“The God Nobody Knows” May 14, 2023
“The God Nobody Knows:
Psalm 66:8-20/ 1 Peter 3:13-22
Acts 17:22-31/ John 14:15-21
So, let’s talk about the Apostle Paul today. You might recall the story of Stephen that we read last week from the 7th chapter of the book of Acts. Stephan Gave the Jewish authorities a tongue lashing They weren’t soon to forget, And he was dragged out of town and stoned to death. As a bit of a sidebar in the story, Luke mentioned a young man by the name of Saul Who was kind enough to hold the rock chucker’s coats while Stephan was stoned to death on the charge of blasphemy, no less. Wouldn’t you know it, but this same young man went on to pursue a glorious career seeking out Those who insisted upon claiming Jesus Christ as the Messiah to have them arrested and hauled off to be dealt with by the Roman occupiers. The punishment, more often than not, was death.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that Saul was very good at what he did. He was intelligent, seemed to possess endless amounts of energy, and once he set his mind to it, Saul was unstoppable. In other words, he was the perfect candidate to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. If you’ll remember, the conversion of Saul was dramatic, which was only fitting when you consider the over the top intensity of this man. But once he came to understand and to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah, he carried the message of salvation through Christ with the same fervor that he had exercised against those early Christians of the time.
And in true fashion that there be no misunderstandings that the once persecutor of the followers of Christ was now his main advocate, Saul became known as Paul.
Now, from what we know, Paul wasn’t much to look at. His preaching style was not grandiose or eloquent; but Paul preached with a passion and conviction that was unmistakable. People responded to this passion and by the same token, it landed Paul In a lot of trouble.
In today’s reading from the 17th chapter of the book of Acts, we find Paul In the city of Athens which was the spiritual an intellectual center of Greece. This was a gutsy move. Athens was the home of all the great philosophers of the day. It was also a center for the Greek’s fascination with multiple gods. The running joke of the time was that there were more gods in Athens than there were people, and Paul got a taste of this by the number of shrines scattered throughout the city. Why, it seemed like you couldn’t even open up a hot dog stand without making it a shrine to some God or the other. With that being said, you have to wonder why it was that Paul chose to preach the message of a resurrected Christ to such a Pagan stronghold From an article by Chris Forbes , we read: “After preaching in Thessalonica and Berea. Paul saw Gospel response in these cities, and because of that, he was persecuted by the Jewish leaders who didn’t want him to preach that Jesus is the Messiah. The pressure mounted so much on Paul that he could not continue in these places. So he went ahead of his traveling companions to Athens. He sent for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as they could.”
So, according to Mr. Forbes, we might assume that Paul wound up in Athens because other cities with a larger Jewish population Turned him away.
They couldn’t admit or acknowledge This Jesus of Nazareth could be the Messiah For which they had been waiting for centuries. Athens might prove to be more receptive to Paul’s message; mostly, I suppose, since they didn’t have any preconceived notions of what this Messiah thing is all about.
This seems like a plausible enough explanation, but I just don’t know. For those who have dabbled in Greek mythology, you’ll have to admit that if nothing else, it is entertaining . There were basically 12 gods who were responsible for the nation of Greece, and I have to wonder that if they ever found a way to get along, Greece would be in much better shape today. But they didn’t. Their stories were filled with power struggles, jealousies, petty squabbling, and manipulation. The stories of the Greek gods read like a bad soap opera, and the people of Greece loved it .
Add to that the presence of a variety of philosophers and theologians who had gained the respect and admiration of the people , and it seems apparent that Paul didn’t have much of a shot . But if we ever want a good example of how to talk about our faith to someone who doesn’t want to hear it, Paul gives us a great sampling here today.
so it was, that Paul found himself at the base of Areopagus, which was a natural rock outcropping just outside of Athens used as a meeting place for religious services, community get togethers, and for local governmental meetings. My guess is that the stone structure acted like a natural amphitheater, Enabling the speaker to be heard all the way back to the cheap seats.
Have you ever tried to explain something to a person and you can tell by the look on their face that they just don’t get it?
I have a feeling that might be what Paul was experiencing that day. How he dealt with it, however, puts a whole new wrinkle on the word evangelism. So once again, Acts 17, starting at verse 22. “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.” 24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth;”
Paul then goes on to explain how it is that this God wants for us to seek him out And that he is not very far. At this point, Paul shows us a flash of brilliance when he quotes the famous Greek philosopher Epimenides : 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being,’ followed by another quote by the Cilician stoic philosopher, Aratus. Giving credit where credit is due he told them: As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ ” It’s clear to see that Paul had done his homework.
After all, he was making a case that the God of Abraham was, in fact,
the same unknown God- the same God That No One Knows that the Greeks had been worshipping all along. If you feel that’s a bit of a stretch, I’d have to agree with you, but Paul pulled it off , and the fact that almost the entirety of what we know of as the New Testament is written in Greek perhaps bears testimony to this.
So, thank you for sticking with me through this brief conversation on the apostle Paul. Even though I have had my issues with the guy, We have to give him credit: When it comes to being an ambassador for Christ, Paul was the real deal.
But before I close, There is one more thought that popped up from today’s Lectionary readings that I’d like to bring up, and I’ll warn you up front That I’d like to ask all of you to do a little homework of your own on this one.
You see, in our reading from the gospel of John today, Jesus makes some promises to his disciples, And I’ll paraphrase a bit here: “I will not leave you orphans,” he said. If you love me and keep my commandments I will ask that you are sent another companion and this is the spirit, the spirit of truth .
“I will send you another companion, an advocate, a helper. ” And with the celebration of Pentecost coming up, we’re going to be talking about this quite a bit. So my question for you is: what might be your understanding of God’s gift that we know of as the Holy Spirit?
Is this a power that you are able to call upon or is the spirit of truth something gifted to the disciples and the prophets and the Saints and we are just…. Well, we are just on our own?
It’s a tough question I know , we are Methodists, after all. We don’t sing or pray with our arms up in the air But that doesn’t mean that the power of the Spirit Is absent In our lives, in our time together, and in our prayers.
When we teach about the Trinity, the simple explanation goes something like, “God is all one in three persons: the father, the son, and the Holy Spirit.” What I’m asking is, could the Holy Spirit be The unknown God, the God that no one knows? Is this companion, this advocate, just something we sing about from time to time, or is it a real force in our lives, no matter how small? I most certainly do not have all the answers here. All I can say is with all I have been through in the last year, it has been the Spirit of God that has pulled me through some pretty rough stuff. I’d like to give credit to my strong will and fortitude, but that’s baloney. So I’m asking you to think about it: could the spirit of God be the God that no one knows? I certainly hope not.
To close, I would like to share with you an old prayer, almost an ancient prayer, used in churches around the world and in the Emmaus community. The prayer to the Holy Spirit-
Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in us the fire of Your love. Send forth Your Spirit and we shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.
O, God, Who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy Your consolations.
Through Christ our Lord.
Amen and Shalom