Imagine Me – Right Answers, Right Questions

What is the most irrelevant subject you had to study when you were in school & why?

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We began a series last week entitled, ‘Imagine Me’ or ‘why ordinary people like me and you can change the world’. As we celebrate 10 years of Mavuno’s story, we are looking at the life of Apostle Paul, one the most influential leaders of all time, in order to understand better who this community is.

Previously on this sermon series, we discovered that there were many people far more qualified that God could have used, but somehow, He chose Paul. God is not waiting for perfect people who have their act together to spread His love. Instead, God loves unlikely candidates! Then last week we saw how because of Paul’s
influence, the early church realized it was wrong to make it difficult for unlikely people to come to Jesus. Our takeout was ‘don’t conform; be transformed’.

Even though it’s easy to laugh about irrelevant subjects we studied in school, I sometimes wonder whether Christianity is becoming another irrelevant subject in our society. More and more people are getting repelled by Christianity, and are drifting away from church because of what they see as the irrelevance of those who call themselves Christians. Many in our culture do not believe in the God of the bible, and they have other alternatives that are far more attractive. Mention that you are an atheist or Buddhist and people think you must be smart. Mention that you are a Christian, and you can see by the facial expressions of those around you that they think you’ve gone soft in the head!

The interesting thing is that there are so many things that are broken in society that we know the bible has answers for: Corruption, insecurity, moral decadence, inequality and negative ethnicity to mention but a few. If only people could see how truly following Jesus is what Kenya needs. But the world doesn’t see the church as the place to seek solutions. Are we at risk of being completely irrelevant to our society?
Our sermon text today Acts 17:16-34.

Athens is the capital city of Greece, which has made the headlines in the recent past with its debt crisis. Centuries ago, under Alexander the Great, Athens was the political capital of the world. But by Paul’s, the Romans had colonized it and Rome was now the center of power. But Athens was still the cultural capital of the world. Every educated Roman spoke the Greek language and most of the New Testament is written in Greek, which shows just how influential Greek culture was. Athens was the center of arts, architecture, beauty, education, philosophy and sports, and many intellectuals, artists and refined people lived there. Athens defined global culture in many ways.

While in Athens, Paul decided to do some sightseeing. He noticed the many idols that the people of Athens worshiped . It is said that there were more idols than people in Athens! Paul was ‘greatly distressed’ to see how these people were worshiping false gods. And v.17 tells us, ‘so he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there.’ ‘Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 You are bringing some strange ideas to
our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.” 21 (All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)’

Paul was always looking for an opportunity to tell people about the love of Jesus Chris and his power to change people’s lives.

Note several things about how Paul engaged with these Athenians:

1. He started where they were – Interestingly, even though he was distressed by their idol worship, Paul didn’t criticize the Athenians or act like he was more spiritual than them. In fact he began by affirming something good about them; “I see in every way you are very religious – that’s awesome!’ You see, Paul had taken time to listen to them and to understand their culture. He could see their brokenness – their empty worship of idols. But he could also see something beautiful – they had a hunger for God that caused them to be religious. For example, they had so many idols, they reached a place where they said, ‘were not sure if we’ve covered all the bases – so just in case… let’s put up one for ‘the unknown God’’. And Paul said, ‘let me show you who this unknown God that you’ve been worshiping really is’. And on that common ground, he was able to introduce them to the God who made the world and everything in it.

Because God is the creator of the whole world, there are traces of beauty in every culture that reflect God’s nature. But because of human sinfulness, there are also idols in every culture that reflect its brokeness. The idols and brokenness of our culture are easier to see. Whether it’s materialism (the blind pursuit of wealth in Kenya that causes us to take all shortcuts) or negative ethnicity (the idea that your people are superior to others) or lust and promiscuity that is destroying relationships. However, it takes patient listening and observation to notice the beautiful things that are starting points for the gospel. Wherever we go, God has already gone there before us.  We need to look for traces of what He is doing and join Him in it, and this is what Paul was doing.

2. He spoke their language – The interesting thing is that unlike in the synagogues, Paul did not quote the bible even once! Instead he introduced Jesus by quoting their own celebrities. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being’ were famous words by Epimenides, one of their most famous philosophers. ‘We are his offspring’ were the words of a Stoic poet called Aratus. Both these quotes were from poems about Greek gods! But Paul was not afraid to use the language and cultural forms that his audience was familiar with and to share the good news about Jesus. Quoting their own philosophy, he was able to show the Epicurians that yes indeed there is a God and that the world is not a random place. And also to show the Stoics that the true God cannot be made by humans like an idol. As a result, we are told that several people even in that distinguished forum believed in Jesus.

