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Proclaiming the God we (think we) know.

Easter 7 (6) Common Lectionary Year A  .

Acts 17: 21-31.

©2017 Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

I began the introduction this morning
asking you to imagine, (though you don’t really need to,
you’ve seen it,)
a town where new people have arrived ‘from away.’
It soon becomes clear that their way of life is different;
clothes, language, culture, religion.
It could be Herouxville, or Pollock S.D.
or Chinley, Derbyshire,
or Calais, or the Hungarian border villages.
It could be, but I was describing Philippi,
Apollonia, Thessalonica, Beroea.
Places where the deeply rooted, established traditions
were upset by the arrival of these followers of Jesus.
So upset that riots, persecution and expulsion soon followed,
and the fault was on both sides.

A clash of faith, of culture,
with painful consequences for the children of God,
all of them.
And as we are seeing painfully in our world this week alone,
(Manchester, Portland, Egypt)
we are tipping once again to that place where
God’s children seem incapable of finding our way
to encounter, respect,
engagement, embrace, welcome.

What have we done, all of us, with our respective religions
that we now use some distorted version of them
to execute pilgrims of another faith?
to shoot worshippers in their violated sanctuaries?
to hold placards outside houses of worship
calling another child of God an abomination
because they love, or believe differently than we do?
What have we done that we equate national borders,
or income brackets, ethnic boundaries,
or the gender of bodies
with the limits of God’s love,
or of human compassion?

This is not the God I know.
It is not the God I serve, and will never be
the God I will proclaim.

And it’s come to this,
at this moment in our human history,
that if we don’t start proclaiming
or get more effective with our proclamation
of the God we do know,
a God whose Dream for the world is this…
then our silence is deafening,
even deathly.

This is where our portion of the Book of Acts comes in
to help us figure out how we are going to proclaim the
God we think we know without provoking or condoning
the hellish animosity that is gripping this world.

Acts chapter 17 witnesses to a moment of emerging wisdom
in the early church that was so transient, we can easily miss it.
Acts bursts on the scene with the exciting vigour
of new faith in the God of the Risen Christ;
a faith that makes bumbling Peter sound like a poet,
that turns Saul the xenophobe into
Paul the apostle of Good News to the nations,
Acts begins with an eruption of radical welcome into the household of God of all nations.

But so quickly we see the fault lines appear.
The zeal for the Lord that consumes
begins to burn too hot,
and the invitation of Jesus into life in God’s Dream
becomes, in these new converts,
a rigid, cajoling, berating proclamation that brooks no alternative,
and garners beatings and imprisonments that Christian tradition has been foolish to applaud.

At the point where it seems things will get worse, more violent,
Paul, who only a few verses earlier
is this scrappy take-no-prisoners verbose militant Jesus-follower,
berating the Athenians for their polytheistic menagerie,
finally stops his mouth long enough
to use his ears,
and his eyes,
and his heart.

He walks the streets, explores Athens nooks and crannies,
and temples galore,
takes his Instagram selfies by the acropolis.
He gets into their world,
buys food in the markets,
listens to their musicians,
spends time in the library, reading their
poets, their histories.
He does his homework,
and discovers a profound religious, spiritual curiosity
with which finally, momentarily, he can identify.

So beginning where they are,
speaking about things that matter most to them,
touching with respect one of their sacred objects,
he even uses their own sacred language,
quoting not his own Scriptures, but theirs
to describe this “Unknown God” for whom
they have a statue.

This Unknown One, he says,
is the Creating God,
the One, “in whom we live and move and have our being.”
For one sunburst moment, Paul,
in search of deep truth, common ground,
kept it short and simple:
“This God is the Creator of All.
This God is not confined to our temples.
This God has a Dream for the entire world
– a dream of life enough for all,
especially the poor, the outcast,the oppressed –
and that Dream can be summed up in the way of living
of one Jesus, a nobody on the margins of empire,
whose life, though crucified,
lives on in those who follow his Way.
And we are all God’s children.”

Three bright lessons for us today shine out from
Paul’s proclamation of the God he knew
to the Athenians on Mars Hill;

a)It is more than time that we,
citizens of the world, become devout students of the other;
open and respectful of the cultures, traditions,
and faiths of those who now live side by side with us
in this global village.
(we have a gift we won’t squander)

b) We owe it to the Dream of the One,
Creating, Sustaining, Healing, Mending God
to see every one with whom we share this planet
as a fellow child of God, (slide of DL and Tutu)
as equally worthy of God’s love as we are.
(why this is an affirming congregation)

c) We are more effective when we keep it simple,
short, and true to our experience,
as did Paul,
when we share the faith that shapes us
with those shaped by other faiths.

Now, if we’re true to the full text,
Paul was after converts to the Way of Christ.
And this is where I need to leave Paul behind.
In today’s world, that’s a real problem,
because whenever we slip from true dialogue
to persuasion that our way is best,
mutuality is imperilled.
And whenever we slip from persuasion to coercion,
threats, withholding of God’s gifts, violence,
Hell follows quickly,
the Dream of God ignored.

From what I can see of the Dream of God,
made known to me through the teaching of Jesus,
but to others through their own religious paths;
from what the best minds and hearts
of the Christian ecumenical and the interreligious- interfaith movements are saying today,
it is that
all who walk the talk
of love, healing and compassion
have enough in common in the best of our faith traditions,
and have enough work to do for a hurting world,
to do that faithful work side by side,
kippa by hijab, by sari, by turban, by cross,
as cousins in the household of God
sharing a common Creator’s Dream.
We are all children of one God, and that changes everything.

Pray God that how we walk our talk here,
will proclaim in all humility, openness and respect,
the God we think we know.
The One who will never give up on any single creature
in creation,
so neither can we.

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