I really like hearing the lessons from the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season. The book used to be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, by the way, but it’s okay that the Apostles get their due. Anyway, we get to hear all kinds of awesome stories, including what’s essentially a travelogue. Today we hear of Paul at the Areopagus, which I used to think was Paul visiting Snuffelupagus, the beloved elephantine character on Sesame Street. Snuffy’s first name is Aloysius, by the way, and has a little sister named Alice Snuffelupagus.
But again, Paul wasn’t on Sesame Street to visit Mr. Snuffelupagus, he was in Athens and happened to be invited to speak at (and to) the Areopagus. The Areopagus is a Greek hill named after Ares, the god of war, “and according to Greek mythology this hill was the place where Ares stood trial before the other gods for the murder Poseidon’s son Alirrothios. Rising some 377 feet above the land below and not far from the Acropolis and Agora (marketplace), the Areopagus served as the meeting place for the Areopagus Court, the highest court in Greece for civil, criminal and religious matters. Even under Roman rule in the time of the New Testament, (it) remained an important meeting place where philosophy, religion, and law were discussed.”1
So Paul ends up on the hill, in front of the court, to let the smartest group around in on what God had been doing. Paul said lots of great stuff, too much to go over everything now, but as my friend Fr. Steve Pankey pointed out, the most interesting thing to Anglicans must be this: “For in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’”
We quote that line from Paul often, it’s even in a collect that we use daily at Morning Prayer: “O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
As Fr. Pankey pointed out, ““In (whom) we live and move and have our being” is one of those Prayer Book phrases that is etched deep within (us)…It is a phrase that, if we really mean it, has a profound impact on the way we live our lives.
“This phrase, and all of its depth of meaning, jumped out to me this morning as I read the lessons appointed for Sunday. It appears as a quotation in Paul’s speech to the Athenians in Acts 17. It being such a part of my vocabulary, I assumed that Paul was interpreting the Hebrew Scriptures for his strongly Greek crowd, but doing some digging, I realized that was not the case. Instead, Paul seems to be quoting the “semi-mythical” 7th/6th century Greek philosopher, Epimenides, who was writing about the immortality of Zeus. As he does throughout this speech, Paul appropriates the mythology and philosophy of the highly spiritual city of Athens to share with them the Good News of Jesus Christ.”2
“In whom we live and move and have our being.” Because we have a God who is life itself, in whom we live and move and even have our being, we needn’t be afraid of using what we can to spread to the Gospel; to point out the best in everyone and everything that we find and then use that to point to the God that to way too many is unknown, and yet seeks to be known to all.
That was an important day when Paul visited Snuffelupagus, I mean the Areopagus, and if we follow in Paul’s example the world will respond to us the way the philosophers responded to Paul: some will believe and be saved, others may mock us like they mocked Paul, and still others will be open-minded and desired to hear more.
What happens with other people is up to the ‘acts of the Holy Spirit’, but we can remember that wherever we find ourselves, no matter who we meet, we, like Paul, can be ready to witness to that same risen Christ.
2Fr. Steve Pankey, Live and Move and Have Our Being, Draughting Theology.