Gods Among Us
A sermon on Acts 14:8-18
Sunday, May 1, 2016 – Easter 6C
There's a video game on the market with what sounds like a blasphemous title. It's called "Injustice: Gods Among Us." It's not really about gods though and there are much worse video game themes out there like Grand Theft Auto where the goal is to commit violent crimes, or Diablo or certain Final Fantasy games where you channel the power of demons as you fight battles. But God's Among Us is really about superheroes: Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern battling against other characters who all have "god-like" powers, thus, the name Gods Among Us.
But what if you really saw a super hero in real life with your own eyes? What if you witnessed someone do something that was inexplicable by natural forces? If you saw someone fly (without a plane or jet pack), or shoot lasers from their eyes, turn into fire and then back again, run faster than a bullet, or watch a bullet bounce off their chest… what would you think? Would you thing there might be Gods Among Us?
That's what happened in a city in modern day Turkey called Lystra. The inhabitants of that town saw something they would never forget. They saw what they thought were gods among them. Superheroes with amazing super powers. They saw Paul miraculously heal a man crippled in his feet, lame from birth, who had never walked.
"Rise and walk," Paul said. "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk. And the people were amazed. They thought there were gods among them. The account of those events are recorded for us in Acts 14:8-18…
8 In Lystra there sat a man crippled in his feet, who was lame from birth and had never walked. 9 He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, "Stand up on your feet!" At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.
11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, "The gods have come down to us in human form!" 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them.
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy." 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them.
You know, I've read this account dozens of times before, but you know what really stood out to me this time? The reaction of Paul and Barnabas to being called gods. They had the celebrity status, the hero worship, that so many people chase after today. And what did they do about it? Well, they didn't bask in the glory. Instead, they tore their clothes in frustration and scolded their adoring fans: "Men, why are you doing this? We too are only men, human like you."
Their response got me thinking, "How would I have responded?" How would you? If people mistakenly thought you were a god, would you stop them from worshipping you? If people mistakenly thought you a hero, would you let them continue to believe it? If you could have celebrity status and the fame and fortune that goes with being a rock star or trophy winning athlete, would you accept the praise of men? If you were given an undeserved promotion would you turn it down? If you were praised for being such a good a great employee, such a smart student, or such a wonderful spouse, would you give the glory to God? Or would you accept the praise as if you deserved it all?
The reality is that we do face such choices every day. Will we accept the praise of people? Or seek only the glory of God? The choice is ours…
You know, there's a fine line between a super hero and a super villain. Both have amazing powers, it's just a question of how they're going to use them.
Lately, the super hero movies have become a bit more realistic, I think, than they were in the 50's and 60's. Back then, good and evil was always painted in black and white. You knew who the good guys were. You knew who the bad guys were. And the bad guys were always bad, and the good guys were always good.
But now, they show the heroes becoming corrupt, putting on the black suit, and turning villain. And they portray the villains having a change of heart and turning hero. The good guys turn bad; the bad guys turn good. And Batman fights Superman. And Captain America fights Iron Man.
I think the newer films are more honest as they wrestle with those questions and highlight the choices people are free to make. They show the inner struggle of one who has great powers wrestling with questions of morality and how to use those powers.
And I think we can relate. That struggle is really just portraying what every individual struggles with in his or her conscience, and perhaps, even more, what every Christian struggles with with his or her Old Adam and New Man. The truth is, you have great powers. And to quote Peter Parker's—that is, Spiderman's—Uncle Ben, "With great power comes great responsibility."
Your tongue is incredibly powerful. You can use it to your glory or to God's. It can destroy reputations and careers, or it can offer people hope and eternal life, turning them, "from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them."
Your dollars have incredible power. They can be used to your glory or to God's. They can be used for relatively worthless things that will be forgotten a few short years from now, or they can accomplish amazing things, building monuments in heaven, where the moth and rust cannot destroy. God "has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy."
And we are held accountable by God, for what we do with the gifts and abilities that he has given us. We can't sit by and say nothing, give nothing, do nothing and declare, "Not my problem," like Spidey once did when he watched a man get robbed. No. "With great power comes great responsibility." And we have great powers that we've used ir-responsibly.
We may think, "I would never worship Zeus or Hermes. How could anyone think those really were gods among us?" But don't we really do that to ourselves? We consider ourselves gods, as if we were in charge of our lives, as if others were put here only to serve us, as if they ought to make sacrifices for us, as if our pleasure and happiness were the only goal in life, as if we were the only ones that matter.
In his Large Catechism Martin Luther explained that we break the first commandment anytime we fear, love, or trust in anyone or anything other than God. We make that person or thing our true god. And anytime we break any of the commandments we really put our desires and wishes ahead of God's, making ourselves to be god. Though we will likely never be mistaken for Zeus or Hermes, nevertheless, we often act as if there weren't just gods among us, but as if we were gods on earth.
And you know what we deserve for such hubris in the face of the one true God who alone deserves any glory. We deserve Hades—not the mythological god of the underworld, but the very real hell that that word, Hades, has come to represent. For worshipping false gods and making ourselves to be gods, we deserve to be separated from the one true God forever.
So thank God that there really was a God among us. The true and only God left, not just Mount Olympus, but heaven itself. He came to live among us as Immanuel—God with us. He came not to be worshiped but to worship his Father by a life of perfect obedience. So he left the admiration and adoration of the angels for the rejection and ridicule of rebels. He came, not to be served, but to be sacrificed. So he left the praise of paradise to take the crushing cross for our selfish sin. Like a superhero, he sacrificed himself and gave his all to rescue us.
And that makes all the difference to us! We don't need to sacrifice bulls to Zeus or to Jehovah. We don't need to give our contribution to get absolution. We don't need to offer our service to earn our salvation. The once for all sacrifice has been made. Now we are forgiven. We are redeemed. We are no longer identified as the villains that we were, but as sons and daughters of God!
And as sons and daughters of God, we've been given divine powers from our Father! We may not have superhuman strength or agility. We may not be able to fly or shoot webs. We may not have powers to miraculously strengthen the legs of the lame, to make a tumor disappear, or to make cancer vanish. But we do have powers to forgive as God has forgiven us. We do have powers to offer comfort and hope in a way an unbeliever never could. We do have powers to speak words that give immortality to the soul! What super powers we have!
Now, let's use those powers and be superheroes, heroes that do super things for others. Let's go help those who struggle to take care of themselves, maybe not in exactly the same way as Paul did for that cripple, but as we help alleviate their agony and ease their pain. Let's go share the message of the God who walked among us to not just ease our burden or sin, but to completely remove our guilt forever, just as Paul and Barnabas did.