Back in the C20th, RE teachers taught their pupils the missionary journeys of St Paul. This had the advantage of being a topic which you could illustrate on the blackboard (remember those?) and in exercise books with carefully drawn maps of the Mediterranean world. And St Luke’s narrative in the Acts of the Apostles is full of dramatic incidents which gave the opportunity for classroom drama, imagined news reports and so on. The missionary journeys were a teacher’s goldmine.
In today’s narrative from Acts, St Paul is in Athens, ancient centre of the Greek cultural world. He goes to the Areopagus, the hill of Ares (the Greek god of war), where people meet for public debate. Addressing the gathered philosophers and thinkers, Paul first references his hearers’ own experience of religion and culture. With classic missional sensitivity he treats their cultural heritage with respect, quoting from the Greek Stoic poet Aratus to underline ideas common both to the Judaeo-Christian belief in God and to Greek philosophy: ‘in him we live and move and have our being’ … ‘for we too are his offspring’.
This is surely where real religion begins: in an awareness of the surrounding and sustaining presence of God in all of life. God is not for the few, the specially religiously-minded among us. God is among us all, in us all; as the hymn says, God is ‘Lord of Being, life and love’.