Sunday, May 29, 2011

making and taking opportunities

today's readings

Sermon 5.29.2011 6th of Easter
May my words be in the Name of the Holy & Undivided Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – Amen.

In our reading from Acts we hear about St Paul's visit to Athens … It must have been quite amazing for him to be there … the city was filled with some of the treasures of the ancient world … even today it is quite stunning … it was the kind of place a man like Paul would have appreciated … if you remember your scripture, you'll be well aware that Paul was an educated man … he was a Pharisee, which means that he was someone who was highly trained in all the Jewish scholarly traditions … and we also know that he studied, as he puts it himself, at the feet of Gamaliel, the major rabbinical scholar of his time, which was a bit like going to Cambridge or Harvard today … so, there he is, this very bright, cultured man, walking through Athens … admiring all the sites of one of the major cultural centres of the Ancient World … seeing all the buildings & statues & sculptures … all the temples and altars dedicated to all the different deities of the Ancient World … and then he sees something a little different … an altar dedicated to 'an unknown god'

Now the people of the Roman Empire tended to be what we would call 'pluralistic' … they allowed everyone to worship whatever god they pleased … this wasn't just being socially enlightened … not trying to interfere with people's religion made them easier to rule … plus, they were a superstitious lot and they were a bit worried about giving offence to some god or other … and this was the main purpose of the shrine to 'the unknown god' … just in case they had left anyone out, here was the safety-net … sorry we didn't know about you, god or goddess, but we didn't ignore you … look, here is the altar that we set up for you!

Now when Paul saw that, he might have just 'tut-tutted' like a good monotheist and kept going, muttering something under his breath about the all these pagans he had to put up with in this foreign city, where people were clever enough to create great works of art, but foolish enough that they saw gods in every bush and tree and stream … and now had gone so far as to put up an altar to a god they hadn't even thought of just in case they had missed one … but he didn't … because, as I said, Paul was a very bright man … and he was also very focused … in this case focused on his mission to spread the Word of God and to let the world know about the good news of Jesus Christ …

And so where others might have seen nothing … or only to shake their heads at in disappointment … or frown at crossly … or just smile and give themselves a little mental pat on the back at how superior they were to all these ignorant and foolish worshippers of idols … Paul did none of these things … because Paul saw something that he could use to his advantage … to the advantage of the mission that had been entrusted to him by God … something that he knew he would help him to help others hear the Gospel message … and so, the first chance he got, he went to where the people of Athens had gathered and basically said to them:

'Folks, I've been walking around your city, carefully studying your objects of worship, and it's quite clear that you are very interested in religion … well guess what? The God you have been worshipping as an unknown God, I know who he is … now, let me tell you all about him …'

Lucky old Paul, you might say, finding a chance like that … but it didn't just happen. Paul's finding the altar might have been an accident … but he was a man who was alert to the opportunities that came before him … and having found his opportunity he took it … he marched himself off down to the city's meeting place and started talking to people …

Now I know we can't all be like Paul … Paul is a towering giant in terms of the Christian faith … his writings are foundational … and his missionary work laid the groundwork for spreading the church throughout the world … but we can try to be like him to some extent, in little ways … we try to be alert for opportunities to try and witness to the Gospel … one way is to merely display to others the importance our faith has in our lives … for example, how difficult would it really be to remember to always make our relationship with God plain for all to see … in little ways, in our conversations by saying things like 'thank God for that'; or 'I'll see you tomorrow, please God'; or saying 'God bless' as you say your good-byes … We have rather secularised our conversations in recent years … in fact, I wonder how many people remember that 'goodbye' is a contraction of 'God be with you'? …

There are, of course, other little things that could be done … such as whenever you go away for the weekend, making a point when you are booking your hotel or B&B of asking for the times of local services … and insisting that they find out if they don't know … the customer is always right, after all! Or, if you are staying with friends, asking them to find out for you … and if friends are staying with you inviting them to come to church with you … perhaps you could let people know that you are not available until services are over if you are asked to do something on a Sunday morning, … even something as simple as not being afraid to say your Grace before meals when you are eating in a restaurant, just as you would at your own table, is a way of finding an opportunity and taking it … and I'm sure there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, ot way you can think of for yourself … Because, just like Paul walking through Athens that day, life presents us with opportunities … we can keep our eyes closed and not see them … or see them, and make no use of them … or as we journey through life, we can in our own small way be like Paul, taking those as he did to witness and strengthen the faith of others … something that I pray for you, for myself, and all those we meet … in Jesus name

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