In my few moments of free time, I’ve invested quite a bit of money and effort in researching my family tree (you can read more about that in my last blog post).
I got my saliva analyzed…
…and spent hours reconstructing what is now several hundred years of ancestors, thanks to the good folks at Ancestry.com.
I have so enjoyed reading different stories that different distant relatives have put in the files of shared ancestors, watching how the different branches of this tree migrated from various countries to the United States and then across this country, and really just discovering how I came to be.
But my favorite part?
Pictures. Pictures that show the miracle that we call genetics.
This is my paternal grandmother, Bubby Hannah…
…and this is her mother, Bubby Pauline (yes, I’m Jewish).
And here’s me:
Perky nose, high cheekbones, Cupid’s Bow lips, widow’s peak and pointed jawline…it’s all there. I am their spit and image. But it’s not just physical; my Aunt Diane, Dad’s younger sister, frequently tells me that I remind her of her mother not just in appearance, but in personality and life. She was a violinist who worked with at-risk youth at the Jewish youth center in the Bronx. I’m a pianist and choir teacher who has been a social worker and teacher most of her life, working with at-risk youth in multiple communities.
Not only am I the offspring and image of my forbears, but my very life creates an image of them and recalls their memory for others. It really is quite fascinating. This apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree…
…and this apple easily identifies the tree from which it fell.
When I was put on the calendar to preach today, I turned to the assigned Scripture lessons and read the following:
Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 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. From one ancestor[a] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said,
‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:22-31, NRSV)
And what caught my eye? We too are his offspring.
What does that mean, to be God’s offspring? To understand that, we have to go to ancient Athens, where Paul spoke these amazing words.
Ancient Athens was, much like our own society today, a polyglot of religious and cultural diversity. Ancient Greeks were generally polytheistic, believing in a variety of gods and goddesses. Their observances were similar to ours:
- They met for corporate worship on designated days;
- They expressed gratitude for blessings;
- They asked for blessings;
- They gave gifts to their sanctuary.
But there was one great difference. Christians understand God to be the ultimate source of love. We rely on His love to drive the relationship we have with Him.
The ancient Greeks, however, understood the deities differently.
In Greek mythology, the gods didn’t love humans. They were fickle, subject to the same emotions and responses and poor judgment that we, as mortals, experience every day. So, rather than worship being a loving response to a loving Heavenly Father, worship for them was a way to curry favor and avoid offense. And Paul acknowledges that. In the King James Version, he calls them “too superstitious”:
Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God.
In the Greek mind, that altar was necessary to avoid angering a god they may have missed. And Paul uses that paradigm, that superstition, to introduce them to the truth. He even goes so far to use their own poet/philosopher, Aratus, to address their practice of idolatry:
Let us begin with Zeus, whom we mortals never leave unspoken.
For every street, every market-place is full of Zeus.
Even the sea and the harbour are full of this deity.
Everywhere everyone is indebted to Zeus.
For we are indeed his offspring.
Amazing…if we substitute “Jehovah” or “Yahweh” or “the LORD” for “Zeus”? It might sound a lot like something King David might have written…
So, if we come from God – if indeed we are His offspring – then how can anything we make ourselves be God? Their idols of gold and silver and stone were just that – idols – with no life or power or love.
We know, from our reading of Genesis, that we indeed are formed in the very shape and likeness and image of God, and as such, we are capable, even now, of very God-like things. We have the capacity for doing great good in the world, for being creative and innovative and loving and merciful. We look so much like our Father, we are destined to be like Him. Jesus Christ, who was the spit and image of the Father, even said,
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. (John 14:12, NRSV)
We are God’s offspring, meant to look and act and love and give and be like Him.
But unfortunately, it’s far too rare.
In the culture of religious and philosophical diversity that we call home, how often do onlookers watch us and have created for them an image of that “unknown God” that is absolutely counter to the truth of who God is? How many people look at those who have been baptized into Christ’s body and see:
- Double standards
- Add your own here…
Because, although we can’t create God, just as we are created in His image, we create an image of Him for others. What they see in us, they believe God to be – and that belief could be the fulcrum, the essential factor, in their choice to follow, or not to follow, to reject or to accept, the Gospel.
Our great example is the Savior, Jesus Christ. He was the image of God for us. And as we emulate His life, we can be the true image of God for others.
So, are we, as baptized followers of Jesus Christ, as those who have dared to take on His name, His identity, and His mission, living lives that show the true identity of the “Unknown God”? Or are we confusing the issue?
The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
My prayer is that this apple will lead people to the Tree of Life.