[Act 13:1-3 RSV] 1 Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyre'ne, Man'a-en a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 2 While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." 3 Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
[Act 14:8-18 RSV] 8 Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, 10 said in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he sprang up and walked. 11 And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycao'nian, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. 13 And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people. 14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, 15 "Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; 17 yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." 18 With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them.
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,
What I love about this story is it is so practical. After all, we need to know what to do when people mistake us for gods who have come down to earth. I mean if I had a fatted calf for every time that someone tried to sacrifice a fatted calf before me…so maybe not, this has never happened to me, and I doubt it has happened to you either. It seems like a very weird story, and the weirdest part for me is that though they are being proclaimed as gods, they are not being listened to. If Paul and Barnabas were really gods you would have to listen to them, yet the fact that the people were not listening to them showed that they didn’t really believe it either.
Now you have probably never been mistaken for a god. I was…well sort of. Some years ago a two year old from our congregation was going home from the grocery store and when he said, “I saw Jesus at the grocery store.” his parents were intrigued and a little worried. So at first they asked some questions and soon they realized he had seen me at the grocery store…so I was actually mistaken for God! …by a two year old. I have to admit the 2 year old did not try to sacrifice anything, he didn’t even pour out half his cheerios as a grain offering.
And yet I do believe that this story has much to teach us because while we are not often mistaken for gods, we are called to be the Body of Christ. The church universal, meaning believers of every denomination and all those who lift up Christ as king are the hands and feet of Jesus—they are a way God works in the world. And that World matters! This Earth is not just a grand test to separate sheep from goats, but the world, God’s creation, matters. Luther told us that we are called to be little Christs to our neighbors. We are called to be Jesus’ body in this world, and by that he didn’t mean we were to be better than others, but rather serve them like Jesus would. The word we use to describe this in Christian theology is “Incarnational.” Incarnational means “to become flesh”. You see God could have just given wisdom from on high. God could have directed miracles from heaven and just told us whenever we were in error. If all that mattered was making sure we had the right thoughts about God, then Christ could have stayed in heaven where it was safe! Surely in heaven there would be no mistake about who he was and there would have been no cross. Yet Jesus descended into this world because it is not just a matter of having the right ideas and conceptions of the world but the body of the world actually matters. The flesh, the body, the stuff of this world actually matter to God. Jesus descended because what we do with our lives matter and Jesus wanted to come into the day to day of our existence. Too often we lose this incarnational theology because we get stuck in the big questions of existence and reality—those are important of course, but so is the stuff of this world.
Paul says this best when he is trying to convince the Lyconians that he is not a God. He tells them indeed there is a God but it is not one of the gods that they know, instead it is the God that created all things, and while it was fine for nations to have done their own things in the past there was now a universal call for all people to recognize Christ! Then Paul tells them that this message has been left for all nations, “for he did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” In other word God left a message for them in the goodness of the earth. God’s faithfulness was testified to by creation itself. God’s love shown through the harvest and the sunshine. Hear the implicit words in that—creation matters, you matter. Not just your eternal fate, but you right now, your body, your health, and your life. Those good things are part of God’s witness to all the world.
On this day when we remember mothers, they provide a great example of the fact creation matters. Mothers after all are called upon to a holy task: the task of caring for a precious life. They are called to give love and support to their children, praying for that life and by teaching their children many things and bringing them to God’s house so they may meet Jesus and learn God’s promises and laws. Those are holy tasks, those are God given tasks, and those are so very important to all of us so the next generation may have faith! Yes, I know those are also father’s tasks, but this isn’t their day.
Mothers have been given other tasks that are no less holy. Things like toilet training their child and cleaning up after them. Things like providing food and scolding them when they have drawn all over the walls with crayons. As kids are learning to eat they sometimes have food in their hair, on their pants, and all around them like a food bomb exploded—cleaning that up is another blessed and holy task! After all it is a God given task to the parents not only to help that child learn to know and praise God, but to care for the body of that child because that too is something good that God has made. And now many of our mothers do this work in addition to holding a full time job! So, once again, the same could be said of many fathers… but this isn’t their day.
I know we live in what is being called the sandwich generation so I want to remind you that caring for parents is also God’s work, because their bodies matter just as much as our children, God after all became incarnate because the world of physical stuff matters.
So those physical things when we get older matter just as much as the questions that we ask and the faith that we witness when we are older. These bodies and the world matter and so we treasure all that God has made, whether it is really young or really old. When we help care for others in this way we truly are being God’s hands and feet. God came to redeem the world and God did that through the death and resurrection of Christ, but we have our part too, bring God’s kingdom near through the work of our hands in his love. We believe that God is active and cares about those physical things of our lives, God cares about the environment and the state of health care because God cares about the health of God’s people. God cares about this world because God made it and redeemed it!
Today we are reciting a different creed. I love tradition and I do love the 3 ecumenical creeds of the Christian Church; the Nicene, the Apostles, and the Athanasian. However all of those creeds were put together in a time when everyone knew God was active in their lives and they just wanted to define who God was and what we knew about God. This led one confirmand to ask, “If God created the world, saved the world, and will one day come again, what’s he doing now?” Think about that for a moment, because while I love the creeds they do talk about what God has done and what God will do, but seem a lot less concerned about where God is right now. The answer of course is God is active here with us, God is in your lives and waiting in your world to guide and lead you to the kingdom of God, not just in some far flung future but right now today! God is concerned about your world and is already out there in your workplace. Sometimes it may be in the epiphanies that you experience and moments of great grand vision, but other times it may look like cleaning up after a child, or dealing with an angry co-worker with love. After all while we are not gods of this earth, we are God’s people on this earth and we are inspired to be his hands and his feet because this world matters to God. Amen.
We are not alone, we live in God’s world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God’s presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.