Summary: Like Paul, we are challenged to translate the message of God's love and grace into words and actions that the people around us understand.
Acts 17:22-31 “Translating the Message”
Some you may have seen this video previously, but I think it has a powerful message—a message that bears repeating—and it underscores today’s Scripture lesson.
Paul was a man on fire. He had seen Jesus—his risen, living Lord. He wrote in one of his letters that he was a new creation—we would say today that he had been born again, or born from above. Paul had experienced God’s steadfast love and overwhelming grace. He couldn’t keep this life changing experience and knowledge to himself. Going from city to city, Paul shared the gospel message with everyone who would listen. He didn’t do it build churches, or to get people involved in the rituals of another religion. Paul did what he did to change lives.
We share the mission of Paul. Knowing that we are changed (born again) people, we want to share the reason for that change with others so that they too can be changed. Two of our young people are today are affirming that their lives have been touched by a living God and that they want to continue to walk through life with Jesus. These young people are joining us as adults in our mission together.
In our lesson today, we read about Paul’s experience in Athens. Paul shows us many important aspects of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
WHERE THE PEOPLE ARE
Our story begins by telling us that Paul went to the Areopagus—the marketplace. This was where people gathered every day, and in the days of no newspapers, CNN, or the internet it was the place of communication. If Paul wanted to share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the greatest number of people, then this was the place to do it.
Paul went OUT to share his life changing knowledge and experience. It is important to invite people to congregational social activities, small groups and worship services. Still, most of our opportunities to witness to what God has done are outside the congregation. They are in the everyday activities of our lives.
I don’t think Paul was an advocate of the Bible thumping, soul condemning, religion pushing type of evangelism that many of us associate with witnessing, or “sharing our faith.” That certainly was never Paul’s style. Paul never spoke outside the church about the fact that Jesus promised to return. No, Paul saw a multitude of people with messed up lives who were trying to understand what life was all about. He looked around him, in that marketplace, and saw people, who at the very core of their being, knew that there was something bigger than themselves to which they needed to be connected.
Paul didn’t wait for the people to come to him. He went to the people. He made himself available to them.
SPEAKING THEIR LANGUAGE
As Paul walked around Athens, he noticed a temple to an unknown god. The Athenians didn’t want to offend any god, so they built a temple to “To Whom it May Concern.” The Athenians worshipped at that temple and offered sacrifices to this unknown god. When Paul began his conversation with the people in the marketplace, he made reference to this unknown god—something the people knew about.
Paul complimented the people; he praised their religiosity. Judging people was nowhere on Paul’s list of things to share with those who hadn’t responded to God’s love and grace. By making reference to things that were already a part of their lives, and praising them, Paul began to speak the language of the people.
The woman in the video reminded us that people don’t need to be reminded that their lives are messed up. They know that already. People don’t need to be told that they are condemned, or that they need to be saved. What people need to hear is that they are people of worth. They are loved, and that God wants to be a part of their lives.
Like Paul, we speak the language of the people with a smile, a pat on the back, or a hug. A listening ear at a time of need communicates the message. Walking with someone through a struggle or tragedy demonstrates the good news. Sharing what God has done in our lives and the difference he has made, in a loving manner—the message of love—are words that people understand.
KEEPING UP THE CONVERSATION
Some people believed what Paul said, but many did not. Paul didn’t write off the unbelievers. Instead, he kept up the dialogue. Those who responded to Paul’s words and God’s grace began to share what God had done in their lives. The gospel message spread.
I wish that I could assure you that everyone one you invite to worship with you will respond with a “Yes.” That’s not the case. It would be wonderful if everyone we helped would allow Jesus to change their lives and empower them to make good decisions, but that doesn’t always happen. Sharing God’s love and grace at times seems fruitless. This business of being a light in the darkness sometimes appears to be absurd. Like Paul, though, we keep the conversation going.