These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.
Matthew 6:6, 9-13
“In God, we live and move and have our being.” “For we, too, are God’s offspring.”
These are the words of pagan poets.
Perhaps to our surprise, the Apostle Paul quotes them in his “sermon” in Athens.
In this story, Paul is not in his usual environment. For Paul usually preaches to his own people, the Jews, or to God-fearers, those who are seeking truth through the Jewish way.
Like Jesus, Paul is a Jew. His initial concern is the spiritual welfare of his fellow Jews. Yet he wants to spread the word about what he believes God is doing in the whole of creation in and through Jesus Christ.
So, it is Paul’s custom, upon entering a city, to discover where the Jewish community gathers~~usually in a synagogue. He preaches first to the Jews and then to Gentiles. He shares the faith with any and all who will listen. But, it is unusual to find him among the pagan intellectual elite. In truth he seems to have a certain disdain for the worldly philosophers. But in Athens, on this day, he goes to where the philosophers gather for the purpose of “hearing and telling of something new.”
I suspect Paul goes where those who seek wisdom gather because he knows that he has a deep wisdom, a profound insight, to share.
Paul walks through the streets of Athens and into the public square. He is dismayed by the level of idolatry that he finds in Athens. For a devout Jew, idolatry is the worst of sins. There is but one God for a Jew. “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is One, and you shall have no other gods but me.” To a pious Jew any god except the God of Israel is simply an imposter.
Yet, here in Athens, Paul recognizes that those who devote themselves to idols are revealing themselves to be hungry and thirsty for something other than what they know, or think they know. As he talks, he honors their hunger and thirst.
The Athenians are looking for “something more.” Unable to describe the “something more” for which they are looking, they nevertheless keep looking.
Paul clearly believes that within the Athenian wise ones–within all of us–there is a longing and a thirsting that is not completely satisfied with the religions that we create. Religions being, of course, what we construct and practice to bring meaning to our lives. [Even an atheist can be religious if he or she designs or creates that which makes life worth living.
These created religions Paul calls idolatry.
They are false at worst, inadequate at best.
Idolatry is when we take one aspect of life and enlarge it to make it the whole of our life.
Idolatry is when we place anyone or anything in the center of our universe other than God.
Idolatry is when we give any thing or person other than God ultimate say in our lives.
Idols are always own creations. They be the stone and wooden images carved by the ancients. They may be those “lesser gods” that we manufacture for ourselves–the gods of tribe, of power, of wealth, of security, of fame, of ego.
Idols are our own creations. We make them to meet our needs. But because they are our own creations, they are therefore smaller than real life.
Yet, because they are our own creations, they become bigger than life to us. We find ourselves sucked into our obsession with our idols. Sometime we find they own our souls.
Yet, because they are our own creations, they are unable to bring us what Richard Rohr calls “The Larger Life.” A life in which we bloom, grow, thrive, are fulfilled. A life of fulness, a life the Bible calls abundant. What we create cannot bear the joyful burden of being such a giving God. Only the one “in whom we live and move and have our being” can give us authentic life.
The saints and mystics believe–as does Paul in this story– that there is within us, in the very heart of our being, a place that can be filled only by the Presence of God.
St Augustine says it this way “Lord, you have made us for yourself. And we are yours. Our hearts are restless. And they find no rest until they rest in you.”
That has been my experience.
Pascal says this in another way: “There is in us an ‘infinite abyss’, a place made for God and God alone. A place where God can and does rest.” And nothing else can fill this space!
Paul sees that the thinkers of Athens have this “infinite abyss” in themselves, and that they are seeking some lesser gods to fill this space deep within where God alone is meant to dwell. He wants them to find this God, whom he knows can fill the abyss and still the restless heart.
How does this happen? God comes to us in and as love. “We are God’s off-spring,” Paul quotes. God’s kin-folk, we would say in this part of the world. God’s descendants , as it were. In a way [please don’t take this literally], we have God’s genetic makeup. That is how closely we are related to God. “God our Father, Christ our brother, all who live in love are Thine”, one hymn says it.
At the core of our being Christian is this more than intimate relationship with the divine. We are intensely encountered by God’s love.
In an even bolder metaphor, we are permeated by the love that is at the core of God.
To borrow a phrase from Ken Wilbur, God places us in such an intimate relationship with God’s self that there is no boundary between us and God.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus puts it this way: “I am in the Father and the Father in me” Then “I am in you and you are in me”. So. therefore, “you” [meaning us] we are in the Father and the Father in us.”
Quite an equation!!
There is no boundary between us and God. God is fully in us and we are fully in God. We are never beyond God and God is never beyond us.
That my friends, is true intimacy!
And it doesn’t get any better than this!
At the core of being Christian is this intimate relationship with the divine: a relationship in which God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
This intimate relationship has some joyful consequences: One of the joyful consequences is that we discover that God is always for us and not against us.
One form of popular religion in America seems to start out with God as enemy, an opponent, as antagonist. God is someone to be placated! This kind of religion starts out with God against us. But, if, in truth, God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the one who is closer to us than we are to ourselves, the ground of our being, then God–in seems to me–is not enemy, but grace.
The Athenians were searching for God.
Paul uses the image of a blind person “groping”, feeling his or her way around in darkness. But the God of Paul, the God whom we know in Jesus Christ, is present before we even know we need God. Is present before we even know we want God. God is always here first. Wanting to be known. Wanting to be seen. Wanting to be wanted. In God, we live and move and have our being! God is for us and not against. God is grace.
A second joyful consequence: God is not only in me, but God is in you and her and him and us and them and them and them.
Our Thursday morning Bible study reads and discusses the lectionary passages for the coming Sunday. There is nothing in the story for today that even hints that God is not present in every person. In Christ, there are no boundaries between us. God is closer to each of us, and all of us, than we are to ourselves. The way Christians often say this is: “Christ is in me [and in you] our hope of glory.” Of course, we may have to discover this! We tend to fence each other out, rather than draw each other in.
The class talked this week about the truth that God in Christ is in each of us. Because that is true, the way I treat you or you treat me is the way I am treating Christ, or you are treating Christ or we are treating Christ.
Would I treat Christ the way I am treating you or you are treating me.
It is not so much WWJD as What Would I Do To Jesus!
I minister to you as the Christ; you minister to me as the Christ.
I tell the story that I am sure some of you have heard. The nuns in a convent saw as their ministry as welcoming travelers, providing a bed and food. They did this, taking seriously and literally Jesus’ words that “inasmuch you did this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did this to me.” One afternoon, one of the old sisters had just washed the linens, and gathered food from the garden for supper. She looked up and saw another traveler plodding up the road toward the convent. Weary from her work, she muttered “Oh, Jesus, here you come again.” Seeing Jesus in everyone and anyone is hard work! I guarantee it!
But that work is our happy calling.
In God we live and move and have our being.
We are [all] the offspring of God.
Think on these things.