Can you Relate?
Sometimes you know you’re out of your league, so you keep your mouth shut. Sometimes.
Seems that I can use that word a lot these days…sometimes. In 2015, I went to Harvard Law School for a week of mediation training - dispute resolution and negotiating. There were about 45 of us in the class, (yes, taught by Harvard law professors), and probably 40 of us were attorneys. I met people from all over the world--hostage negotiators from Europe, the leader of the Free Hong Kong movement, a U.N. worker and attorneys from down under. The first two days, I dressed the part - black, navy, white and serious - and listened a lot. By Day 3, game over - wore my pink dress, contributed a lot more in discussion and even talked about Jesus at dinner to the hostage guys from Holland and Belgium. True.
Maybe in June of 2015 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at a gathering at the Harvard Faculty Club, I found out I’m a little like Paul. Sometimes.
Remember that we just read Paul had to get out of Dodge again (Berea), so he went ahead of his ministry partners to Athens, a population of about 10,000 and the leading city of Ancient Greece. For hundreds of years, the Athenians had been known for their intellectual philosophizing. . . think Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Paul was deeply disturbed by what he saw in the city. Everywhere he looked, there were idols--evidence that the people were hungry for God, spiritually empty.
Paul reasoned in the synagogue first, then went to the marketplace and finally, he was brought to the Aeropagus, where the ruling council sat, wanting to know Paul’s strange new thinking and teaching. Paul was undaunted by their erudite speech, (think pink dress), and jumped into the deep end of the pool.
I love this message of Paul’s--frankly, it is brilliant! We can learn a tremendous amount from how and what he spoke that day, recorded in the last half of Acts chapter 17. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Acts+17.16-34&version=NLT
As we once traveled to Jerusalem together, someday we will also travel in the footsteps of Paul and see the Acropolis, the Parthenon and Mars Hill, along with the Areopagus where Paul preached.
We will look at the first part of his message today and note how Paul identifieswith the Athenians’ desire for spiritual meaning. Right out of the gate, he builds a bridge.
“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about. [This is our purpose and delight--to tell people we know the God for which they are searching! Paul uses their own inscription to introduce Jesus to them--‘to the Unknown God.]
“He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. [Your attention, Friend-- we are living in a time where people are just as lost as the Athenians Paul was addressing! People are not just looking for hope, they are also looking for meaning, identity, purpose and fulfillment, and doing so in all the wrong places. Stop and consider if that is not true. I spent most of my life in the San Francisco Bay Area and the last 21 years in Southern California--both meccas of hedonism. “If I have” or “if I get” or “if, this…then I will be satisfied.]
“His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone. [In Him we live and move and have our being. (NIV). Yes and yes! Paul uses a line from Greek poetry to make his point that it is in Almighty God alone, not any of the 30,000 pagan gods they worshipped, that we find ourselves and true life.] Acts 17.22b-29
Oh you gotta love Paul. Moved by the spiritual darkness of the people of Athens, he leads with his heart, guided by his mind, and an observation of their desire for the religious . . . now that they can relate, he succinctly tells the Athenians what God had revealed to Jeremiah: "You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29.13. You see, God wants to be found by us. Not sometimes... all the time.
Life only makes sense in God.
You rocked at the Areopagus, Paul,
all because you found a way to relate.
Thanks... thanks a lot. I wanna learn from you.
RELATE - song by For King & Country, check out the lyrics!