Sunday 14th May – Family Service led by Canon Richard Osborn

This week we welcomed not only Richard Osborn, but Sasha and her daughter Anya from Kharkiv who were staying with Tony and Barbara whilst getting their papers for a later possible stay in the UK.

In his opening thoughts Richard reminded us that it was Christian Aid week (noting with regret that we no longer had house to house collections in Potters Bar). The funds raised go to help people in crises such as that that has unfolded in the Ukraine.

The Bible reading from Acts 17 caused Richard to reflect on the events of the previous weekend. The Coronation Service had been impressive and moving. Millions if not billions of people had witnessed for the first time in their lives a coronation as it actually happened – an act of Christian worship, the coronation being set in the context of a service of holy Communion. Richard wondered what people would have made of the presence of the hymns, the celebration of Holy communion and especially the anointing of the king, a solemn, private, and most personal moment, and a tradition going back to Old Testament times.

For 2 hours millions have focused on an act of Christian worship – for most something they never do. What sort of impression would it have made. Was it the history, the ceremony, the once in a lifetime sense of occasion that really impressed them? Perhaps some found a reawakening of faith or felt something deeply spiritual, or even felt the presence of God for the first time. We’ll never know.

For most people in this country God doesn’t get much of a look-in for the majority of their lives. Yes, there are occasions where the general population does yearn for something spiritual, yearns for the comfort of God – the death of Princess Diana in 1997 being a powerful example – but were people then any closer to recognising the God that was unknown to many of them?

In Acts, we encounter Paul in Athens seeing the sights and keen to experience the ethos of the ancient city. He’s shocked by the numerous statues of Gods and Goddesses, the alters dedicated to them, and the many shrines where people worshipped. Paul feels moved to speak out to persuade Athenians to turn away from these idols and worship the true living God.

He’d been preaching on the streets of Athens and people wanted to hear more (the culture of the time was to listen, to talk and to debate). He is invited to address the City Council, a group of about 30 learned members of society concerned with aspects such as education and religious worship. He displays great tact and diplomacy (a side of his character we don’t often see), quoting their poets and from the text he’d seen on one of their altars. People of Athens were scrupulous in their religious observance, but they thought of God as a theoretical possibility rather than a proven reality, a doubtful hypothesis rather than an actual fact.

We might ask what is different in our country today. To many, God is an unknown quantity. To them he does not exist, or he only comes on to their radar at times like last Saturday, or in times of crisis or suffering in their own lives.

Our task today is, like Paul’s, to make the unknown God known. To persuade people that he’s neither absent nor passive, but present and active. Like Paul we need to meet people where they are and show sensitivity but still to speak out about the God in whom we live, move, and have our being. Many feel that they can get along quite happily without a God, but then an event, a tragic death or a crisis happens, and questions get to be asked. It is at such times that issues of faith come to the fore, or if people have faith that that faith may be tested. At such times people are drawn closer to God, such is the mystery of faith. God comes alive, enabling these people to come alive to him. No longer is he an unknown God.

To draw people to God we need to ensure that the light of Christ shines through us in the way we live and the messages we unconsciously convey. As Jesus says in Matthew, “Let your life so shine before others so that they may see the good you do and give glory to your Father in heaven”. That’s what we are called to do. Many in our society are looking for God. It’s up to us to help them in that search, to show them the great hope offered in the Easter Gospel, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and the promise of eternal life. No man-made God can do this. How will people react to us if we do like Paul did. Well, some made fun of him but some said they wanted to hear more. So it’s likely that the same could happen to us, we’ll be mocked or greeted with cynicism and apathy. We should remember that some did join Paul and become believers. So we pray that the Holy Spirit may strengthen all of us for the vital work we are charged with – to make the unknown God known.

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