I suppose the thought first came to me more than halfway into our trip this summer. I was gazing at the remnants of Roman aqueducts near the ancient city of Perga, marveling at the engineering skill it took to erect them and the awesome power of Rome they represented, and I thought of an ugly, weak-eyed pipsqueak like Paul proclaiming the message of the gospel amid such opulence and authority, and suddenly the absurdity of the whole situation struck me.
Why would anybody believe what he had to say? And, even more to the point, how could Paul believe his own words?
One cannot walk down Ephesus' marble street, or stand slack-jawed at the temples dedicated in that city to various emperors and the absolute power of Rome, without thinking how laughable it must have sounded for Paul to say, "Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness...Therefore take up the whole armor of God so that you may be able to...stand firm" (Ephesians 6:12-13).
One cannot stand beside the Areopagus in Athens and look up at the Acropolis topped with the Parthenon - which had already been watching over the city for five centuries by the time Paul arrived - without thinking how ridiculous it must have sounded to hear Paul say, "The God who made the world and everything in it.does not live in shrines made by human hands" (Acts 17:24).
But here's the kicker: Paul was right.
The Roman authority bound up in those massive buildings came unraveled and fell like Ozymandias in the dust of history. The all-encompassing Greco-Roman culture of the ancient world crumbled like pages of poetry left out in the rain. But the message Paul proclaimed is heard today around the world.
Paul dared to believe something bigger than his own mind could conceive. He dared to speak of a world he had no power to create. He dared to trust in a God who appeared to be empty-handed in the face of gods who seemed to hold all the cards.
I wonder if I have ever come close to believing God so deeply. Encrusted with the barnacles of my culture, and hamstrung with the residue of American Christendom, I find it hard to trust God for more than the puniest of dreams.
Perhaps this year, as we begin our annual stewardship emphasis, I can risk trusting God with our church's finances, and my own personal commitment, more fully than ever before.
And as our Long Range Planning Committee draws closer to presenting a proposal to you regarding a building renovation plan, perhaps I can trust in God to do something bigger than I can handle in my own strength.
Didn't Paul say in Romans 8, "If God is for us, who is against us?"
Dear God, grant me the grace to really, truly, honestly, believe that.