A sermon based on Acts 17.22-
1 Peter 3.13-
I wonder what you thought of Paul’s speech on the Areopagus? How many marks out of 10 would you give it as an approach to evangelism? It’s quite good, actually. Although mostly they weren't convinced. But it’s hard to know if it was a triumph or a disaster!
Good points: he had done his homework well; he had studied the place and the people and worked out what mattered to them, what their cultural values were, what their language was, what they respected and thought. Good -
Also, he waits until they invite him to speak to them. He doesn't impose himself on them. He doesn't shout and try to make them listen. He does it the way Peter’s letter recommends: with gentleness, respectfully. He is ready to make his defence, as Peter says, but he is not aggressive about it. So far so good.
Another good tip: when he starts speaking he compliments his audience. I am impressed, he says, with all these altars -
Later on Paul gets them on his side again by saying they all belong to one common human race, Jew and Gentile alike are part of a common humanity -
At the end of the account we hear that some laughed; others wanted to hear more, but it seems that only two people were convinced, and joined the disciples. Not a great end result by the standards of Acts events; still, its a seed and we don't know how much that seed grew.
So I wonder how that speech might have gone today? Say a modern day Paul were to preach to a contemporary crowd where people gather now -
Well, choice is clearly vital. So many shoe shops, so many clothes shops, each packed with different types of clothes, so many coffee shops even. Choice seems to be really important. What about values? what really matters? Fashion; being like others -
So how would he then present the gospel to our shoppers, I wonder. Maybe he would say: well, I see you all look really attractive. I see that you care very much about how you present yourselves to others. He might even say, you clearly want to support the retail trade as much as you can, maybe to keep people in work. Or he might say, to have this much money to spend on stuff, you must be working very hard and be very successful in your job. So far, so flattering. And then what? What would the sting be? I suspect he might say, but God wonders what is inside you. God looks right through the outside, bypasses it, and looks inside. What does he see there with you? Is your spirit nourished? Do you model yourself on Jesus, can God see the fruits of the Spirit in you? Your appearance takes a lot of your time to get it just right; how much time are you spending on your inner self? Or is that part of you maybe dwindling inside, almost disappearing? Is there, actually, a bit of a vacuum in there?
When I was teaching in Switzerland, it was at a very expensive private school, with children often from very affluent families. The classes were small, 15 at the most, and I thought at first, wow, this will be a doddle. 15 or less! So easy. But I was wrong. Those youngsters were very hard to teach, and very hard to nurture spiritually, as was my job as school chaplain. For many of them the values they had been brought up with, at least implicitly, were the values of affluence. One author called it ‘affluenza’, and wrote of how disabled she had been in her life through ‘affluenza’. Basically for those youngsters the only value was wealth, and what you could buy with it, and being a consumer was all. It’s an exaggerated version of how most of us are these days. We are consumers -
Paul looked at the Athenians and said, gosh what a lot of gods you worship. But are you really religious? Are you really worshipping God at all? Today he might look at our culture and say -
What is the remedy for this? Peter said, in your hearts, sanctify Christ as Lord. In your hearts. Deep inside you, make Christ your Lord. That mean he is the most important thing or person in life. Jesus said, if you love me… If your heart is full of me… If I am Lord in your heart -