Easter 6 2017
For 10:00 Parish Eucharist
Acts 17.22-31 & John 14.15-21
One of my abiding memories of childhood is of many many hours spent visiting relatives. I was brought up in Chichester but all my family lived on Merseyside and our regular visits to Birkenhead always involved a round of lunches and teas with family and family friends. Think lettuce leaf dishes of lettuce, with spring onions, quartered hardboiled eggs, cold ham and cucumber…. and if it was Christmas or Easter a green glass bowl of trifle. Apart from the time spent around such a table, and the ritual exchanges about whether I liked school and how I was getting on there, I would usually be allowed to vanish into my book, but whenever I emerged I would find myself half-listening to conversations full of names I didn’t know and events I didn’t remember – often relating to the war, still less than 20 years ago. This didn’t bother me at all – I would be very happy with Rosemary Sutcliffe or CS Lewis or – don’t tell anyone – Enid Blyton – but I was aware if I actually thought about it that there was a big family, a big network out there, a big past out there. But of course I didn’t really think about it – it was part of my world, my world view, and if you had questioned me about the relationship between Aunty Allie and Aunt Lily I couldn’t have told you that they were half sisters, and I knew that my mother had lost her mother and their home in the blitz, but I never thought to wonder what that had been like, and typically for her generation she never, ever, talked about it. It was an unexamined part of my world.
I suspect that people of Athens viewed their altar to the unknown god in much the same way. they would have passed it regularly in their comings and goings around the agora, they might have known it was there (I’ll meet you by the unknown god… turn left by the unknown god) but did anyone ever stop and ask themselves why this insurance policy of an altar had been erected? After all, how could you worship something you couldn’t know.
What Paul did that day in Athens was to introduce them to this god, no longer unknown, a vague concept… but the creator of the world, the one in whom we live and move and have our being. I think now that if my mother had been able to tell me about that night when her home was blitzed and her mother killed, our relationship might have been different, I would have seen the world and her more clearly. And for any Athenian able to listen, Paul was changing the world that day. The idea of a God who was one, all powerful, all knowing and unknowable, not formed by the art and imagination of mortals would have been new, shocking…. transformative.
Our faith – the faith into which we are welcoming Olivia and Oscar today – is of course in the God Paul introduced to the Athenians. He mounted a persuasive intellectual case, designed to appeal to them as philosophers, as thinkers, to flatter their egos and soften them up to listen to his arguments.. But I really hope that it wasn’t long before he moved on from this rarefied discourse to the personal, feeling side of faith – before he When I was a child the world was a confusing place but I believdintroduced them to Jesus, to the god who is human, real, warm, loving, relatable to…… the God who loved his deisciples and worried that they wouldn’t be able to cope without him, and offered them all the reassurance he could even whilst contemplating his death…. ‘I will not leave you orphaned; In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; The gospel passage is full of references to the father – there is a wonderful sense of family, of Jesus wanting the disciples to know that they belonged, that they could be absolutely confident in him and in his father…..you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.
We want our children to grow up with that kind of confidence – confidence in us as parents, godparents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends – that they belong, absolutely, are safe and loved – and that beyond this human, earthly security is something even better – the love of God which passes all understanding, which endures beyond time and space. I never did reach the understanding with my mother which with hindsight would have made such a difference to both our lives…. but however good or bad or ordinary our family lives are – whatever happens – we know that around and beyond and intertwined with them is something even better, utterly reliable and secure – our relationship with God the son, Jesus our friend and brother and teacher, with that mysterious figure of God the Father and with the Holy Spirit, the spirit of truth, promised by Jesus and with us for ever, helping us to know God and drawing us ever more closely into his love.
Oscar and Olivia have a lot of growing and learning and loving ahead of them. As we welcome them into their extended family – the family of the church – lets pray that they will always know that they are loved, here on earth by family and friends, and much more, across all time and eternity by
our all sufficient God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.