Cities of Hope: Rome - Center of the World and Beyond

Romans 1:1-17

Paul the Traveler from Jerusalem to Rome and Beyond
Jesus, after his resurrection, sent his disciples gradually out into the world -- Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria -- then "to the end of the earth." That was not just a geographical, but cultural, racial, political, and social transformation. From a conception of God centered ethnically, politically, theologically on the Jerusalem temple, to a realization of God in and for all peoples in all lands.
That was part of the 'conversion' that seized Paul. As a national Messiah, Jesus was impossible. Crucified! But if he was true/raised/alive, then he exploded the ethnic/political/class barriers and entanglements. He showed God creating a bridge of faithful love to all of his alienated creatures.
Paul (with Steven, Philip, Peter, Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, Priscilla, Aquila and so many others) set out across the world (Roman empire and beyond) with that transforming vision. Luke records the story from Lk 1 to Acts 28, from Jerusalem temple to Rome. Paul's letters let us see inside events into the depth of spiritual power that could break hatred and draw people to God together.

Cities of Hope: Ephesus - New Humanity in a Chaotic World

Ephesians 2:11-22

Adventures in Ephesus, Capital of Asia
With cities like Philippi, Corinth, and Ephesus, we have not only the Acts account of Paul's work but also letters from Paul to believers. Acts was probably written 15-20 yrs after Paul's death. People remembered amazing stories of Ephesus, maybe from Aquila and Priscilla and many others.
An old city (1000 bc), now Rome's provincial capital, famous for the huge temple of Artemis (strange, bound, many 'breasts,' meteorite?, pilgrims). Great city ruins; no ruins of Temple.
Acts 19 starts from A and P house church. Unusual disciples: Apollos, 12 who follow John's baptism. Synagogue conflict. The Hall of Tyrannus for 2 yrs. The message spreads, mission teams sent. Remarkable signs. Jewish traveling exorcists. Disciples who practiced magic. Paul was imprisoned. He wrote Galatians, Philippians, 1Corinthians. His life was in danger (Phi 1:12ff) and he 'fought with beasts' (1Cor 15:32). Paul plans to leave but riots stirred by Demetrius a silversmith. Paul's helpers are held hostage. A huge crowd fills the great theater with uproar. Finally quieted by town clerk.

Cities of Hope: Corinth - Why Can’t God be as Smart as Us?

1 Corinthians 1:10-31

Paul in Corinth -- a Cultural Crossroads
Corinth a "new" Roman colony; destroyed in 146 bc, rebuilt by Julius Caesar in 44 bc. In ad 50, 94 yrs later, Paul arrives. Strong Jewish community. Jews expelled from Rome by Claudius in ad 48. Paul stays 18 mo. growing a complex community of Jews, god-fearers, pagans, etc. -- dynamic, lives changed, new experiences, under persecution. Paul moves on: Galatia, Ephesus. Paul learns about believers in Corinth, receives a letter of inquiries from them: writes 1 Corinthians in ad 54.
A community transformed by the Gospel and power of the Spirit but living in the social, cultural, political world of Greece and Rome. In 1Cor Paul deals with a variety of serious problems as they try to live into this new reality but are drawn back into old/common/pervasive ways of thinking.
Paul starts from a basic symptom that reveals the problem: conflict, competition, groups around various teachers. Common from both teachers and learners. Natural in complex communities.
So what's the problem? Get along. Competition among groups leads to clearer thinking--advance. Those with Greek education are going to have different perspective than Jews reading the Torah. It's obvious, natural and real. A community that brings together different ethnic groups, cultures, social classes is going to have competing points of view. It's more of a virtue than a problem.
The Dangerous Idea of Unity

Athens: Do Philosophers Need Jesus?

Acts 17:16-34

Paul in Athens a View on the World

Paul has encountered the diaspora synagogue (Antioch), popular paganism (Lystra), Roman domination (Philippi). Now after Thessalonica and Berea, he comes to Athens, worried for the survival of the infant churches.

Athens, the most famous city in the Greek world, not big or powerful, but very influential, a university city with an unmatched cultural heritage.

