The summer before I entered ninth grade I went to a youth group meeting at a friend’s church. During that meeting, they all seemed to be very concerned about whether or not I knew Jesus. I thought I did. I thought I was a Christian, at least I did until they started talking about their experiences. The leaders and some of the older members shared their conversion stories and wanted to know if I believed that Jesus is “Lord and Savior” and if I had a “personal relationship” with him. This was all new to me. I didn’t know what to think or say. No one at the church I attended seemed concerned with my salvation. I was baffled by these strangers who were very worried about my soul. They told me I was not a Christian and that they would pray for my salvation.
Even though I never went back to that youth group, I thought about all the things they talked about and wondered about their concerns for years. I didn’t have any profound conversion experience. My journey was more of a slow awakening to the mysteries of the Spirit at work in my life and in the world. I wasn’t sure if Jesus was my Lord and Savior but I liked the idea. And I had no concept of what a personal relationship with Jesus would look like. I mean, I prayed often enough, but it’s not like Jesus and I sat down and had a conversation. That youth group meeting left me with a lot of questions. It took me years to sort out the answers.
While my theology and understanding of who God is turned out to be very different from the church whose youth group I attended long ago, I am grateful for the questions raised that day. I started to pay more attention to the stories of Jesus, what he did and who he was. I listened more carefully to what it was Christians were supposed to do and be in the world. I didn’t want to be just religious, just going to church and youth group, I wanted more. I’m not sure how long it would have taken me to search for the “more” if I hadn’t attended that youth group meeting.
I wonder how long the Athenians would have gone on being religious without knowing God if Paul hadn’t spoken in the Areopagus that day. I wonder how long any of us will go on not knowing this God we worship. How long will we continue to be like those ancient citizens of Athens, religious in so many ways, yet somehow not knowing the God who gives us life, breath, and being?
Every time I read this passage, something in me yawns, stretches, and awakens. It’s a yearning for something more than religion, ritual and practice, something more than what I already know and believe. It’s the same thing that awoke in me during that youth group meeting the summer I was 14. It’s the same thing that pushes me to be more than I am now, to reach for all that is holy and draw it closer. I imagine the Athenians who listened to Paul that day felt something stir within them, also. What if we all let this awakening yearning for God guide us in new ways that reveal something about this God whom we think we know? What if we followed this restless desire into whole new ways of living, moving, and having our being?
Paul was undoubtedly a brilliant preacher. The echoes of his words have the power awaken sleeping souls generations later. Who does not want to know this God who claims us as offspring and desires only that we love in return? With all the chaos, violence, and hatred in the world, the truth of Paul’s words is just sharp and convicting as they were in Athens. Whenever we remain silent in the face of all the isms and phobias that drive hatred and violence in our society, we show how empty our religious ways are. We seem to think that God is something that is shaped by the “art and imagination of mortals” more often than we realize that God is so much more than we can possibly imagine.
I’m still not one to talk about my faith in terms a personal relationship with Christ or to claim that Jesus is my Lord and Savior. However, I do feel the Spirit moving, calling us and urging us to live into the abundance God offers. I also know that if there is hope for the world, repentance is needed. Once we repent of all the ways we’ve made God in our image and participated in the ugliness of the world, then, together, we reach for the Truth and embody the Love and Justice that will save and transform the world. After all, are we not the Body of Christ? If we are not Christ with and for one another, who will be? Our religious ways should in no way promote fear, ignorance, and hatred. If our religious practices and beliefs are divinely inspired, then they will bring life and love into the world. Otherwise, it’s time to leave them behind and embrace that in which “we live and move and have our being.”
RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Easter – May 21, 2017
1 Peter 3:13-22