Hear now this reading from the book of Acts, Chapter 17, verses 22 through 31.
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[a] 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[b] 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.”
This reading is from Acts Chapter 2, verses 42 through 47.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds[a] to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[b] and ate their food with glad and generous[c] hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Acts 2: 42 – 47
Five practices that form the core purpose of the church:
- Growing as spiritually alive disciples of Jesus as we follow the Jesus Way.
- Being radically inclusive as we reach out to others with an invitation to join the Jesus Way community.
- Deepening the relationships we have with one another in our life together in the Jesus Way community.
- Engaging the wider community in justice oriented ministry.
- Loving God with our whole being in worship and prayer.
Sermon. May. 17. 2020. Acts 2. Worship
Rev. John Steitz
Last week we focused on Evangelism. We might not like the term evangelism because of the baggage we associate with this.
An Open and Affirming congregation is Radically Inclusive, embracing those who are excluded and rejected by others just as Jesus practiced radically inclusive table fellowship with outcasts in his time.
As a Jesus Way community we practice sharing Good News – evangelism – in the way we Invite, Welcome, and engage in Hospitality with people formed in God’s image. Which is after all everyone, not just selected people.
Today we are going to look more closely at the practice of Worship. We will include in this discussion Acts 17, Paul in Athens at the Areopagus – Mar’s Hill.
Today we are gathered for worship online. We have a worship video that you are watching and engaging with. This video allows you to participate in worship when your schedule allows and wherever you access it, rather than at a set time and place.
The public health concerns that arise from a virus that is especially contagious, that can be spread by those who don’t appear to be sick or carrying the virus, and that can be deadly to some people, especially those who are elderly or have other health issues has moved us to worship in our homes.
Across the centuries Christians have gathered for worship in a variety of ways. We can gather for worship online, in our homes, in small groups, and when it is safe, in the sanctuary of a church building.
Jesus reminds us that where two or three are gathered in his name, he is with us. We are gathered here in Jesus’ name, through this video, to worship God. You the viewer or viewers join with me in this sacred act.
In his sermon recorded in Acts 17, Paul points out that God does not live in shrines made by human hands. This was a very important message for those who listened to Paul’s sermon surrounded by statues and temples dedicated to a multitude of gods.
Paul’s message was also very important to the early Jesus movement. Acts 2 mentions the Temple in Jerusalem, but by 70 C.E. this was destroyed.
The early Jesus movement didn’t have church buildings, and in any case it would not have been safe to meet in large gatherings while the Empire was arresting and executing followers of the Jesus Way.
The Jesus Way community met in small groups in people’s homes. There was safety in smallness.
The first Jesus movement was a network of house churches – small groups, loosely connected, united by the common purpose of worshipping God and living in the Jesus Way.
Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 reminds us that some of the things we might take as essentials are really only tools to facilitate what is truly essential.
No one would argue that online services, worship videos, or digital ministry are essentials for worshipping God. People worshipped God for generations before these were ever invented.
Digital, video, online, and telecommunications all facilitate our ability to worship God. During this crisis we are blessed to have access to these tools. They are and will always be tools, not essentials.
Our church buildings are also tools to engage in mission.
Paul also reminds us of something else when he speaks of “the God who made the world and everything in it.” God’s creation is all around us.
We can worship God anywhere. As we walk through a forest or through our neighborhood. As we experience the wonder of a flower or the joy of a young child. Whenever we connect with the awesome magnificence of God’s creation and we are moved to give God our thanks and praise.
Let us also remember that the first disciples who gathered every day to worship God as described in Acts 2 were rooted in the Jewish practice of the Shema.
The Shema is a prayer that recites Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 9.
“Hear O Israel: the LORD is your God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and all might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on your doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
The Shema prayer has helped to bind the Jewish faith together even during times of repression when it was not safe to gather in synagogues. The Shema holds the faithful together by reciting love of God with one’s whole being: heart, soul, and might.
The Shema prayer is done anywhere, at home and away. Evening before bed. Morning at ones rising. Teaching children. Putting these words on one’s house.
Throughout the centuries there have been times when it has not been safe for faithful people to gather to worship in public, or in large groups. We are in one of those times right now.
We worship God whenever we express our love of God with our whole being. We come together as disciples of Jesus when two or more gather in Jesus’ name.
These are the essentials. The specific location where we worship is not an essential for all of creation belongs to God. Worship from our homes is worship. The weekly worship video is a tool to help facilitate this.
Your love of God, and your gathering in Jesus’ name are what transform this video from a tool into a worship gathering.
Not only can we remain faithful through worship from our homes, home worship has sustained people of faith in difficult times, sometimes for years, even generations.
May God bless you and your house church. Together we are a Jesus Way community.