“While Paul was waiting in Athens, he was deeply distressed to see that the city was full of idols…Then Paul stood before the Areopagus and said, ‘Athenians, I see how extremely spiritual you are in every way. As I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found an altar with the inscription, “To an unknown god.” What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.’” (Acts 22:16, 22-23, NRSVue)
The apostle Paul was a master at studying the culture of those with whom he wanted to share the gospel to find a point of mutual agreement that would allow him to make his argument for Jesus Christ. The passage from the book of Acts is a prime example as Paul observed the multitude of idols in Athens, including one dedicated to “an unknown god,” that he immediately saw as an opportunity to share with them about his God, Jesus Christ. Charles Wesley was equally adept at appropriating cultural trends to advance the gospel. Many of the hymns he wrote were put to the popular tunes of the day so that people would be familiar with the music even though the words were different. Rev. George Whitefield (pronounced Whit’-field), a close friend of John Wesley’s, was a great preacher and orator who became more famous than most actors in 18th-century England because of his charismatic preaching style. Celebrity culture is nothing new.
Recognizing that cultural references can be a tool to reaching a culture distracted from the awareness of God, Terry Stubblefield and I will start a sermon series this week called “Summer Playlist.” We’re using songs from our iTunes playlists that mean something to us, hoping to connect something about them to the gospel that our world desperately needs to hear. We want you and the friends you invite to worship to “overhear” the gospel through these cultural references. Besides hearing scripture in new ways, you will also learn a little more about Terry and me through our choices in music!
This week, I’m using the Doobie Brothers’ song, “Jesus is Just Alright,” released in November 1972. (In case you’re wondering, I was eleven when it came out!) Art Reynolds wrote it as a gospel song and released it in 1966 as a member of the Art Reynolds Singers. The Byrds also covered the song on one of their albums in 1969, but the Doobie Brothers took it to No. 35 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Their version is the one I remember most. Although none of the band members of the Doobie Brothers was religious, their song became a favorite among the Jesus Freaks of the '70s. If you’re unfamiliar with Jesus Freaks, I can tell you all about them because I was one.
The message of the song is simple as it uses the slang term “alright” or “all right,” meaning “Jesus is cool—he’s alright.” I will tie this song into Matthew 9, verses 9-13, and 18-26. Read over the gospel lesson and see if you can figure out the angle I’ll use. And don’t forget to invite your friends to join us in worship on Sunday.