Our reading today takes as to Athens with St Paul, in Acts 17:16-34 we find St Paul engaging with the Jews in the Synagogue ‘as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there’
This encounter in the market place leads to an incredible conversion of some of the philosophers who wanted to hear more about Jesus and how he related to their own understanding of God. The philosophers take St Paul to the meeting of the Areopagus (an early aristocratic council) to quiz him over his teaching. Paul responds:
“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”
St Paul then spoke of this God:
“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. ….. For in him we live and move and have our being.’
This conversion only took place because the conversation took place outside of the Synagogue. St Paul had to go into the market place to hear the concerns of everyday folk and not just the institutionalised religion of the day. St Paul engaged with all rather than staying on safer ground, rather than sticking to the way all things had been and were done.
Today is St Dunstan’s day, Dunstan was an Archbishop of Canterbury who lived from 909AD to 988AD and is particularly known for his reformation of the church and early monastic life. It was St Dunstan that asked questions about doing things in a new way, about a changing church for a changing world – he like St Paul was not scared to try new things in order to reach people in the name of Jesus.
Right now it seems like we have had the changes the church is going through imposed upon us but I believe God is blessing us through them. As we broadcast online services we are more in the market place than we have ever been, even if we do sorely miss our sacred space.
As we move on the lesson today is from the early church and St Dunstan, we need to embrace this new world, we need to change things as the world changes but without losing sight of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So as we take our wary steps into the market place to a world that Jesus loved , died and rose again for I leave you with a 17th century hymn by Nicholas Brady and Nahum Tate that re-assures us of Gods presence “through all the changing scenes of life”
Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.
O magnify the Lord with me,
with me exalt his name!
when in distress, to him I called
he to my rescue came.
The hosts of God encamp around
the dwellings of the just;
his saving help he gives to all
who in his mercy trust.
O taste his goodness, prove his love!
experience will decide
how blessed they are, and only they,
who in his truth confide.
Fear him, you saints, and you will then
have nothing else to fear;
his service shall be your delight,
your needs shall be his care.
To Father, Son and Spirit, praise!
to God whom we adore
be worship, glory, power and love,
both now and evermore!
Your friend and vicar