(Part two of a talk from May 21, 2017. Part one.)
Paul heard people turning to gods that argued, slept around, and often ignored people. Philosophers who argued that the best answer was to ignore the gods and pursue personal pleasure. Others who argued that the best answer was self-reliance.
Paul saw people seeking meaning and protection in beings and ways of thinking that he was sure were not true. His own experience seeing Jesus, and his recent experiences watching people find hope in God rather than the gods told him that these people in Athens could find confidence in God, too.
So even when he was alone in Athens, thinking about his own ministry work, his heart was captured by the hearts of people. He started to have conversations with people.
When Paul spoke, he wasn’t offering rules, though we often act as if he was. He was offering an explanation about meaning and ideas and hopes and fears that centered around Jesus.
Eventually, he was invited to speak in a public forum, a place where ideas were shared and approved for sharing.
He started with an altar he had seen that was to the “miscellaneous god.” The god that might have been forgotten. The one that was too minor to have been named but who might matter somehow.
Paul says, “I’d like to tell you about that God. He’s more important than you might have thought, more powerful than has been passed down in your mythologies.”
And Paul explains that this God created everything, undergirds everything, and yet is available to everyone. All powerful and incredibly personal. As Paul says, God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
When Paul talked about God caring so much that he raised Jesus from the dead, the crowd stopped his presentation. “That’s too outlandish,” most people said. Because the idea of a god dying and being raised, not as a metaphor, not as a mythology, but as something true was…and is… pretty spectacular. And pretty divisive.
But it goes to the core of what we struggle with. Being left alone.
Jesus addressed that very thing when talking with his closest followers the night before he was murdered.
Keep my commands, he said. Which included loving one another. And then he said, “I’m not leaving you alone I’m asking my dad and he’ll send you the spirit of truth.”
We call him the Holy Spirit. He’s been called the Holy Ghost, too. And the comforter, and the counselor. But as Jesus was talking with the disciples, he was the place-holder, the promise-sustainer.
In the short–term, the next day or two, the disciples were going to be left alone. Jesus was being killed and no one would be with them. Then, after the resurrection, Jesus was with them. Until ascension day.
On that day, Jesus departed. Then ten days later, the Spirit arrived, as promised to be with them, and us, forever. Later in John, Jesus described the Spirit’s work. To teach us and remind us of everything Jesus said. To provide comfort. To represent God.
To keep us from being alone and to tell us that we are not forgotten.