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.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals.
If God is the One in whom “we live and move and have our being”; if God is the One who “made all nations to inhabit the earth,” so that we would “search for God and perhaps grope for him [sic] and find him”; if God is the One whose offspring we are, then why are we Episcopalians so bad at recognizing and relating to God’s actions in the world around us?
In my experience within the Episcopal Church, we tend far too often to perceive God as some distant, unmoving, unshakable Being that doesn’t really resemble us in any way, but rather is completely beyond our understanding and personal knowledge. God is not a friend, a lover, or a parent, but rather a distant authority figure who set things in motion and wants little to do with us today. God is not a mother hen who would watch over her offspring such as we, but rather something more like an image carved in gold, silver, or stone; exactly the type of idolatry that Paul is preaching against.
For our God to be a Living God, They must live and move and have a being of Their own. That, for many, is perceived in the Person of Jesus, but again, we Episcopalians tend to do a poor job of relating to Jesus as a lover or friend, and instead prefer to keep Him at arms’ distance (or further). We tend to think about His life and ministry along the lines of, “He did His thing and now we have to do ours,” rather than “He did what He did (and continues to do what He does) because He loves me, and it’s now my choice to enter into that dynamic relationship.”
I observe this in my own preaching, as well as that of many others. We set out to testify to a God who is present and moving among us, leading us into greater transformation, and sometimes we even acknowledge the presence of the Holy Spirit in our midst, but we often come short of pointing to exact moments where we see God’s presence among us. Even in our sermons, when we are supposed to be building up the flock of Jesus’ followers, we shy away from getting too specific, perhaps because we’re afraid of offending or because talking too sincerely about the Holy Spirit shaking things up around us makes us Episcopalians a little bit nervous.
The thing is, if we are offspring of a living God in Whom we live and move and have our being, then we should be able to be very concrete and clear about where we see God moving in the world around us. In our parish life, for sure, but also in the world at large; we should not be able to pick up a newspaper without seeing God at work in its pages. And those of us who preach, or teach, or have anything to do with spreading the love of the Gospel (which is everybody) should be sharing what we see God up to with those around us.
Peter Levenstrong is Associate Rector at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. Having grown up non-religious, he enjoys bringing “a fresh pair of eyes” to examine the tradition of the Episopal Church, and is particularly interested in the intersection of faith and justice. You can find him online on Twitter at @_Rev_Lev.
Image: Paul in Athens