Sunday May 15, 2022
Life and Work of our Church
Acknowledging the Territory
As we begin our worship, we once again acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is, by law, the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to live with respect upon it, seeking justice and equality for all.
Lighting the Christ Candle
The light of the Risen Christ shines in our world.
We light this candle to remind us to let Christ’s light shine.
Call to Worship
We gather here to worship the God in whom we live and move and exist.
We don’t need to look toward heaven to find God, we only need to look around, to look within ourselves, to look beyond ourselves, or to look into the eyes of one another.
We don’t need to listen for the sound of distant thunder to find God, we need only listen to the music of life, to the words of children, to the questions of the curious, or to the rhythm of a heartbeat.
We don’t need to touch heaven to find God, we only need to feel the wind on our face, the kiss of a loved one or the hand reaching out to us for help.
And so we gather to worship the God in whom we live and move and exist.
Opening Prayer (in unison)
Divine Mystery, we come as seekers, unsure of what we seek. We come as followers, uncertain of where you will lead us. We come as children, trusting that you love us and will care for us. We come to worship you, even though we don’t really know how. Divine Mystery, by your grace, meet us where we are. Meet us here. Meet us now. Amen.
Gift of Music All People That on Earth Do Dwell #822
After leaving Philippi, Paul, Silas and Timothy travelled to Thessalonica where they preached in the synagogue. But their preaching upset some of the Jewish leaders there and they were driven out. They proceeded to Berea where they again preached in the synagogue but this time were welcomed. Unfortunately, a group from Thessalonica pursued Paul and he was once again forced to leave. Silas and Timothy remained behind in Berea. Paul was taken by some of the believers from Berea to Athens and this is where we pick up the story today.
Acts 17:16-31 Good News Translation
While Paul was waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy, he was greatly upset when he noticed how full of idols the city was. So he held discussions in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentiles who worshiped God, and also in the public square every day with the people who happened to come by. Certain Epicurean and Stoic teachers also debated with him. Some of them asked, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?”
Others answered, “He seems to be talking about foreign gods.”
They said this because Paul was preaching about Jesus and the resurrection. So they took Paul, brought him before the city council, the Areopagus, and said, “We would like to know what this new teaching is that you are talking about. Some of the things we hear you say sound strange to us, and we would like to know what they mean”. (For all the citizens of Athens and the foreigners who lived there liked to spend all their time telling and hearing the latest new thing.)
Paul stood up in front of the city council and said, “I see that in every way you Athenians are very religious. For as I walked through your city and looked at the places where you worship, I found an altar on which is written, ‘To an Unknown God.’ That which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you. God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands. Nor does he need anything that we can supply by working for him, since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything else to everyone. From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live. He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; as someone has said, ‘In him we live and move and exist.’
It is as some of your poets have said, ‘We too are his children.’
Since we are God’s children, we should not suppose that his nature is anything like an image of gold or silver or stone, shaped by human art and skill. God has overlooked the times when people did not know him, but now he commands all of them everywhere to turn away from their evil ways. For he has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world with justice by means of a man he has chosen. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising that man from death!”
The Unknown God
Athens was very different from the other places that Paul had visited as he travelled around spreading the gospel of Christ. It was a cosmopolitan city, a cultural hub of the Greek world. The majority of the people there were highly educated, especially in philosophy, and they loved to spend time debating current issues and ideas.
The other thing that was different was that, in most other places, Paul had gone to the synagogue or to a place of Jewish prayer in order to speak. The people that he spoke to in these locations we familiar with the stories of the Hebrew scriptures and the history of the Hebrew people. Paul used these stories as the base on which he built, in order to teach the people about Jesus.
But in Athens, there was no such knowledge of the stories on which to build. The people there were unfamiliar with the Hebrew scriptures and instead, knew the teachings of the Greek philosophers and of the many religious traditions that were commonly practiced in the Greek world.
