We live in an age of incredible scientific advancement. The human genome has been mapped. Nano-technology is constructing miniscule machines that can deliver inter-cellular messages or make molecular level repairs. Astro-physicists have mapped the curvature of the universe, delved into black holes, listened to the echoes of the Big Bang. Scientific inquiry and experiment have revealed the "hows" and "whys" and "whats" never before known. We think we’re so smart. We think we know how the universe works. Many think they don’t need God.
Now I’ve identified a few people here at Caledon East who follow baseball games. Does anyone know what this is a picture of? The new Yankee stadium was opened in 2009 and the old in the background goes to the 1920s. Did you know that in the first year of opening each stadium the team won the World Series? (1923, 2009)
Do you know why the builders of the new Yankee Stadium spent five hours and $50,000 digging through two feet of concrete in 2008? They did this to extract a David Ortiz Red Sox jersey that had been secretly buried in the concrete floor of the new Yankee stadium in order to permanently "jinx" it. The story of the jersey finally came to light because another construction worker who had seen the shirt go into the slab got worried and confessed: "I don’t want to be responsible for sinking the franchise," he said. The stadium, a 1.3 billion dollar project, was brought to a screeching halt; the glowing new future for the Yankees was endangered; immediate, expensive action was taken: why? Because everyone believed in the jinxing power of a piece of cloth submerged down in a concrete floor in a locker room.
That was one high-powered hex! You might tell me you don’t believe in such things. Or maybe you do. We "knock on wood," throw spilled salt over our shoulders, can’t resist reading our horoscopes, always take notice of a "Friday the 13th." Little children have that special "blankie" or stuffed animal that magically imparts peace and serenity. Big corporations hire specialists to organize (harmonize) the "feng shui" in their work spaces. No matter how much scientific knowledge we acquire about the world we live in, physical reality is never enough. The human spirit knows there is always more to be revealed, that there is something more out there. We yearn for God.
Paul was hanging about in Athens, (in front of this big rock), waiting for his friends to join him. He had been driven out of the last town and was waiting for his more moderate friends. He had a few days to put in and Paul, being Paul, was not going to merely sit around and nurse his wounds. No, he went out into the town and was "disturbed", really irritated by all the idols that he saw. Athens was a rather quiet little city of about 5 000, that lived on its rich heritage. It was the home of the ancient gods and the modern philosophers. It was cultured, diverse, and intellectual but it was also the place where Socrates had dared to announce new gods, foreign gods to the people and found himself hanged for it. One does not mess with tradition in Athens. But Paul, like Socrates before him, was a preacher and so, like Socrates, he began to speak in the marketplace to any who would listen. He debated with the Epicureans who wanted a life free from suffering, free from pain, free from disturbing passions. They wanted tranquillity. They were agnostics. Gods were irrelevant to them. They took care of themselves. And he took on the Stoics. Stoics were morally earnest; in fact moral earnestness, especially with respect to their concern for nature, was what distinguished them. They possessed the highest sense of duty and knew themselves to be superior to anyone who was morally indifferent to their causes.
It was the idols to all the ‘gods’ that irked Paul, but having been driven out of the last town, he measured his words, began with a compliment and even used one of their idols as his starting point. Like any good speaker, he tried to connect to his audience. But he was not very successful. They called him a ‘babbler’. Imagine someone ‘spouting off’ in front of the ‘Caledon East Community Centre complex’ and the looks of distain that such a speaker might get from the businessmen and politicians going into city hall. But a few of Athenians took Paul to a quiet hill and gave him some time if not much credence.
What if Paul was speaking at the complex this afternoon, and what if the Caledon Citizen was short of local stories so Bill Rea agreed to interview him? What might he say to us? I imagine it might sound something like this.
I was walking through Coles in Orangeville and saw how many books there are on spirituality and when I looked on the store web site there were over 20 000 titles under religion and spirituality. You are a very spiritual people, but you are shooting in the dark. You seem to be looking for God, you say you want to develop your spirituality, but do you really want to find God or do you just like the idea that you are looking for God? Are you just curious or are you really ready to make a commitment? Do you want to find God, the Lord of heaven and earth or do you want to find comfort in some smaller god that is more to your liking, a god that you create, a god that won’t challenge you?
God is not so hard to find. God is in everything, God is the creative force in all of life, God is the governing force in all of life, God is not far from each of us, but you won’t find God in a book. Look at yourselves, in God you live and move and have your being. We are God’s image, God’s children.
(Then Paul’s testiness comes out)
It really is time that you quit just playing around in your search for God. God has given you a break till now, been willing to forgive your arrogance, your selfishness, your greed, but no longer. By the standard of Christ you will be judged, Christ who was raised from the dead.
