of the trip. Now I was just Andrew the tourist not Andrew the missionary. I was able to regroup and he gave me the perfect opportunity to share about why we were in his country. So I told him about Brett and Allison and visiting them to fellowship, encourage, and learn and then I got to talk with him briefly about the 2 Kingdoms and leave the story with him. That experience in such a clear way helped me to connect this. Our life is not just work, or just vacation, or just school, or just family time. It is all of these things while we are on mission as followers of Christ. There is no practice round of life. There’s just life, and while we are living we are called to make disciples of all nations.

If anyone gets this full life mission it’s Paul, and as he’s making his way around the city he sees the idols all over Athens and it causes a gut reaction from him.

He is angry and sad.

Maybe he recognizes himself in this culture. Maybe he just knows his Jewish history and the allure of gods you can see and touch. Whatever the case, Paul’s encounter with the idols of Athens cause him to grieve.

What are the idols in our culture?

  • Our city?
  • Your life?
  • Do you grieve over these or are you just numb at this point?

We don’t have to look very hard to recognize the idols in our life. Our city has a beautiful downtown skyline that is highlighted by a big round building that can easily become an idol. (and if anybody is convicted and needs to get rid of some tickets, I know a guy). But entertainment, money, consumption can all be our gods if we let them. And we can spend all of our time and energy creating these idols.

I’ve got an idol in my pocket right now. My cell phone can become an idol to the gods of knowledge, image, and pride. Are you able to simply use this as a tool, or is it starting to have more control over you?

While our idols are quite different from the graven images that Paul was encountering, those of us who went to Zimbabwe encountered or at least heard stories of more traditional idols. We had to rely heavily on the cultural understanding of the pastors we worked with. They helped explain the issues of idolatry to us. There were a lot of people who claimed they trusted Jesus, but they tried to do that in addition to the African Traditional Religion they were practicing. So, the pastors would explain to us these physical symbols that served as idols to some of the people in Zimbabwe. Some wore white robes, some wore charms of protection, some kept the Bible as an idol. All of these things were set apart by people and given a place that belongs to God alone.

These idols caused Paul to grieve. Grief in the right context is good.

We need to grieve the things in life that are not as they should be.

We need to grieve loss and hurt.

We need to grieve the things that lead people astray. But, when we grieve we must be careful about how we respond. Grief can lead us to despair or to hope. If we let grief take over in our life we can give in to despair. Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker movement said, “As Christians, we have no right to despair. Our job is to hope.” Hope is a bold witness in the face of things that are not as they should be. Hope is our defiance in the face of death. Hope gives us the courage to live because our Hope is rooted in Christ who even in death is making all things new.

Paul grieved the idols, but it moved him to action.

Go to the People:

"He began to interact with the Jews and Gentile God-worshippers in the synagogue. He also addressed whoever happened to be in the marketplace each day. He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.” Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)" — Acts 17:17-21

Paul allows his grief to move him to action. Paul made it his habit to go to places where he would have opportunities to proclaim the gospel of Christ. He went to the synagogue to meet with people who shared his culture. He was passionate about helping the Jews see that Jesus was the one they were waiting for. And he also went into the market where he knew he would encounter people from outside his culture.           

Are you willing to go? One of our core values here at FBNO is that “We Gather to Go to the Need.” Saying this acknowledges 2 things. We believe that gathering is important. What we do here on Sundays is vital to our faithful witness to the good news of Jesus. But this value also affirms that our gathering is not the end goal.

We gather here so that we are equipped and encouraged to go to the need in our community and our world.

When we make Jesus the lord of our life we are made new to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world.      

Are you willing to be available to those who are different from you? This seems impossible for us right now. I can’t get on Facebook these days without getting angry or feeling like there’s no hope for us to understand one another.

But we have to.

We have to take the time and find ways to connect with those who see the world differently than we do. We have to be willing to be among people who disagree with us or don’t understand us.

We see here that what Paul presents is confusing to those who hear. Some think that “the resurrection” is the name of another god. They’re confused and say, “what is this babbler trying to say.”

Have you ever felt like that?

Jefferson Healthcare is a nursing home that we serve as part of the Care Effect. Just this week Wanda Gregg sent some books on the basics of Christianity to a resident there. She has been coming to our Bible Study for about a month and finally told Wanda, “I just don’t understand any of this. It’s all new to me and I’m so confused. Can you help me understand?” So Wanda provided these books because she loves to read, and we will continue to explain the truth of the gospel to her. But for now it just all sounds like babbling. It’s important for us to remember Paul’s history, and I’m sure that he remembered it well in times like these. When he first heard of “the Way” and early Christianity is sounded like blasphemy, nonsense, and babbling to him.

