It’s been a little while since I’ve written in this space. My usual Sermons in Progress blogposts and podcasts have been interrupted with a post-Easter uptick in the pace of ministry here at New Joy, and a sick (but now recovering) dog at home, among other factors. My apologies for the gap in posts.
This Sunday we’re reading from Acts 17:16-31 – a fantastic story of Paul preaching in Athens to a crowd of unbelievers. He walks around Athens and sees temples and idols – including one idol with the inscription “to an unknown god” – and proclaims a God who isn’t far away from any of us. In this passage we see Paul interacting with people who do not share his faith, inviting them to know the God in whom “we live, move, and exist” (Acts 17:28). It’s a bold example of public ministry.
This reading brings up issues of idols and idolatry – what do we worship, where do we put our trust, and where do we turn for comfort and solace? This reading also brings up issues of evangelism and speaking of faith, and of God’s presence among those who don’t claim faith in God. “God isn’t far away from any of us. In God we live, move and exist.” Paul goes on to acknowledge a truth found within the Greeks’ own philosophical traditions that resonates with the truth he proclaims: “As some of your own poets said, ‘We are his offspring.'”
This encounter between Christian faith and the community at large is an encounter that we are setting up anew here at New Joy. We are hosting two community listening panel discussions (Thursday April 26, Tuesday May 1, 6:30pm) to put faith in the same space as the community’s values, joys, and concerns. Rather than proclaiming in faith, we’ll be using these events to listen in faith to those members of our community who have their fingers on the pulse of our community. In listening to our community leaders we’ll take the posture of Paul, who keenly observed Athens’ religious and philosophical commitments, in relation to our own community. By listening for our community’s values, joys, and needs, we’ll then be better equipped to go into the community to serve in love and to share – in word and deed – the faith God has given us. We’ve already made a commitment to “go out” into the community with the establishment of the Outreach Ministry Coordinator at New Joy. These panel discussions will help shape and guide some of the new outreach efforts we initiate.
Acts is a fascinating story of the Holy Spirit leading the church to go into the world to proclaim the Gospel. It’s a story of cultural encounter, of challenge, and of blessings as the Gospel spreads into the Greek-speaking pagan world. While much is different between the church of Acts and the church of today, changing cultural norms and attitudes today about church make Acts poignant once again as we consider our calling to proclaim the Gospel in a culture that is shaped by cultural markers of historical Christianity but is also increasingly distant from the core values and practices of the Christian faith.