Tuesday, August 11, 2015
** Here is the text of the sermon by Lutheran Synod Bishop H. Gerard Knoche at Synod Assembly Opening Worship, June 14, 2001, based on Acts 17:16-34; given at Western Maryland College in Westminster, MD.
The lesson from Acts tells the story of Paul sharing the faith with a group of people who are new to him. Paul has been left in Athens and is depressed to see the city is full of idols. Apparently there were beautiful statues to every imaginable Greek god or goddess throughout the city. He is waiting for Silas and Timothy and so decides to argue for the faith with the Jews in the synagogue and with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Like other Athenians, the text says, they “spent their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.”
Secondly, Paul knew the world-view of those with whom he wanted to communicate. He had discovered their altar to an unknown God and he knew that they shared his belief that God had created all things. He spoke the gospel to them in a form they were most likely to understand and accept. We need to be more attentive to our audience. Leonard Sweet is one of the writers who has researched what the postmodern culture is like. I don’t have time to share all the characteristics, but I will say that it is a culture more interested in spiritual experience than spiritual arguments. They want to feel God more than they want to understand God. Stories of personal belief are more convincing than explanations of doctrine.
Thirdly, and perhaps most obviously, we need to know the gospel ourselves.
Paul makes his connection to their thought world and then moves on to talk of
God’s judgment, of their need to repent, and of the resurrection. It pains me to read that pollsters have determined that four out of ten folks who call themselves Christians are unable to name the four Gospels. If the way that
Jesus speaks to us and guides us in our life is through the Scriptures, then
if we don’t know the Scriptures we don’t know Jesus very well either. There
is no question in my mind that the key factor in churches that are reaching
out to share the faith is the rostered and lay leadership. Folks who know Jesus, know the Bible, and are excited about sharing that relationship with
others do it best. To share faith in the new century, we need to deepen our
Biblical knowledge and our love of Jesus, so that we will have something
fresh and dynamic to share.
One of the fears about changing the way things have always been with new
music or the use of the Internet or coffee house churches is that what is most precious to us will be lost. The story is told that in the early days of the Tennessee Valley project, a dilapidated homestead was going to be torn down. They were damming the river and the valley would be flooded out. A new split-level ranch house was built for the Appalachian family on a hillside nearby.
The day of the flooding arrived and the bulldozers were there to tear down the old house. The family refused to move out of the homestead. Finally, out of desperation, a social worker was called to find out what the problem was. “We ain’t goin’ anywhere” was the reply. The social worker pleaded with them to tell her what the problem was and why they would not move into their beautiful new home.
primitive hearth of the log cabin. “My grandpa built that fire over a hundred years ago,” the man explained. “He never let it go out, for he had no matches and it was a long way to the neighbors’. Then my pa tended the fire, and since he died, I tended it. None of us let it die, and I ain’t goin’ to move away and let grandpa’s fire go out.”
The social worker got an idea. She arranged for a large apple butter kettle
to be delivered to the home. The hot coals would be scooped up and transported to the new home, kindling would be added, and the grandfather’s
fire would never go out. The Appalachian family accepted and moved up to the
split-level rancher on the hillside after they knew that they would have the
fire of their ancestors.
As we share faith in the new century, we will keep the fire—of water, of bread and wine, of the book that is a love letter from God, but we will move to new places, where we do things differently, lest the flood of modernity wipe us out. Paul and Jesus would want it that way. Then, just like with Paul, some will scoff; others will hear us again; and some will become believers.
Kevin Dayhoff is an artist - and a columnist for:
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