Acts 17:22-31 Then Paul stood up before the council of the Areopagus and delivered this address: "Citizens of Athens, I note that in every respect you are scrupulously religious. As I walked about looking at your shrines, I even discovered an altar inscribed, "To an Unknown God.' Now, what you are worshiping in ignorance I intend to make known to you. For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesn't live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isn't served by humans, as if in need of anything. No! God is the One who gives everyone life, breath- everything. From one person God created all of humankind to inhabit the entire earth, and set the time for each nation to exist and the exact place where each nation should dwell. God did this so that human beings would seek, reach out for, and perhaps find the One who is not really far from any of us- the One in whom we live and move and have our being. As one of your poets has put it, 'We too are God's children.' If we are in fact children of God, then it's inexcusable to think that the Divine Nature is like an image of gold, silver, or stone- an image formed by the art and thought of mortals. God, who overlooked such ignorance in the past, now commands all people everywhere to reform their lives."
Life is so busy, isn't it? Like those in the bustling first century city of Athens- our lives are full with discussions, debates, decisions, dreams, details and deadlines. So many things need our attention. So many things demand our time, our energy, or our money. So many things to nurture, to build, to maintain. We've worked hard, we've saved diligently, we scrap to get where we are and scrape to stay there. We've managed ourselves and our families in the best ways we we know; we've committed ourselves religiously to our jobs, or hobbies, our education, our politics. We intellectualize and scrutinize- we form opinions and label and prioritize accordingly.
The things in our lives and where we place our passion, for good or for bad, we have chosen carefully and on purpose. They are what we have placed our faith in to give us the best life we can have. Each of us can take a walk through the temple of our lives and see all of the things that are most important to us placed delicately on shelves and stacked in neat piles. They are the things which need service- they demand regular attention or they slip through our fingers and we find our-self without those things. And, for good or for bad, they have become shrines to which we pay homage- sometimes daily.
The Apostle Paul had seen the shrines of Athens. He walked through the temples and observed the people's diligence in keeping their society not only rich, but smart, and first in intellectual thought. In fact the reason the Athenians approached Paul in the first place, was because he was known for his new ideas; his new teachings- his knowledge. The Athenians wanted to hear all about this new teaching of Jesus being raised from the dead- the Messiah- the anointed one- they wanted to hear it, and then debate it; declare it sound or ludicrous- then defend it or denounce it. It's how we process all new ideas- new teachings- new... period. If we believe it, it sticks around and becomes truth- and it can stand among the other shrines in the temple of our lives and we attend to it; or, if choose not to believe it, we toss it out with tomorrow's trash- no loss. For good or for bad, we dictate what is worthy of our service.
And Paul affirms this in the Athenians- "I've observed that in every respect you are scrupulously religious." You've got it going on- you have your life in order- and you pay attention (religiously) and take care of the things important to you! "But I noticed something else among the shrines" says Paul- "You've got an altar to an Unknown God." And then Paul does what any good preacher does- he takes something from people's everyday life and helps them see God in it. And so he begins to explain to the people the unknown God IS God, and is already among them, they pass God every day as they are busy though they may not recognize or even know what to call this God- and it is this God through which they live and move and have their being.
Sometimes God needs to be pointed out to us. Even though we know this God is among our shrines, even though in many cases God is placed first among our shrines, God sometimes remains a mystery. And we could spend time beating ourselves up for not paying enough attention to God, and missing opportunities to attend to the altar and pray or do acts of service for God or pray enough, love enough, give enough... that's an easy sermon- one that each of us could preach better to ourselves than any sermon I could give.
But Paul says something really profound- For the God who made the world and all that is in it, the Sovereign of heaven and earth, doesn't live in sanctuaries made by human hands, and isn't served by humans, as if in need of anything. So while we may be inclined to think of God when and where we envision God, and pay homage to God through intentional human means- praying piously and helping people and doing things, (to which we imagine God in response saying, 'thank you faithful servant,' the Unknown God doesn't sit and wait to be attended to. God does not NEED us to serve... this is the creator of all things! God made the world and everything in it, including humans- and is not dependent on us for anything, and not disappointed in us for not doing enough.
What God does want is for us to trust, and believe, and accept that we are loved- to acknowledge that we are God's children- that we are Spirit- and to respond to the Spirit of God in our midst, prodding us to something more than we have envisioned for ourselves. In other words, God is present with us, regardless of whether we build God a shrine or don't acknowledge God at all... God is never far from us... God NEVER leaves us.
In our individual lives, this truth is something each of us needs to write down, fold up and put in our back pocket to take home with us. But for us as a church, it's something that we need to talk about a lot more. Because we have, as a church, set up shrines all over the place to which we give attention and pay homage. And let me say right out of the gate, none of the shrines we have set up, or attend to are bad- and I want to make sure that you are hearing me say that. The history and mission of our church is rich and full and active- and the things we have attended to thus far have helped many many people, and helped our church to grow spiritually.
Today at the luncheon and chat, we will be walking through the 'temple' that is our church, and noticing what shrines are on the shelves, stacked in neat piles that we have chosen to attend to as a community. We'll be taking them down, in some case, dusting them off so we can get a better look, and talk about what each one needs to stay viable. And when we've done that, we are going to look to the altar in the corner, to the Unknown God- and then ask of ourselves, how do we see the Spirit of God moving and living and being in our church? How can we respond to the Spirit of God in our midst, prodding us to something more than we have envisioned for ourselves.
And make no mistake, God is moving. And God is prodding. And God has plans and hopes and desires for us as a church- to become more than we envision. And God has put the seeds of this master plan in to each one of us. When you think about our church, and you start thinking "I wish our church...(fill in the blank) that is a seed. When you pray about our church, and your spirit feels led to pray about something specific, that is a seed. When you leave here with a sense of spiritual joy and hope, 'that was amazing,' that is a seed. When you feel uncomfortable, or uneasy with something- that is a seed.
But here's the thing- until we are honest enough to share our hopes and dreams and likes and wants and leading with each other, we can not move forward to where God is prodding us to go. And one more thing- your church leadership, amazing as they may be, can not speak for everyone- we are a people of God- each one of us holds a part of this church in our heart and in our spirit- and it doesn't matter if you[ve been here your whole life or half an hour- God has placed you here today for a reason- to be part of FBCMoorestown. Your voice matters- come and lets look at the Unknown God-