Sun, May 17, 2020

Where do we start?

Duration:12 mins 42 secs

The world has changed!

We don’t know yet what life is going to be like when we re-emerge from this––

let alone what’s going to happen long-term.

We don’t know when a vaccine will be developed––

let alone if there will be one.

And we don’t know yet how we will change as a result of this.

And I don’t just mean what all of this will do to the economy…

or the way that we travel…

or work…

or socialise;

I mean the way that we think…

and perceive…

and imagine…

and relate.

Throughout history…

profound physical changes have… 


led to profound psychological and sociological changes.

When we look back, then…

it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the world of the past was a very different place.

And I don’t just mean that there weren’t cars and computers;

or that everyone went to church on Sunday because shops weren’t open and sport didn’t happen;

or that women stayed at home while men went to work.

More than that…

there was a fundamental difference in the way that people thought and saw the world;

and in the things that they took for granted.

Until relatively recently, there was a sameness about our world––

our society was quite homogenised.

There was a shared vision or image of how society functioned:

about where we belonged in it;

about what our individual roles were;

about what was expected of us;

about what was right and what was wrong.

Sure, not everyone followed that or lived up to it––

but there was a taken-for-grantedness about the world and about society.

All of that has changed.

With the growth in technology and the media…

increased mobility and migration…

there has been a fundamental shift. 

We have come to appreciate that our world is not essentially the same:

there is a huge diversity of cultures and sub-cultures;

an enormous variety of norms, values, and beliefs…

of structures and expectations.

We have come to appreciate that we live in a multi-cultural, multi-faith world––

a world where plurality and diversity are the norm. 

Along with that has come a shift in perception and thought––

a recognition that religion and culture inevitably influence one another;

that our beliefs are shaped by our culture;

and that, in a very real way, all truth is contextual––

if not relative. 

What any of us believes is true is true only for us… 

and is shaped by who we are––

by our experiences and enculturation.

As a result, we live in a world that is always questioning;

always seeking to test what we are told against the reality that we know––

against our experience of the world.

At the same time… 

we live in a world where there is a very real and a very deep hunger;

a world that yearns for meaning and purpose;

a world that is open to exploring the spiritual dimension of life…

but one that is sceptical of organised religion…

and doesn’t believe that the church has anything to offer––

pointing to all of the wrongs perpetrated in the name of religion:

the wars…

the persecutions…

the oppression of women and minorities…

the abuse of children.

Instead, what people are seeking is something personal and personalised…

internalised and self-focussed.

Fewer people today describe themselves as ‘religious’.

And yet, they’re interested in crystals and horoscopes…

and willing to explore Buddhism… 

or other exotic Eastern religions… 

or even a cult…

hoping to find what they are looking for.

This is the world in which we live. 

But, as Christians, how do we communicate? 

How do we speak of God in a world where there are no absolutes––

where everything is relative?

How do we speak of God, in a world of plurality and diversity––

a multi-cultural, multi-faith world––

a world that is sceptical of, if not hostile towards, organised religion?


Perhaps we need to follow the example of Paul in our story from Acts.

Here we have Paul in Athens––

in the cradle of classical Greek learning, culture, and philosophy;

in the place where intellectual inquiry and debate raged––

confronting, for the first time, a completely non-Israelite audience:

people who didn’t share his religious language or world-view;

people who didn’t know the stories or traditions of his faith;

people with different experiences, expectations, and beliefs.

As a result, he couldn’t cite Scripture;

he couldn’t use religious jargon;

he couldn’t draw on shared practices and assumptions.

Instead, he had to begin where they were.

He acknowledges the multiplicity of their gods…

and affirms it as a searching for the spiritual;

and he tries to use their language to address their concerns. 

So, when Paul speaks of God here, he speaks of One who creates life…

and One who sustains it. 

In so doing, he’s on common ground with many Greek philosophers;

he draws on ideas that would have resonated with many in his audience.


Unlike Paul in Acts…


we may not want to speak of God as Creator.

After all, the more that we learn about biology, physics, astronomy, and cosmology…

the harder it is to cling to such an idea––

even in a metaphorical sense.

And it’s also hard even to speak of God as the Sustainer of life––

understood in some controlling, theistic sort of way––

when so many bad things happen in our world.

Like Paul, we might want to warn against idolatry––

against simply constructing a god in our own image…

or one that suits our purpose.

But, if we’re honest, we would have to admit that we all do that––

in some way or another.

Instead, perhaps we need to begin with Jesus…

and with what Jesus revealed and continues to reveal about the nature of God.

Without trying to swallow some primitive notion of “incarnation”––

or ram it down others’ throats––

perhaps we need to focus on the ultimate truth behind the incarnational metaphor: 

that God is One who enters into human life and experience…

with all of its ups and downs;

who understands what it means to be human;

who welcomes diversity;

who embraces the outcast and loves the unloved;

who seeks us out and reaches out to us…

rather than callously and capriciously pulling the strings of our world and our lives.

Then, perhaps, we might want to speak of the God of the resurrection––

at least in its symbolic or metaphoric sense––

as the God who brings life out of death;

who seeks to transform and renew––

both us and our world;

the God who assures us that injustice and oppression are not inevitable;

and that evil will not, in the end, win;

a God who has demonstrated that death and destruction are not more powerful than life.


Maybe, if we began to speak of God like that

and let go of some of the rest––

some of the values, beliefs, and practices…

which may have been true in their own day when the world was a very different place;

maybe, if we let go of some of that and began to speak of God in those terms––

some might still scoff;

but perhaps some would want to hear more;

and perhaps some would encounter the risen Christ for the first time.

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