Monday, May 02, 2005

Witnessing to the work of the Spirit amongst idolatry

The first reading from the Common Lectionary yesterday was Acts 17 the account of Paul in Athens. Tripp's sermon at Church of Jesus Christ, Reconciler yesterday challenged us to contemplate the mystery of God present, of the Spirit, at work amongst the idols. Paul, Tripp, pointed out to us, was confronted with the truth that was already recognized among the religious Athenians. Yet, even so when Paul points out the presence of Christ, of the Trinity, of the Spirit in the midst of Athenian religiousity, some still reject Paul's message content with the truth they have, while others here the Gospel and become believer's and so the Church in Athens is born.
There is mystery here. There is that hidden work of God, that not even Paul could control and dictate. Paul finds in the midst of idolatry God at work preceding Paul the missionary and apostle. Paul, simply witnesses to what he finds there, to the work of God already begun. This is what the Church is called to be and do, to witness, and through that witness to make disciples.
This is common fodder, I know. If you have lived any amount of time amongst conservative and fundamentalist evangelicals you have heard this line, the "Great Commission". Yet, what I find challenging about this passage in Acts is that we don't have another script for our evangelistic efforts. Rather we have a lesson in humility, and a warning for the Christians should they become confident that they have God figured out. Paul could have come to Athens (and perhaps as Tripp suggested he had been there before and found only the demonic and idolatrous) and seen only depravity and lost souls ignorant of God. If God was absent anywhere on earth surely it was Athens proud in its knowledge and idolatrous religiousity. Yet, Paul full of the Spirit, becomes overawed, at God present amongst idolatry. A God who comes and reveals himself in the midst of idols. Paul finds himself not coming as enlightener of the ignorant but of witnessing to what the Athenians already know in part. Misidentified, confused, mixed with idolatry and yet Paul finds God where he least expected to find the Spirit at work.
This puts a whole different spin on being "witnesses". We as the Church are to have our eyes open and look to find where God is at work, to seek out where the Spirit precede our proclamation. To be willing to see God amongst those who seem to have rejected God and Jesus Christ. Paul's job wasn't to sort out who is and isn't "saved", Paul's job was to witness to what he knew and to the presence of God that preceded Paul. We as Christians are to give witness to the work of God in our lives and in the world and lives of those we know. We are to give name to the mystery that resides in the lives of our colleagues and friends and let God be God, and do the work of salvation. As in Athens some will simply reject what we say, others will say I will have to hear more of this, and others will believe. However, their responce is not our problem or our responsibility.
The Church witnesses to the world concerning Jesus Christ and the presence and work of the Spirit in the world, that all good things our friends our colleagues and neighbors experience come from God: Their talents, their giftedness, their wealth is from God's bounty and mercy. What they do with that witness is between them and God. Christians when they fall to the temptation of coercion fail to let God be God, and let the mystery of the Spirit remain. We are simply to witness to what we see and have seen, of Jesus Christ, and teach those who come to believe in the way of Christ. Christians defile the Church when they attempt to do more than that, when they come to believe that they must save the world, when witnessing becomes brow beating people into the Kingdom, or through other forms of violence and coercion.
My hope is that this community as it grows into its life of prayer and hospitality may truly witness to the work of Christ and the Spirit in the world and in the Church, that people may come to see the Church and the Gospel for what it is in truth: the invitation of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, to life that is true and full. The offer of a relationship with the source of our very being of all we are do and have.

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