A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 21, 2017
Readings: Acts 17:22-31; Ps 66:7-19; 1 Peter 3:8-22; John 14:15-21.
We live between the times.
God’s kingdom is both now a reality and has not come in all the fullness we hope for. We live on earth catching glimpses of heaven and we pray for the ultimate uniting of heaven and earth. We have heard the church’s testimony of the resurrected Jesus and we wait in hope for our own resurrection.
Clearly, we live between the times.
Each of our readings today offers vital advice for people living between the times. How will we wait well? What does faithfulness look like here and now? Vital questions for every resurrection community with a desire to represent Christ well.
Perhaps our Acts reading is a good place to start. In Athens Paul is at the very edge of the ever expanding influence of the church. No follower of Jesus has been here before. The Gospel has not been heard inside these city walls. Even more than this, the foundational message of the Jewish story is not known here. In Athens there is no expectation of a Messiah.
Here the resurrection is a brand new story.
Sound familiar? Perhaps you hear echoes of this in your family, your workplace, the things not asked as you engage with those God leads you to. In Athens, and indeed in much of our modern world, Jesus is not on the table.
Or so it seems.
Paul walks through this city of ideas, among these collectors of philosophy, and, surprisingly, sees a host of opportunities. The Areopagus is a community perpetually in search of meaning. Paul sees both their idols and in them an insatiable desire to worship. In the altar inscription, ‘To an unknown god’, he sees recognition of an incomplete understanding of the universe. He identifies their search.
So from the common ground of creation Paul begins to articulate his hope in the resurrected Christ. It is his story. It is our story.
And, Paul believes, it is the Athenian’s story. Paul quotes their poets. He honour their questions. He looks for the good even as his heart breaks in these streets strewn with lifeless God-substitutes.
Clearly the great apostle and missionary holds a profound respect for his audience and a big, big, understanding of the gospel panorama. For him the message of the resurrected Christ is for ‘all mortals’; ‘all nations’; ‘the whole earth’. Paul believes, along with the Psalmist, that God’s ‘eyes keep watch on the nations’.
You see, although Paul knows this is a new message in this cullture, he does he does not believe God enters this place as the apostolic team passes through the city gates. God is already at work here. Their poets may not name Jesus, but they do indicate an inkling a poke in the direction of the divine. They already celebrate the path that the poets have trod: ‘In him we live and move and have our being’.
God’s nudge is already at work!
And, just in case you are inclined to see this as all too indirect, please notice Paul’s unapologetic arrival at the gospel core. He contrasts the lifeless idols with the living God. Offers God’s forgiveness. Invites repentance. Points to a day of judgment. Proclaims the assurance of the resurrected Christ.
Paul, as our Peter reading asks of us, wants to be a blessing in Athens. His contemplation of God forms his character. Somehow he enters this city in ‘sympathy, love, a tender heart, and humble mind’. He is seeking and pursuing peace, embracing undeserved suffering, offering a gentle and reverent defence of the resurrection hope growing in him.
For Peter these characteristics are not simply apostolic requirements. They are to be fostered in all those who claim to be a part of the resurrection community. You too, as you live between the times, are to be a gracious, sacrificial, and gospel proclaiming presence in God’s world.
And as you keep the command to love one another residing in a world that, as yet, neither knows nor sees the Spirit of God, you are never – ever – alone. Jesus promised to release his ‘Advocate’, the ‘Spirit of truth’. This one lives in both your heart and is wildly present in all creation. God’s Spirit ‘abides with you, and will be with you’.
Church of God, you are not abandoned or ‘orphaned’. Rather, you, by the grace of God, are joined to the creator and saviour of the world! As Jesus so wonderfully said, ‘I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you’.
There is nowhere in this universe and no situation in which you can find yourself alone. You cannot suffer alone. You cannot witness without the presence of God. Intermingled with everything you do and everywhere you go is the very presence of the resurrected, and therefore living, God!
Between the times you are never alone!