What happened for irritated, grumpy Paul?

Easter 6A: Acts 17:22-31; John 14:15-21. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, Lake Jackson, Texas.

The Blue Aegean Sea. The Parthenon. Paul is preaching at the Areopagus in Athens!

He had been pegged by the Stoics and Epicureans[1] as a “busybody” as he went around town carefully observing Athenian life and culture. They invited him to speak at the Areopagus, for these philosophical groups were always interested in new ideas and new speakers.

Backing up in the text to verse 16 reveals to us how Paul is feeling as he explores Athens.[2]

He is irritated. Angry.

And it’s not a holy agitation — not a prophetic agitation caused by the Holy Spirit. The Greek is different for that. [3] Here, this is Paul being grumpy. Irritated … from seeing all of the idols. 

Remember, Paul is an educated Jew. A Monotheist. Who was recently knocked off of his horse and temporarily blinded by the Risen Christ … and he has good news to share.

So, let’s get curious about what happened for Paul between exploring the city and feeling irritated and what we hear today — what he says at the Areopagus:

“Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way…”

Oh, indeed they are! The Parthenon is a temple to Athena! Carved in the frieze are the images of Athenians in religious procession. And down below the acropolis are still many more temples you can still see today. Indeed, they are religious people.

Left: Standing on the Areopagus, acropolis in background with Parthenon on the right, slightly obscured by scaffolding. Right: Areopagus on the left, view from the acropolis.

In Paul’s careful observation and in his search to understand and connect, he notices that there is one temple, dedicated to an unknown god. 

And Paul says to them, “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you…” and he shares the good news.

Some of the listeners scoff. Some have more questions. But some become believers.[4]

Paul is the model evangelist for us, in so many ways!

And in our present moment and circumstance, he is a model for us in how he moves from a potentially unproductive place emotionally to being able to be good news and preach good news, in a way that connects with those around him.

How did he do that? How did he go on to embody the things he speaks of in his letters? Being an ambassador of Christ[5], building up the church[6], and living that “more excellent way” of love, instead of being a “noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”[7]

How did he do that? 

For as we see in Acts, we also see in his letters: he is a human. He gets irritated and doesn’t always have it together. Just as we don’t.

So how did he get there? Let’s turn to the gospel.

Jesus tells us: “I will ask the Father and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.” 

This reveals his understanding of his relationship with us: an advocate, a helper, a companion.[8] One called to be alongside of us — as individuals and as a community. Jesus is an advocate and will send the Spirit to do the same. Providing what we need, in the ways we need it.

And this is what he means by “I will not leave you orphaned.” I will stay and be in relationship with you — a companion to you. And in that relationship, you will find joy, comfort, rest, mercy, and empowerment.

And like all relationships, it takes time — to nurture and develop. You’re doing that now, by being faithful in your worship by engaging in our services at the St. Timothy’s website. We are gathering digitally as a people and worshipping together. We are being fed by the holy scriptures and we are praying together. 

And in all the ways that we can, we are reaching out in service and love to others. Some of you are making masks, and today we are having a peanut butter drive for the Food Basket to feed our hungry neighbors.

These are the ways we are in relationship with God: through worship and prayer, study of scripture and in service to others, especially the vulnerable. This is how we come to know and experience the Spirit of Jesus coming alongside of us. To be our companion, our advocate, empowering us in our lives and in the Way. This is how we keep his commandment to “love one another” (John 15:12) — through our relationship with him, empowering us.

For none of us have it all figured out, none of us are perfect (whatever that means), but because we are in relationship with Jesus, he is our helper and advocate. Leading us and guiding us in that more excellent way of love. To be the church. To love one another and to love this world. To be good news.

Let’s be encouraged! We encounter what Paul encountered. He had feelings and we have feelings (see last week’s homily “This Way. That Way. The Way.” for more about that!).

Paul is our model evangelist. The way he moves from his feelings to perspective-taking and compassion, to a generous interpretation of what he sees … and then with the help of Jesus, he offers the good news. In a way that truly is good news.

So, let us be like that! In relationship with Jesus, loving one another and this world that God loves so much.

[1] Acts 17:18a “And some philosophers of the Epicurean and Stoic schools entered into discussion with him. Some of them were saying ‘What is the meaning of this busybody’s speech?’”

[2] Acts 17:16 “While Paul was in Athens waiting for them, his spirit was irritated within him, because he saw that they city was filled with idols.”

[3] Harrington, Daniel J., Editor. Johnson, Luke Timothy. Sacra Pagina: The Acts of the Apostles, p. 312.

[4] Podcast: Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave #724: Sixth Sunday of Easter.

[5] II Corinthians 5:20 and Ephesians 6:20.

[6] I Corinthians 14; II Corinthians 10:8, 12:19, 13:10; Ephesians 4, I Thessalonians 5:11.

[7] I Corinthians 12:31b-13:1.

[8] Dr. Karoline Lewis. Podcast: Working Preacher Sermon Brainwave #724: Sixth Sunday of Easter.

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