The service for 17 May 2020 was lived streamed on our Facebook page by Rev Sue. The preacher was our Reader Christine, and you can read her sermon again here:
The readings today have so many messages for everyone and I’ve got to admit I found it difficult to chose one in particular so I choose three sentences that all seemed to speak to me.
The three sentences I want to reflect on, although I may incorporate others, are from Acts: “In him we live and move and have our being’; and from John, two sentences that join: “This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
During these very difficult times, those three sentences seemed to speak very clearly.
In God we live and move and the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him, but he is in you and me.
Paul we know is speaking to the Athenians because of the many idols to different gods that he has seen on his journey through their city. I think I’m safe in saying they were an intelligent people whose cultural achievements laid the foundations of western civilisation, so for them to stop and listen to someone like Paul, there must have been something about him that intrigued them, or maybe it was just curiosity.
Paul, however, is very confident in the message he is proclaiming and prior to him standing in the Areopagus he had been speaking with the Jews in the synagogue and people in the Market place basically, anywhere where there were people who would listen. He was preaching about Jesus and hope through his resurrection and the Athenians could have been forgiven for thinking Paul, at first, was going to introduce yet another god for them to worship, but he doesn’t! He begins to speak about the altar they have to an unknown god so the more philosophical and inquisitive Athenians are curious about what Paul has to say and took him up to the Areopagus, which is a large prominent outcrop in Athens. It was a place used as a court as well as for meetings with the leaders and they were intrigued by Paul’s words and wanted to listen to him and ask him questions in quieter surroundings.
Paul seems to begin by congratulating them on their religiousness, although deep down I think he was probably quite cross, as would any devout Jews be, because they would be offended and incensed by this type of idolatry. However, as Paul continues with his speech he explains to them the God who created the world and everything in it does not live in idols made by human hands. The one and only God who breathed life into all mortal beings needs no idol as, according to one of the Athenians own poets, in him we live and move and have our being, a phrase that has become more recognisable because it is quoted in Acts.
Paul is in his element he has a group of people who are prepared to listen to him. He doesn’t refer to his own experiences, but he expresses the folly of idol-worship with such boldness and power that those listening could not refute him. He goes into details about how God has given people different places to live and how the Athenians have already been close to God. Paul doesn’t use metaphors or academic language, he uses plain simple words to get his message across and leads on to explain about how the appointed one has been raised from the dead, bringing in the Christian claim about the resurrection. This would probably have caused a mixture of indignity and possibly interest. We know that when Paul left there were a few more believers and he left the rest of the Athenians to muse over his words.
Paul leaves us with an example of determination, courage and conviction. He took up the challenge of taking the Gospel to parts of the world where he knew he would not be welcome. He didn’t rehearse his speeches he allowed God to speak through him and give him the words he needed to complete the mission he had set out to do. In him we live and move and have our being.
Peter did the same thing for all his fumbling along as he walked with Jesus, putting his foot in his mouth, betraying Jesus at the last minute and seemingly losing heart and courage, until that meeting with the risen Christ on the beach.
That event turns the tide literally in Peter, he becomes the rock on which the church was to be built. He becomes the leader of the Apostles sending them out and proclaiming the message of the resurrection and the hope of our life in God.
He becomes an example of how to live our lives in a good way and tells us to; “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.”
John carries on with the instructions of how to live our lives reminding us of the words Jesus gave to the disciples before his crucifixion. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” but that’s not all he sayshe adds, “and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
These words always remind me of a quote by Teresa of Avila, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Moving words, especially during these days of isolation and lockdown, words that seep through all the readings today. In him we live and move and have our being.
God is in us and we are in him, we share our problems, our hardships, worries, love and joy. We have the hope and belief in the Resurrected Christ that Paul was giving to the people of Athens, through the waters of baptism we are saved and through the spirit of truth we believe.
Today we are witnesses to acts of love, good deeds and commitment. We see it in the lives of those in the NHS, the neighbours, family and friends. We see it in those caring for others, in those continuing to support food banks, those distributing essentials, the hotels giving support to the homeless and many others who are working to keep everyday basic services running.
“In him we live and move and have our being.”
“This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
The spirit I believe is moving in people today. It is moving in the person who allowed an NHS worker who had just finished their shift to go in front of them in the shopping queue; it’s in the person who paid for the Paramedic’s grocery and the many people who have set examples of endurance like Colonel Tom.
The spirit cannot be seen, but he abides with you, me, and those who have yet to seek him and acknowledge him.
Let us pray:
O God, you are the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you and the strength of the wills that serve you. Help us to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Reader @ St. Margaret’s Church, Holyrood
& St. George’s Church, Simister.