He was blinded to the truth of the gospel and then, he was blinded in order to see the truth of the gospel. It’s okay if they call you a babbler. When we talk about the kingdom of God and the resurrection of Jesus it will confuse or anger people.

When you ask people to take up their cross and follow Jesus you’re asking a lot. We understand that it has to be the work of the Holy Spirit to make God’s story understandable.

Paul was ready to go to the people and he was ready to connect with his audience. Let’s look at how he begins the message for this audience.

Connect with Your Audience:

"Paul stood up in the middle of the council on Mars Hill and said, “People of Athens, I see that you are very religious in every way. As I was walking through town and carefully observing your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: ‘To an unknown God.’ What you worship as unknown, I now proclaim to you. God, who made the world and everything in in, is Lord of heaven and earth. He doesn’t live in temples made with human hands. Nor is God served by human hands, as though he needed something, since he is the one who gives life, breath, and everything else. From one person God created every human nation to live on the whole earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their lands. God made the nations so they would seek him, perhaps even reach out to him and find him. In fact, God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move, and exist. As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.’ “Therfore, as God’s offspring, we have no need to imagine that the divine being is like a gold, silver, or stone image made by human skill and thought. God overlooks ignorance of these things in times past, but now directs everyone everywhere to change their hearts and lives.This is because God has set a day when he intends to judge the world justly by a man he has appointed. God has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.” When they heard about the resurrection from the dead, some began to ridicule Paul. However, others said, “We’ll hear from you about this again.” At that, Paul left the council. Some people joined him and came to believe, including Dionysius, a member of the council on Mars Hill, a woman named Damaris, and several others." — Acts 17:22-34           

Paul finds a starting point to help the Athenians understand the story of Jesus. We call this contextualization. Paul presents the gospel in a way that would make sense to the people of Athens. He recognized his audience and he used the tools he had to communicate the story in the most understandable way. He connects with their religiosity. “I see that in every way you are very religious.” And then, “I even saw an altar with the inscription, ‘to an unknown God.’” Paul uses these examples as a way to connect their understanding of religion with the true story of Jesus.

We contextualize the gospel in our Care Effect ministries each week. Volunteers who teach at Orleans Parish Prison and Rivarde use curriculum that is written specifically for adults and teens who are locked up. One resource is called “Free on the Inside” and it focuses on the freedom we can have in Christ even if we lack certain physical freedom.

We contextualized the story in Zimbabwe. We shared the gospel in the form of 2 Kingdoms. This resource was developed especially for the people in that region of Africa. They are generally very religious, but often their faith is blended between Christianity and Traditional religion. So this resource starts out with the affirmation that there is good and evil in the world and that God is the ruler of the good kingdom, the kingdom of Light. The gospel stays the same, but the form, examples, or specific words used may change.

We contextualize the gospel not to make it more palatable, but simply to make it easier to understand within a specific culture. Let me say that one more time. We contextualize the gospel not to make it more palatable, but simply to make it easier to understand within a specific culture.

Paul continues his speech and he affirms that God has been made known through creation, for in Him we live, and move, and have our being.

And also, God has been made know through Jesus and his resurrection. God has been made known and that demands a response.

We began this sermon with a prayer of confession. We acknowledged the many ways that God has equipped us and the many ways in which we have failed.

While in Zimbabwe our group participated in an evangelism and discipleship seminar with 12 churches in the Domboshava village. Allison Barnhill, who grew up at FBNO and is now a missionary with Reclaimed Project, began one of the sessions with a vision casting tool that made a big impact on me. So, I’d like to share it with you today.

Everyone grab their worship guide, or whatever paper you can find around you.

Now find some blank space on your worship guide and write your name in the middle of that space.

Now, draw a branch off of your name for every person that you’ve led to Christ in the past year?

When we did this at New Harvest Church in Zimbabwe it was a gut punch to me, and to most of us in the room. As we began to sheepishly look around the room we realized that we weren’t very busy writing. Maybe you’re still busy writing. I hope you are. But I think there are probably a lot of you that are feeling like I did that day.

Grieve that.

Grieve it deeply.

But don’t let it move you to despair. Use it as a tool to move you forward as you follow the risen Christ.

We are the hands, the feet, and the eyes of Christ in the world. God has allowed us to participate in the work of the Kingdom. We have been commissioned to do the work of God. We know that we are not saved by the work of our hands, but only by the Grace of Jesus Christ.

But, there should be some evidence of our new life in Christ.

 Are you inviting anyone into God’s Kingdom?

Are you feeding the hungry?

Are you visiting the sick and the prisoner?

Are you comforting the hurting and lonely?

Are you available to the widow and orphan?

Are you dreaming and acting God’s Kingdom into its fullness?

Series Information

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