Let us pray: Dear Savior, You have given us a guidebook on how to handle life and death. Your holy Words in the Bible are true and comforting. They sustain us in any and all circumstances. For this we thank You. And since You have also commanded us to reach out with Your message of truth to all others, inspire us today to do so by being honest, forthright, and also humble at the same time. For blood bought souls are at stake. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE ANSWER TO ALL LIFE’S HOPES, FEARS, AND DREAMS!
TEXT: Acts 17: 22-31
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
“How to talk so kids will listen, and listen so kids will talk” is the title of a book. It equips parents and others to actively communicate with children. It provides many insights into this process of dialoguing with kids instead of just ordering them around. And by doing so it helps build bridges between oldsters and youngsters—which is always a good thing.
All of us are prone to blurt out things to other people and regret them later. It takes genuine wisdom and thoughtfulness to tell people what they don’t want to hear, but need to hear. And such wisdom stems from a love for their very soul, doesn’t it? So, if we analyze today’s lesson and really pick it apart, we will discover exactly how the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to do that very thing among these intellectually floundering Athenians who thought they had all the answers to life, but in reality didn’t have a clue. For just as in our culture, they equated being “spiritual” and “religious” with truth, never questioning why they were still so fearful and unsettled inside. So, today, let’s see:
HOW TO TALK ABOUT GOD SO PEOPLE WILL LISTEN
St. Paul now found himself in Athens, the intellectual capital of the Roman Empire. He was surrounded by people who thought they had all the answers to life. People who debated, endlessly, every issue of life, death, and the meaning behind it all. After touring the city he found himself on the Areopagus, the meeting place where these high-minded debates took place. Paul, no slouch intellectually, since he was taught by the greatest teacher of the day, Gamaliel, now decides to shed some Divine light on all the logomachy, or endless debating, that these Athenians liked to engage in. He decided to speak Godly truth to them in order to re-order their priorities. Or, as St. Peter says: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
So, he begins: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with the inscription: To An Unknown God. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”
No doubt, this got their attention. Attention getting is always the first step in true communication. And notice how Paul builds on their current mindset. They had literally hundred of altars to every “god” known at that time. To hedge their bets at offending one they didn’t know, they even had an altar to an unknown god. Paul uses it to “set the hook.”
His first point is one of contrast. Whereas all their “gods” were limited by superimposing human foibles and strictures upon them, Paul tells them about the Real God Who has no such limits. “He made “the world and everything in it, is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in human-built temples.” Likewise, this all-powerful, all-knowing God doesn’t need us! “He is not served by mere human hands, as if He needed anything!” So, the unknown God is beyond mere human comprehension. He doesn’t need us, but we need Him! And this God graciously “gives all men life and breath and everything else.” Yes, human attempts to placate God Who needs nothing from us, is pure folly. In fact, all your altars and attempts at making yourself right with this God are pure folly. You may think you are very wise, but actually you’re rather foolish!
Paul’s next step at leading them toward Divine Truth further builds on common sense. “From one man he made every nation (obviously there had to be one human being who started humanity, which we know as Adam) that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He (God) determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” If God is truly all-mighty this has to be so. And it also points out that this all-powerful, creating God really cares about the future of human beings. He cares about you!
“God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” And then Paul quotes a couple of their well-known poets to drive this truth home: “For in him we live and move and have our very being.’ As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” In other words, we all need to give credit where credit is due.
To better understand this sermon, we need to go back to its’ opening where Paul uses the phrase: “I see that you are very religious.” Now, we might take that as a compliment. It wasn’t. Literally in the Greek text, Paul is saying: “I see that you are demon-fearing.” For all their erudite learning, these Athenians, just like most people today, are fearful of evil intruding into their lives. Just like today they want to blame “god” for allowing tough times to occur and also seek to placate their idea of “god” by their own efforts toward their idea of “goodness.” Some brought silver or gold to the heathen temples to accomplish this. Do people try to buy God’s favor today? Well, think of your neighbors who buy mass cards for their dead relatives. Think of how people play “let’s make a deal with God” and go to church only when tragedy strikes their life, or when mom dies? They do so because they fear God and view Him as the author of evil, don’t they?
“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 man’s design and skill. (Don’t put God in a box, limited by your limited understanding). In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.” Ah, now comes true comfort in the face of uncomfortability! For the “man” God has appointed to reveal His divine will to us is: Jesus Christ. Christ, true God and true Man, came to suffer and die for all our futile attempts at making ourselves right with God. Christ came to take the fear of demons away by vanquishing their only power: death, on the cross. And how did Christ really show that awesome power? “He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
How To Talk About God So People Will Listen? There is only one way: to be honest. Address the inner fears that all people have and show them their own futility in trying to fix their lives all by themselves. And then talk about how our all-powerful God has fixed them in and through and because of the perfect sacrifice of His Son, Christ, for us! For then God’s love and forgiveness isn’t an abstraction, but a living reality for them! Amen