Acts 17:22-31

Got to keep this short today: Mrs. P. and I are babysitting a two-year-old. We’re taking her to church, natch, and then out for lunch. So we’ve got to squeeze in a bath and some heavy-duty carseat wrangling between now and 10:30. As I write, the girls are downstairs taking a bath.
In any case, we read this morning from Paul’s speech to the Athenians.* It doesn’t go so well. It’s a sophisticated piece in its own way, but the Greeks aren’t much interested. They give Paul a shrug and get back to their philosophy.

If I wanted to be a jerk, I’d take this story the way many interpreters do: to say, as Tertullian does, “What fellowship does Jerusalem have with Athens? Or the Academy with the Church?” Tertullian thought that philosophy was “the mother of all heresy,” which could be spun out into a righteous rant on how The World Just Doesn’t Get It.

It’s also ironic, of course, since Tertullian died out of communion with the church for his own heresies. But leave the poetic justice for another time.

What speaks to me from this passage is one little sentence fragment. “For we too are his offspring,” Paul declares, which may itself be a quote from Aratus of Soli.

We too are his offspring. What better words could you have the weekend after Beth Stroud’s defrocking was overturned by a United Methodist appeals court** in Maryland?  For if we are God’s children, then we are made in her image: all beautiful, all deserving of the same honor, laud and glory we would reserve for the divine itself.

It’s sad to hear, then, that the court overturned Stroud’s conviction on  technicalities.  The Methodist Book of Discipline doesn’t adequately define what it means to be a “practicing” homosexual, the court said, and the church’s General Conference improperly adopted the rules against gay clergy in the first place. That kind of decision probably surprises no one familiar with Methodists’ penchant for Robert’s Rules of Order, but it’s disappointing nevertheless.

Stroud herself argued that the ban on gay and lesbian clergy violated one of the highest principles in Methodism: the guidance of the individual conscience. Following one’s conscience is at the heart of Methodism; to rule it out of order in certain cases would be to wreck one corner of John Wesley’s famed “quadrilateral” of faithful decision-making: scripture, reason, tradition, and–this is the important one here–the Holy Spirit.

What “self-avowed, practicing” Christian would turn away the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Many Christians believe that the Spirit is the very remnant of God’s image within us. To reject that in favor of legalism is not just sad or offensive; it’s un-Christian.

Well, I hear from downstairs that the baby has soaked my wife. First she splashes, then she says “Uh-oh.” And then, apparently, she runs up the stairs naked and dripping wet. Who says the Holy Spirit isn’t alive and well in humanity? Fallen nature of humanity, my ass.

I just wish we could get the church courts and some of its more bigoted leaders to see that, “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.” Near as the closest baby, I’m thinking.

    *Acts was written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke, who is thought to also have been a student and travelling companion of Paul.

    **The United Methodist Church uses an elaborate court system, parallel to secular courts, to adjudicate conflicts and disciplinary issues.

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