Well, if you've ever been there, you've probably seen the Tshirts or bumper stickers. They say, "Keep Austin weird." I was curious, so this week I looked up the history of that slogan. The website says that it was coined back in 2003 to counter the rampant commercialism that was overtaking the city. Apparently, a lot of people and businesses have been moving to Austin and the original residents just wanted to preserve the city's culture. If you go to keepaustinweird.com, there's another slogan that you'll see that better explains the first. It says, "Collaborative fission of coordinated individualism." If you don't understand what that means, it's really a long way of saying that Austin is a community made up of diverse individuals.
Now, while Austin certainly is unique, we can't say it's entirely original. You might say the Austinites were beat out several centuries beforehand by the Athenians because in a lot of ways, Athens was the original Austin. That is, a community made up of diverse individuals. Look at our reading today, there are Jews and Epicureans and Stoic Philosophers. There is this spirit to the town where they love anything new or different. It is a city full of idols and different religions. Athens was the original Austin. And so today, that's where Paul goes.
Well, how do you preach the Gospel in Austin? I think we're still trying to figure that one out, but back then, the approach was to cater to the city's diversity. So Paul goes to the synagogue; he goes to the marketplace; he goes to the Areopagus, which was something of an old courthouse. He goes everywhere to try to reach everyone.
Now at one time, Paul would've hated this diversity because he actually used to be something of a supremacist. He looked down on Christians; he didn't care for foreigners and he certainly despised Gentiles. Paul was a Pharisee and he basically did not care for anyone who was not Jewish. To him, everyone else was inferior.
But God would go on teach Paul that diversity was good. See, Athens wasn't the only place of diversity and Austin isn't the only place of diversity. The church itself would go on to be a far greater place of diversity than either of those two cities.
Historically, ethnicity and race have always been dividing points for humanity. Every country and culture has a history of fighting, wars or civil unrest based on differences between people. The history of humanity really is the history of division. We seek out those who are similar to us. To the others, we say, you're different than me; I don't understand you; I don't want you coming around here and making me feel like my customs and beliefs will be pushed aside. You go away or I'll make you go away.
Paul used to think that way and then God opened his eyes to see the diversity that is Christianity, made up of former Jews and Greeks, slave and free, rich and poor—people from every nation and tribe and tongue. That was the intent of the Great Commission – Go to all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey whatsoever I have commanded you, Jesus told the Disciples before His Ascension. In fact, the Greek word for nations used in Matthew 28:19 is "ehtnay." It's where we get the word ethnic from. So Jesus tells the disciples Go to all ethnay, baptizing and teaching them.
When Paul became a Christian, he would have to stop despising people of other ethnay. In fact, God would make him a missionary not to his own Jewish people, but to all the other people of the world. And so Paul spreads the Gospel from Jerusalem to Rome adding a handful of Christians in every city and enlarging the church's diversity as he goes.
And his preaching reflects that. In verse 26 of our reading today, Paul says, "And God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth." See, diversity flows back to Adam and ultimately reflects God's creative work. "He Himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything," Paul says in verse 25.
But the God who made all of mankind is not content for people of different nations to have different eligions. He is not a God who is content with ancient religions with idols of stone or modern day religions without them. This is why Matthew's Gospel ends with the Great Commission and this is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:22, "I have become all things to all men that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel," he writes. "To the Jews I became as a Jew. To those outside the law, I became as one outside the Law. To the weak, I became weak. I became all things to all people."
The greatest means for spreading Christian equality and achieving diversity is the Gospel. It is the message that all are born sinners, but all are set equally free from our sins by Christ. During Jesus' life, he goes to the Northern provinces where the Canaanites and the Syro-phonicians and the Samaritans live and He welcomes them to Himself. No sinner is beyond saving and no outsider is beyond reaching. This equality was reinforced during the Reformation when Martin Luther said leaders in the church are not closer to God by virtue of their callings. To paraphrase Luther, The farmer milking his cow pleases God as much as the priest in the parish for God has ordained both vocations.
And so the forgiveness of sins comes to all equally as well. Christ gives His life for the whole world; He calls for His Apostles to baptize and include all nations. The church is not geographical, but it is universal. It proclaims that the forgiveness of sins was won by Christ for all people. There are not meant to be numerous religions, but the One God of heaven and earth has provided a way for all to be saved through Christ Alone. The church is more diverse than Athens. It is more diverse than Austin. It is the place where people of every ethnicity and nationality come together to sing, to commune, to be baptized and to worship. We may speak different languages and have different customs and appearances, but we are all one in Christ.
And Christ creates unity out of our diversity. He enables people of different perspectives and backgrounds to all be of one understanding in His house. He makes Saints of every nation and builds His church from all the different people His Father created.
Now sometimes, we as God's people see narrowly and have been disinclined to reach out to different populations as our neighborhoods and culture have changed. Churches that once boasted of thousands of members in the 50's have only dozens today because the people huddled to themselves and failed to reach out to their new neighbors. While I was in seminary, I served at a large, beautiful old church five times the size of ours with probably ¼ the membership.
But Paul wrote to Timothy in 2:4, "God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." "Preach the Gospel to all creation," Jesus said in Mark 16:15. If you think about it, every part of our identity is secondary to our identity in Christ – our race, ethnicity, nationality, prosperity, even gender. Most of these pertain only to our status here in this life, but in the life to come we will not have nationality or prosperity and race will be irrelevant. Our identity in Christ is an eternal identity. It surpasses any distinguishing marks we have among one another in this life.
Austin and Athens are cities of great diversity, but the difference between them and the church is that they lack unity. But we have all been baptized into one body and covered by the same blood. We all share in the same new covenant and have embraced a common confession of faith. From the point of our baptisms into Christ forward, the differences between us are merely superficial. When your bond with another human being is Christ, then you share a common Lord a common heritage and a common future. In the church, the diversity of the flesh melts into the unity of the Spirit and testifies to the One Lord and Savior who has died for all and seeks to gather all to Himself. Diversity is great, but it doesn't compare to the diversity of Christ's church all made to be One in His unifying and eternal Spirit. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.