Searching For God

charlieEaster 6A: Searching For God

Acts 17:16-31

May 25,2014

 

Today’s reading from Acts certainly hits home with me!

It deals with questions like the meaning of life

and our search for God,

and our choosing of other gods.

 

The reason I’ve always like Charlie Brown, I think, is that he had the same sort of existential questions.

There’s a series of cartoons with Charlie Brown lying in bed and asking the hard questions of life:

 

  • “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘Where have I gone wrong?’ Then a voice says to me, ‘This is going to take more than one night.’”
  • “Sometimes I lie awake at night, and I ask, ‘is life a multiple choice test or is it a true or false test?’ Then a voice comes out of the dark, and says: ‘We hate to tell you this, but life is a thousand word essay.’”
  • “Sometimes I lie awake at night in bed and I ask, Is it all worth it?’ And then a voice says, ‘Who are you talking to?’ And another voice says, ‘You mean: to whom are you talking?’ And I say, ‘No wonder I lie awake at night.’”
  • “Sometimes I lie awake at night and I ask, ‘Why me?’ And the voice says, ‘Nothing personal your name just happened to come up.’”

 

Haven’t we all had nights like these?!

Let’s turn to our bibles again today

and hear how the Greeks and Paul have talked about these questions.

We’re in Acts chapter 17…

 

The text assigned for today beings at verse 22

but we’re going back to verse 16.

 

Paul has arrived in Athens….

and immediately he’s impressed…

or rather in verse 16 it says he’s deeply distressed.

 

He’s surrounded by statues of the Greek gods

in gold, silver and bronze.

 

When he’s confronted by these gods all around him,

when he sees how entrenched this belief is,

Paul has a challenge he hasn’t met before.

 

Up until now, when Paul has been speaking with Jews,

he has been able to draw on some common ground –

a common Scripture, and most importantly the belief that there is only one God.

 

Here in Athens, Greece, Paul doesn’t even have that in common with the people.

Paul needs to figure out how to connect the message of Jesus Christ – the revelation of the one God – with a people who worship myriads of gods.

 

His first effort is through debate…

We see in verse 17 he starts out by arguing with Jews in the synagogue;

and then in verse 18, he debates some Greek philosophers.

 

We have to understand the intellectual climate in Athens at that time.

People would gather in the public square

just to debate and argue over ideas…

 

There were of course many schools of Greek philosophy.

Verse 18 mentions the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers.

 

The Stoics who included people such as Cicero who died just 40 years before Jesus’ birth,

and Seneca – likely a contemporary of Paul,

were diametrically opposed to the Epicureans.

 

The Epicurean philosophy was to seek pleasure in life.

Think of phrases such as “Seize the day!” and “Eat, drink, and be merry!”

 

The Stoics believed that happiness came from containing oneself,

by controlling emotion, by facing life with calmness.

Think of the phrase, “Keep calm and carry on…”

 

Day after day,  philosophers would stand in the public square

and debate each other.

 

So it’s natural that when Paul arrives in Athens,

he’s seen as someone else with a new philosophy- a new way to think about the meaning of life to debate…that of Christianity.

 

In verse 19 we see that they are interested,

and they ask to hear more about this new philosophy he’s proclaiming –

and that ‘foreign deity’ Jesus.

 

Luke writes in verse 21,

“Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there

would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.”

 

They send Paul to the Aereopagus……

The Aereopagus is not really a place  but a group of people.

So we can think of him as standing before a leadership council.

 

And then Paul begins to speak…

He discovers that there is some common ground with the Greeks after all.

The search for God is something they have in common.

 

 

(You can put aside your Bibles for now.)

 

The setting is not so much different from our own.

He’s in a large city and people from around the ancient world travel there.

It’s a place of government, of religion, of the arts, of sport, of learning, and of commerce.

Paul looks around him…

and he says, “Athenians….”  or let’s maybe make an analogy to our own location…

 

He says, “Alexandrians…. Men, women, and children in Northern Virginia…

I see how extremely religious you are in every way.

For I went through your city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship.”

I see your churches on nearly every corner with their steeples.

I see your buildings and monuments.

I see your busy streets and subways and people hurrying past each other.

I see your shopping centers and sports teams.

 

Paul goes on, “I see your sincerity as you search for God.”

 

Paul recognizes that the when they debate,

when they accumulate their gold and silver idols,

when they argue over philosophy,

it’s for a deeper purpose –

it’s a search for God.

 

Paul goes on to speak to us Alexandrians…

 

When you wake up earlier than you have to on a holiday weekend,

get the kids dressed and fed and into the car,

ignore their grumbling,

and head to church not knowing for sure if you’ll even like the hymns or the sermon,

I see your sincerity in your search for God.

 

When you take on a new job,

and get stressed out about new responsibilities,

and frantically work so hard to move farther up the ladder in the company or the department,

I see your sincerity in your search for God.

When you worry incessantly about whether you are at the right school, or taking the right classes,

or on the right team,

I see you searching for God.

 

When you go to the mall and fill your cart with things that you know you don’t need,

but will make you feel good for a little while,

I see you searching for God.

 

“Well,” Paul says, “I’m here to say that God is here.”

God came down to you in Jesus.

 

Read with me from verse 24 what he says:

24The 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…

 

and now verse 26:

 

 26From 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, 27so 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.

 

God is not far from us.

We search and even grope for God – as we build our fancy buildings and move up the ladder…

But none of those things will fill the yearning within us.

 

When the chips are down, and we are faced by a great tragedy…

or are lying in bed like Charlie Brown, confronted once again with the meaning of life…

The job, the school, the house, the car…

try as we might, sincere as we are, none of those things will fill the hole within us.

 

But Paul says, we are not left by ourselves.

While we have been searching for an “unknown” God,

the God who created us, who knows us,  is already here.

 

Perhaps Charlie Brown said it well again.

He’s talking with Snoopy and he says,

“Are you upset little friend? Have you been lying awake worrying? Well, don’t worry…I’m here. The flood waters will recede, the famine will end, the sun will shine tomorrow, and I will always be here to take care of you.”

 

God is here.

We can stop looking.  Stop reaching. Stop trying so hard.

God is here.

 

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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