I’m convinced everyone wants to know God. Everyone. Even the most radical atheist or hedonist wants to know God above everything else. In fact, I’m convinced a man is an atheist because he is so angry that the God he longs for at the very core of his being doesn’t exist and it’s this existential anger and disappointment that drives his atheism and his hostility.
When I was a boy in the Pentecostal church, knowing God and sensing God’s presence meant goosebumps and tears and emotional feelings. When we experienced these emotions and feelings, we “knew” God was real. Others sense God’s presence as an intellectual pursuit or in other experiences of magic and mysticism. But are all these evidence for God? Is this how we can know God and experience relationship with God? The truth is not being able to recognize God is at the heart of our confusion and chaos in our lives. When my life is most “lost” or directionless or in chaos it’s when I’m looking for God in all the wrong places, when I miss His Presence in my everyday life!
Look at our lesson today in Acts 13:25-33:
IN THOSE DAYS, as John was finishing his course, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie.” Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you that fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. Though they could charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people. And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.
St. Paul is on one of his famous missionary journeys with St. Barnabas and St. Paul is preaching a sermon in a synagogue on the Sabbath in Antioch. In his homily St. Paul reveals to these Jewish faithful the dangers of failing to recognize Christ.
First St. Paul rehearses the history of the Jewish people so they can see that the coming of Jesus wasn’t meant to be a surprise! He reminds these people that, while they may have forgotten God’s promise to send the Messiah, God had not! It’s always the case when anyone or any group forgets the underlying “WHY” of their existence, they start substituting smaller reasons for their existence. And this always means the foundation they live their lives on is too weak to support them in real life. Just look at how we run around trying a million things to keep our kids connected to the Church while failing to do the basic living of the faith in front of them. No wonder they don’t “recognize” God in our lives.
Next, St. Paul informs these folks that even though they failed to recognize the promised Messiah when He came, and even though this blindness had their leaders actually participate in the unjust crucifixion of Jesus, that didn’t stop God’s plan. In fact, it only served God’s plan. Our personal failure to recognize God’s Presence or activity in our lives doesn’t thwart God’s work or His love. It only means we will be too disconnected to both participate and enjoy His Presence.
Today, when we fail to recognize God’s Presence in our lives it always hurts us. But not just us. It also reinforces the inattentiveness of those around us as well. All the disciplines of the Church, the Liturgy, the Prayers, the Fasting, Confession, and rhythm of the Faith are all meant to make us aware and awake so we will recognize God. It’s the very reason we are all called to be Orthodox on Purpose.