Last week, like the week before, our readings reminded us that life is often many things at once. Grief and joy, awe and despair, light within the dark, doubt and hope, and the confusing Now and Not Yet of the kingdom of God.
Well guess what – here we are again, with readings that ask us to reconcile the impossible, to exist in a place where opposites exist side by side and where God offers us complexity where we might, if we are honest, prefer simplicity.
Let’s take a look at the reading from Acts first. In this famous sermon, Paul is talking to the people of Athens. It’s a classic speech – he flatters them, hooks their attention and then, boom, makes his big announcement: their unknown God is in fact the one God, Lord and creator of all, to whom we owe everything that we are and have and do. Unlike the Athenians, we know that already, of course. But here’s the challenge which God places before us – we are created, Paul tells us, so that we want and need to search for God. But God doesn’t need us at all.
That takes a bit of thought. God doesn’t need us, doesn’t need us at all. Whereas we do need God, we are built with a need to search and grope for God. Of course, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us – of course we are loved by God. But not needed. We are utterly unnecessary.
I don’t know about you, but I like to feel needed. It’s quite a challenge to know that my need for God is not matched in any way by God needing me. It’s quite hard to accept that I am utterly unnecessary – and yet utterly loved.
And then our second reading, from 1 Peter, where we are reminded that not only do we suffer in this life, but that sometimes we suffer despite doing the right thing. Sometimes in fact we suffer because we are doing the right thing. In this particular case, Peter is addressing Christians who are being persecuted for their faith, which, mercifully, is unlikely to happen to us, but still, our experience of life is that despite doing the right thing, despite living Christian lives, still we suffer.
Bad things happen to good people. Accepting that is also quite a challenge.
And then the Gospel reading, in which Jesus tells us many things which are seemingly impossible. The world cannot see me, he says, but you can. He tells the disciples that he will be leaving them – but won’t leave them. That he is going – but coming again. That, somehow, he is in the Father and also in us and even that we are in him.
In some ways these are easier challenges for us to accept, because we know the answer to these apparent impossibilities. It is simply this – God is God. And we are not. We are not needed, but we are loved. We suffer, despite doing our best. God is with us, yet gone. And on reflection, maybe this is the answer to all these challenges – God is God. Utterly beyond our understanding, yet understanding us completely.
God is God. Sometimes the answer to complexity is remarkably simple. Amen.