This sermon was written for Kerr Presbyterian Church May 17, 2020.
A heard a story this week about a women in the northern part of Pennsylvania who did something many of us from Kerr would do. She saw a kitten outside all alone and brought it inside. She gave it food and then took it to the animal shelter the next day to get it checked and spayed or neutered. When the vet saw the cat, her eyes got very wide and she suggested they put the cat back out where it had been found, immediately.
To the woman’s surprise, she had accidentally rescued a baby bobcat.
Things are not always as they seem.
Today in our Scripture we return to the Book of Acts to find Paul on one of his missionary journeys where things are not as they may seem.
Paul has found himself in Athens, Greece, at the height of art, culture, religion, and philosophy during the Roman Empire. Four hundred years before, this had been the birth place of Plato and still it is the arguably the gathering home for the greatest minds in the world.
In an age before TV, people regularly gather in the square to debate ideas—it’s sort of like our modern day expert interviews or Ted Talks—people come from all over, all hours of the day to be interviewed by one another in front of a crowd.
And Paul comes on to the scene. Paul was trained in the school of the Pharisees and as we know both from his own account in Philippians 3 and from the large body of excellent scholarly work he left, Paul, too, is arguably one of the greatest minds of his day.
He spends some time in Athens just taking it all in. Listening to the speakers. Seeing the sights. Getting to know the culture. And then Paul begins to speak.
As it says in Acts 17: “Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” (Acts 17:22-23).
What an odd thing to say! These are the greatest minds in the world. And Paul is standing in a religious center. He is standing in a place of knowledge and excellence. He is at the epicenter of thought. And what does he say? He says that things are not as they seem. What is their true brilliance? What is their true wisdom?
It can be summed in a simple statement. Ones who dedicate their lives to knowing all things have created a shrine—a shrine to an unknown god. Ones who spend their lives debating. Ones who dedicate their very existence to trying to show they know everything and have the greatest intellect of their day are willing to bend to the truth that they may not know god. And in admitting they do not know, they have found true wisdom. It is not in the knowing, but in the willingness to admit that they don’t know everything, that wisdom is found. Things are not always as they seem.
And furthermore, Paul goes on to explain that people have been searching for god, looking for god in the most precious things on earth, in gold and silver and stone. In art and in imagination. People then, like people today, looked for god in the very best of what is on earth. They searched for wholeness and happiness and fulfillment in the material blessings that this life can given and in the intellectual beauties the mind can conceive.
But as they searched they find that things are not always as they seem.
You see, as we search for God we find that God is not lost. God does not stand far off. God is not found in the material blessings or in the pursuits, even in the most noble of all pursuits of this life. Instead, as Paul reminds us in verse 29, we are God’s offspring. We are created in the very image of God. And in the power of the Holy Spirit, God is within us, speaking to us, living in us, moving through our hands and feet. God is continuously calling out to us, walking with us, speaking to us.
We think it is us who search for God, but really it is God who is the Good Shepherd, calling us home, seeking us out, knowing our names, preparing a place for us. We think we need to search for God but things are not always as they seem. In reality, God is right here, waiting for us, whenever we are ready to come home.
I think our Scripture has one final surprise for us today, one that I’ve been thinking about quite a bit this week. Paul, of course, sets before us this week a model for evangelism. He shows the importance of going forth and getting to know a new city, spending time there getting to know the people and customs, and then being willing to share the Good News about the Risen Lord.
And our lesson from 1 Peter emphasizes that, too, “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you,” it says. We should be ready to talk about our faith. To tell our story. To share a word of hope.
But, pastor, you may be thinking, how on earth do I do that when I don’t even see people! We are still physical distancing and today we are talking about being traveling missionaries and talking to people who don’t have hope about the Good News of the Gospel. Those things are impossible in this time.
Well, things are not always as they seem.
We are indeed a small church community. I love that about Kerr because we really know each other and can really care for one another because we do know each other’s story. But in reality we only worship an average of 27 people in the sanctuary on any given Sunday. That’s not true anymore. Now that our services are online, we have an average of 58 different people logging in to participate in our worship services every week, that’s in addition to everyone who comes on Sunday morning and participates in our live zoom service.
I don’t know who God is bringing to our virtual door. Perhaps if you are listening to this right now we’ve never met. But know that I love you already. Because I know that you are a deeply beloved child of God. And I know that God has a plan and a purpose for you. The one who you have been searching for knew your name before you were even born.
And God is moving in you. God is doing more than we can ask or imagine. Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.