theunfamiliarname

Homily for Easter 6A

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2011 at 12:06 am

The wide-eyed tourist has long been a figure of fun,
whether stereotyped with a big camera and bad English,
or the North American drawl and few ideas about how
we manage to live here on the edge of the world,
or the freedom-camping free-loader,
most often from Europe,
who has a comical accent for good measure.

St Paul is this morning a tourist,
something of an innocent abroad.
He wanders, wide-eyed, we might imagine,
around one of the greatest cities of his age.

The people of ancient Athens
were amongst the most civilised and sophisticated
people of their era.

Athens was the centre for a culture,
for much of the philosophy that underlies
even our world today,
a “great city”
and centre of intellectual, cultural
and religious prestige and influence.
Athenians were famous for being open
to theological and philosophical development,
or to put it slightly less kindly,
they were always on the lookout for a novelty..

They had a whole pantheon of gods on offer,
their own, and no doubt a few of the regional specialities
of outlying areas and powerful neighbours.
To keep all bases covered,
they also evidently had an altar
to any divinities they didn’t have knowledge of,
but whose good humour they sought to maintain.
Hence the altar to an unknown god.

Paul,
disturbed by the sheer number of idols on offer in Athens,
does see the glimmer of hope in this openness
to an unknown, unnamed God, the God
whom Paul declares is actually the only one true God,
maker of heaven and earth.

He goes on to talk about the difference
between his God and the idols he sees.
The latter are shaped and waited on by humans,
as if to be placated and managed
by what people wanted and hoped for.

The unknown universal God does not work that way.
God is not to be managed or manipulated
or served token offerings of food and drink.
The God who is, is to be honoured and worshiped
in the whole of one’s existence,
and in awe at the bounty of creation,
because this God is the source
and the sustaining force permeating all things.

Paul even quotes one of the Greek poets, Epimenidies:
‘In him we live and move and have our being’.

And so we come to our gathering,
our week-by-week focus for community and faith.
Holy Communion.  A token offering of food and drink?

Of course the theology of what’s going on
is quite different,
we ourselves being nourished by the bread and wine,
blessed and made different, as we are through it,
but do we allow this Sacrament
to stand in place sometimes
of a real, living relationship with the real, living God?

Holy Communion, the Eucharist
has at its heart an intimate, incarnational mystery,
but do we ever move beyond this encounter
with the “unknown God”?

As St Paul tells those who will listen to him,
the one true God is not far off from each one of us,
has in fact created us to search after Godself,
and in Christ Jesus has known our flesh and blood,
that we might know God.
The God “in whom we live and move an have our being”.

Seven days a week, not just on a Sunday morning.
Every time we break bread with another,
not just in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.
As we pray, and read Scripture, and give thanks,
not just as consumers on a Sunday,
but as part of God’s creative work in the world,
each and every moment of our living.

We are coming towards the end of this Easter season,
and we might carry with us
the metaphor of a life un-entombed.
Of a God in Christ unable to be contained by mere rock and rational expectation of death’s dominance.
A God, not able to be managed,
not enshrined, not reserved for special occasions.
But “in whom we live and move an have our being”.

Joy Cowley writes,
Everything here is holy in its being
Every fern, tree, rock, drop of sea,
exists as a prayer of thanksgiving,
and together they speak a chapter
in the gospel of wonder
which is laid upon our lives.

We are called to recognise God in our lives and our world,
to grow and to ourselves bear fruit,
fruit that will nourish us and others,
that will bring life and strength, justice and joy to the world
and all its people.  Amen.

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