Week 5: July 3-9, 2016
Read: Acts 17:22-31 (Mission in the Athens)
“`In him (God) we live and move and have our being,’” (Acts 17:28). While the source of this quote spoken by Paul is unknown, it is the summary of our basic understanding of God. Our whole life is a gift from God. Offer thanks frequently, do not take more than this moment in time for granted and make the most of it. We will never get today back.
Looking in the Mirror
Know the course. I have been a runner my whole life. In high school I ran cross country and in track my only event was the two mile run. I won the conference meet in the two mile in my senior year among a host of small farming schools. While I like to run, my speed is not in any stretch of the imagination fast. If slow and steady could actually win a race, I might win a few!
Since moving to Rockford almost ten years ago, I have really enjoyed running along the Park District bike path. The Park District is a real bonus to our community. The bike path in particular offers miles of a safe and well-kept trail. The cool breeze and nice view running along the Rock River is peaceful. I have put in a lot of training miles along this route.
When my youngest daughter Amanda was in high school, I encouraged her to keep running by making a pact with her that before she got married we should run three marathons together, the last one being the original marathon in Greece. The trip to Greece made it enticing. While Amanda was in college we ran a half-marathon in Green Bay at the end of her freshman year. A couple of summers later, we ran our first marathon in Hurley, Wisconsin. We were on our way toward our goal of three marathons.
Amanda did a year of what is called Young Adults in Global Mission (YAGM) with the ELCA right of college. She was placed in a church outside of Manchester in the United Kingdom. I flew over to visit her after Easter and we ran our second marathon in Blackpool, England. When she returned to the States before too long we scheduled our trip to Greece.
It was a very cool and rainy morning in mid-November when we boarded the bus from Athens to take us to Marathon, Greece. In 490 B.C.E. a Greek victory was won in battle called the Battle of Marathon against their long time enemy, the Persians. The legend tells that a Greek messenger by the name of Pheidippides ran from the battlefield to Athens, 26.2 miles, to announce the victory won by the Greeks over the much superior Persians. Amanda and I rode the bus with a large group of Cyprian men who had smeared a liberal amount of Ben Gay on their bodies which filled the bus with its odor.
The wind and the driving rain was not how I had imagined this race as I trained in Rockford. Thankfully it was more wind than rain and as the race began, I came to appreciate the cool temperatures. Amanda agreed to remain with me in this marathon. She had to run with my time which was much slower than hers but finally the horn sounded for our group to begin the run. Thinking about everything I had imagined over the years of preparation, the first six miles were a breeze. In fact we covered the first eight miles in under an hour. I was so excited that we way outrunning my training pace. Maybe I could run on adrenaline and keep this pace up? Wrong!
While miles 1-8 were nice and flat running along the Aegean Sea, the time came to begin turning westward to Athens. Know the course. I had trained on the relatively flat course of the Rockford Park District. Miles 12-22 felt as if they were mostly uphill. Despite water stops along the way, I could not stay hydrated. By mile 18 cramps in my thighs set in. My running brain found it next to impossible to push through the pain by continued running. With way too much walking and cramped up running, we made it to mile 24 where the crowds of Athens lined the route original marathon and carried me jogging to the finish line.
Know the course. Prepare accordingly. Like many things in life, our mind plays a large part in determining the outcome. When I have experienced pain, exhaustion or some other problem, my mind goes to the message: stop running. That may be the right message occasionally. Too often, it is a bail-out message telling me to quit. It is our brain so we can choose to ignore any message and send a new word like: you are doing a great job! Keep going!
As followers of Jesus who are called to be his witnesses, we need to be prepared and know were our location. Some locations do not allow our witness in public. In that case, we can let the love of Jesus shine through us. At other times, we know and meet people who are struggling in life and who we think could find what they are looking for if only they knew the Lord. Seek the Lord yourself and be prepared. This is a great time to be the church in our community and world. God needs witnesses that are prepared and willing to share his love and story.
Spotlight on Dionysius & Damaris
It is rather ironic that the longest speech of Paul in the historic center of Greek culture yields such a small response. This is seen as the high water mark in Paul’s mission. Only two names mentioned following Paul’s speech before the Greek council: a council leader named Dionysius and a woman named Damaris. Despite Paul’s great work in Athens, it is God who gives the growth.
Paul splits his attention in Athens between the Jews and the Greeks. It is with the latter group that Paul gives the bulk of his time. Greek mythology is woven into the fabric of the Greek culture. It is no wonder that Paul saw many temples and artwork dedicated to the Greek gods. From his monotheistic Jewish roots and now his convictions about Jesus as God’s son, it is little wonder that Paul would be troubled by the many gods and god stories of the Greeks.
Reason and philosophy, rhetoric and debate were a rich part of the Greek culture as well. Paul debated with the Epicureans. Epicurus (342-271 B.C.) and the schools named after him sought to attain happiness by natural reasoning and philosophical discussion and to free people from the fear of death, from irrational belief in gods and from ensnarement in vices (Gerhard Krodel, Augsburg Commentary on the New Testament: Acts, Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1986, pp. 324-5). The goal was to be so freed by an inner tranquility through reason that no pain, nor disaster, nor poverty or sexual gratification could steal your peace.
Paul also debated with the Stoic philosophers. The Stoics traced their origin to Zeno (ca. 320 B.C.)…The fundamental belief of this philosophy was that virtue is the only good and vice the only evil. To be virtuous was to live in conformity with nature, our own and the nature of the cosmos. The cosmos was ruled by reason…The Stoic gospel was therefore an appeal to change from a life of passion to a life in accordance to reason (Krodel, p. 325). Paul offered a new thought: Jesus and the resurrection (17:18).
When Paul is brought in front of the council (Areopagus), Paul changes his approach from how he has previously preached and taught to build a bridge to this philosophical Greek audience in Athens. He demonstrates his ability to read his audience and their culture and be nimble. He switches his opening from Jesus to God, the Creator. It is noteworthy that Paul begins with affirmation not denunciation. Turn by turn, Paul advanced his message based on the First Article of the Creed which is all about God as Creator. From 17:22 to the last portion of 17:31, Paul unravels the creative activity of God who has made all things and all nations. Finally, Paul moves to the righteous judge who God raised from the dead. Before the name of Jesus could be mentioned, the discussion was stopped. It was the few who wanted to hear more that became the core of the newly emerging Athenian church.
Paul left Athens and traveled to Corinth where, according to Acts 18:5, Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia. However, Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians offers another perspective. In this letter, written by Paul during his time in Corinth, he is troubled by the way he left Thessalonica and Beroea because of the mob action from a resistant group in Thessalonica. Out of concern for the newly formed Christian church in Thessalonica, he sent Timothy who was with him in Athens to the believers in Thessalonica so he could hear how they were doing (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5). Timothy returned to Paul, who likely now is in Corinth and told of the good news of how they were doing (1 Thessalonians 3:6ff).
- What do you think is our God-given mission at Grace Lutheran Church & Preschool at this time and in this place? How are we doing? What do you think we need to be doing?
- How widely do you think this mission is embraced and engaged by the people of Grace? If there is room to encourage more engagement at Grace in this mission, how would you suggest we go about that?
- What grabbed your attention in Paul’s mission in Athens?
- What do you take away from today’s reading?