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Watchword for the Month

“God is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being”
Acts. 17:27b-28a

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Rev Denver B. Grauman - July 2021

Greetings in the name of our Triune God; Creator Redeemer and Comforter.

Dear Sisters and Brothers, friends and family in Christ, we have already come half way through this year, 2021. Wow, what a reason to be grateful, to be thankful. We have survived. Especially in the context within which we find ourselves, with COVID-19 and its effects, the current rise in infections, the fear of infections, the reality of sudden death, so many having lost their employment, so much suffering around us. So much violence, physically and emotionally, so much hopelessness, despair, anxieties and depression, often leading to suicide. Yes, we have survived with so many questions for which we might not yet have found answers. But wow, we have survived, we have come this far.

One thing that stands out for me in the time in which we live, is the many uncertainties, many questions, the many what if’s? Further also the fact that we often have to sit alone, in quarantine and isolation, bearing our pains and burdens without the presence of a physical ear, a physical touch. This is indeed an unknown place for me as for you, a strange reality, but one that we have to face head on. And so consumed by uncertainty, by fear, by what if’s, this moment of reflection really calls me and you to consider our wow, our awe, our gratefulness, asking: gratefulness, thankfulness, actually for what?

In our text for the month of July dear sisters and brothers, we find the Apostle Paul, addressing a crowd; himself, having been invited to defend his own beliefs, is perhaps also filled with lots of what if’s. This for the very reason, that although Luke, the writer, highlights earlier that the Athenians had inquisitive minds, liking to explore new ideas (verse 21), there is also the possibility that they could have had Paul captured and killed as we are told of their thoughts of him proclaiming “foreign gods” and him having been brought to a meeting (v.18).

So in an unknown place, amongst unknown people, Paul, confidently stands up to speak. Paul also uses what he has seen there as his basis, the altar devoted “to an unknown god” (v.23). Although Paul, himself greatly distressed about this idolatry (v.16), he calmly, and beautifully crafts a sermonic address that he knows will find resonance in the ears of his hearers. The purpose of his message is definitely to call the Athenians, and even us, today to repentance, a change of heart and mind, however, his manner of doing it, is graceful, polite and very contextual. Fascinatingly enough, Paul uses not a quote from the Torah or prophets to make this point, but he actually uses these words in our verse for July, quoted from a Greek philosopher, as strange, as it may be.

The specific text for the month of July, can actually be seen as the climax of Paul’s sermon, because here Paul wants to make it clear to his audience that God is not far from us, he not above and beyond us, he is not aloof to our realities, but God lives within the uncertainty, within the unknown, within the what it’s. Indeed, we are never alone, because we live in God, through God, we find completeness in God. God has always been there; God is still here and God will still be there.

And so, in the strangeness of our experience, in strangeness and unfamiliarity of our current context, in places and experiences where words perhaps fail us, yes, in those unknown places: God is present. For we are intimately connected to God as God’s very creation, with each breath reminding us of God’s initial ‘kiss’ of life. And as a parent, God yearns for us, to be with us, just as in the afternoon breeze in Genesis still calling to us today: where are you? And in the very act of covering our initial shame brought through disobedience, God did it once and for all again in the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is through Jesus, that we know that our God who is with us, is a God who knows, and hears, who acts for the sake of creation which God loves so much. And in Christ further, we have this High priest who also encountered strange and unfamiliar places, having lost dear friends, having been rejected, despised, and even killed. Yes, a High priest, that was tempted, that in his last moments yearned for the bitter cup to be taken from him, that on the cross experienced the never before God forsakenness, yet cried, “into your hands I commit my spirit”.

We have a God who is present! A God whose name is “I AM” (Ex. 3:14), who speaks through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze” (Is. 43:2). Yes, a God who promises that “I will not forget you” (Is.49:15) and “I will not leave you as orphans” (Jn.14:18).

And this, dear friends, family in Christ, sisters and brothers, this is our hope, this is our confident assurance; the only certainty in these uncertain times. God is with us! God is met ons! uThixo unathi! This our wow, this is our reason for gratefulness, our reason for thanksgiving. May we go into this month of July with assurance that God is with us, for he is not far from any one of us. For, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull (deaf) to hear” (Is. 59:1). For, “we know
that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom.8:28). God will make a way, for God gives us life, God walks besides us, God completes us. AMEN!

Rev. Denver B. Grauman