Sunday, 21 May 2017

Can't make it to church - 21st May 2017

Not without good reason, as you'll hopefully soon come to understand, I love today's readings with a passion!

The Acts reading relates to what we call Paul's second 'missionary journey' (50-52AD). He's in Athens, in a place called the 'Areopagus' (Mars Hill), a place where people have been brought to defend themselves and a place where many have come to make themselves heard and to have their ears tickled with a bit of entertainment. But I'd guess they didnt expect Paul's brand of stand up, in your face, defence of the faith!

Paul starts off by buttering them up with a bit of flattery:
"People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship." I bet they loved that - and so he continues: "I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god - And then he proceeds to tell them who this unknown one is ... And no surprises for guessing who it is!

He is, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth." A being who is everywhere, so He doesn't need a temple or shrine to live in as something man made. He doesn't need to have priests and priestesses like all the other gods in their temple, why should He when He made us and not the other way around?

Paul takes his listeners through creation (one man - Adam) and how time and life are in God's hands; how we are made to seek Him and to have knowledge of Him because in Him we live and move and exist. This not made, but creator of all, God is to be sought and we need to turn from the ignorance that made Him 'unknown' and come to know Him. Because he can be known where the created gods could not and this is becuase we are the work of His hand; His children!

What an opening gambit - one which has the potential to lead to something life-changing and life-giving. And if, like me, you can't wait for the next instalment - best pick up your Bibles and read on as we move on to the 1 Peter passage and wonder perhaps whether this sets the scene for Paul being harmed for doing what he (and we perhaps) assume to be right?

Peter is bringing before us how we should act when people act against us, winding us up, pulling us down and giving us a bad time. What we do is stand and withstand the potential onslaught. Isn't that what we've just left Paul doing?

This passage provides for us what I think is an 'apologist's charter'as we are told: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect ..."

An 'apology' comes from the word 'apologia' which means: 'To give an answer or defence for the things you believe. It is not passive, it is robust, it is determined and it is (as it says in the instructions) done with gentleness and respect for those before you. Isn't this what we have just seen in Paul's engagement with the men of Athens in the Areopagus?

So we have total coherence between the first and two passages (which proves the people who set the readings know something) as we head towards the Gospel passage for today - and what a stonking passage it is as it tells us that we aren't going out there single-handed but in the company of the Holy Spirit who will come alongside us and be with us (and in us).

Jesus tells us that He's going but we are not being left as orphans, there's an 'advocate' coming in His place, the Holy Spirit: A 'He' not an 'It' - in fact one of the cool things I was taught was that when John wrote these words he made a point of using the word 'It' (highlighted in the reading below) because the word for 'spirit' is pneuma (a neuter word i.e. neither male or female - an 'it word). BUT after the first word, what we have is 'Him' The rest of the time.

Not only that but the word 'another'(another advocate) is a word that meAnds 'exactly the same' rather than 'like'.

Jesus, as fully God and man is returning to heaven - job done - and the age of the Spirit begins. The ability to stand and become an apologist for our faith in exactly the way Paul does in our account today is because the same Spirit that raised Jesus, the Christ, from the dead - is Jesus! So with Him alongside and within us, how can we not stand?

Hopefully you can see why I think these are three of the greatest reading combining with each other today?

Let's pray: Lord Jesus Christ, fill us with with Your Holy Spirit and inspire us to give an answer to all who ask us for the reason we believe. May we like Paul be gentle and showing respect to those before us; may we be bold and filled with love for those who ask and may we endure, and overcome, the prejudices and provocation of others as You stood before those who accused You. Amen

The Collect
Risen Christ, by the lakeside you renewed your call to your disciples: help your Church to obey your command and draw the nations to the fire of your love, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Acts 17.22-31
Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

'Men of Athens . . ."

1 Peter 3.13-22
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a clear conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him.

John 14.15-21
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever — the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

Post Communion Prayer
God our Father, whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life: may we thirst for you, the spring of life and source of goodness, through him who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.

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