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Sermon - 14 November 2004
Bible Verses: Isaiah 65:17-25 & Acts 17:16 - 32
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

What is Our Mission : Connecting with Other Faiths

Isaiah Acts 17:
Reference C.S.Song Jesus in the Power of the Spirit Ausberg Press 1994

A woman wants to give evidence in court with her face covered. Is it because of her religion Muslim, or her culture Afghanistani? She is convinced it is her religion, evidence with relationsto other Muslim countries practices point to the fact that Muslim women are not required to cover their faces - but to be modest. And the measure of that is of course also a cultural issue. .Western Christianity has been the dominant culture in our country for so long that cultural practices and beliefs have got inextricably intertwined and much of what people cling to as Christian is more cultural.

But we, right here in Papatoetoe live in a multifaith environment, over the last five years things have changed so that here and now. Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and that vague personal spirituality of New Zealanders shown in the Neilson Survey are the beliefs around us.

Who here knows or has as neighbours, people of different faiths, who is in contact daily with people of different faiths?

"How do we connect with other faiths.?" Is one of our most important questions as we look at who we are as a church..
We could decide this is not a Christian neighbourhood anymore and move like many churches to an area where there are more Christians to make the church bigger. Is that our task?

Or we look at the change of people around us and we say that we are sent to be in this place to be a light, a way and let others find Christ because we are here.? Or less arrogantly say our task is to be here making a difference.for everyone.
Our opportunities for service lie in the changes around us, they are different from Manurewa, Otahuhu ,Otara and Botany. We need to know our neighbours and our neighbourhood. The people we contact in our daily lives - for that is where our task lies.

Lets look at Paul, Paul the Christian missionary found himself in the beautiful, cultured city of Athens. It was full of shrines and altars, Paul the Jew was enraged, irritated to see the city so full of idols. But Paul realised to be blind to the beauty and goodness of the people he saw and met would deny the God who created human beings , all human beings in God?s image.

Paul had started out by being 100% loyal to his own religion, Jewish to the core, he was converted to Christ on the way to Damascus to arrest and bring followers of Jesus to Jerusalem for trial. At that time Paul was completely overwhelmed and captivated by Jesus, he became totally a follower of the new way,
For Paul, baptism was being buried in Christ and rising with him.
He was immersed in Christ, drunk with Christ, He said the life I live now is not my life but the life which Christ lives in me"
He was exasperated with the Christians who went back to Jewish ways - For him it was either Christ or law - no middle way.
"The old order has gone a new order is already begun" he said when annoyed by the Galatians returning to Jewish customs.. Christ was his centre.

In Athens Paul faced the questions.. What is one to make of the beauty - the wisdom, of the great city of Athens? Does it make sense to a person converted to Christ. It could have been any great city in the world today. What is the Christians?s response to that which has come out of heritages which are not Christian?.

Paul did not shut his eyes like many Christian missionaries to China or India and not see those temples and hear the sounds of pagan music, nor did he dismiss the pagan wisdom. Paul saw that the people of Athens are in every way very religious [or superstitious]
He could have seen all these pagan things as nothing but idolatry - a grave sin against God. - He could have been prompted to start a crusade to reach the unreached people of Athens, He could have been excited that he was bringing God to this city and this country for the first time since the beginning of creation. Is this what Jesus would have expected of Paul?
But would truth imposed in this way still be truth, would this not be the case of expanding one?s own frontier rather than crossing into a very different territory inhabited by other regions and cultures ? [as Jesus himself did]
Paul did something quite remarkable.
" When I saw the object of your worship I found also an altar To an unknown God" I am about to tell you who this God is.

Paul who was drunk with Christ did not mention Jesus? name in the speech. He quoted a Greek poet " In God we live and move and have our being" , affirming this pagan statement, then this Christian evangelist reminds the Athenians of another ancient poet who declared "For we are also God?s offspring"
Paul talked about the God of Creation, who created the world and everything in it and who is Lord of Heaven and earth. He identifies the God of the Hebrews and the unknown god of the Greek religion as the one God, the judge at the end time.
Paul?s vision of Christ was enlarged by his vision of God in creation. He knew the danger that Christ separated from God and creation could become the idol of the christian religion and an icon of christian culture. Christ5ian mission could turn into crusades against other idols and icons, as the history of expansion of Christianity has shown.

The Athenians did not hear Paul putting them down. Certainly, the Paul who was enraged by the idols, told them that the God of heaven and earth does not live in shrines made by human hands and they are still offspring of that god, although their religious orientation is misdirected.

God?s truth needs plenty of room to move, It requires a freedom and space . . God?s truth is truth no matter who says it - a pagan poet long before Jesus or Paul.
It doesn?t make God less credible, it makes God more credible as the God of creation. It does not make Jesus less unique, for Jesus? originality isn?t about claiming exclusive access to God?s truth, but in recognising where God is in his own community and other communities.
Jesus shows us God whereever God is.

Paul pointed out The altar to the unknown God was evidence of the Athenians religious search for something beyond human possibility.
It was not to be held against them as an example of how they deluded themselves by substituting the unreal for the unreal.

When Jesuits Missionary with Mateo Ricci were in China in the 16 Century they ate ,dressed, lived in Chinese style houses and learned to speak Chinese fluently and knew about Confuciansim and the systems of ethical teachings of the ruling classess. But when it came to Buddhism, the religion of the common people they turned hostile. They noticed many resemblances, Buddhist monks practiced penitence , celibacy and gave alms, their chants were like the plainsong, images and lamps lit in the temples, the five Buddhist prohibtions were like the ten commandments.
What might have given them an opening into the Chinese religious heart they firmly rejected.
They concluded - these resemblances were nothing but traps set by the devil to turn the Chinese mind against Christianity.
"I have seen how the devil imitates the ceremonies of the Catholic church."
Weird thinking! strange logic! Does that mean that the devil had been working in China for many centuries to prepare the Chinese mind against Christianity. Had God been totally absent in China for all this time. What sort of theology gives so much credit to the devil?.

Paul declared in Athens "your unknown God is my God", and that of course is the God of Jesus Christ. Paul was not bringing a foreign God to a pagan city.
Also Paul did not preach God the creator at the expense of Jesus the saviour, for he went on to speak of the one who was raised from the dead. Jesus the Saviour is now seen in the greatness of God the Creator, God?s saving activity shown through Jesus in his life and ministry does not take away from the reality of God?s presence in the rest of the world. The Jesus who said I am the light of the world does not the light show up what is already there?

In Athens Paul who acted in the power of the Spirit was confronted by God?s truth as an open truth, a deeper truth than he had known before
Before Him the Jesus he followed had crossed the frontiers revealed to us the loving and compassionate heart of God.

This weekend the Indians in our community are celebrating their festival of lights . cultural and religious, maybe we need to talk about our great festival of the light, cultural and religious, which is coming up. Jesus said I am the light of the world, we celebrate that light coming into the world and the light keeps shining and the darkness cannot over come it.
Maybe we if learn a little more we will find the light of Christ and power of the Spirit will reveal to us where we can connect with our neighbours of other faiths and find God at work, the one God of Jesus and bring peace and love which Christ gives into our community.

This is very dependant on the
Reference C.S.Song Jesus in the Power of the Spirit Ausberg Press 1994

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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