Knowing the context and telling the story
Lord, by the power of the Holy Spirit - may I speak only the truth and may only the truth be heard, in the name of Jesus the Christ our Saviour – Amen
Here are a few thoughts from Garrison Keillor on Anglicans (who by the way is an Anglican himself):
Anglicans believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
Anglicans believe their rectors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there.
Anglicans believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.
Anglicans think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.
Anglicans drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.
Anglicans feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.
And finally, you know you are an Anglican when:
-You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can. or
- When you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, "May the Force be with you," and you respond, "and also with you."
I share this with you for a few reasons, not in the least because I think they are funny and I hope that you do too – it’s healthy to smile loudly at ourselves
But also to illustrate an important point
That each culture and in fact each sub and sub-sub culture has its own unique characteristics
This is what the Apostle Paul understood and showed us in his encounter with the Athenians and in particularly in his sermon at the Aero-op-a-gus
Paul approached them with an understanding and with connecting points to their culture
Let me back-peddled for a moment and set the stage for our reading today…
Paul is on what has become known as his second missionary trip
- He has recently traveled from Thessalonica, where he had first preached in the Synagogues and the marketplace and but angry mob of jealous Jews chased them (Paul, Silas, and Timothy) out
- And so he went from there to Berea, but when some of the Jews from Thessalonica had heard that he was preaching the word of God in Berea, they stirred up troubled and the loyal brethren sent him out to sea and on to Athens
- There Paul spent time in the Synagogues and marketplace, as was his practice
- And he spent time traveling about the city – observing – taking in the culture
- The Athenians eager for something new invited him to speak of his beliefs at the Aero-op-a-gus
The "Aero-op-a-gus" was both a place and a group.
It's a small rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis in Athens (Greek for "hill of Ares" or in Latin "Mars Hill").
More importantly, they were the most prestigious and venerable council of elders in the history of Athens, so-named because it met on that site.
Dating back to the 5th-6th centuries BCE, the Aero-op-a-gus consisted of nine archons or chief magistrates who guided the city-state away from rule by a king to rule by an oligarchy that laid the foundations for Greece's eventual democracy.
Across the centuries the Aero-op-a-gus changed, so that by Paul's day it was a place where matters of the criminal courts, law, philosophy and politics were adjudicated.
So it is into this land – these people and this elite sub-group of people that the apostle Paul, after observing the city, delivers a stirring sermon
Now the stirring part I will deal with in a moment but the first lesson we get from Paul is not ‘what’ but ‘how’
Paul, begins with:
“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23For 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.’
Paul meets them where they live and drawing on his observations of the culture, compliments them and approaches them with a connecting point
This is not manipulation – but the in the spirit of love and the graciousness of a respectful guest, Paul is looking for an approach in which he could connect and relate to them in some way; so he could share what has blessed his life
Essentially this is ‘cultural translation’
In the spirit of love, sharing what has blessed his life
This is not the only example of this in this short story, later; Paul mentions two passages of famous poems but shedding new light to them and saying
“as even some of your own poets have said”
Another ‘cultural translation’ to aid in his effort to share what has blessed him
And now the stirring part of Paul’s sermon…
This too, can be noted by both “what is the message” and “how the message” is told
“How…” - Paul, in the spirit of love, does not give them part of the message, nor does he watered down the message to make it more palatable!
Paul finds connecting points - then gives them a powerful message of hope
He tells them:
- What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. – God is knowable
- God made the world and everything in it - One Master creator
- He who is Lord of heaven and earth - Almighty ruler
- does not live in shrines made by human hands - God is alive & not created by us
- nor is he served by human hands - doesn’t survive by our actions
- he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things - living God continually gives life to all things
- [God created us to] search for God and - we are created yearning to return to God’s perhaps grope for him and find him love – a homing device in each of us
- Indeed he is not far from each one of us. - God is personal and present for us
- we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, - we are formed in God’s image not
or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art God in ours
and imagination of mortals.
- God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, - God is merciful
- now he commands all people everywhere to repent,
brief aside on the word "repent" - This key word does not mean
"to feel sorry", but rather "to turn about", "to change direction." In New
Testament use it often means to turnaround and follow Christ. So, a phrase
like "turn to Christ" would be appropriate. – we are called into obedience
- He has fixed a day on which he will have the world - God the provider
judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed,
- He has given assurance to all by raising him - proved His dominion over [Jesus] from the dead.” everything – even death
All of this sounds very creedal to me
May I suggest that it is a bold statement of what the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to Believed!
I said it was a powerful message of hope
It is to me, a grand vision of God – not merely the domesticated gods of their idols, each limited to a narrow dominion of responsibility
It was very controversial to this elite sub-group of people with so much of their culture invested with their wisdom and idol worship
Idol worship that was to a myriad of gods
Not – to the one, true, almighty, all powerful, creator of all - not the created, life giving to everything, personal and merciful
This description and identity of God would have rocked them to the core
And then Paul concludes with the most controversial of all ideas
Resurrection – and an all encompassing purposeful resurrection – manifested in one man
This would have taken them too far to remain in the world of ideas that they knew
In Paul’s one opportunity to speak to this council of the Elite
– the Aero-op-a-gus – despite some sneering and most rejecting him
– It is truly a miracle some in fact joined him
Paul later wrote of his experience in 1 Corinthians:
18 For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who
are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of
the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside 20 Where is the wise man?
Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the
wisdom of the world? (1 Corinthians 1:18-20)
The apostle Paul teaches us to observe, find connecting points and to speak the full message with boldness
Paul proclaimed the good news with a spirit of respect and not domination.
There is a concept which has been coined “spiritual friendship.”
I think that Paul practiced spiritual friendship in the way he engaged the people of Athens
The longer I look at the Athenian philosophers, these ancient heathen, the more they look like Canadians of today.
These Gentile heathen of centuries ago enjoyed the blessings of political freedom in what was one of the earliest democracies.
They were cultured, highly intelligent, and educated, and very religious, but they had rejected God and exchanged the worship of the one true God for “gods” of their own.
How much like them our culture is like.
We have more confidence in human reasoning and our search for truth than we do in the one who is the Truth, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We, as a culture, are always in pursuit of something new and novel.
And so what is our response
At our worst, we Christians have isolated and insulated ourselves from our culture's mainstreams.
We can be inward-looking, self-absorbed, self-important, and cloistered, instead of engaging people
At our best, Christians have always been just as comfortable living, learning and sharing the Gospel in the marketplace of ideas as is the ministry of the church, in bars and board rooms
Believe it or not we are all given numerous situations in which we have the opportunity to "give a reason for the hope that is in you."
It doesn’t need to be any more complicated then sharing your own story
To people that you care about or love enough share what has blessed you
Remember, we are the Church, God’s risk of love in history, as mature and immature as the average of its members
So as you go from here - and as you will return to your own varied sub-sub cultures, whether that be family, bridge group, golf club, poker pals, work or whatever.
May you leave empowered with the knowledge that you are able to ‘at very least’ to share your own story of why you come to church
And therefore ‘in whatever way’ why your faith is important to you
May you go in the knowledge that God goes before you – that just as you are of God’s ways – following God’s commandments – that “in Him we live and move and have our being”
And “may the force be with you”
And also with you - Amen