TO RESPECT OTHERS IS TO WORSHIP GOD
Acts 17:22-31, Psalm 66, John 14:15-21
May 9, 1999 by Tad Mitsui
A minister was trying desperately to put together a decent sermon on Saturday. Her 3 and 1/2 year old child kept popping into her study and disturbing her. She told him that he must leave her alone so that she could think. "What are you thinking about, Mommy?" he asks. The minister replied, "I am trying to think about God." He looked at her directly in the eye and said, "So, what do you want to know?" I am not quite sure what exactly he meant. If he meant she could find God in him, he was right. I think that you can meet God in another person.
As Jesus was making a farewell speech to his followers in John”s Gospel, he promised that he would never leave them alone. He would ask God to be with them forever as the Advocate or the Holy Spirit. He said, "He abides with you for ever, and he will be in you." God is in all of us. God can be found in other people. To respect another person is the same thing as to worship God. However, Christ did not say we are gods. He said that God was in us. We must respect each other because everyone is with God just like a pregnant woman is with a child. We humans are limited, and unworthy vessels. But God in his amazing grace chose to be with us. We are what we are because God decides to be with us.
Paul had a problem in Athens, because the people of that city believed that they were in complete control of their lives and even the lives of gods. Ancient Greeks were known for their ability to think. They were intellectuals and produced many brilliant philosophers, who even today influence our ways of thinking. They were masters of observation and logical thinking. They were wise enough to realize that humans were limited. So they created gods, as many as they could think of, to fill the gaps which they thought to be beyond human capacity to control or understand. It was a way of giving themselves a sense of control over their universe. They created gods such as Aphrodite – the goddess of love, or Zeus – the god in charge of the heavens and Poseidon – the god in charge of the sea and the underworld. And in the end, after they thought about everything they could think about, they created a category of gods just in case they missed something very important. So they dedicated a monument to an "unknown god." It was a kind of an insurance policy. The Greek thought about all the eventualities. Even the unknown had to be neatly ordered.
So Paul took up the subject of the unknown god, and tried to explain the God of Jesus the Christ. But he was not successful. He was first mocked by them: they said, "What does this babbler want to say?" And when it came to the resurrection of Christ, it sounded so incredible that they just gave up. They went away saying, "Thank you. We will call you if we want to hear more about your god. Don”t call us." So Paul left Athens without planting a church. Paul failed in Athens, because he tried to appeal to their reason. That was the wrong way to preach the Gospel. They were not ready to see God through Jesus Christ. They were only ready to listen to reason. They were so proud of their capacity to think logically that they could see no importance in things that did not make sense.
But we must realize that many of the things which are most important in life do not make logical sense. Most notably love is not logical. Because of love, a mother does some incredible things for her child. If you think that success is the most important thing in life, a mother”s self-sacrifice doesn”t make sense. Without God in us, we will live strictly by self-interest, and love does not make sense. But with God in us, we can perform some incredible deeds for the sake of love. With outrageous love in us, we are able to surmount life”s incomprehensible questions and even tragedies.
Once I was visiting a friend in a village in the mountain region of Southern Africa. One old woman came knocking on the door. She asked me if I could take her daughter to the hospital, because she was having a difficult time giving birth to her baby. I was the only person around with a Land Rover. The young woman was in agony. It was about an hour drive to the hospital. But it was the most scary drive I have ever done in my life. It was not so much because of the twist and turns of mountain roads at night, but because the woman was really in pain; she screamed all the way. The clerk at the admission desk told me to wait to see if I needed to take the mother and the child home. It was dawn when a nurse came out to tell me that "the baby was born tired." And I should take only the baby home, because the mother had to stay in the hospital for a week. She told me all this in Sesotho, the language of the country.
Until a bundle was handed to me all wrapped up tightly with blankets and sheets like a sack of flour, I had not realized that the baby was stillborn. The Basotho people seldom refer to "death" directly in their language. They do it in many ways like "He is very tired". But my Sesotho was not good enough to know exactly what it meant. I drove back and delivered the tiny body. A month or so later, the grieving mother came to thank me. I didn”t know how to deal with a person who was grieving, especially in a language I didn”t know well. But I still remember what she said. " I am still very sad. But I am glad that God honoured me with a visit." Africans are very spiritual people. Whenever I remember an episode like this, I still stand in awe of such faith in God. By comparison, we are by far better off in so many ways than average Africans. But I sometimes wonder if we are as rich as those friends I met in Africa, who had so much respect for life and for each other because of their faith in God who abides with us.
How God can be with us and yet be so much greater than us is beyond our comprehension. We can not define or limit this God”s power to a particular realm in the way that the Greeks did. We must respect this infinite presence in ourselves and in others. Thanks be to God who waits to be discovered within.