Sunday Preview for July 2: “New Spaces, New Faces, Same God”
It is with great joy that I get to share greetings with you today and to extend a warm welcome to Rev. Bud Heckman who will be preaching this coming Sunday. Rev. Bud Heckman works in interfaith relations, philanthropy, and communications and I know his message will be one that you will not want to miss.
Being new to New York, I am still in the “honeymoon” phase. I love walking by bakeries in the morning and smelling the bagels and coffee. I enjoy seeing people of different religious backgrounds, cultures, and nations gather close to each other in the subway. I am enjoying hearing the city come to life with the rising sun, and quieting itself long after the day has done. I am still in awe of this new place and find the differences of New York in contrast to the other places I have lived (most recently Fort Worth, TX), to be dynamic and interesting. Yet, these differences are not something I recognize as part of my own city. I’m still an outsider looking in. I don’t have my own appreciation yet, of what makes me a part of the diversity of New York’s story.
This week’s scripture comes from the book of Acts 17:16-34 in which Paul finds himself in a bit of the same space. He is in Athens amongst a wide breadth of diversity of spirit. As the scripture says:
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17 So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace[a] every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) 19 So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26 From one ancestor[b] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God[c] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
29 Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 At that point Paul left them. 34 But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
Living in a diverse community of thought, religions, cultures, etc. there is always something new to think about and process. Justice is not something that happens in “babbling” like the Athenians say of Paul. Nor is our work of loving our neighbor found in the idols we continue to create. Justice is relational and following a God of justice takes hard conversations to build sustainable relationships and peaceful understandings. When we see each person as a child of God, as created in the image of a just and loving God, then those hard conversations are easy to value.
I may not have a favorite restaurant or a local barista that I know by name, but this city is nonetheless my home, because the people here are my sisters and brothers on this life journey. Their diversity of spirit brings vivacity to my life both in faith and practice. I am thankful for the way my new city has already shaped my vision of Jesus at work in the world and deepened my understanding of a God who continues to create, inspire, and renew through the divine diversity of creation. May the diversity of the spaces you find yourself in, deepen your love of God’s world and creation.