Faith United Methodist Church
May 25, 2014
Sixth Sunday of Easter
Rev. Krista-Beth Atwood
Scripture: John 14:15-21, Acts 17:22-31
Prayer of Illumination:
O Lord, speak in this place, in the calming of our minds and in the longing of our hearts, by the words of my lips and in the thoughts that we form. Breathe your Spirit into us that we may hear and in hearing be led in your way. Amen.
Sermon: God’s Children
Do you remember what it felt like, as a young child, to get unexpectedly separated from you parents? I have a very vivid memory from when I was about four years old. My mother and I were shopping at a mall. I must have gotten distracted by something interesting and wandered away from my mother. My mother ~ probably distracted herself ~ didn’t notice for a few moments. Just when I began to panic I heard a scream, “Krista Beth!!!” I ran toward the voice and ~ reunited. It was just a moment out of my young life, but it was terrifying.
In our Gospel lesson we heard a piece of Jesus’ farewell conversation with his disciples. He knew that they would be frightened when he left them so he shared with them some comforting words. “I will not leave you as orphans….I am coming to you…. You will see me.” Then Jesus promised them an advocate ~ a comforter ~ that would be with them forever. The Holy Spirit. Jesus wanted them to know that, as God’s children, they would never be alone.
And after Jesus had left ~ had died, was resurrected, and ascended to heaven ~ his followers carried on this message. In today’s lesson from Acts we heard how Paul wanted everyone to know this good news, too ~ the news that they would never have to be alone. Paul’s passion was that everyone ~ Jews and Gentiles alike ~ would come to see themselves as children of God.
Today we follow Paul on his Second Missionary Journey to Athens. Arriving in the big city he walked around town and saw the many shrines set up to honor different Gods. He entered into conversations with people in the synagogues, on the streets, and in the marketplace, telling them the message of Jesus Christ. Some accused Paul of being a “babbler”, while others were more receptive to his message. But he piqued the people’s interest enough that in short order Paul was invited to present his strange new teaching at the literary capital of the ancient world ~ the Areopagus. This was the place where philosophers, orators, politicos, sculptors, lawmakers, painters, poets – the amazing thinkers and artists of the time – gathered.
Paul, not one to pass up a speaking engagement, began by drawing attention to a particular altar he had seen in his tour around town. This was the altar bearing the inscription, “To an unknown God.” Paul used this landmark, something that everyone was familiar with, as an entry point to talk about the God he had come to know. Paul said to them, “I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, so you can know who you’re dealing with.”
What follows is interesting, at least to me. Paul described God as Creator, Redeemer, Judge. He told them that the God that they honored as Unknown was, in fact, the only God. In doing this, Paul challenged their faith in the many sculptures and idols he had observed, saying that if God was the creator how could people presume to create God in stone or house God in shrines? God is not to be created by us. We are created by God. We are, in fact, God’s own children.
Yet here is the rub: In making what was unknown known, it seemed that Paul’s argument presented something completely unknowable. In offering the people of Athens his knowledge of the God of all, Paul couldn’t help but touch upon what I consider to be the mystery of God. The unknowableness of God. The people of Athens tried to shrink God down to a manageable size through their altars and sculptures to various small-g gods. Yet the God that Paul presented could not be captured in stone or shrunk down to size. Paul showed them the fear-ful, awe-filled, awe-inspiring aspects of God that humble us and cause us to shrink before God’s majesty.
Karl Barth, 20th century theologian found himself in a similar situation as that of Paul. Barth reacted to the relativism of his day, which asserted that all points of view – and all people’s views of God – were equally valid. As Paul affirmed in Athens, we don’t create God, God creates us. Similarly Barth wrote, “The Gospel is not a religious message to inform humanity of their divinity, or to tell them how they may become divine. The Gospel proclaims a God utterly distinct from humanity.” God is apart from us, we are God’s creation, and we can know him only through what God reveals to us.
As Christians, we do draw our knowledge of God from what is revealed in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. We see God more fully through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, who was the self-revelation of God, and through him, we see the divine. Through Jesus Christ, God is no longer unknown.
Yet, in spending time with the Scripture this week, the question that kept coming back to me was ‘how do we know what we know?’ We could say that we are ‘in the know.’ We have heard the message. We come to church. Yet, we have all heard, and maybe even experienced, the saying, “The older I get, the less I know for sure.” I often feel that way in my faith journey. The longer I walk with God, the less I feel I know. The mystery grows deeper. The questions become more unanswerable. We have similar experiences with our spouses or a close friends. We think after all these years we would know them – we should have them all figured out by now, but they still manage to surprise us!
As Christians we are called to know, yet we can’t know it all. Such is the mystery of faith. There is a saying that I came across this week. “The true test of character is not proving how much we know, but how we behave when we don’t know.” We know that God revealed in Christ Jesus calls us to a relationship of trust and brings us from darkness into light. I will not leave you orphaned. I am coming to you. This is fear-full and awe-inspiring in and of itself. In what we know we glimpse what is not yet revealed.
Yet what we do know is that God loves us and calls us to relationship. What an amazing thing! We are God’s own children. When we wander, God calls out to us. We are not forgotten. The rest may be revealed to us someday, but for now ~ for our journey here on earth ~ this is enough. For now it is our calling to be in relationship with our God, who is not a God of metal or stone, but a God of connection. “I will not leave you as orphans….I am coming to you…. You will see me.” And we will never be alone. Amen.