[Delivered on May 21, 2017 at Christ Episcopal Church, Yankton, South Dakota]
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. 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.’ From Acts 17
It’s not every Sunday one can give a homily based on Greek legend, Geek mythology, and the New Testament. So I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to do so.
In order to fully appreciate our first reading from Acts 17, we need to know why Paul addressed the Athenians at the Areopagus and why he cites two poems about the Greek god, Zeus. The author of Acts, Luke, likely assumed that everybody of his day, two thousand years ago, would have known why, but knowledge can get lost in two thousand years. So let’s take a moment to rewind and review:
The Areopagus is a rock outcropping in Athens that was used in Paul’s time for conducting public trials. Here the Athenians wanted to discern if Paul was introducing a new religion into their city as Paul’s preaching about Jesus and his resurrection seemed to indicate. Introducing a new religion was considered corruption, a serious crime in ancient Athens; a charge that resulted in the death of Socrates in 399 BCE.
On his way there, Paul passes an altar to “The Unknown God,” the history of which Paul uses in his effective defense, along with citing two early Greek poems to support the premise that he was not preaching something new.
The first poet cited is Epimenides who wrote a poem called, "Cretica." In "Cretica," Epimenides argues with his fellow Cretans that Zeus was very much alive as evident in our being alive after they had built a symbolic tomb declaring him dead:
They fashioned a tomb for you, holy and high one,
Cretans, always liars, evil beasts, idle bellies.
But you (Zeus) are not dead: you live and abide forever,
For in you we live and move and have our being
As a side note, the line about Cretans being liars is cited, verbatim, in Paul’s letter to Titus (1:12) and is the basis for Epimenides Paradox which states if being a Cretan himself, Epimenides, in calling Cretans liars is also a liar by telling a truth applicable to himself.
In fact, the altar to The Unknown God has a close connection to Epimenides:
During the time of the great Athenian law giver, Solon, the Athenians suffered a horrendous plague attributed to an act of treachery on people who they granted asylum and then killed. To rid themselves of the resulting plague, they tried appeasing their gods through sacrifice, but nothing was working.
So they approached the Oracle at Delphi who informed them that there was a god they failed to appease. When they asked which one, she said she didn’t know but they should send for Epimenides, a prophet in Crete, who would help them. So they did.
When Epimenides arrives in Athens he comments that they must be very religious because of the many gods and goddesses they have. He told them there is an good and great unknown god who was smiling on their ignorance but was willing to be appeased. When they perform the proper rituals throughout the city, the plague is ended and they erect altars to this unknown god throughout Athens. 
The second “poet” Paul cites is the philosopher Aratus, from his work Phenomenon:
… always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his offspring…
* * * * * * * * * * *
Avoiding the name Zeus, Paul infers, via his reference to the unknown god, the philosophical idea of a Superior God whose nominal identity is simply “God” which we monotheists have adopted. As a result, Paul’s catechesis on God and who we are in relation to God boils down to this:
Question: Who is God?
Answer: God is that Being in which we live, move, and have our being.
Question: Who are we?
Answer: We are his offspring.”
In my opinion, this is the best definition of God and our relationship to God found anywhere. God is the active force of all that is, has been, and will be, and we are the incarnate manifestations of that activity. We live because God is living, we move because God is moving, we are because God is. This concept of everything existing in God – panentheism – is found in Paul’s understanding of the Risen Christ. Jesus, as the Risen Christ, is, in Paul’s theology, the cosmic nexus between God and humankind.
Paul’s personal encounters with Jesus occurred in his visions of the Risen Christ. The only historical information about Jesus that gets any press began in Paul’s epistles begins on Maundy Thursday and ends on Easter Morning. Consequently, his epistles never mention Jesus’ parentage, his miracles, his parables, his disciples other than Peter, or his ministerial teachings other than the words of institution used in Holy Communion.
For Paul, the Resurrection was the reset point of God’s original relationship with us. Jesus as the Risen Christ is declared by Paul to be the first born of a new creation who, as a man was sown a physical body and, as the Christ was raised a spiritual body as stated in his first letter to the Corinthians (15)
* * * * * * * * * *
In his defense at the Areopagus, Paul also accused the Athenians of becoming too religious for their own good, as demonstrated by their many idols. They had become God-blind – a problem every age encounters, including our own. Paul knew something about being God-blind.
It took his vision of the risen Christ on his way to Damascus to experience literal blindness which led him to see how blind he was about God. He went from being Saul, the Pharisee, a devout believer in a God of laws and strict discipline, to Paul, a prisoner of Christ, a man of faith, hope, and love who became shackled to a God of faith, hope, and love in us.
It was the wide embrace of God, the God and Father of all, as expressed in the poetry of Epimenides and Aratus that prompted him to a make the revolutionary claim echoed in every social/religious debate to this day:
“For there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in the risen Christ,” as he writes to the Galatians (Galatians 3:28).
Too often it is the Christians of today; especially those of rigid inclination who treat the Bible as being the literal inerrant word of God that are not only God-blind but also Bible-idolators. After all, it was Paul who entered into their inerrant view of the Biblical record the words of Epimenides and Aratus, the poets of Zeus, giving Epimenides’ Paradox a new twist:
If the word of God is literal and inerrant, are the quotes by Epimenides and Aratus found in the New Testament, inerrant also?
By extension, does not Paul’s use of their definition of Zeus make Zeus another name for God?
* * * * * * * * * *
God is known by many names; and yet, no single name can describe the ineffable, intimate, pervading sense of BEING that God is. So in our liturgies and hymns when we reference God’s name, we capitalize the word “Name,” as in today’s opening hymn:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, in light inaccessible hid from our eyes, most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, almighty, victorious, thy great Name we praise.
To all life thou givest, to both great and small; in all life thou livest, the true life of all. We blossom and flourish, like leaves on the tree, then wither and perish; but nought changeth thee.
To which, I am confident, Aratus, Epimenides, and Paul would say, “AMEN!”
* * * * * * * * * *
Until next time, stay faithful.
 Translated by Prof. J. Rendel Harris in a series of articles in the Expositor (Oct. 1906, 305–17; Apr. 1907, 332–37; Apr. 1912, 348–353; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epimenides
 “To An Unknown God,” Christians in Crete, Connecting God’s Family http://christiansincrete.org/news/to-an-unknown-god/
 “Phenomenon” translated by G.R. Mair; http://www.theoi.com/Text/AratusPhaenomena.html
 “Immortal, invisible, God only wise” by Walter Chalmers Smith (1824-1908), number 423 in The Hymnal 1982.