Today we celebrate the 6th Sunday of Easter. We also celebrate Rogation Sunday, so we pray for the fruits of the earth and for our farmers. The Gospel reading about the Vine and the branches is a very good one. Later on, I will say a few things about it but let us first go to the first reading where St. Paul is talking about the “Unknown God”. What does he mean with that? If you know a little bit about the Greek mythology, then you know that they worshipped a whole bunch of different Gods. But obviously they were aware of an “unknown” deity as well. Ancient Greeks worshipped a deity they called "Agnostos Theos", that is: "Unknown God". In Athens, there was a temple specifically dedicated to that god and very often Athenians would swear "in the name of the Unknown God" Paul heightens the tension between the immanence and transcendence of God. Maybe were a bit like the Greeks. We like God to sponsor our political ideologies and patriotic projects. And so, today’s lesson from Paul is to move away from our “false Gods” and turn toward the “unknown” God from Jesus Christ. We must join with the Apostle Paul in proclaiming the unknown God.
Cutting across our speculation and superstition, this God punctures our comfortable idolatries and calls us all to give account. Paul ‘was deeply distressed’ at the abundance of idols and images within the city. This reaction is a characteristically Jewish one as a common Jewish polemic against idolatry. The manner of Paul’s speech provides evidence of his scholarly training. His opening reference to the extreme religiousness of the Athenians has an ambiguity that he will proceed to exploit. However, through his reference to the altar of the unknown God, Paul paints a picture of an excessive, superstitious piety. In the saturated market of Athenian idolatry. Paul declares the transcendence and sovereignty of God as the Creator of all things. This deity is related to all human beings and is involved in the life and destiny of the race. God’s engagement in life occurs in order that humanity might ‘grope for him and find him.’ Such a transcendent deity, who is reflected in humanity as his offspring, cannot appropriately be represented by inanimate idols of our own creation. Having introduced this transcendent and personal deity, Paul proclaims the end of ignorance, with the revelation of Jesus as the bearer of God’s salvation.
The thoroughly “known God” underwrites the national project and identity. This is the God who stands with us against all that is foreign and unsettling. That deity is being used to our cultural identities. So, we must join with Paul in proclaiming the transcendent God, who stands above and orders all human affairs. Sustaining and upholding us in existence, closer to us than our own heart, this God eludes all attempts to reduce him to an object of our mastery. Like Paul, we must identify our cultural idolatries and declaring the identity of our God. Paul’s message at the Areopagus received a lukewarm response. His declaration of a God who lays claim to us in Jesus Christ, goes against the speculative and superstitious religion. And maybe that is a message that our country and our world does not want to hear either. The darkness of superstition was scattered by the dazzling light of divine revelation. It is this same message that we are called to declare to the powers of our own age. Paul says that God does not reside in Temples made by human hands. We will find God everywhere. He is transcendent and immanent. But above all he resides in Jesus Christ our Lord and savior.
Just last week we heard Jesus say: “I am so long with you, how can you say show us the father? Don’t you know that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” That God is the very definition of Love. He is love not because he was cosmically lonely and decided he just had to have some human beings to talk to. He is love because his essence is love. He is the essence of life itself. God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have forever been in a relationship of pure, intense, joyous love. God loves before he creates anything. We cannot fully understand the mystery of this love in the Godhead. A God, that creates humans in his own image and then becomes a man, taking on human flesh. We can never finish “counting the ways” that God loves us. In a way God is incomprehensible. That is what Paul tells us today when he refers to the “unknown God”. We only can know him through Jesus Christ.
And when we turn to the Gospel that love of God becomes immanent in Jesus Christ. This Jesus tells us today that he is the Vine, the true Vine. The union of the human and Divine natures, and the fullness of the Spirit that is in him, resemble the root of the vine made fruitful. What a wonderful message on Rogation Sunday. Every wine or grape builder knows what it takes to let the grape tree be fruitful. You cut out the bad and cherish the good. The Father is the Husbandman. Never was any husbandman so wise, so watchful, about his vineyard, as God is about his church, his world and all of his people. We therefore must prosper and must be fruitful.
We must honor God and do good; this is bearing fruit. The unfruitful are taken away. The word of Christ is spoken to all believers; and there is a cleansing virtue in that word, as it works grace, and works out corruption. And the more fruit we bring forth, the more we abound in what is good, the more our Lord is glorified. In order to fruitfulness, we must abide in Christ, must have union with him by faith. Let us seek to live more simply on the fullness of Christ, and to grow more fruitful in every good word and work, so may our joy in Him and in his salvation be full. Amen!