Acts 17:16, 21-34 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=173183403
I’ve added a few verses to give context to where Paul was giving this sermon as well as to its outcome. The sermon at the Areopagus in Athens is an interesting one, especially in how it deals with the heart of what it means to proclaim the Christian story. Up to now, the audience has been Jewish, and the preaching in Jewish communities and synagogues. This is the first time that Paul has been in front of a community that was totally non-Jewish.
The proclaiming of Christ is entirely contextual. In the Jewish context, the people were familiar with the concept of the Messiah, and shared the common back-story of the people we know as the Old Testament patriarchs. But in Athens, Paul is faced with a crowd for whom that is not their story, and probably don’t know or certainly care about it. So where does he begin? He finds a point at which his story and their story connect. He finds the altar to the “unknown god”. He tapped into their deeply religious nature and uses it as a point of connection. In fact, where he ordinarily might have quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures, instead, his two quotes: “In him we live and move and have our being”, as well as “We are his offspring” come from the writings of Greek poet-philosophers.
Rather than condeming the Athenians beliefs and lives, Paul uses them as a point of contact, even (possibly) complimenting them on their religious dedication with the words “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way.” And the result? Some, predictably, scoffed. Yet others called on him to share more, listened, and some eventually became believers.
How do we need to make contact with our context? How might we seek to find that way to connect with others and share our story in more contextual ways? Is there a way to do it other than the traditional way Christians have often operated, saying “Your faith isn’t right. This is what you should believe. Be like us and you’ll be great”?
1 Peter 3:13-22 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=173183424
I’m interested in those opening lines, particularly the ones calling us to operate with “gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.” How often do we work from a point of gentleness? What kind of respect do we show even those with whom we differ?
The other line that I find interesting is how we should “always be ready to make your defense”. What does it mean to defend our faith? And what about doing that gently? I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ statement that you defend God like you do a lion… get out of the way.
John 14:15-21 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=173183443
Here we have some of Jesus final discourse. I’ve decided to forgo the John gospel texts this Easter because we hear John texts every year following Easter, and because the Acts text seemed more interesting, as well as trying to vary my choice of lessons. Pastors tend, myself included, to default to preaching on the Gospel text. Particularly starting our in a new ministry, the Book of Acts has a lot to say.
There is a lot that I could say about “the Advocate”, “The Spirit of truth”. But there is a different passage that is of interest… the “those who love me”. I had an acquaintance who was a police officer in Michigan. I got pulled over for speeding by a different officer. I gave him my license and he returned to his car. I figured I was going to get a ticket. But a minute or so later he came back with a warning, saying that Sgt. Pooley, the officer whose aunt was a member of my congregation, heard my name and told him “This guys a friend of mine. Give him a warning and tell him to slow down.” Now it wouldn’t have done any good for me to tell the officer who pulled me over “Sgt. Pooley is my friend. You should just give me a warning.” And likewise, it isn’t so much us knowing God and Jesus that makes a difference, it is the fact that they know us.