That’s when the people would turn the page, don’t you think? The Citizen might receive a few emails about the interview—most of them negative. If Orangeville or Caledon East was like Athens, not many would seek him out after his news interview. They would have read and heard enough. A few might be intrigued; perhaps one retired philosophy professor and one woman living with depression would start going to church again. As Paul left Athens for Corinth, I think he would give up on Caledon region and head to New York.
Like those ancient Athenians, many really are worshipping an ‘unknown god.’ In our culture the unknown-ness of it is that we don’t know it is a god; we don’t call it worship.
Jake is at the rink three mornings a week. His parents never miss his games. His younger sister is required to join in the family ritual. It is expensive but he made the rep team so they are committed. They enjoy the fellowship of the other hockey families. After all they see them more than they do their other friends, neighbours or even their family.
Judy used to go to church but now she runs faithfully on Sunday mornings with a group of friends. She says she feels a spiritual high after just half an hour on the road. She especially likes it when they go on a pilgrimage to a nearby park and run through the trails in the woods.
Karla is a research scientist. She spends days, evenings and weekends in the lab. For her, science is the salvation of the planet. She is sure that a cure for cancer, the global food crisis and environmental degradation lie not in changing our life style or recognizing our place as only one part of the universe, but in acknowledging that science has the answers to all of life’s questions if we only follow where it leads us.
Ron has devoted his life to amassing his fortune. He reads the stock report every morning. He thinks that soon he will have enough to retire, but he has thought that for the past several years. "Freedom ’55’ came and went a few years ago, but he is dedicated to the god of more. He likes investing but lately the markets have been down so he has some ground to make up.
Beth worships the god of more not on the stock market but in the department store. She doesn’t know why she keeps shopping. She knows she really doesn’t need anything and she tells herself that she will only look. But some deals you just can’t pass up. Her cupboards and closets are full and the last time she tried to give some stuff away to the Salvation Army they were not taking anything else. They said they had too much. Beth wonders if it is possible to have too much.
There is nothing wrong with healthy participation in sports, or being financially responsible, or doing scientific research, or keeping ourselves fit, or shopping, or wanting the best for our children, but these things, like all earthly things are not worthy of our worship. These things cannot replace God, the God of heaven and earth.
As Paul says: We are God’s children, God made us. So it doesn’t make sense for us to make any earthly thing into our god, not even our health or our family. While God has overlooked our human ignorance, now God is demanding change. Those of us with eyes to see can see that our children are not happy and healthy, our economic growth plan is faltering, our environment is on the edge of collapse. We don’t need to worry about God’s judgment of us as we approach the pearly gates. God’s judgment is here and now. We are being measured against the standard set by the one who was willing to go the cross for justice and righteousness and peace. And we are coming up short.
In our secular and complicated world it is really hard to know who is our God. We say we worship the one true God, but do our lives really reflect that worship? Would someone looking in from the outside, or looking down from on high, know who we worship by the lives that we live? What tells us and the world that the risen Christ is our Saviour?
This church is located in the district of Berlin known as Kurfuerstendamm (the Christmas market). Exclusive retail shops and modern malls dominate the street. Some poke fun at this city block calling it the ‘lipstick and powder box’ combination. In the foreground is the broken tower remains of the once regal Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church (opened in 1895) which was destroyed by a British bombing raid in World War II. This has remained a famous and poignant reminder of the horrors of war, as well as a symbol of West Berlin’s determination and extraordinary post-war recovery, during the time when it was surrounded by communist East Germany.
Next door is the stained glass illuminated chapel built in 1961 which is bathed in blue light inviting meditation and reflection. This unusual octagonal concrete and glass construction became a symbol of defiance against communist oppression. My hope is that this lovely Lutheran church which holds worship services every day is seen both inside and outside, by locals and tourists from around the world for above the altar is this ‘risen Christ’ image which reminds us of the One Paul pointed to.
Paul refers to God as the one in whom we "live and move and have our being." Contemporary theologian, Marcus Boig has said that this concept, "imagines God as the encompassing Spirit in whom everything that is, is. The universe is not separate from God but in God. Paul took the religious practices he observed in Athens and used them to point to the way, the truth, and the life as he understood it.
Our challenge today is to say to those around us, "We see your spiritual hunger. How can we offer you sustenance from our rich store of spiritual resources? The challenge is to find imagery and language that allows us to enter another’s world in order to speak our truth honestly, respectfully, and effectively. Are we not fully rooted and grounded in God and so centred in our own experience of the Christian story, that we cannot keep from sharing it? In the words of the old hymn, when we feel our faith in our very bones, "how can we keep from singing?"
With notes from Leonard Sweet and Gerald Shepherd
Mixon, Randle R., Feasting on the Word, p.472-476