As I stood at the Acropolis and viewed the Parthenon and
various crumbling edifices, I felt overwhelmed by the
ruins and broken statues of gods and people. More than an
ancient history fact, for the people in that day the gods resided
in shrines made by humans. As I took the short walk down to
the Areopagus, a word referring to the civil council that met on
Ares (Greek god of war) or Mars (Roman god of war) Hill, I felt
overwhelmed again as I stood where ancient Athenians stood as
Paul delivered his sermon on Mars Hill.
In previous verses, we find a perplexed Paul viewing a
city full of idols, a brazen Paul arguing in the synagogue and
the agora, and a confronted Paul at the Areopagus answering
to Athenian philosophers. In verses 22-31, Paul with temerity
gives his sermon at Mars Hill, addressing the plurality of Greek
religion and citing an altar to an unknown god observed in Athens.
Piety probably caused Greeks to create this altar out of fear
they might offend a god unknown to them. Paul proclaims the
God they don’t know as the one true divinity.
Echoing Isaiah and Old Testament prophets, Paul offers
those gathered the God who made heaven and earth as the one
true God who doesn’t live in shrines made by people and as the
one who needs no support from humans. Paul stresses that God
provides life and breath as well as the unity of all humanity
through God’s creation of all nations “from one ancestor.” Pointing
to how we all search for God, he meets the Athenians on
their own ground by quoting two Greek philosophers—“In him
we live and move and have our being” (sixth-century bce poet
Epimenides) and “We too are his offspring” (third-century bce
Stoic, Aratus). Paul, in his wisdom, tempers his proclamation
with some accommodation of Greek interest.
God, may I look beyond the brokenness and ruins of daily life to the joy of living and moving with you. Amen.
The psalm and the Acts reading address the ways in which the concrete faith claims of the community have credence outside that community. They undertake to make the faith credible to outsiders. On the basis of personal testimony, the psalm invites the nations to share in the new life given by God who has saved. Paul makes concrete confessional claims about Jesus in response to the religious inclinations of his Hellenistic listeners. The Gospel and epistle readings focus on the needs of the church community and seek to offer pastoral consolation. The psalm and Acts readings are a “journey out” to the nations and to attentive nonbelievers. The Gospel and epistle readings are a “journey in” to the life and needs of the church.
• Read Psalm 66:8-20. Recall a time when God did not let your feet slip.
• Read Acts 17:22-31. What are your unknown gods? What are your known gods that become idols in your life? How do they affect your relationship with the God who made the world and everything in it?
• Read 1 Peter 3:13-22. When have you suffered while doing good? What did you learn about God? about yourself?
• Read John 14:15-21. How have you experienced the Advocate’s companionship and guidance?
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