Mistaken as they were with it, the Athenians had something good going for them – their curiosity. Yes, it is unwise to want to take in every new idea in a non-discriminatory manner. They could easily fall for twenty-first century fake news!
Their appetite for whatever new (or whatever news) was distressing to Paul in that it left them over-religious, having a city full of idols. For them, religion was welcome – Come, well the more the merrier! Their interest in the Good News was not that it was the Good News, the evangel from God. They were interested simply because it was something new. Someone might say that they were open minded. They’d fit ever so well in postmodern society.
But like a good teacher, Paul moves from the familiar to the unfamiliar, from their love of news to the good news they needed to hear, from their familiarity with idols to the God above all idols, from their appetite for “the unknown God” to declaring this God who could be known by and among them.
Now, I re-read Paul’s statement in Acts 17: 24-25 and I make two comments below.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things” (Acts 17: 24-25).
Number One: I am eternally grateful, full of wonder, thankful, over the top with joy, that the God who does not live in shrines made by human hands, actually lives in human shrines made by God’s hand! The Spirit of God abides with and in us when we open ourselves to be God’s dwelling place so we can be walkabout shrines in God’s service, which brings me to my second point.
Number Two: God who neither needs anything, nor is served by human hands has chosen to be served by human hands, has chosen to need our service. God has chosen to need us as vessels who serve our neighbours for God’s sake. Indeed, we are reminded, we cannot truly love God whom we do not see unless we love our brothers and sisters whom we see (1 John 4: 20-21).
They who tread the path of labour follow where my feet have trod;
They who work without complaining do the holy will of God…
Every task however simple, sets the soul that does it free;
every deed f love and mercy done to man is done to me.
Nevermore thou needest seek me; I am with thee everywhere;
Raise the stone and thou shalt find me; cleave the wood and I am there.
Henry van Dyke (1852-1933)