Easter 6 Acts 17:16-31
Paul, standing in the middle of Athens, notices that the city is full of idols; which is about as profound an observation as saying that you went into a bar and noticed a lot of people were drinking.
Of course Paul is going to see a lot of idols in Athens; there is a temple to Athena right in the middle of the city. Not to mention temples and statues and other worship venues for who knows how many other idols that there may be in the city.
The city of Athens was named, designed and constructed in such a way, that anyone could have made the observation that the city was full of idols.
But could the same be said of other cities? Could the same be said of this city?
If St. Paul were with us this morning, what would he observe? Would the Holy Spirit move him to speak about the idols that populate your lives?
Now to be fair, this is not Athens. There are not temples built on every street corner to one false god or another; nor do we find ourselves surrounded by statues and altars to which we may sacrifice and pray for whatever particular need we may have at the moment.
And that is a good thing. This city, this country is found on Judeo-Christian values, and for the most part has not been decimated by the idol worship that so dominated ancient Greece.
But that is not to say that St. Paul would commend you for your good works and your vibrant faith and be on his way. For this indeed is a city, a nation, of idols.
For while there may not be idols built to Athena and the multitude of other Greek and Roman gods, there are most certainly other idols that surround us.
For an idol is merely anything that distracts you from the one true God of heaven and earth. An idol is whatever consumes your time, talent and treasure. An idol could literally be anything, or anyone.
Some idols are easy to spot; and are thereby easy to avoid. But other idols are just a bit more complicated.
Not everything that surrounds you is an idol; but that does not mean that everything around you is not an idol. In fact, what is an idol for someone else, may not actually be an idol for you; but at the same time, your idol may not be the idol of another.
What are these idols? Money can be an idol; after all, if that is what you want, and that is what you think will solve all problems and bring about peace and harmony in your life, it is probably an idol.
And the only way to get money is to work; and so that to becomes an idol. If all you do is work, and there is no time set aside for anything else, work is probably an idol.
On the flip side of that coin though, family, particularly your spouse or your children can be an idol. If their activities, if their wants and desires, if their happiness is all that concerns you, and it consumes all of your time and all of your dollars, it is likely that you have created for yourself an idol in the form of spouse and children.
Community can also be an idol. In many cases, that is the new church for some. Those who never attend church services and take part of the Lord’s Supper, but who never miss a community event, and feast on whatever the menu may be offering that day, have likely casted their idol out of the schedule of the town.
And there are the other idols that dominate your lives; government, sports, sex, alcohol, drugs, television, one collection or another, gossip, and even the ultimate idol, yourself.
As Paul examines your life, as he searches your home, which idol is he going to find? Where does the majority of your energy, of your time, of your talent, of your treasure go? Does it feed one of the many idols that you have constructed? Or is it directed to the Lord of heaven and earth?
For notice that in the midst of Athens, Paul finds an altar to an unknown God. As if the Athenians did not have enough gods, they had one more altar as a catchall for anything they may have missed.
Well, in the midst of your life is also an altar to a God, but this God you have an altar to is not an unknown God, but rather is very much known and familiar to you, or at least He should be.
For in the midst of your life that is so consumed with the altars you have built to various idols, you also have this altar. The altar to the one true God, the altar from which the absolution is proclaimed and the altar at which the body and blood of Jesus are offered. This altar has also found a place in your life, but where?
Is it visible from where you are? Or is it blocked by the altars to idols you have set in front on it? Can you hear the words of our Lord proclaimed from it? Or are those words drowned out by the noise coming from the other idols in your life? When you come to this altar, is it to get away from the other altars you have built to idols? Or is this just the next altar on the list that you have come to bow down to?
Remember the Ten Commandments, and that the one true God of heaven and earth is a jealous God, who wants you only for Himself. The true God of heaven and earth does not want to share you with any of the other idols you have found yourself bowing down to.
And so the words of St. Paul to the Athenians are now spoken to you: Repent of your idol worship, and seek out the one, true, living God. You know who He is, otherwise why else would you be here? But examine your lives, your homes, and the altars that you have constructed. Where are your idols? Cast them down, and seek out the true God of heaven and earth.
Your idols may not be your neighbor’s idols; and theirs may not be yours. But you are both called to repent of the idols you have set up in your midst. Tear down the altars to false gods, and return to the altar of the one true God.
For at the Lord’s altar, you will hear what no other god can tell you: for the Lord of heaven and earth, will call you by name and announce to you that your sins are forgiven, not because of your own works or merits, but because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And at the Lord’s altar, you will receive what no other altar can offer: the true body and blood of Jesus Christ, which is delivered to you, the forgiven and redeemed as an assurance of those words that have been spoken to you.
What happened after Paul spoke? Some believed, and repented of their idol worship; while others were angry and wanted to cast him out.
That is how it goes; to hear that the thing you hold dearest to you has become an idol will either cause you to recoil and repent, or to hunker down and cling to your idol no matter what. It happened in Athens, and it happens here today. We love our idols, and it is difficult to separate ourselves from them.
But God loves you more than you love that idol. And God desires you for Himself and for Himself alone; that is why He sent His one and only Son into the world to suffer and die for you. How many idols are willing to do that for you?
That is the love that only the one true God has, and can shower upon His people. That He sent His Son, so that you might live. And unlike those other idols, that come and go based on the day or the season, the love of God lasts forever.
Look around at what surrounds you: does it confess Christ, or does it confess yourself?
This morning you have gathered at the altar of the one true God, who calls you by name and comes to you with His Word and Sacrament, where you will receive forgiveness, life and salvation. May that be your confession, this day and always.