Here’s a story that’s the kind of story we need right now.
During his many travels, the apostle Paul found himself in Greece, teaching and preaching about Jesus. The crowds weren’t terribly receptive. Some became angry at what he was saying and it became obvious that Paul should move on pretty quickly. Arriving in Athens, he gets into a debate with some philosophers who bring him to the Areopagus, a place like a court where important judgements were made. There he says things a little differently than before. The people listen. There’s only a couple of immediate converts, many sneer at what he has to say, but mostly, they just hear him out.
When he arrived in Athens, Paul saw all the temples to the many gods the Greeks worshipped in those days, pretty much a god for everything. He also noticed that there was one that was for “an unknown god.” I imagine him thinking that you have to admire the devotion of people who build a temple for every god and then worry that they left someone out, so, just in case, there’s a temple to cover that.
So, when he gets up to speak, Paul’s inspired. He doesn’t tell them that they’re wrong and they’re going to burn in the fiery lake for eternity. He doesn’t paint abusive graffiti all over their temples. He doesn’t threaten them with a weapon. He doesn’t angrily yell at them, tell them what to think or try to control them in any way.
Instead, he shows them Jesus.
He begins by saying, look, I see by all your temples that you’re very religious and devout. I am too, so maybe we’re not so different. I see that you even have a temple for an unknown god. Well, let me tell you that I think I know that unknown god and, while you have many gods for many things, I know this one God who is everything. This is a God who doesn’t live in temples or rituals, but in the world, in every living thing. This is a God of life and good and love. In the God I know, he says, “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28) just like one of your own ancient philosophers said (he quoted Epimenides). And, the story goes, some became followers, some rejected it, but many simply wanted to hear more.
This is the kind of story we need right now.
As we’re trying to move forward from isolation, as businesses and community spaces are opening up, with guidelines and regulations for safety, some want to move faster, some slower, everyone has an opinion about everything and many are confused and concerned about how things are happening. We need to be thoughtful, aware and understanding, not only of how we’re doing it, but how we’re communicating and engaging each other. We need to know that we’re in this together, even as we’re all coming to it our own way.
Paul might easily have begun “listen, a couple of thousands of years from now, they’ll say it like this: we’re not all in the same boat, no, we’re all on the same sea, in the same storm, but in our own boats. Together, we can get through it.” That’s the kind of story we need right now.