About a month ago, one of the tragedies of life that could only have happened in this decade struck me. While on vacation I made the mistake of a lifetime. It was to say yes to one of those time share people. In many ways it was far worse. It was a beautiful Florida day. My wife and I had enjoyed most of the day relaxing in the shade of our umbrella-covered beach chair, when I decided that I wanted to go for a swim. That was not a normal decision for me, as I am not really what you would call an ocean swimmer. But off I went into the blue-green water of the Gulf of Mexico.
Returning from what really wasn’t a swim but more like a series of splash I walked back to the beach chair and felt something strange. The right side of my swimming suit felt a little heavier than it should, so I reached down to find out why, and then it hit me. I had placed my cell phone in my pocket while I was reading and had forgotten to take it out before I hit the waves.
Now most of us know that our lives are on our phones: everything from other people’s phone numbers to secret passwords, to our appointment calendars, sometimes our to do lists, contact with friends, and the places we surf when we have spare time and want to catch up on the news.
I certainly know that phones have to be replaced every now and then, as my wife had just had to replace hers. So the idea of replacing my phone wasn’t a big deal, until the thought hit me that I would have to do that without having backed up the data on that phone. And this brings me to the real tragedy: kind of a good news bad news situation. The one place where I had stored all of my important data had been back on my computer. Hurray! The bad news was that it was backed-up back in 2014. Bad News! But at least it was a place to start.
So after purchasing a new phone, I plugged it into my computer and opened the file on my computer paying careful to follow all of the instructions that appeared on the screen. I clicked the “open file” icon. The screen then asked me which direction I wanted to sync: from computer to my phone or the other way around: from my phone to my computer. I of course chose from my computer to my phone, and an icon of my phone appeared with a picture of my phone. “All is well I thought.”
Click the icon to sync the two devises and all would be well. Well not quite. Error message number one appears, “Cannot read phone.” That seemed to me to be pretty stupid, the picture of the phone was right there. Three more times I tried, falling victim to Einstein’s great definition on insanity which is to do the same thing over and over again in the same way and expect different results. So I asked my wife to help me for she had just gone through this experience a week or so earlier. Same thing happened. I found that she is just as crazy as I am.
Well being a Friday night on the east coast the technical support office where you could actually talk with a person was of coursed closed until Monday.
First thing Monday morning I hit the phone to talk with the technical support person. After explaining the problem the kind service tech asked me one question that I should have know the answer to: “Have you purchased a new phone lately?
“Of course I have.” That was the reason for the call.
“Well”, she said. “Your computer is trying to sync with the old phone. You have to delete that phone and name the new phone. Then the sync will work.”
How many degrees does one have to have to be that stupid? I should have known that long ago and saved myself a lot of frustration.
You all are probably thinking what in the world does that story have to do with Paul’s great speech to the Athenians? Hopefully we will get there.
In approximately 51 A.D. Paul arrived by boat in Athens to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While waiting for Timothy and Silas to arrive he has time to visit many of the Temples and the market place. At the time of Paul’s visit, Athens was a much smaller town of course. Significant in many ways because the road or path to the east via the route that led to the port passed right through the center of the market. While there he is struck with the religious images that he sees in the temples and market. In fact to this day if you walk the old path of the market you can still see the foundations of many of the temples that Paul must have seen.
However because it was a major trade crossroad, Athens was a place that often received new ideas and new thoughts that travelers brought from different parts of the world. And if one preached and proclaimed enough in the open spaces of the market which was rather common, sooner or later representatives of the different schools of thought would hear of you. And if you were lucky and your arguments of thoughts were worth debating, then they would invite you to the Areopogus or Mars Hill where you could present your case and have it debated among the philosophical school leaders of the time.
