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, 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. 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.’ 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. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 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.”
God in my life?
The parishioner showed up in my office with an assignment. She was a force, a quite successful lawyer, who wondered about her co-workers who were highly ethical and had no religious affiliation. She was deeply involved in the church. They were not. She was curious about that. So she decided to invite a dozen of these folks to dinner, an invitation with condition. The conversation over dinner would address this question: God in my life? She decided I would be there to help moderate the conversation. I thought it was brave of her to do this. I thought it was brave of me to go. Except that I’m not sure I had a choice.
The table was full, invitations with condition accepted. As I dined with this group of strangers from several faith traditions, mostly non-observant at the time, I was struck with the fact that everyone at the table had something to say. Everyone had a spiritual story. Discussion was lively and enlightening. The group continued to meet once a month for a number of years.
One of my mentors, Dwight Zscheile, writes about the call for followers of Jesus in today’s culture. His book, People of the Way, describes an authentic discipleship in the Episcopal Church these days. He writes that one of the marks of faithful disciples is that they see what God is already up to in the neighborhood. They are not bringing God to the neighborhood. God is already there. That’s a healthy corrective to ways that many religious folks have looked at mission and evangelism. We’re talking about a call to be a listener and a learner. It’s a call to a more humble stance.
It may not be your impression of the guy, but St. Paul knew all about this. As he moved from city to city, he first took the pulse of the place, as he does in one of the readings for this week in our journey through the book of Acts. In chapter 17, he goes to Athens, intellectual center of his day. He seeks a way to connect with the people there. (Find an excerpt of that story above.) He goes to the Areopagus, close to the Parthenon and notes the many statues to the many gods revered in that culture. He notes one in particular, a statue to the unknown God. It strikes me as a kind of blank check/CYA deity, erected just in case the Athenians forgot someone, not to make anyone mad. Paul sees that as opportunity to share what he has learned about the God revealed in Jesus. But it began by his attentiveness to what people already knew and experienced spiritually.
Our Service of Holy Baptism asks a couple pertinent and outrageous questions. It asks us to seek and serve Christ in all persons. It asks us to respect the dignity of every human being. Christ is already in each person, in some way. Every person has God-given dignity. It is the conviction that prompted my parishioner to invite co-workers to share stories of “God in my life.” It is the conviction I’ve come to after a few years in ministry, that everyone has a God-shaped space inside, that everyone is restless until that space is filled. If we can help each other in filling that space, whether we are inside the church or outside the church, it will probably begin with talking less and listening more, sensing the contours of that interior space, sensing where that space hurts, where it indicates brokenness, where that space might be filled.
Think about that dinner conversation. How would you respond to the question: “God in my life?” And then think about how you might listen to someone else this week. Pray for God’s Spirit to lead you to that person. Hear that person’s story. Pray for that person. Learn from that person. Discover something new about God from that person.
Good Book Club readings this week:
- MONDAY, May 7: Acts 17:1-9.
- TUESDAY, May 8: Acts 17:10-34
- WEDNESDAY, May 9: Acts 18:1-28.
- THURSDAY,May 10: Acts 19—20:16.
- FRIDAY, May 11: Acts 20:17-38.
- SATURDAY, May 12: Acts 21:1-26
- SUNDAY, May 13: Acts 21:27—22:29.
(Take the Easter season to read the Acts of the Apostles, bit by bit each day. We’ll link the assignments for each day each week.)
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
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