VI Easter

May 21, 2017

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. AMEN.

This morning’s lesson from the Book of Acts recounts Paul’s witness to the people of Athens.  This witness begins in this way:

“People 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…”

And St. Paul continues to teach them about Jesus, and how Jesus is this unknown God which they have been  worshipping.  The people of Athens worshipped the Greek gods, but they wanted to be sure to cover their bases – just in case there was a god who was greater than the gods they worshipped.  And so the built an altar to this “unknown  god”.

St. Paul uses a strategy which would be used by Christians throughout the ages.  He takes something that the local
people already regard as sacred and then uses it to tell them about Jesus. 

Another example is the Celtic cross.  The ancient Celtic peoples in the British Isles used the circle as a symbol for god.  This was because in the circle there is not beginning and no ending.  The Christian missionaries explained to the ancient Celts that they wanted to add something to their symbol of god.  They added a cross, and told them about Jesus.  Churches that were built at the time were built in places which the local people already understood to be sacred places.

All this came to my mind as I thought about the beginning of the lesson from Acts.  But then I began to think about this “altar to an unknown god”.  I began to ask the question – in our own day and age, what is the altar to the unknown  god?

What has become the god in our culture?  Money?  Power?  What would people in our culture sacrifice at this altar?  These seem to me to be questions we might ask about evangelism on our own day. 

Perhaps the mega-Church phenomenon has something do with this.  In some of these Churches the gospel which is
preached is the “prosperity Gospel” in which it is believed that God wants us to have material wealth and that this is a sign of our favor with God.  This seems to me to be the opposite of what Jesus taught.

But then the deeper question arose within me.  This deeper question is one which we must ask ourselves.  This question is one which may lead to a deeper relationship with God in Christ.  But it is also a question which may call us to repentance.

That question is – what altar to an unknown god is a part of my life?  What gods do I sacrifice to?  And how does this turn me away from my relationship to Jesus?  How about you?

These are questions which we can ask ourselves this week.  We can take some time to look at the gods of our culture and how we might use them as a means of witnessing to Jesus – just as St. Paul did, and the missionaries to the Celts.  These are important to think about.

But if we are to witness to Jesus in a more authentic way, we must examine the gods which take His place in our own lives.  We must look at the altars at which we are willing to sacrifice our relationship with Him.  This will involve self-examination and repentance.

If we do this first, then we may more readily be able to witness to the power of Jesus Christ in our own lives.

Where do we find the altar to the unknown god our lives and in the lives of the culture which surrounds us?  In the words of St. Paul in the lesson from Acts:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead.”  AMEN.