Text: Acts 17:22-31
We’re here this morning in one of those in-between times. It is true that this is Memorial Day weekend when we honor the generosity of those who have been killed in our wars, and honor them we should regardless of how we feel about war itself. But we’re also in that time between college and high school graduations. It doesn’t feel like spring every day but it’s not officially summer yet. We’re between the safe return of our Cuba pilgrims several days ago and the departure of our Republic of Georgia pilgrims, who will leave at the end of this week. Liturgically, we’re between Easter’s resurrection of Jesus and Pentecost, the birthday of the church. In many respects, we’re in a liminal space, that is, a transitional period, an in-between place. So what I want to focus on this morning is the post-Easter time in which we find ourselves – “post” as in we’re a little more than a month after Easter 2014 and we’re 2000+ years after the resurrection event we marked with our alleluias on April 20 of this year.
In our text for this morning, Paul is speaking to the Greeks from Mars Hill in Athens, challenging their worship of multiple gods. When Paul had arrived in the city of Athens, which was then a great university town, he was stunned by the number of idols to various gods he saw scattered across the landscape. So Luke, the writer of Acts, sets up an intellectual debate between Paul and Athenian philosophers who are intelligent, educated, and accustomed to intellectual sparring over important matters. Paul concludes his famous speech by employing the resurrection as proof of God’s creative, all-encompassing presence, using that wonderful phrase: “In God, we live and move and have our being.” God has given assurance of this to all – not just to the Jews, says Paul, but to everyone – by raising Jesus from the dead. For Paul and his followers, who became the early church after Pentecost, Jesus was without a doubt alive.
Initially the Athenian philosophers think Paul’s argument for both the Creator and its emissary Jesus is weak and that he’s arguing in favor of a “foreign god.” In the end, not many are convinced by Paul’s strange new teaching. Most don’t buy the idea that this Creator God is both transcendent and personal – fully engaged with and responsible for the creation. They also have serious doubts that the gateway to this Creator is Jesus, the one who was raised from the dead. In fact, Paul’s listeners’ reaction is not unlike that of many intelligent, highly educated people today – people like us – when it comes to the resurrection of Jesus.