Then Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they went on from Perga and came to Antioch in Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent them a message, saying, ‘Brothers, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, give it.’ So Paul stood up and with a gesture began to speak: ‘You Israelites, and others who fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. For about forty years he put up with them in the wilderness. After he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance for about four hundred and fifty years. After that he gave them judges until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. When he had removed him, he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, “I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.” Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, as he promised; before his coming John had already proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his work, he said, “What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but one is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of the sandals on his feet.”
Every preacher remembers their first sermon. Most of us would love to forget, but I hope that most of us can say that in years since we have grown. Initially preachers tend to borrow the styles, language, or mannerisms of their childhood pastor or favourite preacher. Good preachers learn confidence with practice, and great churches learn to accept their individuality.
Out of a request for an exhortation in Antioch comes Paul’s first public sermon. Centuries before, Aristotle had outlined three types of rhetoric: logos (appeal to reason), ethos (appeal to credibility), and pathos (appeal to the heart). Paul would have had some understanding of Aristotle. Yet what he delivers is neither about himself nor an appeal to reason, but close to pathos. This is not another rehearsal of their history; Paul pours out their redemption story. Today’s section ends as he gets to the main thing, what God has just done and is about to do through Jesus.
We know Paul as the prime theologian of the early Church. Some of his later opinions we might scrutinise because, well, he’s not Jesus. But in his first sermon, he relies heavily on those who came before him. Most importantly, he includes his audience in God’s historical process. The Stoics believed that history simply kept repeating itself, as will be the opinion of many in 2022. Paul’s view of history is certain that history is moving forward according to God’s purpose. Redemption and liberation has always been God’s hope for and gift to us.
Where is the pathos of the Church today? I remain convinced that the Church possesses the seeds of her own flourishing, and that of humanity, as we confide in the best of our spiritual ancestors’ gifts to us to motivate us toward what God would ultimately have us become.
Lord you spoke to Paul through his tradition May we see you working through our histories. May we see you moving in our now. May we see you setting us up for our next.
Ase and Amen.
The Rev’d William Young, pastor, Covenant Baptist UCC, Washington DC