Monday, July 25, 2016

As In Athens

Raphael’s depiction of Paul in Athens is similar, but yet different, from street preachers today. Instead of going to Athens, we see him leaving Berea, where his words were met with learning and researching but detractors couldn’t stand that interest in his words. (Acts 17:11-14)

In Athens, Paul reaches out to his primary audience:

Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him. (Acts 17:16-17 KJV)

He has an audience with a long cultural history with their own beliefs, along with temples, statues and monuments to their deities. As a Jew, Paul would recognize idolatry, but as a follower of Jesus, he cared about what happened to the Athenians. What he said did not condemn them, and they were interested in learning more:

Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection. (Acts 17:18 KJV)

There’s a place in Athens where people expect to hear new ideas. Paul stands before them without protest signs. That’s not necessary in a city that prides itself on education and debate – they have platforms for speakers to share thoughts. (Acts 17:19-21)

Then, Paul preached. (Acts 17:22-33)

Please read that for yourself. He did call them superstitious – the Greek word used is δεισιδαιμονέστερος, a compound word that combines “more” and “religious”, which could be taken two ways:
    1. in a good sense
      1. reverencing god or the gods, pious, religious
    2. in a bad sense
      1. superstitious
I believe we can take away a serious lesson from Paul’s interaction with the Athenians as we interact with people of other faiths – and our opportunities to do just that will grow and grow as our nation diversifies. We have opportunities today. Across my work years, I interacted with devout believers of Atheism, Christianity (in its various interpretations) Hinduism, Islam (both Shiite and Sunni, perhaps Wahhabism), Judaism (Conservative, Orthodox and Reformed), Sikhism, Taoism and Wicca.
A kind Jewish gentleman taught me how to break a number of Religious Laws by eating a ham sandwich on a high holy day. A Wiccan explained how he left Catholicism for Wicca. I also heard how an abused wife left Christianity as her soon-to-be-ex-husband’s abuse was justified by their church with Ephesians 5:22 and Colossians 3:18, completely out of context.  One supervisor, a Catholic, Jesuit trained for priesthood, explained to me how wrong it was to use biblical references, which should be left up to a priest to interpret for today’s world.

I’ve discussed my beliefs under a number of circumstances, but the simplicity of Paul’s sermons is as valid today as it was in Athens. The only better of his sermons (in my view) was before Agrippa. (Acts 26:1-28)

That’s all we can do – tell of Jesus, His life, His teachings, His death – but most of all, His resurrection. We can refer to the apostles who wrote of Him, the changes in their lives. We can refer to changes in our own – but that’s all. And, we can move on when we’re told – as Paul was:

Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian. And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. (Acts 26:28-29 KJV)

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