Every so often, Jeff and I will have lunch together. And up comes this sticky issue. I will want sushi, and he will not. We are a house divided that has to settle on a sandwich, or Mexican food.
Now, we could focus on what divides us – our feelings toward raw fish, seaweed, and rice. But he and I have reached this beautiful compromise. We focus on the fact that we both enjoy eating; that having lunch together is more important than what we are having for lunch. Jeff and I, though our opinions on sushi are irreconcilable, concentrate on what unites us rather than what divides.
Paul stands up in Athens to speak in the Areopagus – the philosophical and cultural hub of the day. He says, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” Paul describes the multitude of altars and temples in that great city, even one “to an unknown god.” Paul doesn’t start his speech by focusing on what divides them. He doesn’t poke fun at their other altars or tell them how delicious sushi is. He starts with what unites them. “Look,” he says, “we’re both religious. We all worship at altars. In fact, you have an altar to the true God right here in Athens!”
We live in a modern day Athens. There are temples and altars and places of worship all around us – and I’m not just talking about churches. I mean places like Floyd Casey Stadium, Richland Mall, Wal-Mart, the County Courthouse. Each of those places, and many more, are places of worship.
The object of worship is different at each of these places. It might be Baylor athletics or political power that is being worshiped. Others worship at their local bank when they check their savings account. Some worship at Richland Mall when they pick out their new spring wardrobe. People are worshiping at car dealerships and restaurants, they’re worshiping their 401(k)’s or their own bodies.
And this shouldn’t surprise us – because what unites all of humanity is that each human worships. Each human prays. We may pray to different things, ideas, or gods; but what unites us is that all of us pray. All of us worship.
Now to this day, Jeff and I have never had sushi together. We’ve eaten at a whole host of other places, but never sushi. This isn’t because I don’t like it anymore, or because I don’t keep bringing it up. No, as a matter of fact, I keep reminding him just how delicious sushi is.
Paul didn’t give up when he was talking to the Athenians once they had reached some mutual ground. He went on to preach the good news of Jesus Christ. “You see,” Paul says, “in God we live and move and have our being. The true God doesn’t need the work of our hands, because God desires the affections of our hearts. God isn’t made of gold, silver, or stone, because God made gold, silver and stone.” Paul tells the Athenians to stop worshiping their dumb idols. To stop worshiping themselves. To stop worshiping their philosophy. But Paul doesn’t tell them to stop worshiping. He just tells them to worship the right thing.
Everybody you know already worships something. Asking them to come to church and worship God really isn’t that big of a step. Sure, it may look different – but worship is worship. That’s the common ground. But what separates the worshipers of Christ and the worshipers of the other gods is drastic.
At Richland Mall, Floyd Casey Stadium, the County Courthouse, the worshipers there are intent on gaining something. A new piece of clothing that will make them look cooler. A victory over the Aggies that will give them bragging rights. A court order that will make them more powerful. And those other gods and temples, they are happy for you to worship there. Those gods are greedy, they want more and more and more as their worshipers give them more and more and more. And what happens at the end? What happens when that new sport coat gets a coffee stain? What happens when the Bears lose? What happens when the court decision goes the other way? Your life has been taken away from you. You walk away from the stadium or the courthouse feeling empty.
Worship of the true God is different. Worship of the true God is self-sacrificial love. Worship of the true God is focused on Christ and others, not yourself. The difference is that the true God gives you life, a more abundant life, in return. The false gods leave you with dust and shadows.
Our mission field, our local communities, are thirsting to hear this. People want to worship the true God. They are done with the vagaries of those other gods. They are tired of pinning their hopes on political figures, on both the left and the right, only to have them change their positions mid-term. Your friends and neighbors are done with putting their trust into a stockmarket and financial system that is so catastrophically fickle. They already know how to worship, we just have to show them that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and always.
And we say this every single Sunday. We pray and publicly proclaim that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus Christ is the true God. This proclamation is different from my personal proclamation, “I like sushi.” My fondness for sushi is a matter of personal opinion and taste. But the statement “Jesus is Lord” is not a personal opinion. “Jesus is Lord” is a cosmic truth, and whether we say it or not, it’s true.
To be missionaries to our modern day Athens, in our Waco filled with temples and altars to all sorts of gods, we have to be hard-nosed Christians. In our public lives, not just in the comforts of home and church, it’s time to say “Jesus is Lord, Dillard’s is not.” “God is faithful, the stock market isn’t.” “You may pray to the gods of greed, we pray to the God of love.” Christianity is not about being nice, about telling everybody that they’re okay because at least they worship something.
Christianity is about being faithful and true, worshiping the God in whom we live and move and have our being. Nobody has to convince us to worship – we were created for worship. What makes our worship as Christians drastically, and more beautifully different, is that a coffee stain or financial collapse won't change God. We change for God.