Yesterday in worship we looked at the Acts 17 scripture that tells of Paul visiting Athens and preaching on Mars Hill. Erwin McManus is lead pastor of the Mosaic Church, a Christian Community in Los Angeles. He has some insights on Acts 17 that I was unable to squeeze into yesterday’s sermon.
McManus speaks of the “art of movement” from first places, to second places, and and then to third places. Church is our “first place”. It is where we are comfortable. It is our “home turf”. For Paul that place was the synagogue. Paul was doing tremendous work in the synagogue. He was really “packing them in”. But he knew that to stay in his “first place”, while comfortable for him and for those who were there with him, would be deadly for the church.
Acts 17 is about Paul moving to a “second place”, the marketplace in Athens. He goes there to engage people who were quite different from him. But whereas he was reaching a tiny sliver of the population in the synagogue, in the marketplace he was where the people were. He was engaging his culture. Where is the marketplace for us? Anywhere but church! It is where we enter the community, taking our faith with us, and engage with people who would never feel any reason to set foot in a church building.
But the part of the passage we looked at yesterday was about a “third place”. This should be our goal, to eventually get to that “third place”. But we cannot enter this place unless we are first invited. Acts 17:19 says, “And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus” (aka, “Mars Hill”). Paul could not go there without their permission. They had to “bring him” to the “home turf” of those who didn’t think they had any use for Jesus Christ. But once Paul got there, the Holy Spirit was able to go to work on them through him. (Though most of them still either mocked him or remained undecided.)
I’m real comfortable in church. I’m real comfortable with all of you. But I don’t think God created church so we could be comfortable! Let’s leave our comfort zone this week and enter those “second places” and, God willing, even a few “third places”. And by the way, the point is not just to be there. The point is to let our faith be made known. To let our love shine.
I like the saying: “Live so that those who know you and don’t know Him will want to know Him because they know you.”