Proclaiming Truth in a Contemporary Context
Updated: May 18
Sermon 6th Easter 2020
We have all been thinking about hope much more in the last few weeks. What do we hope for? Were some of our aspirations shallow and unimportant? We are now much more likely to hope for things of real value, peace of mind, faith, good relationships, health, security, employment, shelter, food. We have had to reconsider how we live sustainably on the planet. We have learnt who does vital jobs and have had to consider if we pay them enough, value them enough. For some the situation has felt hopeless; they have been left bereaved; they have lost livelihoods; their mental wellbeing has been attacked.
Jesus is not leaving his disciples without hope. He does not leave us, however precarious or tragic our circumstances, without hope. Jesus promises his disciples - he promises us - the Holy Spirit who will be with us forever. Jesus’ early disciples had demonstrated that their resources were inadequate when the going got rough.
How changed do we see them now! The growing church showed wisdom and courage; the leaders stood up to persecution and the church spread.
In our reading today from Acts, Paul, who had been such an ardent opponent of the new Christ movement, is preaching with power, having taken note of the prevailing culture. Distressed by idol worship, he can pick out something positive, how religious these people are, and finds an opportunity to tune into their beliefs. This unknown God, that is what I can tell you about. This passage also characterizes the Christian faith as a faith about resurrection. Paul takes his audience's context seriously, but he also tells these people something that blows their minds. Something surprising, something potentially distasteful. The resurrected Jesus still has a body - a different kind of body - but a body, nonetheless. All this is a real challenge to Greek thought which was sophisticated and multi-layered. It is also a challenge to our western post-modern society.
This difficult time is, however, a time for Christians to speak to our culture, respecting and building on contemporary thinking. Materialism, capitalism, the pursuit of wealth suddenly seem less sustainable and more fragile than we thought. There is real fear about our ability to sustain health, wealth, security, even a planet which will support human life. Much of what we had before will be rebuilt, no doubt, but this generation could well have a changed mind set about what is important and it is into that that Christianity can speak. We preach a God who is creator, the life force behind an evolving and rejuvenating world. A God who cares about this fragile and tiny part of the universe we call earth and cares about it so much he invests a terrible price: the suffering and dying of the Godhead in the person of Jesus, God’s own son. God wants us to be in a right relationship with God, with humankind and in our own being. That message will resonate with people in these insecure and truly frightening times. What is more: we can proclaim that the Spirit of God is within each of us as we seek and search for meaning. Who would not want to hear of a presence within that can bring guidance, peace even in disastrous circumstances, challenge to change and comfort? Paul had found this for himself in a totally transformed life. He spoke relevantly to the cultures he engaged with. The large public gathering may not be the most relevant medium for our culture. In this present time acts of kindness are. We can also be explicit; gossip the Gospel in phone calls, in letters, on social media.
Paul doesn’t water down the Gospel or manipulate his message to be acceptable. He tells it like it is, but he is contextually sensitive. That is how we need to be as we share our faith, we need to look at our current situation, the brutal realities of people’s lives and speak hope to that. We cannot pretend that everything is ok, we can only speak of a God who, in Jesus, shares human sorrow with us and can transform our responses to life’s disasters. The Holy Spirit is the gift of God’s presence not just for the extraordinary but for the mundane and tedious everyday lives we normally live. Those can be transformed and revitalised by God’s presence through the Spirit. Changed from humdrum and dull to special and holy. We have seen that amongst God’s people, many of the people around us are using dark days lovingly, creatively , sacrificially and with immense imagination and kindness.
We need to name actions of human courage and kindness as divine wherever we see them. The disciples had to learn that God reaches out beyond the Jewish people. We need, I passionately believe, to see God working amongst the least likely people and in the darkest and most difficult of places. We need to affirm goodness and love in our families, our workers, our scientists, our neighbours, and our friends. We need to be the Church gathering how we can, to worship and affirm our beliefs, reassuring each other that God in Christ did indeed live a human life, did sacrifice and suffer for us, did model how to live well and did indeed rise from the dead and come to us in Spirit. This Spirit
is in each of us; not a special Spirit for extraordinary Christians but God within each of us, powerful to guide, comfort, challenge and strengthen when we search for God and recognise the divine spark within humanity. Being saved, I believe, is about how we live our lives in praise, awe, wonder, service, and compassion. It is not just that salvation is about what happens beyond this life, it is about how we live now. The terrible rift death causes and is causing now in relationships is real and devastating for those who are bereaved. However, it may well be that closeness to God in life and death can be seen as heaven. God came to this earth in Jesus and united what we have come to call heaven and earth. God surely sees time as a continuum. In that context hell is separation from God and ultimate meaning, in life and then through into death and beyond. Heaven is closeness to God on earth here and now and beyond death. That gives our life and our eternity meaning and relevance.
We need to seize this moment not by stressing and straining to do more, but doing what we do in love and integrity, drawing near to God so that our actions, even the most mundane, are a holy gift to those we meet. Likewise we need to receive and respect the loving holy acts of others as a part of recreating a world where values are firmly Christian; a world where human flourishing is not dependant on gender, or ethnicity, or class, or sexuality, or background but on being a child of God , transformed by the example and sacrifice of Jesus and filled with God’s Spirit.
John 14: 16” I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.”
“ John 14: 15 If you love me you will keep my commandments”
We know those commandments can be summarised as loving God and our neighbour. That is what we try and do this week and every week, in changing and challenging times. Sometimes we can act; sometimes the valuable gift we can offer God and the world around is simply our prayers.