5/25/2014 Sixth Sunday of Easter The text for today’s sermon is Acts 17:22-31.
Grace and peace to you from God, Our Father, and Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
It’s after midnight and you can’t sleep. You’ve been tossing and turning and trying to drift off, but to no avail. You suddenly decide that the reason you can’t sleep is because you are hungry. So, quietly as you can, so as not to wake anyone else in the house, you grope around in the dark for your robe and slippers. Hoping not to trip over anything the children have left in the hallway, you make your way to the kitchen. You open the refrigerator door and by the glow of the light that magically comes on, you survey your choices. And you begin to say to yourself, “I’m hungry, but I don’t know what I want to eat.”
Like children with noses pressed against the glass of a candy case, sometimes it’s hard to choose. It’s hard to choose what to eat, what to do, what to believe. The bookstores across our country are filled with books offering us ways to fill our hungering souls, books written by enterprising individuals who try not only to convince their readers of what they are hungry for, but also to offer advice on how to satisfy the hunger. The more successful authors make the rounds of the morning TV programs, even get invited to 60 Minutes, where they are given the platform to dispense their elixir in much the same way as “snake-oil” and cure-alls were pedaled from the backs of wagons in the old west. But just like those elixirs, many find that the cure the offer often falls short of the promises on the label. And people remain hungry.
People are hungry for something to fill the empty spaces in their lives and to mend sick relationships. So they buy and share angel pins to wear on the shoulder to remind them that they are not alone.; they buy and share little feet pins to wear to remind themselves that there is something, someone out there, with whom they can share life’s burdens; they buy the latest book and religiously follow the advice of the latest guru of “pop-psychology” in order to cope with life. And yet, they remain hungry. For all these things are poor substitutes for the meat and potatoes that is needed to fill a hungering soul. The most these things can give us is a temporary fix and in the midnight hours of life, they all fall short. For, what is needed to fill those hungry spots in our lives is something more substantial than gold crosses and cute poems printed on pretty plaques. What is needed to satisfy the hungry soul is real faith in God.
A real faith in God, that is what Paul is hoping to bring to the people of Athens who live under a multitude of choices when it comes to faith. There is a god for everything in their society, and the people chose which one to believe in, which idol to adore, on a daily basis. And yet they remain hungry. So, they continue to search for the one, ultimate God, the Lord for all seasons. That is why they come to listen to Paul who is speaking about yet another God in a society filled with divine elixirs.
Like the people of Athens, we, too, have a multitude of choices when it comes to faith. Like the people of Athens, some have chosen to believe in the natural world and have identified themselves with the mysterious and vital forces of nature. They worship Mother Earth, or a great Primal Matrix, or some ancient goddess of the Near East. Others have turned to transcendental meditation or to some Eastern belief system, or to the powers in the pyramid. Some follow astrology and see lives depended on planets. Others turn to Ouiji boards and mystic stones. Some follow self-proclaimed saviors, like Sun Myung Moon, or David Kiresh. Others believe in the power of aliens and form a belief system based on their coming, such as Heaven’s Gate. And a few search for the divine, the eternal spirit within themselves, and elevate themselves to the status of divine beings.
Yet, in all this, people still hunger. They hunger because these cure-alls fall short. For in spite of the plethora of gods, the multitude of beliefs, there is only one God, real and undivided. One Lord, one Creator, one Redeemer, one Advocate and Savior of us all. According to Paul, this God revealed himself in Jesus Christ. He knows this because Christ has been raised from the dead and dead people are not raised by human power, but only through the power of God, a God who can open the gates of heaven to us all. This risen Christ was sent into the world in order that we might come to know God, and have a relationship with him, a relationship that is meant to fill those empty spaces and give us a place to turn when sickness invades our lives.
This God proclaims us good, not divine. This God knows us for who and what we are and still does not reject us. This God chose to be in a relationship with us who would turn our backs on him in order to try to find what we think we need in other places.
The worship of the God of whom Paul speaks is more than an intellectual exercise or a hope that things will magically be made better. As John Henry Newman writes, “God hates the worship of mere lips; God requires the worship of the heart. A person may bow down and kneel and look religious, but he is not at all the nearer heaven, unless he tries to obey God in all things, and to do his duty. But if he does honestly strive to obey God, then his outward manner will be reverent also…”
To worship God is to be in a relationship with him, a relationship of trust and obedience, like that of child to a beloved parent. It is to enter into the presence of this God to speak and to listen. To worship this God is to bonded with him in a relationship ordained by God himself as God reaches out to each one of us and enfolds us in the embrace of his love and mercy.
When we are listening to God in our own lives, or as Peter puts it in our second lesson for the day, when we are “sanctifying Christ as Lord in our hearts…” we have a quiet confidence that makes what we say carry more weight with others. People really can see the difference between the woman or man anchored in the Lord and those who are drifting aimlessly with the tide.
So, may we know the Lord as the Lord knows us. May we turn to the real God for hope and direction, when in need and distress, rather than to the plethora of cure-alls and belief systems vying for our attention. For the real Lord and Savior of us all abides with us as he sends his spirit to fill those empty spaces in our lives and our hungering souls.
Come Lord, Jesus, come. Send your spirit into our hearts. Amen.
And may the peace of God which passes all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.