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Worship Theme: Jesus is Our Companion
Sermon Theme: Our God Wants to Be Found
Marco Polo was born in 1254 in Venice Italy. He was born to a merchant trader father who spent his days travelling the world. And the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, because Marco carried out the same tasks and grew wealthy in the same way. When Marco was 17, he embarked on a journey along the Silk Road to China. During this journey, Marco became powerful and influential, even being appointed as a diplomat for famous Mongolian Emperor Kublai Khan. He wrote of his travels in a book that was titled The Travels of Marco Polo and offered a window into Eastern culture that Europeans had never seen before. His writings inspired many people to become explorers, including Christopher Columbus. After he returned home from his travels, Marco married, had 3 children and lived out his days in the city of his birth. In 1324 Marco Polo died and he was buried near a church near Venice.
And you don’t need to know any of those things to play the game that bears his name. All you need is a few participants; a pool and the Polo party can commence.
There’s a legend, and I’d guess that it’s just that - a legend, but it’s written by some that on one of his journeys into the Eastern world, that Marco fell asleep on his horse and thus both wondered down the wrong path and became separated from the group. Desperate to find him, those in his group began to call out his name – “Marco” and (you can guess what is claimed to have happened when he heard his name being called out! That’s right..) he called out in response “Polo.”
Whether that’s a true story or legend, it hasn’t stopped generations of kids from splashing around the lake or the pool playing “Marco Polo” a wet and fun variation of the game Hide and Seek.
In today’s reading from the book of Acts, Paul meets a group of city leaders and people from Athens. He meets them where they are and uses something that they are familiar with to open a door to share with them an unfamiliar message. Paul wants them to know who the real God is and that he is a God that is better than the false gods that they worshipped in their city. He helps them to see that God is a God Who Wants to Be Found.
Paul had come to Athens with a message that they had never heard before. They were familiar with their many gods, but this message about a Savior God was one they had never heard before.
Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection (Acts 17:18). Paul was preaching to them about Easter. He was telling them about a God who wasn’t made of wood and stone, but about a God who took on flesh and bone to save his people from their sins. But the people had not heard of this before, so they called him to the Areopagus so that he could answer their questions.
Paul wanted the Athenians to know that God Wants to be Found. He wasn’t hiding from them. The true God wasn’t in a temple someplace that they hadn’t found yet or in a city that was yet to be discovered. Even better than that, Paul told them [God] is not far from any one of us.
Paul found his “in” - in an inscription that he found on an altar in the city “To an Unknown God.” This was a safety measure for the people, a security net in case they had inadvertently missed a God or two in their attempts to commemorate so many. But Paul was going to use it to introduce to them the God that they didn’t yet know yet. To them he was the unknown God. But he is a God that Wants to be Found, that’s why he sent Paul to their city!
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth” Paul says “and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
The true God is so much better than the gods that the Athenians worshipped. He doesn’t need us. He doesn’t need our buildings or our service, or anything from us. In fact, isn’t that thinking backwards? If a divine being is reliant on a mortal, that’s not much of a god, is it? The real God is the one who does what you might rather expect. He’s independent of us. He needs nothing from us. He doesn’t need us to build him a temple or to serve him in any way. In fact, we are the one that makes us who we are. He is the one who gives [us] life and breath and everything else.
This isn’t very deep theological thought, that the immortal God is superior to mere mortals, but we don’t always grasp this thought fully, either! We treat God like he needs our help. We suggest to him that he needs our help to carry out his will. We give him advice about how to be God all the time, even though he doesn’t need or want our help. We whittle God down to our personal servant and then when things get really big or scary in our lives, we don’t acknowledge that he has the power to provide. We don’t look to him as the one who can deliver. We act and at times even think like we are the ones who have earned life breath and everything else, instead of recognizing that these things are all gifts from God.
Paul’s lesson continues: From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’
Despite the fact that idolatry was rampant in Athens, God was not far from them. He wasn’t hiding! Despite the fact that we turn money, sports, our own kids, our jobs into our own idols, God is not far from us! He made mankind, even though he knew how idolatrous we’d become. He made us though he knew we’d steal credit and glory from him and take it on ourselves. He’s uniquely gifted us even though he knew we’d take those gifts for granted every day! He made mankind and the world for us to live in and ordains our history and the history of the world to serve his purpose, and in all of it, He Wants to be Found! God wants to be found so dearly that he seeks us! He wouldn’t need to. Because of sin you could even say that God shouldn’t seek us, we don’t deserve it in the least but he does! So, he ordained history and when the time was right, he served us in the best way that he possibly could. He sought us in the clearest of ways! He Wanted to be Found and wanted lost sinners like us to be found so he entered our world and became like one of us – to seek and to save what was lost! Paul was right when he said that God isn’t served by human hands! But we are served by the human hands of God. We are served in the best possible way as Jesus bears human flesh to be our substitute and Savior. Paul was right when he said that God doesn’t dwell in temples made by man and doesn’t need anything from us, but Jesus willingly chose to dwell on earth and to take on the needs of the human existence. He humbly was born of a virgin and raised by earthly parents. He experienced those needs so that he could fully be our Savior from sin!
We are served as Jesus offered his human hands to be pierced by nails! We are served as he is ridiculed, beaten, tortured and killed for us. We are served as the one who gives life offers his own life as the sacrifice instead of us.
God wanted to be found as Savior and Lord and so he raised Jesus from the dead! Christ wanted to be found so he appeared to his disciples and he showed them the marks of victory on his human hands and side. Jesus wanted to be found so he opened eyes to see him and hearts to receive him!!
He did that in a powerful way for Paul, as he was converted by an appearance of the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus. He sent Paul to Athens with the message of resurrection so that what was “unknown” would be known to them. And he’s sent many other people to many other places that he would be found and that his love would be known! And he’s found you in the same way – as the gospel good news of sins forgiven has touched your ears and your heart!
And now we gather as his family and as his Church to find Jesus! We haven’t lost him, but we know where we will find him – in the comforting words of encouragement spoken by a friend, in the loving words of caution offered by a dear brother or sister in Christ, in the words holy love proclaimed from a pulpit or classroom, in midday meditation on God’s holy Word. God is found where his word is proclaimed! God is found where the sacraments are administered. The waters of baptism save us through the resurrection of Jesus! Christ is found in his forgiving and nourishing meal as he assures us “This is my body; this is my blood…for the forgiveness of sins!”
God Wants to be Found. He wants to be found by us, so he calls us through the gospel proclaimed to us by his people. And he wants others to find him too! So, he sends us out! He sends us out to comfort the hurting, to give hope to the hopeless, and maybe even like Paul, to make the Unknown known to a dying world!
God is not far from any one of us. He desires that we find him. But it’s even better than that. He desires that we find him, but he doesn’t hide. He keeps the promise he made in today’s Gospel reading. He sends his Spirit to comfort us! Through him he calls out to us! He calls our name and blesses us with the ability to respond. He gives us the ability to see him, to know him, to believe in him! He gives us the promise that he is not far from us and that eternally we will not be far from him, but will have a place at his side in heaven! It’s all ours because he’s forgiven our sins. Life is ours because he conquered death! A resurrection is our future because Jesus rose!
The Athenian poets had it right! We are [God’s] offspring - Children of the Heavenly Father and heirs of everlasting life!! Amen.
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