Again he starts with the synagogue, where people know Israels story, but he also goes to the famous Agora/plaza, with the open-air Stoa/colonnade, that gave Stoic philosophy its name. Where popular philosophies, world-views,were taught, debated, shaping shapers of culture.

Here he meets not persecution but puzzlement. He uses ideas people recognize, but puts them together in strange ways, a phrase-dropper.He talks about Jesus and Anastasis/Rising. 

Philippi-Joy Facing Painful Challenges

Acts 15:12-34

Roman City and Its Cast of Characters
Paul is on his 2nd mission journey (with Silas, Timothy, Luke and others).
He crosses into Europe to Philippi, named for Alexander the Gt.'s
father. Site of battle of Mark Antony and Octavian against Brutus and Cassius, a colony of Rome. On Roman "Egnatian Way."
There is a Jewish community with a 'Place of Prayer' outside the city walls near Gangites River. Paul finds women there (sitting apart from men?) including Lydia, a merchant, a gentile 'God- fearer,' seeking new identity. She listens to the story of Jesus as Lord, becomes a believer in the Lord. She is baptized and offers her home as a base for the group teaching others by the river.

Antioch too and Lystra, Stories Made New

Acts 13:21-43

New Territory, Changing Audiences, Continual Danger
Paul and Barnabas left Antioch of Syria, worked in Cyprus, crossed to Asia Minor, traveled north through mountains of Pisidia into Phrygia to Antioch, a Roman garrison, then to Iconium and Lystra in Lycaonia, a Roman garrison. Layers of old culture, Greek, Roman. Jewish communities. Travel was very dangerous. The ethnic conflicts in cities were sensitive. Jews were vulnerable.
The message of Paul and Barnabas set off conflicts in all three cities. Jewish teaching already had impact in these cities: “God-fearing” Gentiles and Proselyte converts. A major identity shift. Paul comes saying that in Jesus, faith in Israel’s one God, forgiveness and life are now open to all ethnic groups. No new religion, but a realization that Israel’s faith through the Messiah was for all.

Antioch, Multi-Cultural Mission

Acts 11:19-26; 13:1-3

Antioch -- History, Pain, and Hope
Antioch was capital of Roman Syria, founded in 300 bc after Alexander Gt. By Seleucus I, named for his father Antiochus. On the Orontes River controlling trade from south and east into Asia Minor and Europe. Fortress, 2 sq miles, 150,000 people in 1st cent. ad. (nearly 2x as dense as modern Manhattan). Had Jewish community from beginning with some rights, conflicts. Antioch was important in NT times as the place where inclusion of Gentiles became substantial and mission to Gentiles began.

Caesarea, Barrier-Leaping Spirit

Acts 10:34-48

Caesarea: New City, Roman Center
Caesarea, built by Herod the Gt., gift of Augustus. 10 bc. Harbor. Excavations. Many Caesareas. Mixed pagan and Jewish. Herod's Temple to Augustus. Like other Gk cities. Center of Roman government. Pilate inscription.
Philip came there after Jerusalem (6:1-7), Samaria (8:5-25), and the Ethiopian (8:26-40). He was a leader of Gk-speaking believers who began the process of realizingthe promise of Pentecost, reaching out to the world. The Spirit pushed him to new encounters. Now that same Spirit pushes Peter. Luke shows Peter had no intention of going to non-Jews, but visions to Cornelius and Peter (10:1-23) show God's determination to leap that barrier.

Jerusalem - Transformative Community

Acts 2:37-47

From Jerusalem to Rome – Hope among City Crowds
Though Jesus came from a village, the Faith in him spread from city to city across the Roman empire. The Spirit came at Pentecost among the crowds gathered from far and wide. The messengers of this new hope, love, understanding of God and life in Jesus took their announcement into the meeting places and markets of Jerusalem, Rome, and far beyond.
Crowds are ‘dumb and panicky’ (MiB), a person is smart. On Pentecost Peter spoke in the court of the great Jerusalem Temple to the persons who had been part of the crowd that crucified Jesus. When they listened to the promise of scripture in Prophets and Psalms, they realized one by one that they had rejected the very Messiah (anointed King) they hoped for.