And so, because they did not know the Jewish backstory that framed the story of Jesus, Paul was forced to find a totally different way to connect with this highly educated and intellectual population. The frame of reference and the worldview through which these people would be able to understand the message of Jesus was not the same as what Paul had previously been dealing with. Fortunately, Paul himself was highly educated and well trained in Greek philosophy.
And Paul was good at using whatever he could find around him to make his point. In Athens he began by complimenting the Athenians on there religious devotion. There were altars to every imaginable god and just in case they missed any, there was even an altar to the Unknown god. Despite the fact that as a faithful Jew the huge number of idols in Athens was offensive to him, Paul was able to use them to find a way to connect with the Athenian people.
Paul meets them where they are, using their own culture to explain what he has be preaching all along. Paul also connected with the underlying feeling that, in some way, the huge number of gods worship in Athens demonstrated the desire of the people to connect with the Divine. But in the altar to the unknown god, Paul saw a longing that was not being met by any of the other gods they were currently being worshiping. And so, Paul used this altar as the foundation on which to preach the gospel of Christ.
That which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you.
Paul spoke of one God powerful beyond belief, the source of all life, having created everything, and a God who cannot be replicated in gold or stone. Paul describes a God whose form and appearance may be unknown, but Paul went on to say that this God is known through the present of the one he raised from the dead. This was the message that Paul preached. Paul preached that God, the all-powerful God beyond human understanding could, in fact, be known through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
And much like he used quotes from Hebrew scriptures to convince the Jews that he spoke to who Jesus was, Paul uses two quotes from Greek philosophy and tradition to do exactly the same thing for the Greeks. Those quotes are ‘In him we live and move and exist’ and ‘We too are his children.’
It seems to me that in ways, the situation for Paul as he addressed the people of Athens, is remarkably similar to our modern situation today. Like the Athenians, many people today have little or no knowledge of the foundational stories of the Bible that most of us were raised on. We can no longer assume that people understand the biblical reference that we often take for granted.
Like the marketplace in Athens that seemed to offer the people an endless array of gods for the people to choose from, modern social media seems to offer every imaginable idea, belief or philosophy. Unlike ancient times, the majority of people today do not necessarily turn to religion to find their answers. And yet, like those ancient Athenians, many people in our modern context continue to hunger for something that they often cannot define or even describe. They long to find meaning and purpose in life. They long for that unknown god that can make their lives complete.
And this search is something that people have always struggled with. I don’t know how many of you remember the song by U2 that was released more than 30 years ago, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. It seemed to tap in to the restlessness of that time, a restlessness that is just as prevalent today as it was back them or as it was in ancient Athens. The thing is that, unless you actually pay close attention to the words, you miss the entire point of this song.
I have climbed highest mountains. I have run through the fields only to be with you. People often assume that the song is about an unrequited love, but it is not until the last part of this song that it becomes clear who the ‘you’ that is being searched for is. I believe in the kingdom come. Then all the colors will bleed into one. You broke the bonds and you loosed the chains, Carried the cross of my shame. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
The search for meaning, the search for something that will give purpose to life, is as old as time itself. But it is also new with each generation. And it is unique to each person. We are all at one point or another, seekers and at one point or another we have all felt like, I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.
Today, it seems like this quest for meaning has been accentuated by our experiences over the past couple of years of living during a world pandemic. Many people have spoken of how, when the first lock-down hit, they were forced to refocus and re-evaluated their lives. Being laid off or forced to work at home, people began to see work differently. With no access to recreational activities and with children home from school, many people began to refocus on family or sometimes on self-care.
Other people began to explore new hobbies and discover new interests. And some of those things that we always said we would do if we ever had time, actually got done. But many people have talked about a fundamental change their priorities. Many people have talked about finding themselves searching for something more meaningful than simply the pursuit of money or job security.
For Paul, and for us as part of the Christian Church, the question is not only how we find deeper meaning in our own lives but how we reach out as a church to those who may have no connection at all the religious traditions, but who are also seeking for something more. We cannot simply sit back and expect them to show up here and fit in to our rituals which are completely foreign to them.
