Summary: Sharing Christ to a secular world. Are we troublemakers? Or are we peacemakers?
I have been reading the report from the 9-11 Commission. I’m fascinated by some of the things I’m learning, but I also find myself feeling angry once again that our nation was so ruthlessly attacked.
I find myself thinking of all of the victims, the families and relatives of those who died, the innocent people who were so directly impacted by this event, and the terrorists. Nineteen hijackers, who have turned the world upside down. (Think about that number, only 19)
Look around this Sanctuary. Nineteen people. That’s less than it takes to fill two pews in here this morning and that small group has caused trouble all over the world.
Small groups of people have always had the power to change the world.
Fortunately, the change does not always have to be such a negative and hate-filled change.
In our New Testament lesson, we see another small group that changed the world – Paul and Silas.
They changed the world, “turning it upside down” for the better.
Small groups have always had that power – to change the world for better, or for worse.
There were 19 highjackers on September 11th.
But there are more than 19 Christians here.
There are, on any given Sunday, over 300 people worshipping in the services here at Good Shepherd.
There are over 700 members in our church.
There are over 2 and a half million Christians in the Presbyterian Church, USA.
There are over 2 billion Christians in all of the various denominations of Christianity.
You cannot tell me that 19 people who set out to destroy and hurt and kill have more power than 2 billion who are called by God to love others and to change the world for the better.
It only takes a few people, if they are truly committed to what they believe in, to change the world, for good or for bad.
One of the things that fascinate me about our New Testament text from the Book of Acts is that it gives us a good handle on how to behave as Christians in the modern world, and as we deal with the secular, non-Christian world.
I think this is also a passage in which we see Paul learning and growing.
The lesson begins with Paul and his small group going to the city of Thessalonica. Paul goes to the synagogue and he begins to teach the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. The Jews have been waiting for the Christ or the Messiah, and now Paul tells him that the Messiah has come, and that the Messiah is Jesus.
Paul always had a habit of rubbing people the wrong way. He is direct and often abrasive. He’s passionate, but not always compassionate.
And time and again in the Book of Acts, he is in conflict with the community around him.
Things in Thessalonica get bad enough for Paul and Silas to leave town. Their next stop is Berea, a city that Luke, the writer of the Book of Acts says was inhabited by “people of more noble character than in Thessalonica.”
But those Thessalonicans! They can get over their anger with Paul and when they learn that he is in Berea preaching the Gospel, they send people to Berea to cause trouble for Paul.
So Paul and his group leave Berea.
At this time the small group of Christians have separated for a brief time and Paul finds himself alone in Athens, waiting for his companions to join him.
The Book of Acts says that while he was there, “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.”
He spent his time preaching with fellow Jews and God-fearing Greeks, but then he finds himself approached by people of different religious faiths and philosophies. Acts refers to them as a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.
There is no reason for us to discuss right now what these particular philosophies believed and taught.
What is important is that these were non-Christians, and we can learn a lot by how Paul deals with them.
We need to deal with non-Christians in our world.
We don’t want to be looked upon by the non-Christians in our community as being a bunch of troublemakers. Nobody likes to be labeled that way.
Troublemakers destroy and cause havoc. We want to build up, encourage love and justice.
What Paul does here is to do three very important things. And these are three things we need to do when we invite people to our church or to become Christians.
First, Paul goes to them. He doesn’t just wait for others to come to him. He meets people where they are. In the Book of Acts, Paul goes to the Areopagus, which was an important hill where the people of Athens believed the mythical god Ares had been murdered.