St Paul Method
Full Text of Podcast, Open Here (For our Deaf and H/H Brethren)
Please pause this audio and read Acts 17:22-31.
Up near Lake George[, in New York State], is a monument to “The North American Martyrs”. These were priests and lay persons who sought to convert the Mohawk, Huron, and Algonquin Native Americans. The most famous of the North American Martyrs was a priest name Isaac Jogues. Jogues was a French Jesuit missionary who was beaten, marched with injuries, put on a stage and mocked while injured, stretched spread eagle at night for days on end, and had two fingers cut off by the Iroquois Confederacy. He was tortured by the Iroquois because he was part of a group of Huron with whom he was travelling when they came upon a war party.
Jogues was among Huron Christians. It was indeed a dangerous thing to be a missionary among the Native Americans in the 1600s. In fact, it was a member of the Mohawk Nation that had killed Jogues after he returned to America. I say, “returned to America” because Jogues was bartered for and escaped death the first trip and went back to France to heal. After healing, he felt compelled to be in mission and live among the peoples of the Lake George area. The member of the Mohawk Nation who killed Jogues was captured by the Mohawks a few years later. While in custody, he converted to Christianity and took on the name Isaac Jogues after his baptism. It was under his name that the man who killed Jogues was executed.
I am captivated by Fr. Isaac Jogues and his missionary work. I have a theory that his methods are the methods that we should use to approach the people in the United States today. Even in death, as you see, Jogues was effective. His methods, I believe, were effective because he did what we see St. Paul doing in Acts 17 in our readings for today.
The French Jesuit missionaries were extremely effective in their work around the Great Lakes. When one looks at the history of evangelism of the Jesuits around the Great Lakes v. the Spaniards who gathered people together against their will and put them in forts to convert them, you can see where the brute force of the Spaniards worked against them. The French Jesuits, Jogues being par excellence, went to communities of Native Americans and learned as much about them as possible. They lived in the same kind of dwellings as the Native Americans. They learned how to live off the land and eat the food the same as the Native Americans. There was a respect of the dress and culture of the Native Americans, although the “black shirts,” as they were called, maintained their dress and their chalices and patens.
I find outstanding the diary entries of Native Americans who encountered the Jesuits. The Jesuits were right to treat the Native Americans with respect. Native American spirituality is amazing and is fertile ground for a sacramental understanding of the world. Their spirituality is open to Charismatic pneumatology, in other words, they get the Holy Spirit moves throughout the earth and heals. If ever I were to write a dissertation, and time seems to have run out on that, I would write about the methods that Jogues and other French Jesuits used to evangelize as a model for evangelism today. They spoke and acted like Paul.
In Chapter 17 of Acts, we find Paul in Athens on his second missionary journey through Asia Minor. He has just left Beroea where he was run out of town by some folks from the synagogue. He had left Timothy and Silas in Beroea and he is waiting for them in Athens. While he is walking around Athens over an unspecified number of days, he is alarmed and shocked by the number of gods and houses of worship to these various pagan gods. Yet, even though he is shocked, he does not take the same preaching style to the pagans that he does to the Jews. Jews, apparently, are people who should know better about the Lord. They had the Law and the Prophets.
The pagans, on the other hand, were inquirers. They were intellectually curious about God. In fact, as the passage tells us in verses 16-21 that he was able to argue in the marketplace because this happened frequently. Talking about spirituality was a thing. The Epicureans, who focused on making it through life by enhancing pleasure and reducing pain, and the Stoics, who stressed logic and endurance through a rejection of both pleasure and pain, invited him to come to the Aeraopagus to speak about this new teaching. In fact verse 21 says, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners living there would spend their time in nothing but telling or hearing something new.”
Now, who does that sound like? Aren’t we Americans into something new? Let me just say two words, “Fidget Spinners.” Or, for those of you who are old enough, “pet rock.” Or, for those even older, “bottled water.” We are always in love with something new. I think that is why most evangelicals are always trying to package the Gospel in something new.
