Sunday 5th July 2020

Call to Worship: ‘The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him.’ Ezra 8:22 & ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek with all your heart…’ Jeremiah 29:13

PRAISE: Music has always helped God’s people feel the closeness of His presence. Take time now to sing or listen to a hymn of praise.

Prayer: Come before God in a prayer of adoration and confession. Thank God for who His is and for His work in your life. Consider all that holds you back in your life of faith and any way you feel you have let God down – ask Him to forgive you and to help you to serve Him better. Finish your prayer on a note of thanksgiving and praise, thanking God for His mercy, his patience, His wonderful forgiveness and for the gift of life made possible by the saving work of Christ. Conclude with the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father…’

Reading: Acts 17:16-34 This reading focuses on the preaching and teaching of the Apostle Paul. Paul, as we know, was dramatically confronted by the Risen Christ (Acts 9) and transformed from an opponent of the gospel into one of its greatest champions. Today, we meet the Apostle Paul on his travels in the city of Athens.

Prayer: ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’ (Philippians 4:6) We live in difficult days and any of us can feel worried or anxious. The Apostle Paul gives us a remedy for that anxiety – open, honest, thankful prayer. So, take time now to be still before God. If you are feeling anxious ask God for His peace to flow through you. Then ask Him to bring to mind people and situations He wants you to pray for. Bring those requests to Him one at a time in the confidence of knowing our God is the God who hears and answers prayer.

Refection: How far is it?

How far is it from Donaghadee to Athens? Given the weather we’ve had this past week you might be thinking how far is it from Donaghadee to anywhere sunny! How far is it? Around 4000km, 2500 miles, 6 hours in a plane and two time zones….a fair distance you might think….but as our reading today shows when it comes to the gospel, there is in fact very little distance or difference between Donaghadee and Athens, for the truth is: the gospel for Athens 2000 years ago is still the gospel for Donaghadee today, the response needed in Athens is still the response needed in Donaghadee, and the need to make Jesus Christ Saviour and Lord is still the world’s greatest need…..

So, what was the gospel message preached in Athens all those years ago? Keeping to the travel theme, imagine yourself on a city break…what sort of things might you look out for? Fine architecture, beautiful walks, quality restaurants, top golf courses? (Or is that just someone in my house!) In Acts 17 we read of the Apostle Paul, in the middle of a major missionary journey, pausing for a stopover in one of the great cities of his day, Athens. He takes time to go on a walking tour of the city and what does he see? Sadly, he sees a city full of idols, shrines and altars; historians record that at this time you could have counted around 30,000 statues to a variety of gods and just in case they’d left a ‘god’ out and caused offence, there was even one with the inscription, ‘To an Unknown God’, like saying, ‘to the god nobody knows’…. Paul saw a city full of statues, altars and shrines, but what he also saw was a people who were, for all their sophistication, lost and searching for the meaning of life….and so Paul seized the opportunity to preach the gospel and point the people of Athens to the truth….

‘Men of Athens! It’s plain to see you take your religion seriously. When I arrived, I was fascinated to see all those shines, even the one to an unknown god. I’m here to introduce you to this God that you might worship Him….that you might know Him…this is the God who made the world and everything in it…and He also made you! He is the Creator and the Giver….He’s not playing hide-and-seek….He’s not remote; he’s near. He’s nearer than you could imagine…We live in Him, move in Him, can’t get away from Him…in the past, God overlooked your ignorance of Him, but that time has come and gone and now He is calling you to a radical life-change….don’t delay….a day of reckoning is coming….’ (From Acts 17 – my paraphrase)

Paul stood before the Athenians in one of their most important meeting places and hammered out the gospel message, pointing all to a relationship with God, through the One He raised from the dead, His Son Jesus Christ. And how did Paul’s message go down in that city full of idols? It got a mixed reception as the gospel always does: Some simply laughed and walked away, some went for delaying, ‘we’ll hear you again’ tactics, but the good news, the very good news, is some believed and became followers of Jesus, followers of ‘the Way’.

The Apostle Paul was on a stopover in Athens, took a walk, saw a need, a people who were lost, and did something about it…I want you to do something with me….in your mind’s eye, go for a walk around Donaghadee or wherever is home for you….think of the people who might be around as you walk and ask yourself, in them what do you see? The chances are you will see something very similar to Paul, just without the shrines…..for you too may see people who are searching for something…and like Paul you have, you know, the answer. The answer is a Person, Jesus Christ. So, here’s my suggestion: this week why not go for a prayer walk around Donaghadee or your local community. If you’re shielding and can’t leave the house, then pull up your favourite chair and take that walk in your mind…On your prayer walk, pray for the people you see or whom God brings to mind. Pray that they would realise the nearness of God, be open to the call of God, that they would see in God’s Son Jesus Christ the One who is the way and who shows us the way to live…. and if your walk takes you to our church, you’ll note the wayside pulpit poster for this month reads, ‘God is speaking. Are you listening?’ Why not pause and pray that message will get people thinking, or if you stroll down by the lighthouse what a perfect moment to pray that people would know Jesus as the light of the world….

How far is it from Donaghadee to Athens? When it comes to the life-changing message of the gospel no distance at all, for the gospel is for every time and every place…. May we, like Paul, continue to be moved by the need for all to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord and may the good news continue to spread from Donaghadee to North Down to the ends of the earth, praise God.

Prayer and Praise: Take a moment of quiet to pray. Thank God for His Word and how it has spoken to you today. You may also find it helpful to listen to a suitable piece of music or sing a hymn of praise.

BENEDICTION: And now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with each one of you, this day and for ever more. Amen