I can’t shake the idea that Paul’s sermon to the Athenians could take place in almost any town in the U.S. today.
There are many churches. Just as Paul could tell those Athenians that it was easy to see how religious they are, it would be easy to see how religious we are too. Right? There are churches everywhere. While our churches are all clearly labeled and no altars are inscribed ‘to an unknown God,’ some could be. Paul found a single altar ‘to an unknown God’ and used this to tell the people about Jesus. What would he say to us now? How well do we really know this God of ours?
This week’s text from John’s Gospel opens with Jesus saying, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ Jesus’ commandments are simple enough in theory – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself.
The kind of love that Jesus embodied has been distorted by rules and tradition. We like things to feel safe and predictable, familiar and comfortable. It’s good to know the rules. The problem is that the love Jesus offers isn’t something that can be contained like that. It’s meant to be challenging and sometimes discomforting. Loving God and loving our neighbors and ourselves does not leave room for hatred and judgment. It does not endorse violence or war. It does not attribute higher value of one person over another.
It’s easy to claim that God is on our side or preach that God loves this kind of person but not that kind of person. It’s easy to let ourselves think that our thoughts and actions are what God wants. It’s much more difficult to contemplate a God who might want different things, things truly grounded in love.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Jesus broke Jewish laws and traditions all the time to reach human beings and change their lives. I don’t think he’d be thrilled with all the laws and traditions we’ve placed between ourselves and those real human beings who need to experience the transforming power of love. It is easy to fool ourselves into believing that our God needs traditions because we feel that we need them.
What it comes down to is this: Has God become unknown to you?
RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Easter – May 25, 2014
1 Peter 3:13-22