Reading: Acts 17:22-31
As Paul travels in Athens, he observes that the people have many altars and statues to the gods, including an altar labeled, "To an unknown God." At the people's invitation, Paul stands before the Areopagus (the council) and tells a story about the unknown god: "The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands" (17:24) Paul talks about God and tells stories about God's relationship with humanity -- from Abraham to Jesus -- in order to make the unknown known.
We are often scared by what is unknown in our lives. When we don't know a person approaching us on the street, we can be quick to assume and fear that the person has bad intentions. When the future looms before us, full of unknowns, we can be tempted to retreat into the safety of everything familiar. We can even fear the unknown in a person we know; when we argue, for example, and we become frustrated because we cannot understand the other person's perspective.
So often we look at the unknown and we tell ourselves (often without thinking), "The unknown is bad, scary, worrisome." We tell ourselves a story of fear to fill in the blanks on what we don't know. The Athenians tell a different story about the unknown; they create an altar to it, a place to remind themselves that there is always more to learn. And when Paul comes to Athens, he tells yet another story about the unknown: he tells the story of God's activity, full of grace and love.
When faced with the unknown and inclined toward fear, we can imitate Paul and remind ourselves that the unknown holds God's story -- all that God has done, all that God is doing, and all that God will continue to do. --Rachel G. Hackenberg is a United Church of Christ minister, author, and former Camp Mount Luther staff.
Closing Prayer: Help me, O Eternal God, to find peace in the face of the unknown, remembering that you are active in the unknown ... even though I don't know it or see it yet. Help me, O Jesus, to find peace in knowing your presence. Amen.
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