Paul stepped into a very precarious place—one filled with Idols, and idle chatter, and high minded conversation—people trying to get to the root of what it meant to be human in that particular time and that particular place.
Ideas popped up and were consumed faster than popcorn at a B-movie, it was a low tech version of a twitter, instagram, or facebook feed.
There, on the Areopogas—the Hill of Ares.
The Areopogas named for the famous first trial in Greek Myth. Ares, the god of war, murdered the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea, and was put on trial and acquitted…found innocent—right there, on that mountain.
Yes, the Hill of Ares, the Areopogas, was a place bursting with new ideas both high brow and low,
filled with idols on every corner,
and yearning to lend Paul it’s ear,
at least for a moment.
And so, today I would like to preach on the subject, “Preaching on the Hill of Ares.”
Preaching on the Hill of Ares.
Paul, being Paul, had stirred up trouble in Northern Greece, and was whisked away to Athens to lay low for a while…
But Paul… being Paul… didn’t lay low. He saw the Idols lining the streets of Athens and started arguing with people,
not only with his fellow Jews in the local Synagogue,
but also with the Greek Philosophers of various stripes who lined the streets. And quickly enough they drug him up the Hill of Ares in order to “find out what all these words he is sewing mean.”
And there, on the Hill of Ares, he begins with a compliment, (perhaps backhanded?)“I see you are a very religious people.”
He looks at those idols,
and the fast paced flinging around of ideas,
the people grabbing onto anything new,
and he sees it for what it is, people yearning for
and reaching for
and sometimes even finding,
the Creator of all that is, Seen and Unseen.
He, in fact, talks to them, not with snide words, but in understanding.
He’s observed them,
those who he speaks to,
those gathered on the Hill of Ares as he preaches.
He knows them, and knows their culture,
he speaks to them with words they understand.
He alludes to E-pict-etus and Euripides, he quotes the stoic philosopher Aratus—he even compliments their pagan statues and altars!
If he’d come today he might have talked about Comedian John Stewart’s interview with former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, then made sure you knew he’d read the latest James Patterson book and was at a Lady Gaga concert and knew of both Michelle Bachmann and Michel Foucault (fuko).
Then he’d go among a gaggle of soccer moms and say “I see you care deeply for you children—well you are God’s Children, and he cares about you too.”
Or he’d burst into an office building and say, “I see you work hard, in fact you give your whole life to your work, well, let me tell you of the righteous works of God in Jesus Christ.”
Or he’d tackle Richard Dawkins or Sam Harris or some other New Atheist, and say, “I see Religious people bother you
—well you wouldn’t believe what Religious people did when the Son of God dwelt among them,
they crucified him, but he rose again and has brought life to us all.”
You see, when Paul preaches on the Hill of Ares he builds a bridge between his listener and his message, he makes sure they can cross over to hear what he’s staying.
But not only that, he takes the idols of his age and refashions them…
Kinda strange when you think of it, he doesn’t smash them like many would, instead he shows them for what they are—he redeems them.
He says, “This value you have, you’ve made into a God,
well it’s just part of God’s creation, and as such is good,
just not The Good, nor The Creator.”
Think of Luther’s explanation of the 1st Commandment…
(If I was in my St. Stephen I’d just point over there and Ask MaryLou to recite it from memory, in the German even, for us all.)
Luther’s explanation is this, “We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.”
Because those things we fear, love, and trust are our gods, our idols.
So Paul today takes those things we’ve deified, we’ve put on a throne somewhere
—he takes them and places them where they belong, as a part of creation.
To the caffeine saturated stock jockey working 80 hours a week he says, “Hey, work is good, it feeds you and yours and orders your life,
but it’s not a god and it isn’t going to save you, don’t put your trust in it, don’t love it, don’t fear it.”
To the widow paralyzed by her grief he says, “Hey, honoring your spouse and his memory is good,
but losing sight of your other obligations in life, is not. All your fears of loss, all your love of him, your trusting in your life as it was before he died—that has become misdirected.”
To the man peaking out his window at neighbors of a different skin pigmentation or ethnic identity, bunkered down, loving his old neighbors who’ve left, trusting in his own kind, fearing those outside
Paul says, “Hey, you’ve made your messed up relationship toward them a god and you’re unable to follow the most basic of commandments, ‘Love God, Love your Neighbor,’”
Yes, as Paul preaches on the Hill of Ares he changes the Idols of Athens into an affirmation that God is a whisker’s-length away, that in God and God alone “we live and move and have our being.”
Yes there on the Hill of Ares he preaches…
and there, on the Hill of Ares,
having built a bridge to the yearnings of Athens,
having relativized the Idols,
having pointed to the God and Parent of all of Creation,
After all that he points back to that other god, haunting that hill…
He points to the trial of Ares, Ares was found justified in the killing of Posieden’s son, was judged innocent there.
And so Paul preaches of another Judge, the one who was innocent and yet was killed.
Of another judgment, found guilty and among sinners, and yet was holy and died and rose for sinners.
The Judge who sees all our idols—the Pantheon of false gods we worship—we Athenians, and favors us anyway.
Whose Judgment acquits us of Sin and reconciles us to God and neighbor.
Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, crucified and risen.