Stuart's Thought for the Day Video

Pause for Thought

It’s strange how the ongoing turfing out session in the Rectory keeps producing unexpected finds and gems. Recently Heather unearthed a book of bloopers and typos, many from pre- IT days. There on the cover is a young-looking David Beckham, shortly after the birth of his oldest son. He apparently said at the time, “I definitely want Brooklyn to be christened, but I don’t know into what religion yet.” The other speech bubble quotes: “My parents have been there for me since I was about seven….” Well, we all know what it’s like when what we want to say comes out unintentionally wrong! But it’s certainly true that religious belief and practice of all kinds are often presented as a kind of spiritual buffet from which we can select whichever flavours we prefer. As we light the candle and enjoy a drink – probably still a warm one given the temperature outside today! – we can take a moment to reflect on how we came to follow the way of Jesus and comprehend God’s love and care for us and all people.

The known unknown God

People born in Athens – as well as others who came to live there – liked nothing better than to spend their time listening to and discussing the latest ideas. So Paul stood up in the big arena to speak. “It strikes me that you Athenians take religion to extremes! As I was walking round your city, taking a close look at the shrines where you worship, I came across an altar with the inscription, “This is for an unknown god”. Maybe you don’t know what you’re worshipping. But I’m here to tell you about the God who made the world and everything on it, and is responsible for everything you can see, whichever way you look. God can’t be fitted into any place of worship made by human skills and has no need of anything from us. From God we receive life and breath, and all the abilities we have.”   (Acts 17:21-26)

One of my earliest memories of church, as quite a small boy, was walking into Chichester Cathedral with my Dad. Our own small church was intentionally functional and plain, largely built by the members themselves, so the sight of a roof vault soaring way above my head, and the east end of the cathedral almost out of sight, was fairly overwhelming. I remember asking endless questions, which Dad, who loved great architecture, tried his best to answer, even though in reality he didn’t relate to the Church of England at all. It started me on a journey through many great ecclesiastical buildings - though there are plenty more on my church bucket list! - in this country and abroad. From Helsinki and Uppsala in Nordic Europe, through Notre Dame and the Stefansdom down to Italy, above all Rome. Of all the great religious buildings there, the Pantheon must be among the most important. Built as a Roman ‘temple of all the gods’ (in Greek, ‘pantheon’) it has stood on the Piazza della Rotonda for almost 2000 years, used as a place of worship continuously since then and as a Christian church since the 7th century. I’m always moved to stand there, as in other very ancient churches like San Clemente, just a short distance away, and realise I’m standing where other Christians have stood for 2000 years.

The passage from Acts we’ve just read reminds me that what for us is a long stretch of human history was scarily new and radical in those times. The people of Athens, great intellectuals and debaters, hadn’t heard anything before like Paul was now saying. Doubtless some found it weird, others would have struggled to understand this new belief, but Paul immediately engages them by referencing the Athenians’ own shrines and places of worship. A temple to ‘an unknown god’? Maybe it was a kind of insurance policy, to make sure no deities were angered by their omission, but it also probably reflected a sense of a wider spiritual reality people recognised without being able to articulate or define it. Greek gods were hardly known for forming personal relationships with their worshippers, so Paul contrasts this with the living God, who has opened up the possibility for us, not just of being known, but even more of being loved, cared about and guided through life’s journey.

The Roman Pantheon moved from being a place for all the gods to a place where the living God is worshipped – still – symbolising how the loving God isn’t one religious option among many but waits for us and all people to live in an unending relationship of peace, joy and hope. As we approach Archbishop Justin’s mission visit to our Diocese in September, we recognise both the confusion and uncertainty felt by so many about spirituality and belief, and our own calling to tell everyone the Good News that whatever their background they are loved, welcomed and included in God’s eternal kingdom.

If you were asked about your Christian faith and belief by someone who wanted to understand more, how would you explain what convinced you to follow the way of Jesus, and the difference it has made to your journey?

Prayer for today

Eternal God, you are love, and true love comes from you alone.
Fill our hearts with confidence and hope,
so we may be able to demonstrate in word and action
that you are the source of love,
the reality at the end of our searching and longing. Amen.

Download:

Pause for Thought:

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