With the Parthenon in clear view just over Paul’s left shoulder and the market place that is filled with the temples and statues of the Greek faith, Paul begins to proclaim this message of salvation in Jesus Christ. He starts not by attacking or condemning the people of Athens, but rather affirming that which is common in their faith and the faith he proclaims. Now we have to pause for a moment here and affirm something that is universal, though not talked about real often. And it is that seed of wisdom that Paul uses to bring the people of Athens into his conversation of faith.
At my last church I was often asked to lead a week day Bible study that was made up of retired professionals: doctors and lawyers, architects and teachers. For one of their series they wanted to know if there was a common thread that was woven through all religions and cultures. That seemed rather an insurmountable task until I came across the notion of how the different religions and cultures would describe how creation took place. So with the help of a young scholar at IUPUI a course was developed on what the creation stories in different religions tell us about their culture and their God. And what we discovered was almost without exception all culture. And in that class we found that almost all cultures have a deep theological yearning to understand their relationship with their creator. And this is told or explained in almost ever faith in their story of creation.
Now if there is something for us to discover about this as we are not the Athenians, but adopted children of God as Paul has proclaimed over and over again, then we are the ones who need to be aware and perhaps reminded today that we often may experience wonder, but do we see it as the activity of God?
It is interesting to me that when people are asked to give an example of when they were aware of the presence of God in their lives, that the number one event is the birth of one of their children. That was for me and I am sure that it is for a lot of people. But if pressed the more examples of the awareness of God in their lives, the longer they seem to need to think about it. While we know in our brain that the God and Father of Jesus Christ that Paul proclaims is the giver of all good things, ALL being the operative word here, we often fail to see or even understand it.
On May 16th 1865 a grand statue of Dante was unveiled in the Piazza dei Signori in the city of Verona, Italy. It had taken two years to complete. The young man who was awarded the commission was Ugo Zannoni. For two years he labored to complete the monument of one of Verona’s most famous citizens. The morning of its unveiling, crowds gather to gaze at the reflection of the great poet. Why did they gather we may ask? Was there a great festival that brought people out in memory of the poet? No not at all. Any ceremony was noticeably lacking. Was it because of the beauty of the artistic workmanship? No, not really, as there are far greater more artistically superb sculptures in the city of Verona. The reason is so obvious that we neglect to figure it out. The crowd was there simply because it was new. The great preacher C. H. Spurgeon concludes this story with these words, “Everyone passes Dante now, having other things to think of; the citizens are well used to this solemn visage, and scarcely care that he stands among them. Isn’t that the way of humanity.”
That is exactly what Paul was addressing. It was none other than having love among us not once but all the time. It was none other than finally giving God a name, even if it was only the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we could call on that name for God’s love and support at any time in our life. It was none other than walking through life wondering what had happened to God’s plan in our lives, when we are taking small steps in the journey every day.
A customs officer one day observed a truck pulling up at the border. Suspicious, he orders the driver out and searches the vehicle. He pulls off the panels, bumpers, and wheel cases but finds not a single scrap of contraband, whereupon, still suspicious but at a loss to know where else to search, he waves the driver through. The next week, the same driver arrives. Again the official searches, and again finds nothing illicit. Over the years, the official tries full-body searches, x rays, and sonar, anything he can think of, and each week the same man drives up, but no mysterious cargo ever appears, and each time, reluctantly, the customs man waves the driver on.
Finally, after many years, the officer is about to retire and he is still obsessed with his inability to find the contraband that this particular driver is smuggling. The driver pulls up and the custom officer says. “I know you’re a smuggler. Don’t bother denying it. But [darned] if I can figure out what you’ve been smuggling all these years. I’m retiring now and I swear to you I can do you no harm. But please for my own peace of mind tell me what you’ve been smuggling all these years?”
“Trucks,” the driver merely said.
So it is with God, and with faith every now and then if we did not have the reminder of Paul on the hill that is called Mars, to be mindful of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ because we know that there is wonder, and joy and love in the world.
So come now to the table of Love where Christ bids us once again to gain the strength to perceive his glory. Amen