“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’” Acts 17:24-28
I came across this passage today while doing a devotional in “Jesus Calling” by Sarah Young. I’m sure you have read or heard of her book. She writes as if Jesus were talking directly to her, and to all of us.
I was reminded of how relevant this passage is to our current reality. First of all, Paul reminds his diverse audience that God is indeed Lord of “heaven and earth, and does not live in shrines made by human hands.” In the midst of the pandemic, we have been pushed out of the sanctuary, a shrine made by human hands. Paul was combatting idol worship, which is still around today when we value facilities over faith, and end up accumulating debt, rather than disciples. The Coronavirus has pushed us beyond the four walls, beyond stained glass and pretty oak pews, beyond altars and brass candles, or whatever other shrines or rituals we have made to honor God. We have been forced to worship outside, in parking lots, under picnic shelters, or on the internet. God doesn’t live in a sanctuary, but in the world and in us, as we are the temple for God’s indwelling spirit. “….indeed He is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being.” When the vaccine arrives, and we feel safer to return more regularly to our facilities, will we look for God’s presence only in the “shrine” or will we experience God in all life, in all mortal beings, in all things? Where does the line exist between what is sacred and what is secular, if He is Lord of heaven and earth? Secondly, Paul was attempting to persuade others about the meaning of scriptures, as he argued in the synagogue with Jews, other devout persons “and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there.” (Acts 17:17) In this strange exile, we have been removed from the building and put in the foreign land of technology. We have the opportunity to creatively persuade others about our faith. The internet has opened wide the doors of the church to “those who happened to be there.” I’m hearing stories from pastors who tell me they have more “likes” or “hits” from persons visiting their worship on Facebook than they ever had visitors in the pews. The word “prayer” has been googled thousands more times during this pandemic, than ever before. Many persons are searching for comfort, hope, meaning, and God has opened a way, “that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him.” When the vaccine arrives, and we return to a somewhat “normal” routine, how will we continue to reach those who are searching for God, but are not likely to come through our sanctuary doors? What can we offer in the “marketplace” where people are shopping for comfort and security in the midst of great suffering during the pandemic? A vaccine may inoculate us from COVID-19, but it will not cure the dis-ease that comes from the spiritual and emotional brokenness of life in this imperfect world. The only cure for that dis-ease is the healing power of Jesus, 4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. 5But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed. Isaiah 53:4-5