21 May 2017

This week flows beautifully – and challengingly – from last week. The assurance that was explored through the readings in Easter 5A is found this week in the promise of God’s presence. In the light of the huge struggles we face in the world today, it can be tough to speak about God’s presence, especially when we seek to affirm God’s presence with those who suffer. But, the readings all call us to embrace the reality that God is with us even in the dark times, and that it is in God that we all “live, move and have our being” – whoever we may be.

May our worship this week remind us of God’s constant presence, and open our eyes to recognise God even in the most unexpected places.

READINGS:

Acts 17:22-31: Paul preaches to the people of Athens, remarking on their many shrines, and using the shrine to the unknown god as a springboard, tells them about the God who is near to every person, and who has revealed God’s self to humanity in Jesus.

Psalm 66:8-20: A psalm of praise to God for testing God’s people, rescuing them and forgiving them.

1 Peter 3:13-22: Peter encourages the believers to endure suffering for doing good as Christ did, and to remember that they are saved in Christ, who is now in a place of honour and authority with God.

John 14:15-21: Jesus invites his disciples to show their love for him by obeying him, and he promises that the Holy Spirit will come to them and be in them, leading them into all truth.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Following from last week’s word of assurance, the Lectionary continues in an attitude of comfort, emphasising God’s nearness and God’s strengthening of those who struggle. In Athens Paul speaks to the people of the city about a God who can be known and “in whom we live, move and have our being.” He invites them to recognise that God is very near to all people whether they are aware of God or not. The Psalmist reflects on God’s presence even during times of ‘testing’ and gives thanks for God’s rescue and forgiveness, and celebrates that God does indeed hear the prayers of God’s people. In Peter’s letter the apostle continues to offer comfort to a persecuted church assuring them that they are following in Christ’s nail-scarred footsteps, and that in Christ they are saved. And, in John’s Gospel, Jesus offers the promise of the Spirit, assuring his disciples that by the Spirit they will always know that God is with them and in them, and they will enjoy the love relationship that Jesus has given them. The wonderful, challenging and comforting message of this week is that God is intimately available to us, and that God’s presence and resources are accessible to us as we face the challenges and struggles of following Christ and living fully. The inevitable question this raises is whether we are willing to embrace God’s presence, and rest in God’s strength even as we wrestle with injustice and the big crises facing our world.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: One of the big questions of faith is this: what does it mean that God is present in situations of crisis and suffering? What might it mean for us to affirm God’s presence among those who live through natural disasters? What might it mean to affirm God’s presence among people in countries where revolution or violence is breaking out? What does it mean to affirm God’s presence among the poor, those infected and affected by AIDS, those dying of cancer? One thing we must take from the story of the cross and resurrection is that God does not use suffering to punish, and that God always comes alongside those who suffer. Even more, if we are to proclaim the power of the resurrection in this Easter season, it must mean affirming that God’s Spirit – God’s strength and comfort and resources – can be known and experienced by those who are suffering. And for those of us who are going through times of security and peace, there is a calling, a responsibility to be agents of God’s comfort, God’s compassion and God’s strength to those who are most vulnerable. Often the best way God’s presence is experienced by others is through people of faith who seek to embody the grace and compassion of Christ in all of their interactions and relationships. On a global scale, this means refusing to turn a blind eye to places of suffering in the world. It means seeking, through our voice, our vote and our generosity, to offer some comfort and assistance to those in need. It means remembering our suffering brothers and sisters in prayer. And it means working daily to help to build a world in which God’s presence is more easily recognised by all, and in which no one suffers without a companion to offer care, protection, provision and healing.

LOCAL APPLICATION: In every life and every community the question of God’s presence is raised at some point. For many it is related to an academic question related to the existence of evil in the world. But for most, the question ultimately boils down to personal struggle, personal pain and the need within each of us to connect with something bigger than ourselves. Unfortunately, the Church has too often made God’s presence appear contained – available only to a select, chosen few – and we have implied that God cannot be found except within the walls of our buildings. We have sometimes even fallen into the Old Testament view that those who suffer do so because of God’s judgement, and those who have much are “blessed” by God’s presence and provision. The result of this is that we have made God into a fickle, partisan deity who favours some over others (mostly the rich and powerful over the poor and marginalised), and who cannot be turned to for refuge in our darkest times. What a pity this is – and what a travesty of the Gospel. The readings this week make it clear that God’s presence is ubiquitous, and that God’s draws close to those who need refuge and protection and comfort. Imagine what it would be like if the Church was the first place people turned to in times of grief and trauma. Imagine how different it would be if our message was one of grace and welcome – affirming that all people “live and move and have their being” in God’s presence, and need only to recognise this – rather than judging and exclusive. Imagine how different the impact of Christianity might be on this world if, instead of claiming that God’s gift of the Spirit was some kind of spiritual “merit badge” for a chosen few, we, like Jesus, invited all people to receive God’s gift and know God’s presence, comfort and strength for themselves! At the very least, we need to stop arrogantly believing that we can be gatekeepers for God’s presence, and humbly, like Jesus, recognise that God is at work and present in the most unexpected and surprising places.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Finding God Together
The Mystery Of Your Love
Without You
The Voice

Hymn Suggestions:
O God Our Help In Ages Past
Love Divine All Loves Excelling
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
Holy Spirit, Truth Divine
We Rest On Thee Our Shield And Our Defender
That My Soul Knows Very Well (Link to YouTube video)
Always Forever (Link to YouTube video)
Everlasting God (Link to YouTube video)
Deep Calls To Deep

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for Communion

Video Suggestions:
God’s Presence
Presence

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