In Him We Live and Move and Have Our Being
My first summer at church camp, we would end each evening with worship at a bonfire. We would sing praise songs and hear stories and close each night with a prayer. And as incredible as the bonfire was, it the moments after it that stand out the most to me. After the flames began dying down, we would slowly walk back to our cabins. The only light we had was from the stars and moon above us. On those walks back, our group of friends would gather together, finding ourselves somehow. And then, on that walk back and in the hour or two that followed we would just talk about what we had been wanting to talk about for so long. For the first time in our middle school lives, we felt free enough to ask the big questions with one another. “Why am I here?” “What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Is there really someone who made us? And if so, what is God really like?”
I have had those questions my whole life, but it took me until then to realize that others shared in them too. Others had thought about them just as much as me. We as humans are all seeking truth. There is a yearning in our very nature that points us to something bigger, something greater than this world and these lives we know today. There is something telling us there is a purpose, there is an order, there is something or someone guiding us, hearing us, and leading us forward. It is in our very bones. And together we want to know more.
That yearning stretches beyond any age, gender, race, or geography. It is something our whole world has been joining in, seeking something more than this world of our senses. St. Augustine once wrote, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” There is something, a part of us that we know is missing, without God.
That yearning, that search for truth, that restless drive that there is something greater out there, it was just as alive and present 2,000 years ago as it is today. Paul met it when we arrived in Athens for the very first time.
As he walked through the streets and marketplaces, he saw altars and places of worship everywhere. He heard and read philosophers and thinkers. He met person after person seeking truth. Athens is the birthplace of philosophy, the hometown of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, people who questioned everything but also believed there was some perfect form out there, some unmoved mover, something which was more than flesh and bone and which brought everything we know into being. And the people of this city, centuries after these greater thinkers, carried on their work. They continually wanted to know more. They were searching for what would give their souls rest.
Paul could have come into this Athens full of his own judgment and self-righteousness – he was a Christian and they weren’t. He could have dismissed everything about their own culture and religion and history. But instead, Paul saw in it something God was using. In this speech we hear today, Paul is standing on the Aeropagus, on the hill of the god Ares (also named Mars in Rome). Just above where he is standing is the stunning Parthenon, a temple to the goddess Athena. It is so huge that from where Paul is standing you can’t help but stare at it and be overwhelmed by its size and beauty. Right next to it are smaller temples to Nike and Artemis and Poseidon. Everything around him shows Paul that the people of Athens are hungry for worship, for truth, for knowing something that is greater.
And so, Paul begins not by demeaning or looking down upon them, but by realizing that hunger and yearning is a gift from God. “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” That human instinct that we are not alone, that is a gift. Pursue and seek it. Ask questions and discover. That yearning is good, because it leads us to what makes us whole. It leads us to the one who made all of this for us. Paul finds that across cultures, across languages, across even religions, there is something within each one of us that makes us ready for God.
But this passage is more than just about who we are as humans. It is about the God who placed that yearning in us. The people of Athens have gotten a glimpse of that – in philosophy and nature and wonder. But they still believe that ultimate God is something passive and far away – like an idol lying on a stone altar, a deity floating on the clouds above Mt. Olympus, or some impersonal force that is more of an idea than a being. God remains distant from them, something to worship but something that will never interact or speak or live within you, and surely not one who would ever become human like yourself.
In response, Paul says, the true God is not one that we have made by our own hands. God is not an idea brought up by our own minds. God is not some uncaring, selfish deity who refuses to interact people, or a stone idol that just wants sacrifices and rituals. Instead, “God is not far from each of us.” The true God, the one each of us has been seeking our whole life long, has made our hearts restless because that is where God wants to dwell. The true God is one who loves us so much that God breaks every rule in the book to be with us.
Today is Trinity Sunday. It is the day we celebrate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And we do so not as abstract ideas, but as persons of God who allow us to come closer to God. The Father has created us in God’s image and given us a heart for love, devotion, and seeking truth and beauty and goodness. The Son is God made flesh, God choosing to become human to show us a New Way and to invite us into a whole new life not alone but as part of God’s body and everlasting kingdom. And the Spirit is God dwelling with us and in us even now. The Spirit is what continues to breathe strength and wisdom and the ability to accomplish than we ever imagined. That ultimate truth, that mutilate longing, is not something way out there we can never reach – it is something in here, already reaching out for us.
The message for us today is to know that those questions those longings that search for answers is something good. It is part of each of us because it points us to God, to love, to a kingdom far greater than any we know today. But the message is also that we are not meant to stop at asking questions. “In him we live and move and have our being.” This search is not just some academic project. It is our very lives. And what Paul is offering us today is knowledge that God wants to live within us. The questions is where we begin. But the life in God is where our true treasure is found. We aren’t meant to only be philosophers. We are meant to take those questions and answers and live fully with the Spirit. We are meant to serve and teach, we are meant to heal and comfort. We are meant to paint and sing and write and play. We are meant to follow that Spirit and trust in the message that we are children of God, with something great to offer this world. While those nights at church camp were holy moments, they were not the end. Our journeys continue onward. God is alive. And God wants to live in you. Amen.