A gathering of seekers: intelligent conversation, insightful commentary, searching questions, honest answers, sound ideas, lively debate, real dialogue, all enjoyed over a mix of delectable dishes. Delights for the body and sustenance for the soul.
No, this is not your church potluck supper. It is the marketplace of Athens, about the year 50-55 CE AD.
In this Sunday's story from Acts, Luke shows us Paul standing in the middle of the marketplace, the Areopagus. Athens is no longer the center of power in the Mediterranean world-that's Rome. Athens is a city known not for its power, but its culture; a city of sun-washed beauty, wide streets and white marble columns and red tile roofs, a city of schools and theatres, forums of learning, where arts and ideas flourish.
But here, where all the good things under the sun are available for the asking, Paul discovers something is missing.
Maybe it's not enough, say the people of Athens, that we worship the sun over our heads and the ground beneath our feet, maybe it's not enough that we have an altar to the God of the harvest and the Goddess of the hunt and the God of the sea; maybe it's not enough that we can quote Epimenedes and Epicureus and Plato. Maybe we need something else, just to make sure. We want to hedge our bets, say the people of Athens. So we build an altar to an unknown God.
Paul discovers their altar.
We know this altar, this altar to an unknown God. In our day we have managed, almost, to name it all and explain it all, whether the categories be biological or psychological or chemical, or even theological. But we still don't quite know how to name God, or how to name ourselves in relationship with God, not to mention Jesus. Some of the old ways seem to have been hijacked: say Christian in our marketplace today and feel the cringe. Many of us feel the need to add a qualifier to our Christian name-we are emerging Christians or progressive Christians or convergence Christians.
So sometimes we settle for something a little vague. We settle for less.
We have lots of ways of settling for less in our culture that is all about acquiring more. We might decide to leave unanswered the almost forgotten longings of our youth, or the nagging questions of the moment. We might stop wrestling with hard ethical choices about how to be the followers of Jesus in our day-it's just so demanding! So we slide into personal devotion. Or we fear getting too political with complicated matters of justice, and so we settle for charity. We exercise religious rigor over our food choices rather than any spiritual practice. And we erect our altar to that unknown god, a polite little god who asks little of us.
Paul says this is not enough.
Paul says we must name the core of our faith. He makes the great Christian claim, the claim that is hardly urbane, not intellectual, not even rational: we can know God. We have even seen God, he says. Paul tells them about the creator God, the one who made the world, all the world, the Jews, the Greeks, the Romans, the slaves, the soldiers, even the women. And he says that the way of this God stands in contrast to the way of empire.
He does this with a play on the word for world. There are two different ways to say world in Greek: cosmos and oikoumene. The first word, cosmos, refers to the created order, that which was called good in the Genesis account of creation. But the second, oikoumene, is a far cry from the goodness of creation: the second is the creation of humans, empire.
Paul says that the God of all, is not unknown, but is present here and now. He says we have seen this in a human person, in the living and the dying and the living again of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ. Paul's claim is outrageous: it is the claim of Easter. God replaces despair with hope; God creates life beyond death. This is not just one more philosophy to debate. This is about a God we can name.
And this God is not restricted to a ritual or caged in a creed or limited to an institution, but can be seen alive in all the creation. This is the God, Paul preaches, in whom we live and move and have our being.
Reading Paul makes me think of Pope Francis. I think one of the reasons he has captured so many hearts and souls is because, like Paul, he names this God. He declares God to be a God who cares about real life, real people, living in this world, this time of empire. (No, Francis is not a feminist-not yet-like Paul and all of us, he is a product of his time and culture.)
Francis grabs our attention because he demands more of us, just as Paul did. And he asks us to demand more: more of ourselves, more of each other, more of the church, more of our politics.
Francis, with Paul, demands that we ask hard questions and make hard choices: where do we see Jesus in this world today, what does resurrection look like in our lives? how do we name God in the face of 21st century empire when the poor are disenfranchised more and more each day, when war is used as a first response instead of a last resort, when the creation itself is threatened by our lust for fossil fuels?
We might begin by not settling for less, but choosing instead to live large lives, turned toward the life that we see in the world around us: the schoolgirls of Nigeria, the refugees of Syria, the migrant workers in our cities, the melting ice sheets of our poles--all are beloved of God, and worthy of our active participation. We can choose to live large, bold lives that we name and claim as Easter lives.
Echoes from the Edge
By Alison Harrington, Beatitudes Fellow - May 20th, 2014
Beatitudes Fellow Alison Harrington and her congregation at the Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ are standing with a family facing deportation by providing Sanctuary in their church.
"A Mexican immigrant facing deportation took refuge Tuesday at the Tucson church where the 1980s sanctuary movement was born.
"My wife, my son and I are going to stay in a room at the church until something is decided because I'm not going to give up so easily," Neyoy Ruiz said in Spanish hours before moving in to the church on Tucson's south side.
This is the first time in more than 30 years that Southside Presbyterian has allowed a family to stay for sanctuary, church officials said."
Read more from Arizona Public Media
Alison is the pastor of Southside Presbyterian Church in Tucson, AZ. Originally founded as a mission to the Tohono O'odham in 1906, Southside is a multi-cultural congregation with a history of community involvement.
Finally, the Poet
By Mary Oliver - May 20th, 2014
| Have you ever seen |
| anything |
| in your life |
| more wonderful |
| than the way the sun, |
| every evening, |
| relaxed and easy, |
| floats toward the horizon |
| and into the clouds or the hills, |
| or the rumpled sea, |
| and is gone-- |
| and how it slides again |
| out of the blackness, |
| every morning, |
| on the other side of the world, |
| like a red flower |
| streaming upward on its heavenly oils, |
| say, on a morning in early summer, |
| at its perfect imperial distance-- |
| and have you ever felt for anything |
| such wild love-- |
| do you think there is anywhere, in any language, |
| a word billowing enough |
| for the pleasure |
| that fills you, |
| as the sun |
| reaches out, |
| as it warms you |
| as you stand there, |
| empty-handed-- |
| or have you too |
| turned from this world-- |
| or have you too |
| gone crazy |
| for power, |
| for things? |