Christ is risen!
It’s called “spoiling the Egyptians.” Now, before you run off and start saying “Fr. Barnabas is being disrespectful to Egyptians” (I’m not, really), let me explain what that means.
It comes from the Hebrew scriptures story about the Children of Israel finally leaving the slavery they suffered in ancient Egypt. As they were going, they took with them the wealth they had earned, and the Egyptians themselves gave them gold and other valuables to get them out of their country, in hopes that the God of the Israelites would stop the plagues they were suffering for their mistreatment of the children of Abraham. In other words, “spoiling the Egyptians.” We would call what we would do many times in my former religious world in taking something popular in the culture and using it to draw others to our churches with some catchy phrase. You know something like “I know you love your pet rock, but have you heard about the Rock of Ages?” (yuck!)
Look at our lesson today and we’ll see how St. Paul does something similar in Athens in Acts 17:19-28:
IN THOSE DAYS, the Athenians took hold of Paul and brought him to the Areopagos, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean.” Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new. So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagos, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything. And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being.’
I love the way St. Luke describes Athens, Greece. Of course, at this time, Athens was still a pagan Greek city. The gods of the Greeks had temples all over the city with the towering Parthenon dedicated to the goddess Athena, the patroness of the City. Just a ways off from the Parthenon is a raised area called “Mars Hill.” This is where St. Paul preaches his first evangelical sermon to the pagan citizens of Athens.
Notice how Paul preaches to these Athenians:
First, he Praises them. St. Paul can see clearly that the citizens of Athens are very religious people. Of course, the term at the time merely meant observant of the worship of the gods. And Paul could tell this because these pagans wanted to make sure they covered their bases when it came to all the gods “out there.” Just in case they missed anyone, they erected an altar “To An Unknown god.” Paul grips this piety and tells these Greeks about the God they do not know!
Next, he Proclaims to them. Paul starts telling these polytheistic pagans that there is only One God, the Creator of heaven and earth, both seen and unseen! You see, if we get this insight wrong, we’ll find ourselves worshipping “other” gods, other “things” that aren’t able to really give us life. They only become untamed passions that enslave us.
Finally, Paul does something unexpected, but he really wants to reach these people. And he knows how to do that. He quotes a hymn to Zeus to make sure these folks know he knows who they are and what they need! Did you see it? It’s at the very last part of the passage: “In him we live and move and have our being.” That is a hymn to Zeus that Paul appropriates to reach these precious people with the Good News of the Orthodox Christian Faith!
So, today, are you willing to be so aware of your surroundings that you can pluck things from the culture and turn them into invitations to Christ and His Church? Do you know enough about the Faith to be able to discern how to do this well? God loves everyone, and He is calling us to be so purposeful in our Orthodoxy that we can take even the tools of this society and use them to draw everyone to Christ!
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