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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Acts 17:22–31          

Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 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. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (NRSV)

I grew up in a church culture heavily influenced by Billy Graham-style evangelicalism.  When I first came across this passage as a high schooler, the Paul I envisioned here (and in most of the New Testament) was waging a philosophical battle, trying to turn the Greeks 180 degrees from one way of thinking to another. It was, in my teenage mind, apologetics at it’s finest: a successful argument for why his idea was right, and theirs was wrong. A blueprint for winning converts.

But today Paul is different than I remembered. There is a lot to unpack in this passage regarding the history and culture of his audience, but looking specifically at how he begins his speech and the language he chooses, I don’t see a didactic man preaching fire and brimstone. I see a man seeking to understand the people in front of him. He has empathy for them, maybe he even admires them. He doesn’t push his audience to discard all of their existing life and culture for his God, a new restriction, or new set of ideological boundaries. What Paul offers them is an expansion of how they see the world they live in—an opportunity to embrace a God who is with them already, even if they don’t know it yet.

I find this idea of expansion vs. restriction very compelling at the moment. You may be a long-practicing Christian or maybe you’ve never been in a church, but no matter where we are on the journey, perhaps the most powerful spiritual growth is found in seeking this sort of expansion, a greater awareness of how deep our connection is to God. Whether we know it or not.

God, give us the wisdom and the opportunities to get to know you more deeply. Expand our understanding of who you are--when we try to box you in, and when we think we don’t know you. Show us the endless ways that “we live and move and have our being” in you. Amen.

Written by Jeremy Pfaff, Editorial Assistant

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