Swiss theologian Carl Barth famously said, “We must hold the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.” This is what Paul did in Athens. He reached out to the people there using what was happening in their everyday lives. Paul was speaking to the “seekers” of his time even if they don’t know that they were seekers and he did this by connecting what was happening in their everyday lives with the message he offered. By connecting the altar to the “Unknown God” with the God who is known and revealed through Christ, Paul was able to reach the people he spoke to.
Many people today, including people within the church, are still searching for that Unknown God. They struggle with or reject entirely the God they see described in the Bible because it just doesn’t make sense to them. And yet, in the end, it is the “Unknown God”, the God that cannot be fully explained or understood, the God who remains a Divine Mystery, that connected with the people of Athens and which I think continues to connect with people today.
It’s not about explaining or defining God. It is about expecting everyone to know the same stories or believe the same things. It’s about the experience of the Divine Mystery in the reality of everyday life. And how do we do that?
Paul doesn’t leave the ‘unknown god’ sitting on the altar. Instead, Paul assures us that we don’t have to stand in front of that altar to find God because God is actually not far from any one of us. God doesn’t have to be explained or defined. In many ways God is ‘unknown’ and even unknowable, but when we open ourselves to the experience of God, we can discover the God who is not far from any one of us the God in whom we live and move and exist.
The “Unknown God”, the Divine Mystery is not limited to an altar or to a church. The Unknown God”, the Divine Mystery is everywhere and in everything. And if we are willing to search for God in even the most unlikely of places, we might be surprise to discovery that we just might find God exactly where we are. Amen.
Gift of Music Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise #264
We Offer Our Gifts
As we gather in worship, we offer God not only our praise and our prayers but also our gifts. Here at Beacon, we share our financial gifts by placing them on the offering plates at the back of the church, or by making arrangement to give through Par or through online donations. As we sing our offertory response, we bring these gifts forward, along with all lest tangible gifts of our time, our talents and our commitment.
What can I do? What can I bring? MV#191
What can I say? What can I sing?
I’ll sing with joy. I’ll say a prayer.
I’ll bring my love. I’ll do my share.
We ask God’s blessing upon the gifts we offer.
We Offer Our Prayers
We offer our prayers for those named in our prayer jar and all those who need our prayers.
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
Divine Mystery, you are revealed to us in many different ways, in many different circumstances, in many different times. But sometimes we only look where we expect to find you and miss the opportunity to experience you in the unexpected.
In the love we experience from family and friends, help us to remember that you are the source of all love and that in experiencing their love we experience you…
In the beauty of creation, remind us that it is you who has created all things and that you have tasked us with the responsibility of caring for all that you created…
In the blessings that we have, good and healthy food, warm and comfortable shelter, free access to medical care and education, protection of police and legal systems, help us to be truly grateful…
In those that do not have the necessities of life that we take for granted, help us to see an opportunity to reach out in your love to offer what we can…
In those who live with constant fear and pain, help us to see an opportunity to reach out in your comfort and healing…
In those places in our world where war and hatred rule the lives of so many, help us to reach out and become your peacemakers…
In those times of uncertainty when we are feeling overwhelmed by all the wrongs and injustices of our world and all the things that we know need to be done, help us to turn to you, trusting that you will guide us, motivate us and enable us to do what you ask of us…
Divine Mystery, as we struggle to trust more deeply, love more fully, and serve more faithfully, remind us, now and always, that we are not alone so that in all that we do we may truly rejoice and give thanks. Amen.
Gift of Music Be Thou My Vision #642
Go out from here knowing that no matter how dark and rainy it may be, the sun will come out again. God out from here remembering that it is the rain that makes the flowers grow. Go out from here with the absolute certainty that, rain or shine, God is with you, now and always. Go with God.
Choral Blessing #416
Forth in your name, O Christ we go, our daily labour to pursue,
You, only you, resolve to know in all we think, or speak, or do.