So, Paul accepts the opportunity and he begins his sermon, not by telling the Greeks and foreigners, the pagans there, that they are going to hell. He does not yell or scream and rant about how sinful they all are. He doesn’t pound anyone on the forehead exclaiming that they be healed as he wipes his forehead with a prayer towel. No. Instead, he enters into an intellectual argument on their terms. He entirely respects their attempts at understanding God.
“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way,” says St. Paul. Jogues spent time learning the languages of the Huron and Mohawk. He learned their ways of talking and thinking. Here, St. Paul enters into a philosophical argument about how the altar “to the unkown god” is what he has come to explain. He has come to proclaim the unkown and make it known. There are many who say, “I am spiritual, but not religious.” “OK, well the Devil is spiritual, do they follow the Devil?” Well, we should assume that they do not want to follow an evil spirit. So, we can say simply that we are spiritual, too. Yet, it is our spirituality that causes us to be religious.
Paul says to them that we all came from one common ancestor. That is something that is quite a claim in that period, but it makes philosophical sense. In fact, he says that God has no boundaries and God does not consider people by their nationality. For us, there are no Canadians, nor Mexicans, just humans. Jogues approach is similar. He was not seeking to promote France to the Hurons and Mohawk. He was not there to change their governance or the fact that they were spiritual, he wanted to proclaim to them the God who was unknown to them. Paul and Jogues, through his actions, are saying, “Being a human is from God. All are available to come to God.” It is sort of like when we see new people at church and we ask, “Haven’t I seen you here before?” That is the equivalent of “you are like the rest of us.” It is inclusive in tone. If we believe that the Gospel is for everyone, then everyone is at the most basic level desired by God. There is not any skin color, any orientation, any lifestyle, anything that should cause us to not be kind and loving to another person. In fact, it is this kindness and recognition that they are part of God’s good creation that is the door to opening up their hearts to God and Jesus Christ.
In fact, St. Paul says, we were created from one ancestor, “so that [we] would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—although he is not far from each of us.” God is not far from anyone. We stray, not God. God is close to everyone. That would be a good thing to remember when we evangelize. God is doing something in everyone’s life, evangelism is when we casually point it out on purpose. I wonder if Jogues return and persistence in loving the Huron and Mohawk caused the man who killed him to see God’s work in his own life.
The French Jesuits took what truth was already there in a culture or in an argument, just like Paul did to the Stoics, Epicureans, and Greeks, and showed how they got the right idea, but needed a different conclusion. It was this passage that was at the heart of a discussion that Deacon Matthew and I had when he was living in Rochester and I was living in Indiana and we came to New Paltz for a Diocesan Clergy gathering. He was telling me how hard it was to introduce Jesus to people his age (I think he was like 21 or 22 at the time). It was when I shared with him something along the lines of St. Paul’s Athenian Method of Evangelization.
It is a thing now to be able to self-identify about everything, as if we weren’t born to be formed. Young people want to tell us what new found gender they are, what name they should be called, what ethic they get to live by, etc. I find it interesting because it is easy for our young folk to then tell us who we are, and to tell God who he is. My claim to all young people is that Jesus Christ is God’s self-identification. When Jesus came, he said, “I and the Father are one.” He said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” So, God came, friends. He declared who he is. Who are we to tell God who he is when we are not allowed to tell young people and the people of the woke culture who they are? Just like people insist that we accept them for who they have decided or determined they are, we must, by rule, accept who Jesus says he is. As we can see from the Gospel Lesson today, he then says that if we follow him, we must keep his commandments. So, if the God of the universe has self-identified, which he has, then who are they or we, to tell him otherwise?
Did you see what I just did there? I ask that because Deacon Matthew said at the time, “I see what you just did there.” So, our approach to evangelization in this pagan culture should be to respect that they are seeking spirituality, and acknowledge how good that is. Don’t get distracted by tattoos, piercings, hair in weird configurations or places, ideas that are just, well, out there. Stick to the things we know to be true: God created us all and we all, in and out of church, seek truth and seek that truth through spirituality of one shape or another. That should be our starting point and method, just like St. Paul and Fr. Isaac Jogues.
May God bless this preaching of the Gospel in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2020.
Donate $2 for This Podcast
Mark Kurowski, M.Div.