Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sermon, Easter 6A, Acts 17:22-31

Almost a month ago, the Vestry at St. Paul's discussed our plans for Tuttle Days in July. For those of you who don't know, Bishop Daniel Sylvester Tuttle was the first bishop of the missionary districts of Montana, Idaho and Utah. He was, so to speak, our Founding Father. The idea of Tuttle Days sprung from a conversation I had with the Rev. John Toles of the Pintler Cluster. The people of St. Paul's thought this a good idea, and we are starting to put this event together.

At that April 1 meeting, one person suggested an evensong service. When I looked at her, she stated that she really liked that service and it would be something different that hadn't been done in VC in recent memory.

I gotta hand it to the people in VC, they are always willing to go out on a limb and try something new. However, this time they were putting me out there on that limb. As the name implies, evensong is a sung service. She must have forgotten that I don't sing.

Nevertheless, I proceeded. I've talked with a couple of people about leading the service. I've picked a few hymns. And I'm working on the service music and ordo. As I was working on all these things, and as I was thinking about the readings for today, the opening verse of the appointed evensong psalm kept ringing in my ears: As the deer longs for the water brook, so longs my soul for you, O God.

Right about now, you all may be wondering where I'm going with this and what this has to do with any of the readings for today. That first verse of the psalm, my desire to ensure a good evensong service, and the reading from Acts all seem to tie together in the act of searching.

The request for an evensong service got me searching for people to lead it. The psalmist is searching for God. The Athenians are searching for spiritual fulfillment, as noted by their many temples and altars. And Paul tells them that their altar to an unknown god indicates that they are, in fact, searching for the one, true living God.

Paul tells the Athenians that God set this world up in a such a way that people would search for him. Now this might seem odd: why would God hide himself so we had to search for him? One reason is because that which we search for oftentimes has more value to us than that which is given. A student working hard for good grades. A person who searches for the right job. Or the search for a lost coin or sheep. Once found or achieved, we value it more deeply.

But there's also a theological context here. If God were to simply say, "Here I am; worship me," where is the freewill in that? God is mysterious. God is a mystery. How do we solve a mystery? We solve it by delving into the questions. We are living into the mystery of the holy. We are pursuing a mysterious God. We are searching and hoping to find him. Like a deer longs for the water brook, so longs our souls for God.

As we pursue God, as we delve into the mystery, we discover a couple of things. We discover what God is. As we delve deeper, we also discover what God is not. God is Father, but God is not male. We can come to know God, but God is also beyond our understanding. God is close at hand, but God must be searched out. In our pursuit of God, we also might learn that God calls to each of us in different ways. How God speaks to me isn't how God speaks to you; and we need to be willing to live into that tension.

We need to be able to understand that because God is mysterious, close at hand but hidden, speaking in history with many different results; because of that, we need to understand that we can't pigeon hole God or people. God may be calling some to life as a solitary. God may call some to clerical orders. Some may be called to be missionaries in poor countries while others may be called to polish the silver at church. There is one God, but there are many different ways to build relationships.

All of this means that we do not have the authority or the right to condemn people who hold other beliefs. Whether Muslim or Jew or Wiccan or pagan or gnostic, our job is not to condemn but to proclaim. We can take our cue from Paul. He wandered into Athens and noted their polytheistic worship and multiple temples and altars. Rather than condemning, he found the good in this and commended them.

"I see how extremely religious you are in all things," he said. Put another way, this is a good thing. I see how you are searching. Let me tell you about God, he that wants to be found. God created everything; he doesn't need human shrines to live in. God is the God of the living and he destroyed death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

We are all searching for something. Whether we are searching for competent people to lead evensong, or a way to understand our mysterious God, or a deeper knowledge and relationship with him, like a deer longing for the water brook, our soul longs for God.

Like Paul, we need to meet people where they are. We need to not smack them upside the head, but get to know them and invite them into a relationship. We need to be able to say, "I see you are searching. So am I. How about if we search together?"

It's in the search that we deepen our faith. It's in the search that we come to love. It's in the search that we can learn to trust and take risks. It's because of our efforts that we can invite others to join us.

And in case you hadn't noticed, a search becomes more effective the more people there are to participate in it.


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