‘For in Him we live and move and have our being…’ (Acts 17:28)
Read Acts 17:16-34
Over this weekend we have been remembering VE Day and the sacrifice many made during the Second World War to enable us to join the freedom and liberty that we do today. And over the past week or so we have heard on our televisions and radios stories from some of those still alive today of their own experiences at that time – and maybe some of you will have early childhood memories or recall memories of your parents. When I asked my Dad, who would have been 14 at the time, of his recollections he said he remembered it being a nice sunny day and the whole street having a wonderful party. He himself took part in a fun race for the teenagers around the local streets – and won himself the amazing prize of one shilling!
As a young boy I spent many days at my Grandparents house and had often walked along and played in the streets that my Dad remembered running through on VE Day. So as he was recalling that race, not only was I able to relate to the story because of my own memories, I was able to visualise the whole event and almost run the race with him. I have the advantage of being able to place his story into the context of some of my own memories and stories of my childhood, which, of course, will not be possible for all of you reading this.
The apostles and missionaries of the early church often encountered people who were unable to comprehend the story of Jesus Christ without trying to put it into their context. However, when we try to do that it doesn’t always work out as it should. Back then, of course, there were already many stories of gods and goddesses around and it was easier to fit a powerful experience of healing, or of the Holy Spirit, into what one already knew than to try to learn something new altogether. Paul sees how the people are trying to fit the experience of Jesus into the story they already know whereas what they should be doing is ‘writing’ their own story of Jesus as they experience Him in their lives.
Paul sees that the Athenian people have erected an altar to an unknown god. So it would seem that even though they have the a whole host of Greek gods and goddesses they worship, still there is something in their hearts that realizes they cannot know everything; that they have not identified the source of all things. And Paul identifies that restlessness and that openness as the longing the Holy Spirit stirs up in every one of us, until we rest in God. And of course it is through Jesus, we come to understand the invitation and welcome of God and through His Spirit we learn to recognize how, in God, we live and move and have our being.
As Paul speaks to those gathered in the market place he doesn’t insult them or scare them, rather he invites them to see something familiar in a new way and exciting way. And I wonder, when did we last embrace such an invitation as this, to look for new and exciting ways in which God is working in our lives. Paul allows and indeed encourages them, to reinterpret their tradition in light of what they now know of Jesus. And he encourages them to consider that the god for whom they have been striving who was unknown – is now able to be known through the person of Jesus Christ…
Paul calls the Athenians to imagine God – and themselves in more lofty terms than they are used to doing. Rather than worshiping a god of stone or silver or gold, they are called to consider that we are offspring of the One true living God. And so the God we worship should be better than stone and the people who worship god reflect god’s love back to the world. And there are a couple of lessons we can take from this passage.
Like the people of Athens we have to accept that Jesus does not merely fit into any category that we might wish to place him in, based on what we have read or heard from others. We should all have our own unique personal relationship with Jesus and it is that personal relationship which should be the basis of our own experiences of Jesus in our lives. Yes, we can and should share these experiences with others and having others share their experiences with us might help at specific times. However, it doesn’t automatically follow that the experiences of others will be the same as ours and that’s something worth remembering. Because sometimes we might think if God acted in one way for such and such a person surely He will do so for me – and so we expect the same outcome. But that’s not how it works. Just as our lives are all different and unique, so the way in which God acts in those lives is also different and unique.
Ultimately, of course, we are called to witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ. And irrespective of our own unique stories we can all ask ourselves the same question. What is the Good News of our story? Reconciliation with God, the promise of peace, the words of eternal life, the hope of the life of the world to come, the forgiveness of sins, guidance on how to live. No matter the differences in our own personal experiences, if this is our story then it is a story of Jesus Christ in our lives.
As to how we bear witness to this, again we might all have our own different ways and means of doing so. In her VE Day speech, Her Majesty the Queen said that our streets today were not empty, they were full of the love and care we have for each other – and without doubt this is a good way to start, sharing with others the love and care of Christ. However perhaps the best way, ultimately, is for us to witness to the difference knowing Jesus has made in our own lives. So let’s do that each and every day, in all we say and do, that by doing so, others too may come to begin their own story of Jesus in their lives.
Lord, we give You thanks that through Your Son You have come into our lives. That every day You are with us, wherever we go and whatever we do. It is difficult to truly express the comfort, joy and reassurance that brings to us, knowing You are with us at all times, and we thank You for Your ever present presence with us. We ask that as we live our lives each day, You would help us to bear witness to Your love and to share it with others, that they too may come to know You for themselves.
This weekend we remember all who gave their lives that we might have liberty and freedom and all today who still are prepared to do so. And at this time we remember all, in this land and throughout the world, who have lost loved ones to coronavirus and all who are ill in hospital with it. Be with them as only You can and assure them of that presence with them. Be also with the scientists, clinicians and researchers now looking for a way to cure those suffering from this virus and for a vaccination against it. May You be with them in that endeavour. And finally we pray for our own communities and our own loved ones, especially those who are ill or bereaved. Hold each one close to You and encompass them in Your love and protection. And all this we ask in Jesus name. Amen.
Sunday evening – national call to prayer
As has been the case over the past few weeks, the leaders of all churches have come together to call us to prayer at 7.00pm this Sunday evening. Underneath is a prayer by the leaders of all churches that could be used to begin this time of prayer. The full statement can be found on the Church of Scotland website where it also lists all those leaders whom signed that statement.
Come, Jesus Christ, come my way;
showing me your way, through these disorientating days,
and opening my eyes to your accompanying presence.
Come, Jesus Christ, come my way;
teaching me your truth, through these confounding days
and opening my mind to your living Word.
Come Jesus Christ, come my way;
revealing to me your life, through these bewildering days,
and opening my heart to the fulness of your being. Amen.