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Acts 17:16-21

Paul from VBS: It has been wonderful hosting your kids in ancient Athens this week, and I had a fine trip through time to meet you today. You know, time travel is the best part of my job. Here’s a picture from my trip to London a few years ago. British Humanist Association bus ad It’s an advertisement on the side of a bus that reads, “There’s probably no God; now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The idea is not all that new. Before my time in Greece, Epicurus thought like that. The Stoics of my day thought something a lot like that. Both schools of thought held that the gods existed but didn’t care. They’re basically nihilist philosophies, thoughts where it seemed that human life makes no difference.

That’s the kind of group I spoke to at the Areopagus, the gathering of public intellectuals in Athens. That group was very different from my previous audiences, synagogue groups mostly, where I could play on common Jewish law and our known religious requirements. By contrast, this audience had no real regard for religion; they considered themselves too sophisticated for all that. So I started there, with their intellectual superiority. I made fun of the pop idolatry of Athens, where there was an altar to everything. There’s even one to the Unknown God, a kind of mythological “Who Knows?” They all knew that was just silliness – of course God is not like anything visible. Then again, depending on whom you ask, God is as close as everything in the universe. What matters is that this crowd didn’t believe God did anything for us, because this world is not all about us.

Now, that’s all true enough, as far as it goes: life is wrapped in mystery, and it’s much greater than our plans; but I know something more than this philosophy of futility. My life has been changed by a love that is far beyond any of my ideas. You can read the complete transcript of my speech in Acts 17:22-31, but here’s the best part. That divine love took shape in a life, the life of Jesus of Nazareth. He was a teacher in my religion. He healed, fed, and taught the people, and his way of life challenged the ways of the world. He challenged some people so much that they killed him. But his movement continued, and so did the opposition. And I was part of that, a big part of it. But then God’s love came to me directly. Jesus spoke to me in a vision, then one of his followers, Ananias, put his hands on me and welcomed me into Jesus’ community of love. Then I knew it: God is at work in this life. Jesus is not dead anymore, and his life continues in this new family of people. This life suddenly means something!

Here’s what it means: God’s love comes to us in tangible form. I don’t mean it’s like Athens’ ancient statues, of course, but God is among us in human life. Now we’re that life, the living image of God in the world. I was part of that image, in Athens (and now on my way to Corinth), and you are too, here and now. And it’s not just me or you – thank God! – it’s all of us together, in this community gathered in love, sharing, caring, and seeking God together.

I’ll have to be on my way soon, but Christ’s life among us doesn’t depend on me. It’s God’s gift to us all, a gift through us to all people. So let’s share that love, now and forever, with thanks to God.