The Known God

You can listen to the sermon right here:

There is a game I love to play with large groups called “Known/Unknown.” The instructions are this: choose one person, silently, as your “known.”  Choose a 2ndperson, a different person, again silently, as your “unknown.” Now, when I count to 3, you’re going to try to get close enough to your known so you can put your hand on their shoulder. And at the same time, stay as far away as possible from your unknown. The activity looks vastly different each time. It’s great when 2 people have chosen each other for the opposite role and the running that then happens.

Today, Paul has encountered the altar to the unknown god in Athens. It would have been in and amongst all the other altars to all the other gods. So the altar to the unknown god is the one that covers all the bases, just in case they missed one. Other altars were probably to Apollo, the god of archery, music, poetry, and the god of the sun. Or Aphrodite, the god of beauty and love. Or Nike the goddess of victory. They sound familiar to us, don’t they? They join our current gods of the god of time, the god of sports, the god of money, the god of business, the god of fear. We have those gods in our life, don’t we. These gods that have us running at break neck speed to get to them while running from – well, what? The fear of nothing to do? Of not being productive? Fear of silence? Bankruptcy? Fear that we will have time to notice our relationship to our spouse to our friends to our family is suffering?  Just think of the things we’d rather keep at a great distance than face.

Now these small-g gods don’t seem like small g gods to us, right? They seem to hold a lot of power. If we don’t get to practice, we don’t play. If we don’t make more money, we lose the house. If we don’t fill up our calendar, then what will we do?

The character of small g gods are that they demand something from you. They need you to need them. They need you to serve them. They won’t give you what you want unless you earn it and, well, even then, there are no guarantees.

And Paul is driven mad by these altars to these gods who demand loyalty and service. He can see that the people know part of the story but not the whole thing. He wants to tell them about the capital G God. The God who serves them. A God whose character is defined by what God gives instead of what God demands and takes.

Paul has earned a reputation in town as being a babbler. We called him an airhead in today’s Message translation and in the NRSV Bible, it’s babbler which essentially means they think he’s a gossip and a chatterer. They are not impressed by his views on the resurrection.  Yet, they give him a hearing.

Essentially, the Aereopogaus is the center for 24 hour news. This is where all the philosophers gather to share new ideas, new thoughts, and so they gladly listen to Paul. Could it be something they could adopt, something they could chew on and live by? So Paul even quotes one of their philosopher poets back to them. He uses their language. Instead of yelling at them or insulting their gods, he says this:

It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously. When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, to the god nobody knows. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with.

Paul brings the Good News into this place where they only seem to know part of the truth. He’s there to talk to them about this God of creation – the God that created them. He tells them about the God who is not contained in shrines or altars and who does not hide from them. Paul says, Starting from scratch, he made the entire human race and made the earth hospitable, with plenty of time and space for living so we could seek after God, and not just grope around in the dark but actually find him. He doesn’t play hide-and-seek with us. He’s not remote; he’s near. We live and move in him, can’t get away from him! One of your poets said it well: ‘We’re the God-created.’

With plenty of time and space.  Wow. Do you believe that? Can you live into that right now? It’s such Good News, isn’t it? This time, this space.

You see, Paul didn’t tell them, “I’m here to bring God to you!” Paul knew God was already there and at work in that people and place. He’s affirming them as Children of God already and then, using what they know, telling them how this God is different from the gods they run after.

It’s why we gather here, folks. With plenty of time and space. To breathe in and out this story. To spend time with each other, with our kids, soaking in this reality of the God who loves us, who seeks us out, who is not going to demand loyalty.

Because soon, we leave this gathering and we go out into a world where we bump into altars that demand all kinds of conditional things from us. Soon enough, we’ll be beyond this time and space, chasing after the things that leave us breathless and wanting. We forget. We get separated from this story. Yet we cannot get away from God. God does not leave us at the door but is always ahead of us, is always with us in our daily lives, is always reminding you there is plenty of time and space.

And now you can tell others – you can show this known God, in the language of school, in the world of education, at the hospital or Harmony River, in the office, in a client’s home, out in the field or the work shed, at the grocery store and in the hospital room – using the language of that time and space – to name the work of the God who is known, the God who is love, the God who raises Jesus Christ who is the one who knows us, claims us, loves us.