Acts 17:22-31, Easter 6 A, May 25, 2014
Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen.
For the past few months, I have enjoyed watching Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey. Every Sunday evening, Neil DeGrasse Tyson astounds me as he shows us the beautiful complexity and integrity of science. From the vast expanse of the universe to the minute composition of atoms, I see the world in a new light. As I look at the billions of years of the “Cosmic Calendar,” I can’t help but feel small.
As Neil DeGrasse Tyson describes all of this, I can hear the wonder and excitement in his voice. Tyson is an atheist, yet it sounds like he has made science his god. As Tyson is groping for something more in this world, he finds fulfillment in science. I don’t see it that way. Viewing the complex, organized, majesty of the universe, I see God’s hand there. I can’t imagine all of the laws of science falling into alignment without the guidance of a benevolent creator - our benevolent creator.
Throughout time and space, there have been those who believe in the one true God, and those who do not. Some use science or philosophy to deny the existence of God. Others can’t experience a relationship with God and therefore do not believe. Yet even these people still look for more in this world. I can’t help but wonder, for those who do not believe, aren’t they groping in the dark for what we know to be the light?
This is what Paul presents to the Athenians. The people of Athens had an ignorant view of the cosmos. They had no way of knowing how magnificently old the universe is, nor could they understand that the laws of science governed the world, so they believed in a pantheon of gods. As Paul walked around Athens, he saw many altars and shrines dedicated to certain gods of the pagan tradition. Each altar was dedicated to a certain deity who they believed had control over specific aspects of nature and humanity.
Yet among all of those shrines, Paul found one dedicated “To an unknown god.” For as much as the Athenians thought they knew about the heavens, they kept the possibility open that there was something more. Paul declares that the one true God is the one they are looking for. This God is the creator and savior of our world. The one God cannot be contained in an altar or shrine, nor does the one God need anything from us. Our God set the world in motion and continues to interact with us.
We do not believe that a host of deities control the sun, the rain, fertility, and war, yet we too can be ignorant about the world that we live in. Our God is so wonderfully beyond our comprehension that we can’t help but be ignorant of God, too. All too often our words and images of God fall far short of the truth. Because of this, we often have a warped view of who God is and what God does for us.
Like Neil DeGrasse Tyson talking about science, when Rob Bell talks about God, he has an equal amount of wonder and excitement. In his video Rhythm, Rob Bell describes two stories that he recently heard. A person drove into a parking lot right when a space opened up closest to the front door of the building. That person took it as a sign that God was with him. Another person told Rob Bell of a trip to a store. That person found what she really wanted, and it happened to be deeply discounted. That person proclaimed that sale showed her “how good God is.”
It is possible that God opened that parking space or created that sale. More likely, though, is that those were mere coincidences. Sometimes, God creates these events for our benefit. More often, though, a coincidence is just happenstance. Those people groped for God in their daily lives, but they only found shallow reflections of God.
God is involved in our world striving to end the struggles that we create. God is present with those who suffer from war, famine, and poverty. God helps the sick, the lonely, and the bereaved. God works in our lives in much deeper, intimate ways compared to parking spaces and sales. When we are in our deepest need, God is there.
In Corinne Chilstrom’s book, Andrew, You Died Too Soon, she describes in vivid detail her grieving experience after her teenage son committed suicide. Corinne was a pastor at the time, and her husband Herbert was the bishop of the Minnesota Synod of the LCA. He would later become the first presiding bishop of the ELCA. Just weeks after going to college, their youngest son Andrew came home only to take his life while they were away.
These pastors who had proclaimed the resurrection so many times, on Sundays, at funerals, and throughout their careers, began to shake in their faith. Just hours after they found Andrew’s body, Herb and Corinne were alone consoling each other in a tight embrace when Herb cried out, “Oh, God, is there any resurrection?” (p. 24) Herb and Corinne listened in the silence for the still, small voice of the Lord. Finding Christ there with them in the silence, Herb said, “God, receive Andrew safe into your everlasting arms.”
After the funeral and everyone had gone home, Corinne felt like she was “a timid, fearful child, waiting at God’s door.” (p. 77) She was groping in the darkness for God’s light and comfort. When she had no words of her own to share in prayer with God, she turned to the psalms and the hymnal. They expressed her terrible grief and sorrow. Corinne experienced how the church helped her grieve. In this time when others might have turned away from God, Corinne clung to her savior.
Our Lord who loves us deeply cannot be contained in manmade objects. Our Lord is grander than science yet intimately cares for us when we weep. Our Lord is found when we are in deepest need, not in mere coincidences. When you find yourself groping in the dark, searching for God in your life, I pray that you experience God’s light. I pray that you do not worship what is unknown but find our benevolent Creator right here, present among us.
Our Lord is not unknown to us, yet we will never be able to fully comprehend who God is. Our Lord is beyond our comprehension and yet is right here. Our Lord is Jesus Christ, yet our Lord is also Creator and Spirit. Our Lord is our Beautiful Savior. Amen.