The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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Evening Prayer Online      23rd August 2020
Times of crisis, times of opportunity
Jan Rushton

2 Kings 6.8-23;  Acts 17.15-32 

To visit the Acropolis which dominates the skyline of Athens, is a quite extraordinary experience:  

very little is left, but with reconstructions aplenty around to help you,

it doesn't take much imagination to feel the awesome power of the Temple  

dedicated to the goddess Athena.   

Having climbed the 'Sacred Way', an enormous staircase leads the worshipper to the entrance 'porch',  the Propylaea - almost a temple in itself, 

its rich painting and sculpture leading through to a giant statue of the goddess.

Without doubt  all of this would effectively evoke in any who approached

long before he or she finally arrived at the Parthenon itself,  

a profound sense of their own smallness

and the overwhelming and untouchable 'otherness' and power  of the deity.

 

While he waited in Athens for his friends to join him, 

this phenomenal edifice looked down on Paul 

as he went about in the Agora, the market place, mingling with the people

and engaging any who would listen, with his urgent message.

His profound experience of personal encounter with the risen Christ 

so fresh and close to his heart, it is not surprising that he was deeply distressed 

to find the city full of idols to various gods and goddesses, 

the people pulled hither and thither in their loyalties, in the end,  

worshipping a god they could only acknowledge they did not know.

 

From the other point of view,  with the splendours of the Acropolis,  

the 'high' city, 'high' in every sense of that word, with such sights ever towering above and over them,

its not hard to understand why, to the general populace going about their business in the Agora,

listening to their philosophers arguing this and that, 

it is not surprising that Paul appeared as some kind of mad 'babbler'!

 

As it must surely have appeared total madness to the king of Israel, Jehoram, 

when Elisha instructed him to feed their now captive Syrian enemy!

 

Both our readings this evening call us to radical new thinking!

Whatever was Paul on about:  some man executed 

by that terrible means of death, crucifixtion, has come back to life, and this, this broken man is God!

God made utterly vulnerable to the caprice of humanity!

Just raise your eyes a minute Paul, look up, that's where you'll find the deities!

Deity way beyond human power to touch.

That's where you'll see what divinity looks like!

 

The Syrian enemy directly delivered right into their hands!

No! We can finish off these Arameans, these Syrians, for ever - right now!

 

Nevertheless, there is deep within most of us, a reaching out after something more, something deeper, something more ordered and secure than the capricious fancies of gods and goddesses,  

who might arbitrarily throw you fortune - or not!

The search for truth and meaning, goodness in life, is a driving force there in all of us.

 

For the king of Israel there was something compelling 

about the instruction from the man of God to deal in mercy with their enemy.

For those Athenians, there was something about Paul that was compelling,  

nonsensical as what he was saying seemed!   

A new way of thinking which embraces vulnerability.

 

 

Those citizens of Athens who heard Paul speaking began to wonder.  

They invited him to come with them to the Areopagus, temple to the god Ares,

which looks across to the Parthenon from a neighbouring hill.

Here they asked him to explain his teaching further.

Paul was bold indeed to take on the philosophers in a city which had been 

the centre of learning in the known world for five hundred years, 

but there was something perhaps so different, 

so non-logical in what he was saying, there might just be something in it.  

 

The Athenians were 'religious', but they did not know the God they worshipped.  

God was still far away from them.   

How can stone - or even gold or silver - shaped by the art and imagination of mere mortals,

ever represent the living God, God who created the universe?

Here, here in this man, this broken and crucified man,  

who was yet not destroyed  by death, here is God,  

God not impassable, God not unmoved by the cry of the human heart;  

rather the God of flesh who shares our life with us, and in living the pain we live,

in sharing the worst we in our freedom chose to do to one another,

offers us redemption of all that is broken within us.

Here is God who invites us into intimate relationship.

Here is God who sends the Spirit of truth to dwell in us, to guide us into understanding,

to lead us into ever-growing maturity of character,

to enable us to become the incredible human beings we are made with the potential to be.

 

And then Elisha and his king?

Did not that counter-intuitive act of mercy and generosity delivered upon the Arameans, 

did it not reap such a reward of peace, save so many lives.

 

It seems to me that God may be calling us, in our world ravaged by pandemic, 

to engage in new thinking.  To consider what things are truly important to us.

The values we wish to espouse.  

In what ways are we willing to be vulnerable?

And what about our political governance?

How can we meet the very real needs of vast numbers 

their lives devastated by our 2020 pandemic?

How could we manage our communities, our society, differently,

such that all may prosper, all find opportunity to fulfil their potential?

What do we need to do?  In small ways?  In big ways?

Times of crisis are also times of opportunity!

Let us seize this moment for big CHANGE!   Amen.

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