Acts 17.22-31; 1 Peter 3.13-22 ; John 14.15-21
May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all our hearts be held within the loving purposes of God.
If the apostle Paul were among us today, he might pop in and join us for a service here in church – but if this morning’s first reading is anything to go by, it’s more likely that Paul would be found having coffee and conversation in a local café, or standing on the sideline with those watching sport, strolling along the walkway or wandering among the crowds at an arts event like Womad – Paul would be anywhere people gathered, anywhere people were willing to engage in conversation.
When Paul was in Athens, then considered the centre of intellectual debate – he went out among the people, seeing what made them tick, noticing what was important to them. Rather than dismissing the umpteen different Greek and Roman gods whom they were worshipping he recognised their spiritual longing – their altar to ‘the unknown god’ and their sense that they ‘lived and moved and had their being in god’ … that somehow this god was not remote but close at hand.
Paul goes to the Areopagus, the gathering place of the thirty or so members of Athens’ elite court … and here he begins to address these spiritual longings by revealing the identity of the ‘unknown God’ – he tells the great thinkers that:
- God is not an image made by skilled craftsmen
- nor is God beyond human searching,
- God is to be found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Moving to 21st century NZ – are Paul’s words still relevant?
Is spiritual longing a powerful reality in contemporary Kiwi life?
Well, when we get talking to those around us within and beyond the church, as relationships develop, as trust grows, we’ll begin to hear stories about people’s families or about loneliness, grief and strruggles, the times when things have worked out well and the times when the world seems to be crashing down.
Woven through all these stories, whether people name them as such or not, are spiritual longings:
- A longing to love and be loved – not for superficial sentimentality – but for that robust and tender commitment to another’s wellbeing which makes the world a better place.
- A longing for our lives to have meaning, no matter our age, our health or our situation.
- A longing for connection – with ourselves, with others, with our world and, with that sense of ‘something greater than ourselves’ - whom people of faith call God.
We are all created to be in loving relationships – that’s how we and our communities flourish, but sometimes circumstances sabotage our growth and we’re left disconnected from other people, uncertain of our purpose and with a big gaping hole in our hearts.
Jesus is the one who reconnects us, gives our lives meaning and fills that void with unconditional love. REGARDLESS OF WHAT WE’VE DONE, WHETHER WE DESERVE LOVE OR NOT, God is committed to loving us.
This is the hope that we can share with others with gentleness and reverence. This is what we can reveal of the ‘unknown God’ whom people still seek in their deepest being. God is not distant or disinterested but deeply concerned with each person’s wellbeing.
Listen to Jesus’ words in the Gospel:
‘I will not leave you orphaned.’
What does that word evoke for you?
Do you think of children stuck in refugee camps, their parents dead, their homes destroyed, kids left vulnerable to those who use the innocent for their own ends?
Or perhaps you are taken back to your own story – some of you here will know what it’s like to have no-one of your own, no-one on your side. And if this brings you pain, do talk to someone you trust about any feelings or memories which may have arisen.
Even those of us who’ve had a stable, loving upbringing will have been affected by life’s ups and downs –
BUT ALWAYS JESUS SAYS
‘I will not leave you orphaned.’
‘I will be there for you – no matter what.’
‘I love you.’ [name a few of the congregation] …
Instead of feeling lonely, isolated, orphaned, each one of us, old or young, can be connected to God, anytime, anywhere.
How does God do this?
Through the Advocate, the Helper.
If you love me you will keep my commandments, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate/Helper to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth …
You know him, because he abides with you and he will be in you.
You will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
The Holy Spirit at work in an open, loving heart, helps us recognise God’s personal communication - through the natural world or the arts, words of Scripture or poetry, music, through the hands and voices of the people around us, through answers to prayer … God’s Spirit dwells within us so anything can become a means of God’s communication to us, drawing us ever closer to that love in whom we live and move and have our being.
‘You will know I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.’ Jesus says.
In effect … Jesus is saying, ‘We are one.’
He is talking about the fulfilment of Christian spiritual life: setting aside selfish demands and learning to love so fully that we become one with our God. [repeat]
We can catch a glimpse of the power of love to move us closer to God in a story about an old man who was dying:
Ted talked to his minister about the love he had for his wife Millie and she had for him: ‘It’s like we’re so close,’ he said, ‘I love her so much … more and more each day …there’s nothing to separate us anymore … nothing … we are one.’
Love had dissolved all the boundaries between Ted and Millie and had enabled heart to heart communication – the deepest form of human connection this side of death.
Being united with God in love
This is what Jesus shows us – that sense of being one with God –
That’s what Paul was talking about when he spoke in Romans of nothing being able to separate us from the love of God …
In two weeks time we will be celebrating the feast of Pentecost – the coming of the Holy Spirit to the disciples.
Let’s use this two weeks to prepare our hearts and minds for that celebration.
Let’s be as loving to others and to ourselves as we can.