Written by Courtney McHill, United Methodist Pastor
Paul is hanging out in Athens waiting for Silas and Timothy, his travelling and ministry companions. As he waits, he gets more and more irked. He sees a city full of idols. This is one sure way to tick off a Jewish preacher. So he starts to engage with people around him. He talks in the synagogue and he talks in the marketplace. Paul starts to go where the people are to have conversations. So the people decide to engage Paul in a place where he can preach. And preach he does.
Now, I use this term preach. What does it mean? And how does Paul model what we also should be doing? What will we preach when we do? Let me just say right off the bat that while your pastors preach each week, preaching the gospel (or the good news of God as it is translated) is not just a pastor job. We are all called to share our faith and the good news in Jesus. This is what preaching is. First of all, to preach is to proclaim what God has done and what God is doing. Preaching is also about formation. We all get to help shape the Gospel into hearable and liveable chunks. Every time we proclaim, we get to reshape and reclaim what the Bible means for us. Finally, we are stewards of that proclamation. We are all part of this community that proclaims what we have seen God doing.
Enter Paul. He feels this urge to share what God is doing and reclaiming the gospel in this place. He does it very wisely. We should take note. He finds common ground with those listening. He connects to the congregation and integrates them immediately. Paul even quotes the ancient poets that the Athenians hold dear. We are all connected and find wisdom in the same spaces. Because of that, Paul didn’t need to quote the bible but he needed to proclaim the sacred. “In him we live and move and have our being” is probably from Epimenides (6th century BCE), and “We are his offspring” likely comes from Aratus (3rd century BCE).
Then once Paul has connected, he proclaims that God lives in resurrection. This would have been shocking but it also means he holds his own ground in Jesus Christ. We are an embodied religion. We care about the fact that God came to us in flesh and blood and continues on in body. While Paul preaches what God has been doing, Paul preaches what God will do, grounded in his own belief. We can have conversation with what is different but we can also claim our own base. Paul models what we can continue to proclaim as disciples of Jesus Christ. This passage in Acts gives every one of us permission to proclaim our shared faith and what God is doing in the world. What will you preach?
Quotes of the Week “Give me 100 preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God; such alone will shake the gates of hell.” ― John Wesley
“I don’t like to hear cut and dried sermons. No—when I hear a man preach, I like to see him act as if he were fighting bees.” ― Abraham Lincoln
Acts 17: 16-31 (NRSV)While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and also in the marketplaceevery day with those who happened to be there. Also some Epicurean and Stoic philosophers debated with him. Some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign divinities.” (This was because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.) So they took him and brought him to the Areopagus and asked him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? It sounds rather strange to us, so we would like to know what it means.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.
Then 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. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 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.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Questions for the Week
Are you a preacher? Why or why not?
What good new will you proclaim?
What would you love to share in your community?