Where We're At
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 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 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."
You're giving a dinner party and you've invited a couple close friends to join you in your home. One of your friends mentions that they have a coworker that's new to town. They don't really know anybody yet and so they ask if it's alright to invite this person to your dinner. "Of course!" You say. You're more than happy to to open your home to others.
You spend a few weeks preparing, planning the menu that feels special, but isn't overly complicated. You gradually pick up all the thing you need that will let your guests know that they are welcome. The day is finally here and you start cooking early so that you'll be able to greet everyone at the door. Your friends begin to arrive and you swing your arms wide to invite them in. Finally, this new acquaintance shows up, introduces themselves, and you start to give them a little tour of your place.
Here's the photo wall with all our family pictures. Your guest smiles and nods. Oh! They reach out their hands and begin to straighten out one frame that was a little slanted. ok... you move on into the backyard where your proudly have a few flowers in pots that you just put out for this special occasion. Oh! Your guests informs you that this plant actually needs to be in a place with full sun and then proceeds to pick up the pot from your back porch and move it out into the yard where there isn't so much shade. At this point, you're ready to wrap this tour up and just get the carefully prepared food out on the table with your friends. As you come back through the hall, they see the cross on your wall, cock their head to the side and raise their eyebrows to say, “you know that's just all made up, right?”
Imagine if that's what Paul had done in Athens. “Let me help you by telling you all the ways you're wrong. I mean, I'm gonna do it with a smile on my face and only “out of love” but that isn't gonna help you feel any less small.” To be sure, there are times when we must be clear and quick in asserting that something is immediately wrong, but before we open our mouth we should double check that it is the holy spirit and not our own ego doing the speaking. Don't be that guy. No one wants to be that guy. Instead, let us be quick to listen and slow to speak.
Paul takes time to look around, pay attention to the neighborhood, catch the rhythm of life, learn what seems to be important, what are the values these Athenians hold dear. And then, there there might be an opportunity for connection. Paul doesn't begin by condemning or correcting, but by being an silent observer, listening, taking it all in. Then, when he sees that they have something in common, that they have a shared recognition that there is something MORE to the world, something bigger and beyond themselves, he engages this shared experience by telling his truth. Paul is coming along side their experience, honoring it, and offering a perspective that starts from a shared place. Then he builds on it.
As Lutherans, we celebrate that the gospel comes to us in our own language. Martin Luther fought for the idea that people shouldn't have to learn Latin in order to hear the good news, but the bible should be available in German, in the dialect of the local people, within reach of the average person. This is not only our Lutheran heritage, but our larger Christian story. Earlier in the book of Acts, as the church is born in the fiery excitement of Pentecost, each person gathered is able to hear the apostles speaking in their own language. At the closing worship of Synod Assembly yesterday, Bishop Mike read from Acts 2:8-11 "8And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? 9Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 10Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, 11Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.’" The gospel meets us where we're at. Not only in our spoken language, but in our cultural language. Paul speaks to what the Athenians are familiar with - the language of the unknown, of mystery, of poetry.
I wonder: why do you believe in God? Or why do you believe what you do about God? Perhaps because you just grew up going to church and it was never really a question for you. Perhaps your story is different than that. I'm willing to bet that each of you in this room is here because somewhere along the way, someone pointed to a moment in your life and said. There, that's God. Because you have experienced that moment when God emerges from among the unknown into something we know. Perhaps there has been a time when you've been racked with guilt, but you find the weight slipping off you shoulders into new found freedom...there, that's God. When bitterness toward that family member that betrayed you melts into forgiveness and freedom that you thought would never come...there, that's God. When you're cutting up fruit at the kitchen table and there's this array of color and sweetness, ah...that reminds me of the fruit of the spirit. I'm willing to bet that you have sensed your own story, your own everyday life pointing to something beyond itself. This community is one that will come alongside you to wade into the unknown seeking understanding, and perhaps to help make sense for yourself out of those divine moments.
As KINDRED, we have taken up the common cultural language of the table. The table is a language shared by those who are familiar with church and those are not, by those who crave collard greens and those are more comfortable with a stir fry, by those drive a luxury car and those who ride the bus. Around the table we are equal guests. The table gives us a shared space to say, I see how extremely devout you are to good food, how you delight in getting together around the table....let me tell you about a God who has set the finest banquet, who gathers with friends around a table that extends across all boundaries. Paul points to how our story is a part of God's story.
Not long ago I met someone out in the neighborhood and we were just chatting it up, making small talk and inevitable the question came up - what do you do? This is a precarious question for preacher because this could go in 1000 different directions. Especially as a women who is a Pastor, I get a lot of “oh, I've never met one of those” as if I were a leprechaun.
But this time I just said, “Well, I'm the Pastor of a Lutheran church.” “what's that?” I struggled with how to even begin to respond. Where do you start to tell your story alongside someone who doesn't share your language? You have to find something that you do share in common.
So, among KINDRED, the sermon is not a one-way monologue, but an invitation into further reflection and conversation. You are invited to reflect on these three things:
What is a perspective that you find difficult to understand?
What is one thing you share with people who hold that perspective?
If you found yourself in a conversation where you mentioned that you follow Christ and someone asked, who's that? How might you respond? Think about it this way: What's one thing you know about God's love?
It's ok if that love excites you so much that you can't shut up about it. It's also ok to say I don't know, or I'm not really sure yet, but I'm intrigued enough to try and find out. Or maybe your response is I don't really know and I don't want to know, but for some reason I keep finding myself in this room on Sunday evening. It's ok if your story is different than someone else's. I see how devout you are in wrestling with these questions of faith. The God who made the world and everything in it, who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, is not contained within one culture or language, does not reside in a single box outside of your reach. She is not far from each one of us. For "In God we live and move and have our being.” Even when we do not know it, can not see it, can not comprehend the mystery we find ourselves in....God remains as close as our very breath and dwells in your very heart. May we have the patience to listen for God's voice in our own story and in the stories of others and may we have the vision to point to God's presence among us and beyond us.