“In front of the Areopagus”-Sermon for Easter 6, Acts 17:22-31
I want to begin with perhaps a familiar video…so here goes (click here).
So, we have used this flash mob as an intro-video at some point a couple of years ago…and much more recently I showed it in our two Discovery Classes that are currently on-going, both the adult and youth class, who are those people in our family of faith preparing to formally join our church through baptism, confirmation, or reception. And, before I actually pressed play on the video in those two classes, I asked them to have this in mind as they viewed it: How might this video be a metaphor for or represent in some way what the church is or is striving to be at its very best…whether thinking of the Church with a capital C…meaning the church universal…the Body of Christ…throughout the world…or just our church…St. Julian’s as we live, move and have our being right here in this particular corner of God’s great vineyard where we have been planted. For, I am a big fan of the performance and personally think the video paints a powerful and instructive lyrical picture of what we are called to do and more so be as the church.
To begin with, as wonderful as the video starts out with the one gentleman all dressed up in a tuxedo playing the bass in the public square in that Spanish town is…for I surely would have been happy to throw some coins into his hat…it is when he is joined first by more and more instruments forming a symphony of sound and then joined by a choir singing out with triumphant voices…that are joined further by the voices of those who just happened to be present in the square that day…it is then…with everyone performing in concert...that the music they are making together becomes really powerful, breathtakingly beautiful, and deeply moving…an experience full of hope and joy…that I am certain was transformative for those who participated…young and old alike…something they would not soon forget…an experience that they would carry forward with them wherever their lives might take them next…into their homes and places of work…a hopefulness and joyfulness that would infect, in the best sort of viral way, those with whom they would share the story of what they had witnessed…as the tune still rooted around in their minds and the bounce still remained in their feet.
Likewise, as a church, our power to witness to the love of God for us personally and for all in our world is exponentially strengthened…becomes a surround sound sort of transformative spirituality, when we all participate together…when all of our voices join in together…whatever our unique role, whatever sort of metaphorical instrument we play. All of our voices, our gifts, our talents, our wisdom, and experiences are needed, must be valued, used, and encouraged, if we are to truly create something that changes the world, in small and large ways, for good and for God. I have heard church described many times as a symphony…and a priest as a conductor. But even if I was able to wave my arms in perfect time and did so with great enthusiasm…that wouldn’t actually make music. I need Paige on violin…and Penelope on trumpet…and Luis on timpani…and Sharon singing the alto line…and every single one of you bringing your own unique and beautiful and capable selves, souls and bodies to the performance if we are ever really going to stir people hearts…move the love needle in our world…bring hope and joy and much needed service and support into lives of those who surround us.
For only together can we paint the picture, write the story, compose the symphony that cries out to the world around us of God’s never-failing, unconditional, overflowing love…an infectious sort of love that calls others, like in the video, strangers and friends, young and old alike, to join in…to join us. For when that love, found in a shared experience, grips human hearts, like a tune that we can’t get out of our heads, it changes us, this is what transformation means. We become ourselves, God’s own instruments of love…a living, breathing love…that reorients who we love, how we love, how we live, how we spend our time and money…how we see and hear each other…such that others, even strangers and those very different than ourselves, become companions, friends and partners…who we get to love and receive love from…care for and receive care from…serve and be served by…be kind to and receive their kindness in return. This is the sort of music, God’s own loving, transformative music, that we are called and get to create together…and, again, really only can together…no one gets left out.
And, there is something else from the video I would like to mention that I think is really important and instructive…and that is where the flash mob, the performance, actually took place. Which is of course out in the public…literally in the public square…in the heart of the city. And this is where I would like to connect the video to our reading today from the Acts of the Apostles. For the story, told by Luke who wrote Acts, is of Paul’s witness to the God of love in the very heart of Athens, Greece…in the Areopagus…which was the public space where issues of politics, art, culture, religion, and philosophy of the day were debated and discussed. It was in the Areopagus that the seeds of modern democracy begin to take shape…even in those ancient times. Paul is, therefore, speaking before the decision makers and most influential people of his day…those who had real power to shape the Roman world in which they lived. And, this is not was what I would call a friendly audience. Many, if not most, were profoundly skeptical of Paul’s message about who the God of creation, the God of love, the God of resurrection, really is. Not a God made of silver or gold, a God who needs sacrifices of food or blood, a God who lives in temples or ornate places of worship…but a God who brought everything that is into being for loves sake alone, a God who dwells in the midst of all human lives wherever they find themselves, a God who gives us life over the power of sin and death…beginning with the resurrection of Jesus on the very first Easter.
And I imagine to do so…to stand before this august, powerful and skeptical crowd of strangers…in public…those sitting in judgement of each word he uttered from his mouth…required from within Paul a tremendous amount of courage. And I appreciate that Luke was honest about the response that Paul got…for if we read a few more verses we would learn that though Paul peeked the interest of some…his words indeed resonated with some…but many present just shook their heads dismissing him entirely. And surely Paul knew, even before he began his sermon, if you will, that this would be the result. Yet he still mustered the courage, in this public and vulnerable space, to speak God’s truth…to make his music…to sing his song of praise…joyful, joyful, we adore thee, God of glory, Lord of love.
Which brings me to my conclusion, for we are to do likewise with the music, which sings out boldly of God’s hope-filled, joy-filled love for this broken world, that we make together, and really only can together. That is, like Paul, we are to courageously take it to the streets…out from the safe places that are our church and homes…and into the public square. We must find creative ways to take the beautiful thing we make together and share them with those living well beyond ourselves…our prayers, our art, our theology, our service…such that we courageously claim our space in the public discourse, in the places of power and influence, that God’s voice might be present…that God’s love might be present…where our world, beginning with our own community, is shaped.
For God’s love when we sing of it together for all to hear is infectious, transformative, and perspective forming…people will be drawn to it...and perhaps then, and only then, love, God’s love, can become the first and primary ordering principle that guides the hearts of humans…in private and in public. This is what we hope for…God’s transformative work of love…ruling the day…that requires all of us courageously performing in concert…a beautiful thing created together, in the name of God, in the name of Jesus, in the name of Love, and bravely shared with those living well beyond ourselves. Amen.