A message from the readings for Sunday, May 17, 2020
The Athenians hedged their bets
Plagues are not a new thing. The Black Death probably reduced the world population by one-quarter in its main phase from 1347-51, but it repeated roughly once a generation, a number of times subsequently.
Most of us remember that the Great Fire of London started in the narrow thoroughfare called Pudding Lane in 1666 and destroyed the old medieval city – but also the plague that had caused a huge loss of life.
Industrialisation in the 1700s and 1800s caused outbreaks of cholera and typhoid in cities, and smallpox scarred a considerable proportion of the population until Jenner discovered vaccination.
In the 6th century BC there was a plague of this kind in Athens, and the Athenians, who sought to appease a diverse range of deities, did all they knew to do – to no avail. A poet and mystic called Epimanedes from Crete, who had become known in Athenian society, advised the Athenians to build new altars round the city dedicated “To the unknown god”, to hedge their bets, as it were, in case they had angered one by their omission. And the plague ended.
The spiritual lesson that can be drawn is not about covering all the bases, and it is not about appeasing some angry deity. The lesson is who the ‘unknown’ God is! It is about the good news that we can worship a personal God and spiritual Father. Far from being remote or unknown, He has made Himself known through Jesus, the exact representation of God in human form. And unlike the pagan deities, apparently demanding constant servile attention, Paul tells the Athenians Acts 27:25 that our God is “not served by human hands as if He needed anything – rather, He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.”
God so loved the world that He gave…
God so loved the world that He gave… and part of His giving, Jesus
God so loved the world that He gave… and part of His giving, Jesus explained John 14:16 is the gift of the Holy Spirit “to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of Truth.”
The Spirit of Truth means that He leads us into the truth about God. The word ‘truth’ can also be translated ‘reality’ and that’s really a better way of putting it. The reality – the experience of knowing God as real and near and speaking – comes through the spiritual impartation that happens when we are born again, or born spiritually from above, by asking Jesus as Saviour to come into our hearts and to into our lives as Lord.
At this time of year in 1738, John Wesley, who had been a bit of a failure as a missionary, attended a prayer meeting in Aldersgate, London, led by Moravians, a group that attracted Wesley because their lives had a recognisable spiritual authenticity about them. They knew the Spirit of Reality! And while hearing the words from the very beginning of John’s gospel about how Jesus had come into the world to give all who would receive Him the right to become children of God – he found his heart “strangely warmed” and he was born again. His life and ministry was completely changed after that, and he is remembered for his leading role in a national spiritual awakening that probably saved the country from the kind of revolution that was already simmering in France.
“Let me tell you what God has done for me”
The Psalm reading Psalm 66:16 has the sentence: “Come and hear… let me tell you what God has done for me” and this fits with Peter’s letter 1 Peter 3:16 “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” The complete change of expectation, this experience of new life in Jesus – it is something we’ll be keen to share and others are excited to hear about. Peter goes on to mention baptism, which at that time (as in many churches now) was always a response to someone giving their lives to Christ. Then, as now, before the candidate goes down into the water, symbolising the burial or the old life, to rise again, symbolising a new and clean life, they are asked to tell their story of how they met with Jesus and came to trust Him with their lives – giving the reason for their new hope. Peter says, be prepared to do that, any time, any place. Testimony to what God is doing in our lives is an important facet of worship.
The God we know doesn’t live in an altar or even a building but is known through the Spirit of Reality. Everything about Him is about the relationship! We receive His love, so we can love others. We discover He is as Jesus represented Him to be – and we want to tell others. And we find ourselves wanting to live in that awareness and relationship with the kind of attitudes and values that Jesus taught.
God wants to be known — and indeed he can be known — by anybody that will simply paused the headlong rush of their own life to turn, and find Him.
A prayer you can pray to ask God into your heart and life is found here or you can join in the prayer at the end of the video.