Christ and Culture
Scripture Reading — Acts 17:16-23
16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, "What is this babbler trying to say?" Others remarked, "He seems to be advocating foreign gods." They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, "May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean." 21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) 22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. —
Paul ... said, "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious." Acts 17:22
When I listen to the radio in my car, I often skip past music that I don't like. Some of it I don't understand. Yet trying to understand the background of rap music or the anger of a Metallica song can give me helpful clues into the culture around me.
Paul learned how to take the cultural events and ideas of his day and connect them with the message of Jesus so that people of other faiths could understand. If you have been a Christian for a long time and you are worshiping with others today, you can expect that the message you hear will be one you understand. But is it a message that will also relate to guests who come for the first time? In our churches are we speaking the language of the communities around us?
Many churches have become skilled at speaking the language of their culture. They know that each Sunday morning some people might show up who won't understand all of their words, rituals, and ways of worship. These churches try to be welcoming and inclusive. If you are a first-time guest today or a longtime believer, remember that we don't need to understand everything; there is always mystery in what God has done. What we do understand, though, is the language of welcome, acceptance, love, and grace. It opens us up to the message from the Word that God wants us to hear today.
Jesus, you have called us to be salt and light, becoming involved in what goes on around us. Help us see how we can tell about you in ways that people can understand. Amen.