Sunday 23rd June: Ian Wardle

Below are the notes from Ian Wardle's  preach

A few weeks ago I found myself on the Aeropagus. Quite literally. It had not been
my intention to go there. I was simply looking for a good place to get a photo of
the Acropolis. My phone told me where I was. Thanks google. Its also known as
Mars hill which may be more familiar to some of you.

I felt standing on that spot was actually more momentus than intended. I love the
passage about Paul interacting with the Athenian philosphers and felt quite excited
to be there.

(I am told you are currently having a series based on song names. I found Bruces
Philosophers song by Monty Python, but the lyrics are not suited to polite company
so I dropped the idea. Went for books instead !!)

Standing on the Aeropagus also reminded me about the ongoing question in my
mind of how we can effectively reach and connect with people in a world where
the Christian message is increasingly seen as outdated, irrelivent and in many cases
negative.

Paul had been in Thessalonica preaching in the synagogue where some of the Jews
had taken exception to his message and chased him away.
Then Paul along with Silas make their way to Berea where the message was well
received. It says many believed. Then the jews from Thessalonica turned up to
cause trouble and Paul ends up in Athens awaiting Silas and Timothy.
We will be looking at Acts 17: 24 - 34

I don’t want to get into all the deep interpretations on this passage today. I would
prefer instead for us to look at the discussions Paul had, the way he connected with
those he was talking with and how it challenges us today.

If we look back to when Paul arrived in Athens he was “greatly distressed” to find
a city full of idols. He also quickly started conversation with different
philosophers. In fact they were the ones who brought him to the Aeropagus. By the
time he begins to speak he has a good understanding of his audience, recognizes
they have a very different world view to his and will not have an automatic
understanding of Jewish tradition and scripture

We will look at Pauls speech in 3 parts. This way I will hopefully keep on track
and you will have a rough idea when I will finish so you can go home and enjoy
your Sunday roast/picnic/bbq.
Verses 22 - 23
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of
worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an
unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you
worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

Do we understand/relate to the people we are engaging with?
Are we responding to questions they are asking?
Are we presuming their world view is the same as ours?
I notice a few things here that Paul does and says that we can learn from.
? He shows a genuine interest and understanding of who they are and what
makes them tick
? He assures them that he has done his research. He may be new to the city but
he is not ignorant of it.
? He is starting from the point where they are asking questions.
It is worth notng that it was the philosophers themselves who wanted to bring him
here so he had permission to speak. He also seemed to realise that he could goad
them in the right way.

He tells them they are “religious” and “ignorant” in his opening remarks. Now in
many situations this would have been offensive. But not to a group of pantheistic
philosophers who spend their life discussing every new idea that comes along. Paul
understands his audience and connects with them. He also realises that the
religious altar (that we would probably be scared of) is actually the link to
meaningful discussion.

Lamu guys example. I had time to understand the place and culture. They
recognized I was not a tourist. Allowed them to talk first and ask the questions.
The link in for them was that God is relational.
Going back to Paul. He takes the God they don’t know and says “Let me introduce
you” !!

Verses 24 - 29
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord
of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human
hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed
anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and
everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that
they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their
appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27
God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out
for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28
‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’[ a ] As some of
your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’[ b ]
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think
that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image
made by human design and skill.

Do we use language that makes sense to our listeners?
Do we presume an underlying understanding that may not be there?
Do we preach an inclusive or exclusive message?
Paul could have used references to OT prophesies and Jewish tradition and
scripture.

This would have confused the audience, missed their basic understanding and
would have left them feeling excluded/unacceptable by their lack of jewishness.
Instead he focuses on God as creator, our dependence on him for life and purpose
and that he cannot be contained. These aspects of the nature of God would have fed
the philosphical mindset of his listeners and would have made sense.

I remember being baffled by Christian language before I got saved. Having come
from an anti-church/anti-Christian/anti-God home it seemed like nonsense to me.
“ Be saved by the blood of the lamb that was slain at calvary” makes sense to me
now. But then was double dutch.

What did make sense was to be told there was purpose/order and a creator behind
the beauty of the nature I loved and that this creator was a personable God I could
know. This worked for me. Someone had the wisdom to connect with me in a way
that made sense.

Paul is doing the same.
Then he shows great wisdom by connecting his message to the words of their own
poets. A compliment to those he is speaking to, and at the same time a stepping
stone to help them understand the God he is proclaiming is personal, familial, can
be known

Effectively he is saying you have a statue to an unknown God. You don’t need it
any more as my God you can relate to.
I live in an area of the world where religious christianity, Catholicism, Islam and
African traditional religion have got very muddled.

But I have learnt over time that this can be drawn on in much the way that Paul
focussed in on the unknown God. By recognising that the missing link in the many
interpretations of faith we have around east Africa is the personal relationship we
can have with a saviour, is often the connecting point.

Wherever we are in the world our message needs to resonate.
In Europe/UK now the prevalent world view is post Christian, liberal, exploratory,
and more alligned with mystical spirituality than main line faith.
Rather than wringing our hands in despair we need to find a connecting point in to
this and see where the need is.

My hunch or observation would be that society here is lonely and disconnected.
People desperately want meaningful relationship and community but are scared to
reach out for it. They live with an increasing fear of the future, the trajectory of
world politics, the state of the planet. In a material sense they have a lot but
spiritually and communally feel empty.

I believe that the unchanging message of a God that came down to earth in the
person of Jesus, who fully understands and connects with our human frailty and
weakness, is as valuable a message today as ever before.
I also feel that a God who puts parameters/guidelines/a moral compass in to a
world flying out of control is a politically incorrect message that people
desperately need (and deep down want) to hear.
We need to find a way to be acceptably offensive
.
Which brings us on to the last section
Verses 30 - 34
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he
commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a
day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has
appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him
from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of
them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on
this subject.” 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the
people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was
Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named
Damaris, and a number of others.

Now we are on shaky ground in today's society. Standing on a
street corner shouting “Repent, Repent” may not be as effective
as it was in Pauls day.
But re-phrase it and it stands the test of time.
God still wants us to take seriously the need to live in a way that
honours him.

He still desires us to change direction and leave behind the things
that are destroying us. He still wants us to offer our lives as a
living sacrifice for him to transform.
If we don’t offer that message then we are instead offering dead
religion that changes nothing

But I think there is still a hunger for change, a disatisfaction with
life that needs replacing with something meaningful. We need to
offer the relational community where people can find what they
are looking for.

Last word on Paul. Maybe it is playing with semantics but I think
it is important.
Some sneered, some wanted to hear more, some
believed……..and…..Paul left.
The impression I get is that Paul felt he had done all he could do.
Rather than interfering with whatever God wanted to do in the
lives of these men it was better to move on and allow the Holy
Spirit to do his work.

I know I have been guilty over the years of taking ownership of
Gods work. Of pushing too hard to the point of driving people
away. This I think is a lesson for today even more than before.
We should not expect our faith to resonate with all those with whom we
share it, and it is not our place to condemn those who choose a different
path. We must welcome in those who desire to join us and hopefully open
ourselves to further conversation with those willing to engage us again.
Paul found a place in Athens where he could engage with these men.
If people here in Bognor are searching for meaningful community where will
they find it? And will you be there to meet them? Will it be in church or do
you need to find the aeropagus of Bognor Regis? 

Julie Passmore, 26/06/2019