The Pas Easter 6
21 May 2017
Psalm 66 pg 787
1 Peter 3:13-22
Three-fold God of love, you invite us to abide in you. May we follow the Spirit of truth, so that through us your commanding love may speak to the heart of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This week I admit I had difficulty in getting into the text of the sermon, and when that happens, I tend to look at the world around me, and contemplate the big themes that we either choose to focus upon, or we choose to ignore as we settle into the detail and intricacies of our lives.
I’ve been contemplating the larger themes and the iconic stories that make up our lives, that make up our entertainment, and our history: our national, family, and personal histories. (And this is when Remi says I think too much.)
And noticing such, about life, about our ability to make the small details of our lives the most important activities we will complete, we find that there is room for the iconic tales, stories, that have the ability to inspire absolutely every aspect of our lives, today, and tomorrow as well.
Not only do each of us have our own stories, our own tales of accomplishments, heroic feats, contributions to society around us, both in the world and in our families but we are also a piece of someone else’s story, some place else’s story as well.
In my life, I’ve always returned to favourite childhood stories, when I feel that life is getting out of hand, when I feel the need to be grounded in literature that has the ability to both entertain and enrich.
As an example, JRR Tolkien’s tale The Lord of the Rings actually begins with The Hobbit, when Bilbo, on his grand adventure, changes the lives of not only the Baggins’, but all of hobbit kind by finding the ring. And yet the story of this ring that has the purpose of dominating all of the world, has a history that began 3000 years before Bilbo, and Frodo, and their friends enter the tale.
Even after all is said and done, their stories finish, their time in the larger story is completed, yet, the story continues, with new characters, and new adventures.
At the same time, we can turn, and return, time and again to the books of the bible.
We can relive the history of the Israelite people as they are chosen by God to be the people of God and remember how God touches our lives, our hearts, our families, every day, as well.
We can return to the lessons Jesus taught, to the prayers he has prayed and continues to pray on our behalf. We can relive, and reread the morality tales, and the miracles that Jesus performed that still have the ability to open our eyes and change our lives, even today.
These iconic stories have the ability to shape our lives. They have the ability to entertain, and to educate. They’re able to guide, and they’re able to give hope, even in the darkest of circumstances.
Through story telling we are able to find inspiration for our lives.
Through the telling of our stories, we’re able to find a place for ourselves in a world that has the ability to make us feel that a much bigger contribution is required from us, than the ability to make the worlds best cup of coffee on a daily basis.
At the same time, that cup of worlds best coffee is so much more enjoyable when we realize that the inspiration to make that mouth watering cup of coffee comes from such iconic tales as Jesus changing water in to wine, feeding the multitudes, casting out demons, healing those on the fringes of society, recalling life from death, and walking on water.
The reading from Acts, for today, shows us Paul on one of his first forays into the known world, as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
This is a whole new adventure for Paul. This is a whole new experience in his life as he turns to promoting Christianity amongst the Gentiles, instead of trying to destroy those of us who believe in and who follow the Christ.
In the larger world, Paul, a Jew, turned Christian, is now ministering amongst those who believed in many gods. He’s among those who express many ways of worshipping those many gods. This practice is called polytheism, where there’s a god for everything and for every time and place.
The Roman Empire, when it conquered a new group, never imposed its own gods upon this new group of people, rather it accepted their gods into their own pantheon or group of gods to be worshipped. This developed some bad habits like the emperor declaring that he is god-like and should be worshipped as a god.
Yet, in this midst of this world, we find Paul wandering around the marketplace, in Athens, looking at the stalls that are selling pencils, and fruit, cloth, and lunchboxes. Selling everything that is needed for daily life.
We find Paul exploring the gods of Athens and their expressions of worship, and discovering that they’re also making room for God, or for gods whom they’ve not yet met. So Paul stand up in the midst of the marketplace in Athens and introduces them to God.
He describes to them the creator of the universe, to the one who loves us all unconditionally and gives us Christ to show us how to live in that love, forever.
He stands up in the midst of the Athenian people and says “as I walked around an looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I’m going to proclaim to you.” (Acts 17:23)
He stands up before the Athenian people and he tells them an iconic tale. He talks to the them of Christ, and his life and his miracles. He tells them of God, and the guidance of the peoples before Christ and since Christ ascended to heaven. Paul talks of the disciples and their journey from the seaside in Galilee to Jerusalem and the growth of the Christian faith around their efforts to live in God’s love, in Jesus teachings.
Paul talks of the passion, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. He tells the people of Athens that they are loved by this the one God, and all they have to do to receive that love, to live within it, is to accept that this story is for them. That this story is their reality, and that this story has the ability to include them, in the same way it includes each one of us who believes in Christ, still today.
Paul goes on and shares with them his own story; after all its one he knows very well, it’s the story of the Israelite people, it’s the story of God’s interaction with humanity from the creation of the world, through tomorrow.
He says: “24 ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.’” (Acts 17:24)
But this isn’t a one-way story, where we get to hear a fairy tale. This isn’t a “once upon a time…”. This isn’t like the classical literature I read at bedtime, or when I want to ‘take a load off’ and let my imagination roam through the realms of the impossible and the improbable.
Rather this is the story that has reached out to each one of us, and has touched each of our lives. This is a story that has become a part of us, and we are a part of it, as well.
This is a story that we are currently living a part in, as is Paul, as are all of those around the market, the Areopagus in Athens, who hear the words of Paul, today, and maybe they make an impact.
Maybe they linger nearby and engage him in heartfelt conversation about what its like to rely upon only one God, rather than a pantheon of gods.
Maybe they go on their way, but along the way, they can’t forget what Paul has said, today, and they encounter him, or another who has turned their hearts to God, and they learn how this message has touched other lives, and leads to a community in Christ, right there in Athens.
Only God is able to see the outcome of Paul’s words, today, in Athens. Only God is able to know how Paul’s words continue to inspire us to share our own stories, is able to touch our hearts, still today, reminding us that God isn’t served by human hands, but rather by human hearts. (Acts 17:25)
This isn’t a story that is able to be set to one side. We cannot claim that it has no ability to affect who we are or how we deal with the world around us. Rather it is the one story that goes to the very heart of who we are and how we live and move in the world.
We may be focused on that fabulous cup of coffee, especially first thing in the morning. We might find great satisfaction in hand to hand combat with dust bunnies. But because of these stories, because of these accounts of the gospels, and the tales of Paul as he carries the message of Christ into the world around us, he is able to carry the love of God into each of our hearts as well.
The question, then, for today, is how is our story be enriched by what Paul tells us, tells the Athenians. How does this action by God to reach into our world, into our lives, into our stories find reality and action in our day to day experiences?
“27 God did this so that [we] would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of [the Athenian] poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17:27)
So, since we are the offspring, the children of God, since we are the body of Christ, in the world, not just in these pews, I would encourage each of us to share, if not the wording of our stories, the essence of them with those who are looking for the way their stories can be shared with the world.
Our stories blend with each other’s stories. We are a part of the tales of others and they are a part of ours.
In all of this, like a constant theme, or thread, we find God, we find Christ as close to us as the person sitting next to us, as much a part of our actions as if they were his own.
In all of this, we become active in the heroes and heroines we live out as we live our stories to the world.