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Saturday, May 16, 2015
Today’s Reading | Acts 17:16–34
While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
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.”
When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” At that point Paul left them. But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them. (NRSV)
When I ride down the elevator in my building in the morning, I’m struck by how many people get on and spend the entire elevator ride glued to their cell phones—checking email, plugged into iTunes, responding to text messages. It doesn’t make for good conversation or neighborliness or a chance to exchange simple pleasantries. As efficient as those of us are who use our cell phones for almost everything, I’m willing to bet we don’t exercise terrific skills of observation about our environment when we’re focused on our phone.
It’s a good thing Paul didn’t have a cell phone that day in Athens, while he was waiting for his friends and had the chance to observe his surroundings. He noticed the abundance of idols in that city. The preponderance of idols everywhere told him that these people had a desire to put their belief in and pledge their loyalty to something beyond themselves. His observation allowed him to take advantage of the opportunity to let them know about the God he believed in.
Paul made a careful and intelligent case for the God we know in Jesus Christ. This is not a god, he said, who lives in temples fashioned by human hands, far removed from the lives of human beings. Paul’s God is engaged in human life and, in fact, is so related to us, Paul claims that “we are his offspring.”
We may not be able to make a speech like Paul’s during our elevator rides, but we all have opportunities to take note of the people around us, wherever we are, and to be engaged even with strangers. Our relational engagement would be one way to model what we believe about God and model what Paul proclaims about God: that the God we know in Jesus Christ is a God engaged with our human lives, willing to enter into our lives, even when we are strangers.
Dear God, disrupt my preoccupation with that which is unimportant. Open me to your people. Allow me to take note of my surroundings and take advantage of opportunities to show and be shown who you are. Amen.
Written by Judith L. Watt, Associate Pastor for Pastoral Care
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