22 Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23 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. 24 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, 25 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. 26 From one ancestor[a] 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, 27 so that they would search for God[b] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 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.’
29 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. 30 While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 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.” (Acts 17:22-31 NRSV)
He wandered through the streets of Athens gazing upon one statue after another. He was amazed and distressed. These weren’t simply works of art. They were idols. They represented the gods that the Athenians proudly worshiped. Some of them represented the best in humanity. Others the very worst.
Perhaps he saw Aphrodite’s likeness, goddess of love, desire and beauty. She represented sex, affection and the kind of attraction that binds people together. Or Apollo, god of music, healing, light and truth. Then there was Ares, the god war represented by raw violence. His companions were fear and terror.
These gods that were worshiped came from dysfunctional families. They did harmful, even disgusting, things to each other. They were more human than divine. They cared only for themselves.
Paul had had enough. Wandering from one statue to another, he felt disgusted. Daily he argued in the synagogue and the marketplace. He talked to anyone who would listen. When he stumbled across some highly respected philosophers, they took him to the Council of Aeropagus, also known as Mars Hill.
How should he defend himself? No. He won’t defend himself. Instead, he’ll share what he knows about the one true living God of heaven and earth.
How should he begin? By meeting the people where they are. They are polytheistic, worshiping many gods. Start there. And he begins by noting how religious the people are. Why they even have an altar dedicated ‘to an unknown god.’ Great place to begin. And he shares with them who this god is.
Who do we worship? Strolling through our culture, we see worshipers of sex and desire and beauty. We meet up with raw violence and terror and fear. There are gods and idols wherever we go. Ever felt fear that you might run out of money despite a bulging bank book? Welcome to the god of the fear of scarcity. Rooting for someone’s demise? You could be flirting with the god of power.
Who we worship is the one true living God. Paul describes God in a way no earthly god could ever come close to emulating. God is God of not just earth but also heaven. This is our creator. Not content to recline in temples and holy structures, God accompanies us wherever we are. This isn’t the God who demands to be taken care of. Rather, God takes care of us.
This God is inclusive, creating all of humanity. We are the ones who can search, even grope around, and find God right there.
We worship the God of love who packed a suitcase and moved out Eden behind Adam and Eve; who marked the murderer Cain so that he wouldn’t be killed; who accompanied Judeans in exile to Babylon; who sent his only son to be with us and die for us.
We worship the God of justice who stands tall and announces that he loves us so much, that he won’t stand for our misbehavior any longer; who tests us like iron; who allows us to fail so that we can eventually succeed; who yearns for our repentance; who creates in us a clean heart for life made new.
We worship the God of power. Power greater than any human could dream of.
We worship the God of healing and peace.
Our God isn’t involved in some dysfunctional life, thinking only of himself. Our God is waiting for us to grope around and discover that he’s been there all along. God isn’t our cosmic bell hop but God provides for our needs.
You can’t run from our God, but you can ignore him. You can’t hide, but you are free to make your own decisions. And this God is waiting for you. Loving arms ready to enfold and provide.
If you haven’t tried it lately, go ahead. Grope around. You’ll bump into all kinds of grace.
All glory and honor be to God.