Benediction Online

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Unknown God

Acts 17:22-31
John 14:15-21

In 2006 British biologist Richard Dawkins published a best-seller called “The God Delusion” in which he argues that there is no scientific evidence for a personal God who is interested in us. He acknowledged that religion does seem to “fill a gap” by giving comfort and consolation to those who need it, though in his view atheism can do a much better job!

Liberal theologians have long argued that the existence of religion in every culture suggests that humans have a need to worship – and that their need for a god implies that there is a God. In other words, the same gap that Dawkins identifies as a need for comfort and consolation, they see as a need for divine presence. Paul seems to be taking this approach in today’s first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. He is in Greece, in the city of Athens, in the Areopagus which in ancient times was a council of the elders of the city, but by Paul’s time was a forum for discussion of religion and morals. It was the place for new religious and philosophical teachings to be discussed and evaluated.

So Paul, having taught in the synagogue and the marketplace, was invited to speak in the Areopagus, and there he starts by telling the Greek leaders that they are clearly very religious because they have so many objects of worship – even an altar to an unknown God. And he uses that to tell them about the God who has made Godself known. The God who created the world and made humans so that they would seek God and perhaps even find her because she is very close, “In God we live and move and have our being”.

We live in a society where God is unknown to many people. We are here this morning either because we have found a relationship with a living God or because we hope that we might discover that relationship and in it find a deeper meaning to our lives, in that relationship find the abundant life that Jesus promised. There are hundreds and thousands of people living here in this county who long to find that relationship. Some of them, like Dawkins, don’t believe it’s possible, others aren’t sure and some are intentionally seeking. Hundreds and thousands of people looking for God.

Jesus revealed God to us. In him, the human and the divine meet and are expressed in on person, so as we study his ways and listen to his teachings and ponder them in our hearts, making them part of ourselves, so we too touch God. In the Gospel reading Jesus assures his disciples that even though he will no longer be with them they will not be alone because the Holy Spirit, the advocate, will be with them. The Holy Spirit continues to be with us today. It is the Holy Spirit who works in our hearts and minds to continue to reveal God to us. So God still speaks today.

Jesus goes on to say “because I live, you also will live.” The abundant life which people long for, the abundant life which we experience to a greater or lesser extent comes directly from Jesus’ resurrection life. Which is in no way separated from the life of the Godhead in which Paul said, “we live and move and have our being”. So we are privileged to share in Jesus’ life through our baptism and through the practice of daily abiding with and in him.

In the last few weeks some of us have been meeting on Thursday mornings to explore some of the practices which can help us to abide in God every day. It requires intention, it requires some time but each one of us can find a way to experience Jesus’ life flowing more and more abundantly even as we deal with the tensions and sufferings of our lives. We tend to think that when things are going well we are abiding in God but that when things are out of sync or our bodies become uncomfortable, that God has removed herself, or that we aren’t doing something right.

That is very far from true. The challenge of the spiritual warrior is to use those times of discomfort as opportunities to become more Christ-like. In his times of suffering, Jesus was able to be peaceful and serene. In our times of suffering we tend to become anxious or angry or depressed. By softening around our negative feelings and cultivating an attitude of clear sighted compassion towards ourselves and others, we begin to become more Christ-like and more in touch with the Holy Spirit and the resurrection life that flows in us.

Still talking about the Holy Spirit’s presence after his ascension, Jesus told the disciples, “On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."

So loving God is not just a warm feeling in our hearts, though sometimes we get that and it’s wonderful. Loving God is keeping Jesus’ commandments – which are essentially to love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In some ways it’s easier to love God than to love either ourselves or our neighbors, because God is not always in our face, being annoying! But this is not an either or situation but a both /and.

Our spiritual journeys are not just about abiding in God. That abiding is played out in the relationships we have everyday with our family, our parents, our children and other people’s children, our friends, people in the community, our pets, those who grow our food, those who supply our oil, those we love and those we hate, those whose politics we support, and those who disagree with us. If we say we love God but have hate-filled or even somewhat judgmental relationships with those around us, we are missing the point.

If you want God to reveal Godself to you then your spiritual practice will include service to other people, the practice of manifesting God’s love in the world. If you are obsessing about yourself, and focused on your own needs then there is little room in you for God to enter. Some of us are unable to serve in physical ways and we have the example of those in contemplative monastic orders who help us to realize that service can happen without much physical activity. Praying for the people we see on the news is service, calling a friend who is having a difficult time is service, writing a letter to a politician about an issue of justice is service. What is important is the attitude of mind. An attitude which puts God at the center not ourselves.

There are hundreds and thousands of people who are searching for the God who seems to be unknown. We have the tremendous privilege of being given glimpses of that God and we have a path to manifest God’s life in ours. As the Body of Christ we are also, amazingly enough, called to show Christ’s resurrection life to the world. We are called to be God with flesh on. It is astonishing to me that God calls the Church, with all our problems and inadequacies, to be the place where he is known in his incarnation. It is our job, our job, to make the unknown God known, to show God’s love and God’s compassion to ourselves and to our families and to all those with whom we are connected which is basically everyone and everything on the planet and beyond.

It is a huge but exciting calling. Our mission is to help the world know that God is not a delusion, God is a very present reality, not just an invention to provide consolation and comfort. As we seek healing for ourselves today let us also seek healing for all those whose relationship with God seems to be broken.



  • The wording works for me. The shift in focus from a God of consolation and comfort, typified by devotion to Mary perhaps, to a God of effervescent presence, typified by the Holy Spirit. We can be fearful of the power it brings.

    By Blogger Herb Garfield, at 8:22 AM  

  • A changed heart, a transformed life, a surrendered will...These are some of the things the abiding offers; for it is either ego or spirit that has the pre-eminence. We each must decide.

    By Blogger Herb Garfield, at 8:25 AM  

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