Acts 17:22-31 and John 14:15-21
Jennifer Garrison Brownell
May 21, 2017
We love new things. Babies, for example. And if the internet is any indication, baby mammals of all kinds. We love fresh school supplies –the promise of unsharpened pencils, and empty notebooks. I heard not long ago that someone was trying to bottle new car smell because it is so appealing.
We’re not the first people in history to love new things just, sometimes, for the sake of their newness.
They loved new things in ancient Athens, too. This morning we heard a story from the book of Acts and as usual in the book of Acts-Stands-for Action, we are plunged into the middle of the story, this one of the Apostle Paul, who is making an unexpected visit to Athens. His preaching and teaching had angered the people of Thessalonica (a couple of hundred miles or so to the north of Athens) so much that they had followed him to Beroea to incite riots in the crowds there. Rather than risk Paul’s safety, the Beroean believers had sent him off to Athens thinking surely he would be safe there – it was days and days journey away. Paul is supposed to be laying low, but while waiting for his colleagues to join him, Paul takes in the sights of Athens.
Now, ostensibly, Paul is in a sort of first century version of the witness protection program. But when he finds city shrines and altars dedicated to a variety of idols, he just cant seem to help himself – he debates their existence wherever and with whomever he can: in the synagogue, in the marketplace with the merchants and tourists, in the town center with the Greek philosophers
Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. There were always people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest on most anything. (hat tip Eugene Peterson) And Paul, with his wild ideas and passion for arguing with everyone is a fascinating tidbit.
Intrigued by their conversation with him, the city folk take him for a visit to the areopagus. (according to blogger Daniel Clenadin) The “Areopagus” was both a place and a group. As a place – It’s a small rocky hill northwest of the Acropolis in Athens (Greek for “hill of Ares” or in Latin “Mars Hill”). As a gathering, dating back to the 5th-6th centuries BCE, the Areopagus consisted of nine chief magistrates who guided the city-state into Greece’s eventual democracy. Across the centuries the Areopagus changed, so that by Paul’s day it was a place where matters of the criminal courts, law, philosophy and politics were discussed.
Unlike some cities (Borea and Thessalonica where he just came from, for instance), Paul is not under arrest in Athens. the Athenians just loved to learn the latest, so they invited Paul to a meeting of Athens’s most powerful and important venue to explain his fascinating new “strange ideas.”
Athenians loved nothing better than to discuss new ideas about religion all day. Loved to discuss them, that is, but never really be touched, moved or changed by them. See, Athens was rich with statuary – idols depicting Gods of all kinds. To cover their bases, they even had one empty one set up “to an unknown god”
Paul, seeing this about them, says this (from the Message by Eugene Peterson), “The unknown is now known, and God is calling for a radical life-change.”
A radical life change.
The people of Athens have been relaxing in their chairs, enjoying the spectacle of yet another traveler and “babbler” as they call Paul – but now they’re leaning forward, really paying attention
“A radical life change”
The Jesus way isn’t just another something new to add to your bag of tricks and treats – like so many of the ideas coming at you from every street corner not just in Athens Greece and every corner of the internet today.
Jesus calls you a whole new a way – a radical life change.
Look, it wasn’t that the people of Athens weren’t willing to change, exactly – they were. But the changes they were willing to engage in were surface change, exchanging one thing that was basically no different from the next thing. This is what the leadership industry calls technical change. What Paul called for was transformation, total renewal or what the is known in modern lingo as adaptive change – something completely and radically different than has been done before
According to David Lose, whereas technical change requires us to do things differently – adaptive change requires us to think differently about what we’re doing and so, requires a change in values and beliefs as well as behaviors.
No more is faith to be something intellectualized, argued over for the sake of the argument, enjoyed as long as it is new and then dropped the minute something more intriguing hove into view. No more is faith to be something created ourselves to amuse or entertain ourselves. No – Paul says to the residents of Athenia then, and the residents of Vancouver now, a radical life-change is on the horizon.
This week, contractors removed the cross from the building we are reconstructing following a fire a year ago. A small crowd of church members and media gathered to watch the cross come down. After we talked, one of the newscasters said “I’m stealing your resurrection idea for my intro.” I had to regretfully tell him that resurrection was not MY idea. It is the oldest and best reality of our faith. And in every generation the good news is also NEW news. In every generation, a word that does not merely titillate, it transforms.
A big change is coming, is already here, which is why we named our rebuilding team the REIMAGINING team.
What IS this new thing?
It is simplicity in a complex world
It is hopeful in despairing world
It is sacrifice in a world that scrambles for a quick fix.
It is memory in world that lives frantically in the next moment
It is community in a world that prizes indivuality.
It is readiness to recognize that you are made for something new. And that new thing is here, now, today.