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Sixth Sunday in the Season of Easter

Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Readings: Acts 17:22–31; 1 Peter 3:8–22 & John 14:15–21

I’ve mentioned in previous sermons that many key indicators clearly demonstrate that the Western world is becoming more and more secular. Which simply means that more and more people do not identity with, or are not connected to, any religious or spiritual matters.

In Australia, data from the 2021 Census reveals that in the last 50 years, the number of people who identify as Christian has fallen from 86.2% to 43.9%, while during the same period of time, those who identify as being of ‘No Religion’, has increased from 6.7% to 38.9%. There has also been an increase in those who identify as ‘Other Religions’ (a combination of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Other Religions), from 0.8% to 10%. That number is not surprising, given Australia’s approach to immigration in that time which has enabled the development of a truly multicultural society in our country.

I should point out, that 43.9%, which is the number of people in Australia who identify as Christian, does still represent a majority of the population, albeit significantly reduced from previous years. Of course what we do know, is that a large number of these people who do identify as Christian, do not attend church, which is a completely different issue.

A 2017 survey, conducted across 15 countries in Western Europe, revealed that 71% of the population identified as Christian, but only 22% attended church services monthly or more. What I found really interesting in the survey, was that although many “non-practicing Christians” say they do not believe in God “as described in the Bible,” they do tend to believe in some other higher power or spiritual force. By contrast, most church-attending Christians say they believe in the biblical depiction of God. And a clear majority of those who identify as “No Religion” obviously don’t believe in any type of higher power or spiritual force in the universe.

The reason I’m mentioning this, is that if we look at what the Apostle Paul says to the people of Athens in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we can clearly see that he does believe in the God described in the Bible. And he also clearly believes that this God revealed Himself to humanity in the person of Jesus.

Now, for those of you who have participated in our various Bible Study programs, you will remember that we first hear of Paul in the Bible when he is introduced in the Acts of the Apostles as Saul, the young man who holds the coats of those who stone Stephen the Apostle to death. This was actually the reading we had last Sunday from the Acts of the Apostles. We then hear of him later in the Acts of the Apostles, obviously years older, and leading persecutions of those who were followers of Jesus. 

So, why would Saul (Paul) suddenly change from being the most zealous persecutor of the early church, to become its most fervent advocate? Well, the Acts of the Apostles tell us that while on a journey to Damascus, Saul experienced a revelation of the risen Jesus and, as a result of this experience, he himself became a follower of Jesus, and he devoted himself to proclaiming the good news of the gospel.

Over a period of approximately 16 years, he made four missionary journeys, during which he established churches in places such as Thessalonica, Corinth and Philippi. And, as I’ve said before, outside of Jesus himself, Paul is arguably the most influential figure in the history of Christianity and the Church.

Now it’s clear that Paul experienced something beyond our comprehension, something that caused him to make a complete u-turn in his life. For me, that dramatic change in Paul’s life is evidence of God’s existence; specifically, the existence of God as described in the Bible. What other reason could there be for such a life changing turnaround?

The reason I’m telling you this today, is that in my sermon last week, I encouraged you to trust in God (and in Jesus) in the face of any fears you are confronted with. You might have thought to yourself last week: it’s not necessarily easy to just trust in God and Jesus if I’m faced with very real and significant fears. However Paul’s experience can help to give us the confidence we need.

Following his experience on the road to Damascus, Paul placed his complete and total trust in God and Jesus. And if we look closely at the fears and troubles that Paul himself was confronted with during his ministry, we can see that his trust was rewarded time and time again. 

The words of comfort that Jesus gave His disciples in today’s gospel passage, while talking to them about the gift of the Holy Spirit they would receive, can also help to provide us with assurance to trust in God and Jesus. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.  They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 


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