From the Administrator
at the Areopagus…
The Rt Revd Kate Wilmot, Assistant Bishop
St Paul’s speech at the Areopagus unfolded in Acts 17:16-34 is a wonderful lesson in preaching and evangelism.
In the great city of Athens, surrounded by many shrines and idols, Paul is asked for a combination of teaching and a defence of his position at the site of the Athenian law courts.
His opening is unforgettable:
Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To and unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
Acts 17:22-23 NRSV
Paul begins with the Creation and ends with the Resurrection. Though some reject his message, other hearers ask to know more. Paul’s opening was very effective on a people who were renowned for being curious and entranced by new ideas.
The inscription on the altar may be a kind of museum label ‘someone built this altar to worship a god but we don’t know which one’; or the Athenians may be attempting to honour any gods they missed on the way past (in the same way that All Saints’ Day came to be observed by Christians).
In our time, it would be unusual to meet someone saying ‘I’m concerned that there may be divine beings that I’ve failed to worship properly’ but we hear the people of our society saying something in a new way.
People used to respond to society’s needs or suffering as a result of belonging to a philosophical movement or religion. Works of justice and mercy were done in integrity because people were Christians, or Jews or Socialists or Freemasons and the service was performed because it aligned with the values of the organisation.
In this part of our history there is less attachment to institutions but there are many people talking about ‘giving back’ or ‘making a difference’. Even supermarkets have entrance signs reminding us to ‘be kind’ – something that is a simplified version of ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’
As a church community worship is very important to us because (rightly) God is very important to us, but our missionary works need to extend beyond of an invitation to come to church on Sunday.
Imagine St Paul’s Areopagus sermon today:
People of Western Australia, I see how very community-minded you are. As I wandered through your Sunday gathering at Bunnings, I saw you supporting the Volunteer Fire Brigade at the Sausage Sizzle. This receptiveness towards those who serve is known by us and practised by our communities for generations. In this we are joined...
I can’t preach this like Paul would, but I do know that the work of the church through generations has focused on responding to need and reducing suffering. We do this in the name of God and because of our Gospel values.
This means we have a natural affinity with people who are motivated towards this.
We approach the Areopagus from the other end. We have the opportunity to work alongside and in collaboration with people who care for the same things we care for. These works of justice and love are aligned with our Christian values but may proceed from a secular basis.
Then we have an outstanding opportunity – the possibility of sharing the Good News of Jesus and in time and with sensitivity showing all that a relationship with Father, Son and Holy Spirit can mean.
We are lucky in our times that people are generally motivated towards achieving good things, we can pray that we may have a part with God’s Holy Spirit in opening a door for new people to believe.