We are in Giertz' "And Then Fell the Lord's Fire", the sermon beginning on page 196.
The sermon on what Paul was doing in Athens and on this text "What you therefore worship as unknown, I proclaim to you..." (Acts 17:23) continues with further comparisons of the gods of what Giertz now starts calling "folk religion" with what Paul has come to proclaim. The gods of the Athenians in the end are really self-made and one becomes the lords over them. You can approach these gods with "demands and achievements: do ut des. (Quid quo pro. You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.) " (p. 198) If the god fails to deliver, he can be discarded. All folk religion does this.
But from the God Paul proclaims comes a "new message. He reveals himself. And now He speaks through His envoys, the servants of the Word."
Gietz explains how our hearts have been prepared for this new word. The natural religion, the folk religion, the self-made gods, the longing, the need, and the questioning, the asking about God is all already there in the hearer. The atheist has a hard time in making himself heard because religion is part of being human.
How does Paul proceed? "He begins by describing something that we know both through the natural revelation and the particular. He proceeds also from that which is true in the natural religiosity, that which one can get to by taking hold of the light he already has received. 'The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples made by man' (Acts17:24). A stoic philosopher could also say all this. And he could have agreed also when Paul continues, 'Nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.'" (pp. 199, 200)
BUT when Paul refers to the natural revelation he is also citing the Old Testament. His talk is consistent with the Word. He is authorized to say what he says. Thus he also can critique the folk religion.
"God does not live in temples that are made with hands, neither does he need to be served by us men as if He were in need of anything."--!!! (He is not manipulate-able. He is not yours to lord over.)
Paul begins with the natural revelation of folk religion but draws the clear line between that which is true and false or speculation. And he does this without attacking his hearers. (p. 201). He describes God instead. God is powerful. God does not need your gifts. God does not live in temples...
"In all this lies a deep wisdom. Not the least in the starting point: to not attack wrongs without first noting what is right. This is not just the captatio benevolentiae that the antique rhetoricians recommended as introduction to every speech. But it is to know God's work and hold fast to it. God has already been here among these people. Therefore, there is something that precedes him." (p. 201)
There is plenty to meditate on here, already, for the day.
It makes me think about how often the Bible says that we should be able to hear and discern God's word from the works that he has produced already. So when Jesus is queried repeatedly about who he is, he says do not not my works speak for themselves? Can't you hear? Where have you been?
Also in Athens, God has been, already. And also in Athens people have heard something. But they are missing what only can be further revelation. God became one of us and bore our guilt and rose from the dead. And he does not need our sacrifice, our offerings, our manipulation. He has already done it all. He is the sacrifice.
God's might acts is what the proclamation is about and his mighty acts are ones of creation, and redemption of what was lost. His good and gracious will be done, not ours. We ask him, but he does not need our prayers... He draws us and this drawing is happening somewhere, somehow in everybody.
Is philosophy and folk religion similar in many ways? What about last century's word, the collective unconscious? What are all the things we all know? What are all the ways in which we try to manipulate our world? How much do we deal with these points of connection? What is the interface, as someone said the other day.
Someone said to me recently, that the crucifix was like a medieval idol for him. This misses the point. The point is: Who is God? What does he do? What has he promised? How do I talk to the one who has sacrificed himself and is no asking me to mollify him with my sacrifice. The image of the crucifix completely misses the point. On whom does my heart hang? From whom does my help come? Who is my comfort and Lord? See Luther on the first commandment.
This is also not about helping yourself or not helping yourself. We help ourselves as far as our abilities go and as far as we do not break a moral law. We work to bring home the bacon, etc. But, in terms of things we cannot control or where ever we come upon our limits, and when we begin to pray, it is not our particular performance which controls God. We pray because we are in utter need and he is God and Lord. The image of the crucifix reminds us what God has done and how far he went. We should view, hear, listen, repent and believe.
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