Paul – Planting Seeds of Faith
Acts 17:22-31

I promised you last week that we would begin a series this week where we look a little more closely at some of the ‘Great People in God’s Story”, and today we begin with the apostle Paul.  Many of you would know Paul’s background, where he came from and what he did, but for those who don’t I will give you a bit of an insight into the man, then we will take some time exploring the way Paul did his work in Athens at the Areopagus and finally look at how we as people who are still living in God’s story might learn and apply some of the thinking behind it and see that God uses ordinary people to bring about all kinds of things in his kingdom.
Paul was by all accounts a bit of a villain in his early days; I mean that in the sense that he was a persecutor of the early and developing Christian church.  Last week we heard the somewhat shocking story of Stephen being stoned to death by an angry crowd that had turned on him for proclaiming the message of Jesus, and of Stephen even going so far as to pray for them as they stoned him.  Luke the historian specifically mentioned that some of the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.  This was Paul’s name from birth, this was him before his conversion, and witnesses place him at the scene of the stoning of Stephen.  This was not a great way for us to be introduced to the man!  Paul was trained as a Pharisee in Jerusalem when he was young and as we know the Pharisees were committed to strictly following the Jewish laws and traditions.  Paul trained under a famous Rabbi called Gamaliel which puts him up there with the most respected in his community.
The part of the story of Stephen that we didn’t hear last week included more about Saul (as we was known at the time) and the events that he instigated.  “And Saul approved of their killing [Stephen].  That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.  Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him.  But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.”  Not a nice dude at this particular point in his career.
Yet this was the man that God decided to use to spread the Gospel throughout a large chunk of the known world!  Jesus spoke to him on the road to Damascus (although it was only his voice that was heard, he wasn’t actually seen).  He was blinded by the light that was shining down from heaven and through a series of conversations he was sent to Ananias to have his sight restored.
Once this had taken place Paul began to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah that the Jews had been hoping for, and the Jews decided that he needed to be killed!  The persecutor had become the persecuted!  What an incredible turn around in one person’s life.  He continued to spread the gospel throughout his life, even though the persecution continued, he was locked up several times, and according to legend eventually killed.  But along the way through the work of the Holy Spirit was able to begin many churches and as we know support them through the letters he wrote to them.
Paul was just your ordinary bloke really, nothing special yet God chose to turn his life around and have a huge impact on the growth of the Christian faith.  He was apparently not even an imposing figure, descried by one historian as “a man of small stature, with bald head and crooked legs…with eyebrows meeting and nose somewhat hooked.”  Not so different to many of us really…
Anyway, let’s move on to the story we’ve heard today.  Paul fronts up to Athens and that oddly named gathering at the Areopagus.  This was like a think-tank, all of the wisest and cleverest minds gathered together, it would be like all of the wisest philosophers of our time gathered together in the one place, a daunting place to feel the need to stand up and preach indeed.  Yet Paul did so bravely and with boldness and wisdom.
He had observed on his walking around Athens that there were a large number of altars set up to give honour to all sorts of gods, there was also one with the inscription, “To an unknown god”.  These people were keeping their options open, just in case!  Now he had the opportunity to speak to his concerns.  He acknowledged how religious they were, with all of their religious objects around the place, and then used the presence of their un-named altar to explain to them about the one they were ignoring or knew nothing about, the God who made the world and everything in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, who doesn’t live in shrines made by humans.  He even quoted a couple of their well-known poets to help them relate to the message.
This was a man truly inspired by the Holy Spirit to share the good news of Jesus to the entire world.  Just an average individual who had a fair bit going against him, he made a lot of enemies along the way.  God uses people like Paul to do his work in the kingdom.  We are a part of that kingdom and like Paul have experienced a new beginning to our lives in our baptism.  We have been given opportunities in our lives to share that message, sometimes we recognise them and sometimes we don’t. 
The challenge is to hear God’s voice and see where he is calling us to serve and act on his behalf for the benefit of others and the building up of his kingdom.  What Paul shared he learned from living his life and his experience with God, we’ve all had experiences that we are able to share too.  Paul had his flaws, he probably wasn’t the most approachable bloke in the first century and maybe we aren’t either, but God works miracles through each and every one of us in various ways, trust in the Lord and live your life in faith and hope because you are great people and a part of God’s story too.