Praise for God’s Goodness to IsraelPsalms 66 (NRSV)
To the leader. A Song. A Psalm.
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name;
give to him glorious praise.
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
Because of your great power, your enemies cringe before you.
All the earth worships you;
they sing praises to you,
sing praises to your name.” Selah
Come and see what God has done:
he is awesome in his deeds among mortals.
He turned the sea into dry land;
they passed through the river on foot.
There we rejoiced in him,
who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
let the rebellious not exalt themselves. Selah
Bless our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept us among the living,
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid burdens on our backs;
you let people ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.
I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
I will pay you my vows,
those that my lips uttered
and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt offerings of fatlings,
with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats. Selah
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for me.
I cried aloud to him,
and he was extolled with my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has given heed to the words of my prayer.
Blessed be God,
because he has not rejected my prayer
or removed his steadfast love from me.
Then 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,Acts 17:22-31 (NRSV)
‘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.”
Friends, today we are going to talk a little bit about history and a little bit about context because sometimes, to really understand our faith, we need to dig a little bit deeper. So, are you ready? Let’s go!!
Up to this point, in the book of Acts, the apostle Paul has continued Jesus’ work. He has continued to bring the good news to all: to men and women, to the rich and the poor, to the Jews and the Gentiles, and to the slaves and the free, because Paul knows that we are all children of God. But now, now he stands here at the Areopagus, in the shadow of the Acropolis, the place where the scholars and philosophers shared their wisdom.
The Areopagus, or “Mars Hill” as it is sometimes known, was actually a giant piece of rock near the Acropolis, and it was used as a place for legal debates and judgments. So, because of his surroundings, Paul turns his attention from the everyday common person to the scholars–the people that followed their heads and not so much their hearts, people that often chose facts over faith.
First, he commented on all that he had seen in Athens, saying, “O people of Athens, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” You see, he starts out by complimenting them, but then he quickly goes into “preacher and teacher” mode. He admires their idols and the places that they cherish as sacred. He then points out an altar that is inscribed, “To an unknown god.” “Let me tell you about this unknown deity you worship,” he says. “This unknown god does not exclude, but he loves and welcomes all. Let me tell you about the God who gives life, the God who does not live in shrines, the God who made the world and everything in it.”`
Then, as we heard in our scripture reading today, Paul goes on to say, “For, ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,’ We too are his offspring.’” Can you imagine? Paul even quotes some of their philosophers! You see, Paul was trying hard to build bridges and to help the Athenians to understand and embrace the love of God and the good news of Jesus.
But one thing that you may not realize is that Paul was really stepping out here. He was saying things that could have had him put to death. After all, five hundred years prior to Paul’s visit, Socrates–a famous Athenian philosopher–was put to death for “corrupting youth” and failing to acknowledge the Athenian gods, because instead, Socrates told the youth about other gods. Socrates was brought to trial at this very same place, the place where Paul stood. So Paul faced the same possible charge, but Paul was not afraid, and he proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ anyway.
When Paul arrived in the city of Athens, he found that people were worshiping idols instead of worshiping God, and he knew that he needed to teach them a new way. Paul went to the Temple, he went to the “agora,” which was a place in the city where people liked to meet, and he began teaching and preaching about God and Jesus. He explained that the idols they were worshiping were made by people. But that didn’t make sense, because people can’t make God. It is the other way around. God makes people! Paul then told them that they should stop worshiping idols, that God is more important than any person or thing in the world, so they should only worship God. Okay, Friends, I think we’ve seen enough of Greece for now, let’s head back home.
Folks, the truth is, God, to us as Christians, is something bigger than we can ever imagine. We try to describe God with our own human words and phrases, but our descriptions can’t come close to who and what God is. And then, to think that God came and dwelt among us, in Jesus, how can we do anything else than offer our thanks and praise?
Now today, we would never think of worshiping idols. We know better, right? Well, this is yet another reason why having a little time away from our beloved church building just might be a good thing for us. Sometimes we forget that God doesn’t live in our Oldtown sanctuary and wait for us to come and visit each Sunday. We forget that, though our Oldtown sanctuary is a sacred space, so is a walk in the woods, or a day spent at the beach, or time spent digging with your hands in a garden.
As Paul said in today’s scripture reading, “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 mortal’s life and breath and all things.”
So, Brothers and sisters in Christ, remember that we are called to worship not just on Sunday in church or as we watch our at-home worship videos, but we are constantly called to open our eyes and to experience the Living God in our midst.
As today’s reading from the book of Psalms began, “Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious. Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds! So great is your power that your enemies cringe before you. All the earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you; they sing the praises of your name.”
So friends, may we worship God not only on Sundays or in shrines but in all that we say and do, always striving to build bridges as we share the good news of Jesus and the love of God with the world.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen.