First Presbyterian Church of South Amboy
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, 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.”
I was traveling to Boston during the month of January to visit a friend of mine. It was so cold that whenever the wind brushed up against my face, it felt as though I was being poked by hundreds of little needles. Seeking shelter I sought out the nearest coffee shop to try and warm myself up. Inside there was a person who appeared to be homeless trying to buy a cup coffee, but instead of serving this person the people behind the counter decided that they didn’t belong. They told the person that they were “dirty” and they needed to leave or else they would have to call the police. All this person wanted was a cup of coffee, a place to seek refuge from the cold like everyone else who had come inside.
If there is one place where we fail consistently it is in the area of being able to recognize the commonalities we share with those around us. We live in a time where public shouting matches are considered elevated levels of debate. We live in a time where the internet makes it so easy for us to attack one another anonymously or publicly without having to face the other person in real life. We live in a time where people are so defined by their political ideologies or religious creeds that we often fail to see the image of God that resides in them, the image placed in us from the beginning of time, and the same image that unites us as children of the living God.
This obviously wasn’t the case for Paul. For as we see in our Scripture reading Paul recognized and admired the spirituality of the people of Athens. Paul didn’t condemn the Athenians for their worship of Greek gods. Paul didn’t go into Athens and say, “This is what you are doing wrong! Now let me show you what you need to do.” Instead, what we find is Paul saying, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way… What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. [That it is] God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth…” What would it look like for us to model Paul’s sermon to the Athenians? What would it look like for us to seek out relationships that reflect the diversity and complexity of the God we profess to worship and serve?
I think the hardest part about modeling Paul’s interaction with the Athenians is that it demands a certain level of vulnerability. It requires that we break out of our self-contained box in order to relate to someone whom we do not know. It requires that we be humble in acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers or the solutions to solving life’s problems. It requires that we trust that God is working on a much larger scale than we could ever possibly imagine. And when we cultivate our sense of humility, trust, and faith we begin to see, acknowledge, and redeem the image of God that was instilled in us from the very beginning.
The world is filled with enough hate and animosity because those are things that tend to come more naturally whether we like it or not. The world is filled with enough people who try to discredit and delegitimize others based solely on what they believe in or who they are. What the world is lacking and what the world needs is women and men who are willing to listen, willing to observe without judgment, and willing to acknowledge that Christ’s transforming power often works in ways that we do not often understand. And that takes patience, it takes time, and it takes dedication to work on developing a spiritual life that connects us to God and one another.
It takes courage to stand like Paul in the Areopagus and engage with people whom you may not have a lot in common with. And as I said before, this requires a certain level of vulnerability. It means that we will sometimes be hurt. It means that sometimes we will hurt others. Building these kinds of relationships means that we will have to pick up and carry our own cross in order to resonate with the deep hurts and pains that others have experienced. God did not choose to stay in heaven above, but to chose come in the form of a lowly child so that all may benefit from God made flesh in Jesus Christ.
Remembering this gift of Christ, the gift of love and hope in the world reminds me to finish the story that I began telling you at the beginning of the sermon. Because I think it provides a glimpse of hope and a glimpse of what God calls us to do when we embrace the commonalities we have with those around us. As the people behind the counter continued to berate the person who was homeless, another individual stepped out from the crowd to say that the homeless person was with them, and then continued to buy the homeless person a meal in addition to the cup of coffee. This good Samaritan took the order and then proceeded to sit down with the homeless person in order to eat and drink with them in the kind of fellowship we are meant to embody in our daily lives.
Isn’t that the kind of community that we are called to be as disciples of Jesus Christ? Aren’t we called to be like Paul who acknowledged that maybe we can begin with what we have in common instead of what differences exist? As sisters and brothers who come from all walks of life we know that we are not without our own faults. But it is in our corporate worship, our coming together as believers in all times and places that we are able to give glory to God and build one another up in faith, hope, and love.
As we continue in this season of graduations I can’t help but think how the Church is called to be a model for those who are growing up in our communities of faith. Will we reflect the love of God to those around us? Or will we give into our desire to minimize or dehumanize those with whom we don’t agree with? And of course, it should go without saying that we are meant to model this love not only to the younger people growing up in the Church but to one another as well! It is not an easy task, but then again we are not asked to pursue this holy mission alone.
No, instead we are meant to travel along this journey of life and faith together. We are meant to share in each others joys, sorrows, and times of trial. Because no one is without their own personal challenges. We’re not perfect, which means that we will not always live into the identity that God wants us to embody. But doesn’t mean we stop trying, because we continue on with the sustaining grace that we have received from God and extend that grace to those around us. Because we know that Christ came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save it.
As I said before, we’re very good at seeing past one another. We’re very good at ignoring the good that is in a person in order to win an argument or debate. But as the Church, as people who profess a faith in Jesus Christ, we have an opportunity to change the world we live in. We have an opportunity to converse with the Athenians as Paul did and recognize that “[It is in God that] we [all of God’s children] live and move and have our being.” It isn’t just me, or you, or them, but every single one of us.
Nearing the end of Eastertide I pray that we do not forget to carry the hope of our resurrected God and share it with those whom we meet. I pray that as we go forth we remember the words of the psalmist who reminds of the things that God has done and will do for us. Because when we keep our hearts and minds open to the will of God, we may find ourselves being surprised. Whether we meet an Athenian or a stranger on the street may we strive and challenge ourselves to live in a way that reflects the grace we have been given and honors the image of God that is in each one of us.
Let us pray… Holy God, we give you thanks for an opportunity to meditate upon your holy Word. May it, guide it, may it, nurture us, may it stay with us throughout the week as we seek to be your hands and feet in the world. Grant us your grace and peace that it may grant us a humble spirit and remind us that we are all children created in your image. Grant us your hope and love that it may lead us to continue to give glory and honor in all that we do. We ask this in the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.