Acts 17: 22 -31 Who are you going to Serve? Easter 6, May 29,2011
John 14:15-21 The Reverend Dr. George Hermanson
We are often surprised how some the issues in the NT are so current. Did you not resonate with the lesson from Acts? Did it not sound familiar? Paul’s encounter before the Areopagus is a very current issue. There is a lively discussion of what it means to be a religious in our time. To state the obvious we live in a pluralistic world. Inter faith is high on the agenda. The role of religion in our society is a passionate discussion, with many conflicting voices. Within the United Church there is a range of ideas about the character or nature of God.
In the pages of the Observer there have been many passionate letters about the idea of post theism. We speak of seekers as those who seek some sense of the divine. The discussions reveal how many have experienced the church. Some have been touched by the church, but are disconnected and feel at its edge. Others have decided that religion is not worth any energy. Then, there are those for whom there is some nostalgic feeling for faith and turn up now and again. And then there are those who are spiritual but not religious.
Despite living in a secular age, it is like Paul’s time; there are many unknown gods. In Paul’s time there was an active belief in some transcendent reality, there was some sense of God. Paul suggested that not all the ideas were sufficient to create meaning.
The issue of whether all ideas about God are equally helpful is still an active issue. Today, for most people, the idea of some transcendent reality, which we have called God, is not the default position. We have reduced God to being good. In place of God, many other activities and ideas now claim our ultimate loyalty. For some God is our creation, our projection that creates social identity that issues in doing good. In this view, the sense of God is an optional belief and does not refer to any reality. This is the view of some in the church. It is a logical extension of reducing faith to action and being a good citizen. The nature of the church is to form good citizens. It is civic religion, where we worry about acting but not the the reasons for the actions.
Some decry this but like Paul we should see this situation as an opportunity to rethink our faith, to examine what we have committed ourselves to, to ask who are we going to serve?
I think this time of many questions does suggest there is a deep yearning for a sense of God. We do want our lives to make sense. We do seek a wider understanding of ourselves, more than surface behavior. We have been touched by a sense of wonder. The problem is many do not have the language to express that wonder. Old images no longer are satisfying, do not give us a sense of God, a sense of wonder who is with us, in us and around us. Our language sometimes does not have the power to help us feel the One in whom we live, move and have our being.
In looking for new images think of it this way. It is said we all have music in our souls. There is melody and beat to our existence. We all feel music. To make that sense active and known it takes someone creating notes and writing music This act of creation, making a tune is needed to make the feeling live. It can be country, it can be classical, it can be rock and roll, it can be folk and it can be jazz. It takes some form to make clearer the intimation of music in our soul.
Like music, Paul is suggesting the sense of God is universal. The problem is many do not have large enough container to give us a sense of God who is worthy of our worship. In a time of small images it is easier to have no image.
Within our tradition is a sense of God who actively cares for our world. One image that informs me is that God is active in the here and now. In the affirmation of God in Jesus we affirm God is in all of us, as close as our breath, deep in our soul. God is not far from us and we feel God in our living, our being.
This image is a God who is not separate from us and things, is the one who exhibits best the relational experiences we have, Love Supreme. We know we are tied together, influencing one another by being present to the other. It is by by listening to our words and action we tell one another how we are related, how we are present one to the other. In a similar way God is the one who is the power of relational presence, who works with persuasion through all experience, in every nanosecond, filling every open space with beauty, harmony, intensity, and novelty. There is no one center to the universe - everywhere is here, all is a center to all that is. God is in every center filling all open space with beauty. God’s aim is always present. And that divine aim is directed to each of us, through our relationships, through our communal worship, in the community-the sharing of the beauty.
God works with the world as it is in order to bring it to where it can be. (Marjorie Suchocki) This means God is in relationship with each of us and all of reality. God in this sense needs us and the world. God depends on us to live out the divine aim of love for all.
This is the affirmation of John - the sense of God is present, the divine spirit is here in us, in our worship and by extension our living. Our actions show a radical knowing of the truth about reality - the universe is infused with divine love. The job of the church is to make this clear by words and action. We focus the love for when love is not focused it spins away into meaningless chatter and noise.
We are invited to a radical affirmation of the hospitality. Love is incarnate in this world as we share love, when we know that there is more - a surplus of beauty which calls us into a way of living which hosts the world. In each moment of worship we school ourselves, to move from indiscriminate serving our personal projections to the project of serving God, through care of this world. Each time we nurture life into transformation, care for the world and its reality, work so more people participate in fulness, then we show God at work in us. It begins in letting the aim of God be our identity, it begins in worship that opens us to God and it leads us to the care of all.