We Have Answers About the Universe
#WeHaveAnswersAboutTheUniverse is the podcast for May 21, 2017. Many Christians have a hostile attitude towards those who do not fully agree with them. Not so with Saint Paul in the Acts of the Apostles for this Sunday. We have much to learn from the Apostolic Master Evangelizer. Listen here and find out more: Download it into your phone. #AccesstoGod #Acts #Acts17 #Angrygod #Athens #Epicurean #ExcitingAge #God #Idolatry #Judgment #NewEra #Nones #Paul #PewResearchCenter #Preaching #SaintPaul #Spiritualbutnotreligious #SBNR #Stoic #Universe
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For My Spiritual Advisor, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 5/21/2017 The 6th Sunday of Easter.
Please pause this audio and read Acts 17:22-31.
Because I have been in ministry for nearly 30 years, 15 of those as a clergyman, it seems that I am the designated go to guy for every person who has a notion of a god to spill their unfounded theories. At the first wedding I ever officiated it happened. I was sitting at the table at the reception awaiting my turn to give the blessing before the meal when a man who had clearly been drinking before the reception sat down next to me. He slurred, “Are you the preacher guy? Yeah, you are the preacher guy. Here is how I see it…”
Then there was the time a family member came to me with some “emotion stones.” You were supposed to pick up a certain color of stone when you were feeling a particular emotion. Then the power from within the stones from nature would help you, I am not sure how.
If you were to search the internet, which I would not recommend, there are all kinds of ideas out there. There are too many ideas out there.
In a day and age when we are now confronted by the so called “nones”, meaning those who say their religious preference is “none”, and the rise of those who say they are “spiritual but not religious”, we could be demoralized. One reaction, for those of us who are involved in communities of faith, is to reject these folks. Condemnation seems to be a good place to be smug and self-content. Another reaction could be to dismiss these folks and ignore them. That, too, is another condescending tone. Or, we could do what St. Paul did in Athens.
The reading from the Acts of the Apostles takes place in THE city of Western Philosophy. In fact, in the passage just previous to what we heard, Paul is brought to the Aeropagus because the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers wanted to hear this “new” idea that Paul was preaching in the local synagogue. St. Luke, the author of acts, says it best in verse 23, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” It is heartening to hear that Athens was the physical ancient equivalent to SnapChat, or Twitter. Paul was the latest shiny new object for the Athenians to hear.
The passage previous to what we hear, also, indicated that Paul was provoked by the idolatry. It caused him to preach ardently in the synagogues. The people wanted to hear what he had to say. They were intrigued because they had an interest in the origins of the universe and how to live a happy life.
Epicureans were largely a religion of escaping from the pains of life through extracting yourself from fear, living a pleasant material existence, and being free from pain itself. Stoics endured the situation they were in and tried to avoid emotion by clinging to reason, logic, and rationality. I think we all know modern day Epicureans and Stoics. They are the people who escape and those who endure.
St. Paul’s answer is not to condemn the idolatry that troubles him. He doesn’t come out swinging, like he does against the Scribes, Pharisees, etc. who inhabit the synagogues in which he preaches. They are the people who should know better. Instead, Paul seeks to find commonality, pathways of understanding, where he can reach the Stoics and Epicureans.
He hits upon something important: they are religious. This means that they are at least open to the questions of the universe. In fact, they are so open that they have covered all their bases and have a monument to “an unknown god,” which is what the term “agnostic” means.
He goes on to say that he wants them to know this unknown God because He is the God who has created them, longs for them, wants to be in relationship with them, and wants to transform them. Hey, “spiritual but not religious”, what you are looking for is here.
In a Pew Research Center study from January of 2016, only two groups of religious and non-religious people saw a decrease in their wonder about the universe. Those were the Buddhists and Hindus. People whose religious outlook is much like the Epicureans. Instead, every religious group saw increases from 7 to 12% in those who wondered about the universe. The largest group from religious and non-religious peoples that wondered about the universe saw an increase of 17% over the previous survey. They were the atheists.
It is no mistake that community organizing and media strategies are the most successful when they have someone or something to blame. Election results indicate that the most motivated voters are those that are angry. So, demons are created to motivate people to act. Unfortunately, in our attempts to evangelize, we have sought to accommodate or accuse the perceived demons. We have forgotten that people are God’s children, not the enemy. They are seeking truth and happiness, just like we are. There are pathways of understanding that lead to God. We, Christians, have been called to be guides. Just like Philip told Nathaniel that he had found the Messiah, we called to invite people to “come and see.”
St. Paul’s interaction with the world is informative because it tells us something about the time in which we live. It should be for us an exciting time. We are in a time of opportunity. There is a tremendous thirst out there for us to talk about our faith, what it means that the God of the Universe loves us, speaks to us, calls us, leads us, and desires good things for us. People want to know, what is our place in the universe. Our answer is that we are the crown jewel of the creation. The Lord wants us to be co-creators, joint heirs of salvation.
What we offer is a thought process that says that the rules of physics are awesome and good, but they don’t always apply. Knowledge, science, understanding of the universe are all wrapped up in knowing the ‘unknown God.’ Intellectual possibilities and practical application are not opposed to one another. They are both caught up in the Living God. We present a dynamic possibility: a being with tremendous power to destroy who instead offers humble service and sacrifice.
If we are looking for dominance in a human culture or nation, it is a depressing era in which to live. If we are looking for the opportunity to be more faithful, we are in an exciting era. We are in an era of opportunity. For that guy who had it all figured out in his inebriated state and the family member who thought that life was caught up in touching some stones, I have a more exciting offer: the God of the Universe, who created all things, sustains all life, and in whom we live, and move, and have our being, that God wants to invite you into a renewed community of life, forgiveness, love, justice, and peace.
We can relate to them by relating to them without judgment. They are seeking after God, but they don’t know where to go. That is the genius of this preaching by St. Paul. He greeted those who were created by God and needed to be loved where they were on the path of seeking God in the universe. Maybe we should greet them there by being willing to state what we know about our faith in Jesus Christ in terms that they can understand.
Now is the time to speak of our faith. Now is the time to be excited about the future. For our future is in the Lord, maker of heaven and earth. That is the message. Preach it like Paul. Amen.
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian