Saturday 21 June 2014

Homily for Third Sunday of Baouna

These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Acts 17:11

I would like us to spend a few moments this morning considering the reading from the book of the Acts of the Apostles. I usually preach from the passage in the Gospel, but while I was considering the lections for this Sunday it was the reading from Acts which attracted my attention. The passage contains a description of a small part of St Paul’s missionary journeys in Asia Minor. He had been travelling through a number of towns and cities and found himself in Thessalonica with Silas, his partner in this apostolic ministry. They stayed in Thessalonica for three weeks and preached in the synagogue, as was their custom.Their message was directed towards those people in the town who might most reasonably be expected to be ready to hear their good news. These were the Jews, and those
Greeks who had associated themselves with the Jewish religion without becoming circumcised. The message they preached was based on the Old Testament scriptures, and
was an explanation of how the Old Testament showed that the Messiah who was expected would have to suffer many things and die and would then rise from the dead. St Paul and St Silas explained the Scriptures and then concluded their message by saying, ‘This Jesus whom I preach is the Christ’.

Now it seems to me that St Paul provides us with a pattern to follow in our own evangelistic and missionary ministryas Orthodox Christians in the 21st century. Even the great Apostle realised that he could make best use of his time and limited resources by reaching out to those who already had some knowledge of God and were seeking in some way to serve Him. Of course he did not neglect those who were entirely ignorant of God when the opportunity presented itself. We can think of his preaching to the pagan Greeks at the Areopagus. But generally speaking, when he visited a town or city he would first of all visit the synagogue and preach to those who were waiting for the Messiah.

We can also see that when he did approach the Jewish communities in each place he did not preach to them as if they were completely in error, or were completely devoid of faith towards God. Rather he explained the Christian faith as the fulfilment of their own spiritual hopes and desires. St Paul’s practice is to lead those to whom he preaches onwards from where they already are, rather than asking them to abandon all that they believe. This is clearly because they are already those who worship God. They are not pagans. But they do need to move beyond their present understanding of the Godly life so that they embrace the fullness of the Christian Gospel.

We see a variety of responses to this message, both in Thessalonica, and then in Berea where St Paul and St Silas travelled in secret. We find that some of the Jews did believe the message about Christ and became Christians following the Apostolic witness. We also find that many of those who were seekers after Christ but weren’t considered as entirely Jewish also turned to Christ. But there were those Jews who did not believe and set about causing as much trouble for St Paul and his new disciples as possible. A mob even attacked the house of Jason, one of the leading members of the new Christian community and St Paul and St Silas had to be sent quietly to the town of Berea.

In Berea the Apostles followed the same model of evangelism. They approached the local synagogue and shared their message with the Jewish community and those Greeks who worshipped God with them. In this case the Jews studied the Scriptures with the Apostles and many of them were convinced that the message of St Paul was the fulfilment of their Jewish faith.

What can we learn from these encounters? It seems to me that our mission should be first of all directed towards those who already have a faith in God and in Christ, but whose spirituality would be fulfilled and completed by an knowledge of, and an acceptance of, the fullness of the Christian faith which we have been blessed to have encountered and experienced for ourselves in our Orthodox Church.

It also seems to me that our message is a positive one, which seeks to share the fullness of that which we have received rather than to criticise and denigrate that which others who have faith in God already believe. There are many believers in God among whom we live, how do we bring the message of our Apostolic faith before them? They should be the first objects of our concern and efforts in evangelism. They should be the objects of our prayer, and of our witness.

But there are a variety of responses. Some will reject the message of the Orthodox Faith with a degree of almost violence. But there will be those who respond with hope. There will be even more who have some faith but have not been committed to any of the many Christian groups around us. They are still seeking for something more than they have found. We have the experience of a life with Christ which has the power to transform their lives as it is transforming our own.Over these next months I hope that we will consider how we can reach out to those around us who already have some faith in Christ. The message of St Paul was tailored carefully to his Jewish audience. How will we tailor our message so that it inspires those to whom we talk and communicate our Orthodox Faith? How can we help them to move on with God and experience something more in their own lives.

We will not always receive a positive response, but it seems to me that this is the Apostolic model. That we should start with helping those who are already on the journey towards God move closer to him. Together I hope that with much prayer, and hopeful activity, we will make a difference here in Chatham, the Medway Towns and in Kent. It is the will of God that those who seek him should find him. May we be those who share in this Apostolic ministry, to the glory of God and the salvation of souls. Amen.

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