You are on page 1of 4

2017A 6 Easter Paul at Mars Hill Acts 17:22-31

The Rev. Nancy S. Streufert


21 May 2017 Christ Church

In his book The Language of God, Francis Collins, who directed the
Human Genome Project, describes his path from atheist to evangelical
Christian.

Collins had little use for religion until his 20s when his scientific work
in biochemistry and medicine led him to acknowledge that the beauty
and order of nature points undeniably to a Creator God. In the book, he
describes his surrender to Christ after concluding that science, despite
its unquestioned powers to unravel the mysteries of the natural world,
would get [him] no further in resolving the question of God. If God
exists, He reasoned, then He must be outside the natural world . . . .

After the book was published in 2006, Collins received thousands of e-


mails from individuals who wanted to know more about the
relationships between scripture and science. In response, he
established the BioLogos Foundation to answer these questions and to
promote the notion that science and faith are entirely compatible.

Unwittingly, Dr. Collins became an evangelist.

Evangelism is not a popular word among Episcopalians because it is


often associated with annoying and heavy-handed methods to try to
convert people to Christianity before they are ready.

But this definition from David Gortner, an Episcopal priest from his
book Transforming Evangelism, is much closer to what it really means:
Evangelism is your natural expression of gratitude for Gods
goodness. Gratitude and wonder, born of grace, drive evangelism,
propelling you outward beyond yourself Your story compels you to
give yourself to others, expressing in word and deed the wonder and
delight of Gods love for you and all humanity. (p. 1)

And that brings me to Paul, who was arguably the most gifted
evangelist of all time. Whether he was speaking to non-believing Jews,
his young Christian churches or learned Greek philosophers, Paul was
able to find common ground with his audiences without compromising
his message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Because Paul was so highly
principled and consistent in his teaching, he was radically free to adapt
his gospel message to the circumstances at hand and to make it
accessible to the diverse populations he encountered on his missionary
journeys.

In the passage from Acts today, Paul is speaking to the Athenians from
an open-air place called the Areopagus, also known as Mars Hill where
Socrates had taught a few centuries earlier. Making his way around
Athens, Paul was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of
idols. As usual, he teaches in the synagogues of the places he visits,

1
2017A 6 Easter Paul at Mars Hill Acts 17:22-31
The Rev. Nancy S. Streufert
21 May 2017 Christ Church

but here in Athens, he also proclaims the gospel in the marketplace


where he meets a different crowd, the learned philosophers of Greek
antiquity.

He starts by recognizing their religiosity: 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.

Notice that he starts with the positive, the common ground. Then he
goes on to say, 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.

With this statement, Paul is reaching out to at least two schools of


philosophers: 1) the Epicureans who believed that life exists by chance
and who were deeply critical of idolatry. No deity was interested in
their happiness so it was folly to assume that the gods needed
anything from humans, and so to offer sacrifices to them was pointless.

And he reaches out to the Stoics who were guided by reason and who
believed that the deity is in all things. In him we live and move and
have our being. He references this beautiful phrase that scholars
believe was probably written by a Stoic and that we find in our collect
for guidance:

Paul goes on to say: as even some of your own poets have said, For
we too are his offspring.

Here Paul is quoting an admired Greek poet named Aratus from his
work Phaenomena, that describes the constellations and weather
signs. It starts: From Zeus let us begin; him do we mortals never leave
unnamed; always we all have need of Zeus. For we are also his
offspring; and he in his kindness tells what time the soil is best for
the labor of the ox and what time the seasons are favorable both for
the planting of trees and for casting all manner of seeds .

Paul appeals to their reason by pointing out that since we are Gods
offspring, it doesnt make sense to exchange the glory of the immortal
God for images resembling mortal man. Paul is diplomatic and
demonstrates his knowledge of Greek culture. At the same time, he
remains firm in his conviction that the unknown god they worship is
actually the God who made the world and everything in it and who
is Lord of heaven and earth. and who is near to us.

2
2017A 6 Easter Paul at Mars Hill Acts 17:22-31
The Rev. Nancy S. Streufert
21 May 2017 Christ Church

Last Sunday in our gospel reading, Jesus said to his disciples Very
truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I
do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to
the Father. What were Jesus works in the world? Healing yes,
teaching yes, but more generally, Jesus works were to make known
the power and character of God while he walked the earth. For his
disciples and that includes us to share in his works means to share
in the revealing of God to the nations, to the world.

Our work as Christians is to reveal God to the world. That is what Jesus
has called us to do. We are to be evangelists, all of us. And to be
effective evangelists, we must discern the best way to do this based on
the gifts we have been given and the life experiences we have had and
above all by praying to God for guidance.

What follows the passage read from Acts today is this:

When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but
others said, We will hear you again about this But some of them
joined him and became believers

It is not for us to be concerned about how people will respond to our


message as long as we are true to who we are, who we have been
made to be, and who we are becoming in Christ and that we live that
truth openly, in words and deeds, in our sharing with others. (David
Gortner Transforming Evangelism, p. 43)

We can learn how to be effective evangelists from Paul. He acquainted


himself with his audiences, he was discerning about the circumstances
of his encounters and he was flexible. And he was firm in his message
of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Where do we start?

The key phrase from that definition I read earlier is this: Evangelism is
your natural expression of gratitude for Gods goodness.

I find awe and gratitude in science and music and have much
knowledge and years of experience in both. I thank God every day for
giving me the desire to learn and the capacity to develop the things
that are beautiful to me and that bring me joy. What makes me an
evangelist is that I feel compelled to share with others that the joy I
experience from these things has come through Gods grace and the
Holy Spirit working in my life.

Our natural world is a good place for anyone to start. It is a rare person
who is not awed at one time or another by something in nature, by the

3
2017A 6 Easter Paul at Mars Hill Acts 17:22-31
The Rev. Nancy S. Streufert
21 May 2017 Christ Church

sense that there is something out there that is larger than we can
imagine. Whatever works best for you: share your life, share your
gratitude for Gods goodness.

Let us pray:

O God of Grace and Truth, in you we live and move and have our being.
Open our hearts and minds to your wisdom and guide us in what we
are to say and do to reveal you to a skeptical world at a time and in a
way that is appropriate to our own gifts and life experience. May our
words and actions carry on the work that Jesus gave us to do. In His
name we pray. Amen.