Acts 17 and John 14
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.
In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Wisdom. Amen.
Yes, I know that was a rather long intro to this homily, but it has a purpose.
This week I was tempted to buy a bunch of fidget spinners “as seen on TV” for those who have trouble with me not keeping things short. But then, I guess that would have had an edge of cynicism to it, and of course that is not appropriate in a church setting. Or is it?
What is cynicism?
Cynicism is an attitude or state of mind characterized by a general distrust of others’ motives. A cynic may have a general lack of faith or hope in the human species or people motivated by ambition, desire, greed, gratification, materialism, goals, and opinions that a cynic perceives as vain, unobtainable, or ultimately meaningless and therefore deserving of ridicule or admonishment.
Is it the same as skepticism?
It too can be an attitude. However, it has to do more with doubt or unbelief regarding the doctrines of a philosophy, like religion. Thus, they are not the same.
Why on earth would I be bringing these two words up today? Well, as introduced, Paul is addressing those in Athens about their religiosity. It struck me that his “tone, approach, or attitude” smacked of cynicism. “Why, y’all are so religious that you even have an altar to an unknown god!” (He says with a saccharine sweet drawl.) How wise to cover one’s bases “just in case” the unknown deity would have smiting on its mind. Personally, I found that industrious. But Paul, in all Paul’s glory, wasn’t interpreting it in that fashion.
As you know, I am not a tremendous fan of Paul, although he sheds great wisdom on a variety of circumstances. I will give him that. And today just happens to be one of them.
This periscope comes from The Acts of the Apostles. What is the Acts of the Apostles? Not a trick question…. It is the activity of the apostles and disciples in the early stages of the church. Written by Luke, it is supposed to help us as Christian people have a road map for living life in the church and as a Christian community.
What is Paul saying to those in Athens today? In his cynicism, he is saying that what one values is what one supports or worships. He went “out in the neighborhood” and took note. The “unknown god” is the God of the good news message that he is carrying to them. And this God does not “live in shrines made by human hands.”
We are in the Gospel year of Matthew, although we hear from John today. In Matthew 6:21 he states,
Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.
But just before that in verses 19 and 20, he reminds us
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves can break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and vermin cannot destroy, and where thieves cannot break in and steal.
Today in John we hear
They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.
What jarred me the most in these readings was that I truly think we as Christian people have it all wrong today. Our hearts desires lie in a place that God would not bless. We have the priorities that have been warped over time by our ancestors in the church, a skewed focus that is light years away from what Jesus, Paul and Matthew convey.
I think what rocked my boat this week was the realization that at some point in the near future, we are facing putting locks on the sanctuary door. Oh…. I completely understand the logical underpinnings of it. I saw padlocks on the door to the sanctuary of St. Mark’s. It made me cringe. It portrayed THE MOST UNWELCOMING vision you could give another. Why do we keep people out while so wanting to get BIP’s? Why in the name of heavens should a church have anything in it that we would be afraid someone would steal? Why is a sanctuary locked…. So no one steals the silver. (I get it!)
So we put a higher value on silver than we do on a soul? Just asking? I doubt if anyone is all too worried about the blessed sacrament being desecrated. We aren’t afraid that anyone would steal Jesus. (Of course, my premise is that Jesus knows when to get in and when to get out, so there isn’t much to get our knickers in a twist about there.) This sorta stuff really bothers me. A LOT.
There was a time in my ministry that I could see the importance of some of this stuff. Yet over time, I have seen things become idols that sacrifice relationships with God and others. Personally I feel that is a mighty steep price to pay for things on earth that can be destroyed when placed over against treasures we are supposed to amass in heaven. It is a steep price to pay for relationships that are sacrificed! If Jesus were standing here and we asked him if we should lock his church up, I would wonder what he would say. I know what the church insurance person would say, but then, he is not God.
So I end this realizing that I am both cynical about the direction the Christian Church is going if we continue as we are presently. And I am skeptical regarding change unless we truly, truly have a heart and love of Jesus that supersedes what can be destroyed here on earth. Where is the attachment of our hearts desires? I can only answer that for myself and act upon that in the way I see best. What say you?
Let us pray:
Jesus, you say “IF” which denotes a “THEN” response.
I desire to follow your direction, yet the focus set by the world, by habit, by tradition, bind me from following the path you have made clear for me.
Help me to cut the ties that bind me to those things that hinder my walking in love of you. Help me to shed the burden of those entrapments which create barriers in relationships with others, preventing me from sharing your Good News to those so much in need of some good news.
IF I love you THEN the proof is in which treasures my heart lies. May it solely and completely lie in you. Amen.
Hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people. Amen.