The church’s first historian was named Luke and he contributed two books to the Christian writings published in the Bible. The first book tells the story of Jesus, his birth, ministry, crucifixion, and continuing life in Christian experience. The second, often referred to as the Acts of the Apostles, reports on the first generation of Christian history. The dominant figure in this second book is St. Paul the Apostle.
One of Luke’s techniques for telling his story is to set the stage in dramatic detail and then give us a brief rendition of a speech or sermon by a central character like Stephen the first Christian martyr or Paul who became the church’s most prominent missionary theologian. Paul travelled to cities of the Roman world and often talked with and preached to people in these places.
During the summer I have been guest preacher twice at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Portland, Oregon. In these sermons I have imagined what Paul might say if he were to come to my city and preach to Portland’s diverse population on the front steps of this church in the center of this city’s cultural and religious life.
The first of these sermons, preached on July 3, 2016, was based on Romans 13:1-7 in which Paul gives his counsel to people living in the center of political and economic power in the Roman world. The second was preached on August 7, and it draws upon Paul’s sermon to people in Athens, the cultural and religious center of the ancient world. The manuscript for this sermon begins with the following paragraphs. As preached, however, the sermon included additional ideas, comments, and citations that do not appear in this manuscript. Ordinarily the podcast of sermons as preached is posted at fccpdx.com during the following week.
St Paul in the Park Blocks (Part II): Say a Good Word For Jesus
One of the most dramatic episodes in Luke’s history of the church’s early life is the day when Paul, the church’s first theologian, gave an open-air sermon in one of the most prominent places in Athens. This city had long been the center of culture and religion in the ancient world. Although political and economic power had gravitated to Rome, Athens was still the place where philosophers, religious leaders, and ordinary people gathered to compare the stories, rituals, and ideas that helped them cope with the mysteries and challenges of life.
There’s no place quite like the Areopagus in Portland, but our South Park Blocks make a reasonable counterpart. Portland State University provides the philosophers, and classic churches represent various religious explanations of life. The art museum, including the one-time Masonic Temple, reminds us of the diversity of religious and cultural interpretations of life.
New gatherings of people from other world religions, including Islam and Buddhism, are here. Many people in our neighborhood, Portland’s cultural center, resist religious affiliation. Increasingly, our part of town displays the contrast between homeless poverty and high-rise towers that are the temples of economic power and personal wealth.
So what would Paul say if he were on our front steps preaching to a crowd crowding around the Park Avenue-Columbia Street intersection? No one knows, but we can imagine possibilities by studying the sermon that Luke provides in today’s reading from Acts.
Read more. . . .St Paul-Part II