Thursday, November 7, 2013

"In him we live and move and have our being."

Acts 17:22  Then Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, "Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. 23  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 an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24  The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, 25  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. 26  From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27  so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him--though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28  For 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we too are his offspring.' 29  Since we are God's offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. 30  While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31  because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead." 32  When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." 33  At that point Paul left them. 34  But some of them joined him and became believers, including Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

Paul is in Athens, where he preached in the local synagogue. He is then invited by local philosophers to the Aeropagus to share more about his faith. The interesting thing about this passage is how Paul goes about sharing his faith: Paul points out the “unknown God” within their pantheon of deities; and he lifts a quote from “Creticia”, a poem by Epimenides of Crete.   In his work, Epimenides writes of the Greek god Zeus and says, "In him we live and move and have our being."  (ν γρ σο ζμεν κα κινύμεθ δ κα σμέν). The apostle uses this quote and applies it to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. His audience would have known this poem, and so would have understood Paul’s theological shift: Everything finds its source and sustenance in Jesus, and not in Zeus

There are moments when we who follow Jesus become unintelligible to people who do not know our faith. We use religious language that becomes its own code accessible only to those who have learned it. Paul provides a refreshing example of how to ‘think out of the box’ by using thinking that is already familiar to his hearers.  We who follow Jesus need to invest energy and time in explaining our faith in the language and culture of our human communities.   

Ordinary 32 / Pentecost +25
54 A Resurrection People
The Scripture passage for the day is drawn from Reuben Job and Norman Shawchuck, A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and other Servants, (Nashville, The Upper Room 1983), 329.
This reflection is from my own devotional exercises for the day.

1 comment:

  1. A critically important insight, Pete. The impressive thing about Paul was his ability to spot the resonance between his a own thought and faith and what the (not Christian) people around him thought. The ability to do that shows, firstly, that Paul understood his own thought and faith thoroughly. Secondly, Paul's ability to spot the resonance between his thought and faith and those of others shows that he did not regard himself as living in a seperate universe from them. The ability to talk about the same reality using vastly different frames of reference is what rescues Christian faith from being an eccentric side show in a global society which has a multiplicity of frames of reference.