Reflection by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 17 May 2020.
• First Reading: Acts 17: 22-31 (What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you)
• Epistle: 1 Peter 3: 13-22 (In your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord)
• Gospel: John 14: 15-21 (If you love Me, you will keep My commandments)
They were definitely covering themselves just in case they had failed to worship any god who might visit them with wrath and judgment. And yes, this was indeed prudent.
It might also offer a lesson to our own blame culture in which many identify themselves more with their own resentments than anything else. And equally many others do anything to avoid being blamed for anything at all, so that initiative, if not life itself, is crushed.
And then there is our own practice of making science the arbiter of all disputes, as if it had a moral quality and mind of its own.
But even science has and can have no fixed body of knowledge and just as what we know now far exceeds what was known 500 years ago, so also the scientists of 2520 will wonder at our own crudity, ignorance and gullibility.
So there is still a place in our culture for a personal and overarching God who is more intimate in our lives than our own thoughts and impulses. Closer to us than our own heartbeats and breathing.
St Paul had said, ‘What you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’
Paul was proclaiming the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of Jesus Christ. Personal, even intimate in our lives. Loving us not only personally but also as a people, a society, a gathering of those who listen for His voice and look to follow it.
This kind of Deity is not like one crafted from gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of the mortals of Paul’s time. Neither is it a combination of forces, electro-magnetisms, gravitation, nuclear or biological entities.
If we love it is because God is Love. If we are repelled by things, then so is God, looking over a corrupted and self-misguiding world.
If we yearn to see things made anew then God also has moved and acted. He has given us the beginnings of a new kind of relationship, with God and with one another, even with our own memories and motives.
And so in Jesus Christ God has revealed to us as much of Himself as we can respond and relate to. Where God is love then this love is about a relationship and a sense of direction in all aspects of life.
This is the Son of God who came in order to proclaim a new kind of living, without feeding His own self-importance. He had already laid aside His standing at the side of God, His place as the “Word” who gave physical form to the will of God in creation.
He did not need to bolster His self-image, but had come to give Himself utterly and totally for the whole of humanity. He taught about the love and mercy of God and about the nature of our responses to it. And yes it would be personal, even intimate; it would be costly and life-long. Instead of draining us it would fill us, renewing us when feeling empty, giving peace amid turmoil, mercy when filled with condemnation.
In His final meetings with His disciples before His arrest, Jesus was preparing them for their own kind of service and ministry in the world, which would often be skeptical and hostile to what they would have to say.
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
To keep His commandments would start with believing in Him and receiving His promises.
They would love God above and before all else, they would, love their neighbours as they loved themselves, and they would love one another with a new and deeper, Christ-like love as well.
If they had any problems there would be that special presence among them, Jesus’ personal gift who would speak to them, remind them of what Jesus had said and done, and who through them would do in all ages and parts of the world what Jesus Himself has said and done.
This was to be The Spirit of Truth, whom the world could not receive because it neither saw Him nor knew Him. The world was never going to dictate terms to Jesus, or to pick and choose from among His words and acts.
It would have to receive Jesus as the disciples had, and that is without conditions or bargaining. Hence its self-alienation from the person and message of Jesus, in His own time and ever since.
And so Peter called on all members of the church to be always ready to make their defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in them, in all gentleness and reverence.
Jesus was preparing His disciples to go forth gloriously and joyfully, undaunted and undiminished. No war or pestilence or economic reverse or natural disaster was ever going to undermine the things of Jesus’ life, ministry or atonement.
Rather they would all offer the disciples new kinds of opportunity to proclaim the hope that was within them.