All people: God is the God of all, and has made all creatures to search for God. As we know God in Christ, we, with “gentleness and reverence,” invite people to know the God who made and loves them.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year A
Texts: Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It’s a word we’re sick of, it gives us fear and anxiety and grief and anger.
It’s Greek. “Pan-demos.” Meaning, “all people”. When the World Health Organization recognizes that a significant number of the world’s countries and population are at risk of a particular disease, they declare it a pandemic. “All people” are at risk of suffering. “All people” should take care.
“All people” divides our national response to this crisis. Our national government has a significant number of leaders, including the president, who don’t care about “all people” in the U.S., let alone the world. Many decisions made at the highest level intend to help only a small group of people, disregarding “all people,” the people who will actually get sick, suffer, and potentially die because of those selfish decisions.
But the word pandemic isn’t by itself a bad word. It’s an adjective, it describes something else. A pandemic disease is terrible, a horror we pray will be brought under control, and soon. But even saying “all people” are suffering from this crisis claims we are all together in this as one on this planet. That’s a really good thing.
And what if we modify other words and thoughts with the word “pandemic”? Learn a “pandemic” way of thinking and being that always begins with “all people,” not with our own personal wants, or our own country’s wants? A pandemic lens for thinking and being would see all people as our siblings, all people as ones who matter, no people as our enemies. This would be a huge blessing.
The honest truth, though, is we Christians often lead the call for an exclusive lens of thinking and being, not one that embraces all people.
We take words like Jesus’ in today’s Gospel and turn them from encouragement for his disciples into words excluding anyone who doesn’t believe as we do. The Church as the exclusive place of those God loves has been a tremendously sinful idea for much of our history. It’s led to much destruction and death, often at our hands.
But if we were to really understand Jesus, we’d see the risen Christ’s desire is that not a single creature be left orphaned, alone, not just us. Yes, here he says his followers will encounter a world which doesn’t see the Spirit of truth at work, doesn’t trust Jesus is the Christ. That’s helpful awareness.
But throughout his preaching and teaching, Jesus is clear that God’s love in Christ is for “all people,” a pandemic love, a love even for the whole cosmos. All things will be drawn into God as Jesus is lifted up on the cross. None of God’s children will be left orphaned. All people will be brought into the abundant life God has made in the world in Christ.
Listen to what we prayed at the start of worship today: “Almighty and ever-living God, you hold together all things in heaven and on earth. In your great mercy receive the prayers of all your children, and give to all the world the Spirit of your truth and peace, through Jesus Christ.”
We have made it clear to the Holy and Triune God today that we recognize God is a pandemic God, God for all people. Now, how will we live in a way consistent with our prayer?
The apostle Paul, on the Areopagus in Athens, declares a beautiful vision of such a pandemic God.
A few verses earlier, Paul is distressed when walking around Athens and seeing all the temples to idols. But when the Athenians invite Paul to speak, he does something remarkable.
He speaks graciously about the Athenians’ religiosity, that they clearly care about faith and prayer, to have all those temples. Then he speaks of their temple “to an unknown God” and proclaims a welcoming vision of God’s love for them and for all.
God is not confined to these temples and shrines we build, Paul says. This God the Athenians call “unknown” is actually the God of the universe, maker of all things and all creatures. Every human being derives from the creation of this God, Paul says. And remarkably, this unknown God of whom Paul speaks actually wants all people to search for and find God. To grope until they touch God.
God, in this pandemic love, longs to live inside each of God’s children. All are God’s offspring, even these Athenians, all are loved by the God Paul proclaims, who raised Jesus from the dead.
This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching, that God has come in Christ for all, and Paul invites the Athenians to know that God, too.
Today Peter says, “Always be ready to make an explanation to those who ask for an accounting of the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” Here, Paul’s speech is a direct result of the Athenians asking Paul to say more about what he believes, what he hopes.
And Paul’s speech models the gentleness and reverence Peter asks for, too. Paul listens to and observes the Athenians, their culture, their faith. He walks around the city and gets a feel for who they are. Then, when asked, he proclaims the good news of God in Christ in a way that opens God’s love for all people.
Peter and Paul show us our path of living faithfully in trust of our pandemic God.
First, your life will be visibly different enough that people actually demand from you an explanation of your hope, your faith. Does your love of others witness to your world? Can people see your hope in God’s love for all people enough that they might dare to ask you about it? Even in this time apart, each of us have opportunities to witness by our kindness, our love, our hope, our politics, that God is a pandemic God who loves and heals all.
Imagine what our country and world would be like if everyone who belonged to Christ were beacons of hope and love to their families and friends, acted as if all people matter to God and to them, and showed this in public, and on social media, so much so that people asked, “where do you find that?”
And when you engage others who don’t believe as you, when you’re talking about the hope that is in you, follow Paul and listen first. Observe their lives, their faithfulness. Even if it distresses you, like Paul, set that aside and pay attention. Then, when you do speak from your hope, the gentleness and reverence will naturally be there. It will come out graciously and will invite people to know the God who made them and desires to be touched by them. To live in them.
It is the Triune God’s deep desire that all God’s children find home and abundant life in God here.
None of God’s children can be left orphaned, alone, with no one and no God to love them. In Christ’s death and resurrection, God’s life and love have begun the transformation of this world, for all people, pan demos.
It sounds simple, that you could live with this hope and actually witness by your life and your reverent, gentle words, that all people are a part of God’s love. But it is how God’s love for all people will finally get to all people. It’s how God’s healing can even start changing our society and world to be one where all people are always considered and cared for.
Because our pandemic God wouldn’t have it any other way.
In the name of Jesus. Amen