When I read Paul’s speech about the Athenians worshipping “an unknown god,” (Acts 17:22-31), I admire him. I think of Acts as creative history, biased and bold, cheerleading the emergence of Christianity. Maybe Paul’s declarations never occurred or were embellished. No way to know for sure.
The 6th Sunday of Easter – for May 29, 2011
“I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” (Acts 17:23)
Still, I sense Acts 17 is at least a glimmer of Paul, of the “friend” I miss when I haven’t seen him in a long time. I don’t think that because Paul’s speech to the Athenians conforms to my bias about Christianity. Just the opposite; the words unsettle and challenge me.
In the New Testament books* scholars are confident the apostle personally scribed, Paul—again, for me—just as easily inspires as irks.
Because of Paul’s very real apocalyptic beliefs, followers of Jesus since the first century possessed scriptural ammunition for demanding others repent before an impending judgment day. I won’t quote the apostle from where he proclaims the end. Find those verses on your own! Indeed, it’ll be real easy because—as I write these words in mid-May, 2011—there are road billboards and Internet postings announcing the end-of-the-world on May 21, 2011. Even staid National Public Radio aired a segment on May 21 as I wrote the first draft of this essay. So, batten the hatches, tighten your seatbelts, and prepare for the last, worst, holier-than-thou rumble. Blame some of these dire, dreary warnings on Paul.
There’s more. As someone who supports gay rights—oops, I really mean human rights and equality for all—I’d prefer Paul never again wipe his sandals on my doormat or press the ringer by the little ceramic sign at my front door that says “Welcome.” Paul’s minimal mention of what is now called homosexuality (a word invented 1,800 years after Paul’s death) created maximum pain for Christian community. Coupled with Paul’s wishy-washy comments about marriage (read chapter seven in I Corinthians and see if you understand his meandering position), I’d never trust Paul for advice on romance, relationships or sexual orientation.
And yet my pal Paul has written words so brilliant I can’t imagine Christian faith without them. Just one, predictable example . . .
Though not currently serving a church, I have a wedding and memorial service on my calendar. In both of those very different celebrations of faith, I could confidently read Paul’s declaration about love in I Corinthians 13. My singular concern would be that the attendees have heard “love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude” too many times to actually pay attention. When I read Paul’s “Love Chapter,” I usually invite people to listen as if for the first time. The first time . . . as they witness the precious love of two friends about to be married, or as they mourn a companion who personified trust and compassion for them. Is I Corinthians 13 over used? Yes. Could I read it every day and be blessed to the core of my faith? Yes.
Which is why, when Paul stands beside my ceramic “Welcome” sign, I invite him in and offer a mug of Peet’s French roast. Let’s talk! Continue reading →