This is not always the approach that Christians have taken through the ages. When missionaries came to Kenya, many Kenyans had to take Western names when baptized to symbolize they were now Christians. When people ask you, ‘what’s your Christian name?’ they probably mean, what’s your English name, because somehow names like Edward or Sheila are more Christian than Muriithi or Atieno or Kimutai! Another example – among most African ethnic groups, ancestors played a huge role, and it was common as people drank wine to pour out a libation on the ground to honor or acknowledge those who’d gone before them. The Swahili referred to ancestors as ‘pepo’, which simply means spirit or wind. However, the missionaries felt this was devil worship and when the bible was translated, the word they used for the devil is ‘pepo’. (‘ngoma’ in Kikuyu). Interestingly, the bible has a high view of ancestors – and the Jews often spoke of the God of ‘Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’.

Instead of showing how the God of the bible was the God that Africans had been seeking for, the missionaries often demonized their culture, and the result is that Christianity is still seen by many today as a Western religion. They had the right answer, but the asked the wrong questions!

The Church Today
We run the same risks today! One of the reasons Christians are often caught on the wrong side of culture is that we often attack the brokenness we see without listening first to understand. Whether it’s abortion, promiscuity, homosexuality. When we encounter something we don’t agree with, we’re quick to point fingers but not quick to befriend, or listen or understand. And so we speak loudly but don’t realize that people stopped listening a while back! Right answer, wrong questions!

Ten years ago when we started Mavuno Church, our passion was that we would always be a church that went where people were, understood their culture and brought the truths of the bible into that culture in a language they understood. It meant doing things that other Christians sometimes found scandalous – like taking popular songs in the culture and saying – “these unknown idols you are worshiping – let me show you what it is that you were looking for” and then teaching the truths of scripture through them.” It meant understanding the language and aspirations of this generation in order to help them meet Jesus where they were. And it also meant helping our people to develop a passion to see their culture transformed by the love of Jesus. People with the right answer, but also asking the right questions. Tell your neighbor, ‘right answer, right questions!’

For those of us who came to Christ in the 20th century, it’s understandable that what reached us is what makes us comfortable. But there is a reason why God has put us in an increasingly postmodern culture, and if we do things the way they were done in the 80’s we will not be useful in spreading the love of Christ to this generation. If we isolate ourselves in our churches and office fellowships talking ‘Christianese’, then we become too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. And yet God has called us to be ‘salt and light’ to a world that is broken and in darkness. It’s not just right answers we need, it’s ‘right answer, right questions!’

As Christians, we know that Jesus is the answer. And that’s awesome. It’s great to know that there is an answer. But it’s also important to know what the questions are! Whether it’s in the office where you , or in the gym where you work out, or in the lives of fellow parents at your children’s school, there are people around you who beneath that tough professional exterior are hungry for Jesus and the solutions He brings. But if we don’t listen enough to know the real deep-down questions they’re asking, our faith will seem completely irrelevant to them! Its been said that ‘people don’t care how much you know if they don’t know how much you care’.

Even at home, that brother that the whole family gave up on; who last sat with him and asked him about his aspirations, where he’s going, what he really desires? You see, you may be coming to him with answers to questions he’s not asking! You can have the right answers to the wrong question! But if you could understand his questions/needs, then perhaps you’ll be able to show him how every aspiration he has, that is what Jesus is the answer to. You may know what God’s word says, but you need to understand where your brother is coming from. ‘right answer… right questions!’

One of the things I love about this church is that this is our call as the people of Mavuno! Each of us here has a space where you are best equipped to take the good news about Jesus and his power to transform people. You who is a lawyer/stockbroker/clothes seller – there are people that you are best positioned to share the gospel with those in your sphere. If only we’ll take time to find out what the real questions are! Which is the space that God has called you to represent Him? Are you aware of what the questions the people around you have? Imagine being part of a community that is the reference point when it comes to all matters pertaining life. Imagine with me a time when people will visit Hill City and they will be so eager to be part of this community because they find real answers to their questions among the people
here.

Imagine with me that a time is coming that we the fearless will be so relevant, that the word of God will be the reference for all national decisions.

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