Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Presence of God: a counter-cultural community

                What happens when you have to teach God’s message to Greeks and Romans who live in a very different culture?
Next stop is actually not in Israel but in Priene, Turkey. Priene had Athena as their Goddess. The city was around 35 to 40,000 people. The city was around a 2 day walk from Ephesus. In the city there was a group of people that started to live for Jesus the one true God. Now we will see what it is like when the message of God reaches a Greek or Roman city.
                An Agora is a cross between a mall and a flee market. It is where things are sold and bought under the watchful eye of the Agoranamos who sits on a chair in the middle of the market. Before goods can be sold at the Agora they had to be devoted to the different Gods of the Agoranamos. As people would walk up with their gifts they would pinch some incense of the God being honored on their goods. So what would happen if a follower of Jesus came to sell?
The Agoranamos would say, “Welcome citizen please go dedicate your goods to Zeus thank you. “
The Jesus follower would reply, “But I don’t believe in Zeus and will not put incense on my goods.”
Agoranamos, “Well then you cannot sell your pottery here.”
So now this little community that wants to be like Jesus can’t be involved in the economics of their world. They cannot buy and sell. Their neighbors look down on them.
There was also a small theatre in Priene called a bouleuterion which means council. A council meeting would happen here almost like a governmental meeting today.  It looked something like this:
As you can see from the picture of present day Priene there is a square stone in the middle. When the bouleuterion was in session they would put a basin on top of the stone with burning coals. On the stone there were engravings of the gods: Aggalopias and Apollo. As one would walk into the bouleuterion they would put incense into the basin acknowledging that they follow and honor the gods. But the followers acknowledge that they follow God not the gods like Apollo or Aggalopias. So fellow believers that decide to follow Jesus would lose their spot on the city council.
Would you put incense in the basin?
 Being a follower of Jesus was to be counter cultural. You lost your economic edge, you lost your political power, you are a nobody.
How do you show people God? Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit declares the Lord.
Being a disciple is to rearrange your whole life. Not just as an individual but as a community. The movement of God in Priene was so powerful that it began to unravel the social order in this Roman community. You see in the Roman world there was a caste system and when big feasts would happen the top people would eat first all the way down to the slaves (if there was anything left). But then you have a community that was following Jesus and when they had a feast everyone ate at the same time. Slaves ate with those of high class with no separation. Everyone became brothers and sisters. In this community you did not have to say one word because the way you lived unraveled the whole system put in place by the Romans, but not by might or economics or politics. But by the Spirit of God.
There is another example in this community of the sacrifice the followers of Jesus made. To find it we go to Prytanium which is close to the term county hall in English. In the county hall there were pillars with the city laws and a basin where they offered sacrifices. Every day there would be sacrifices in the main temple Athenia but also in the Prytanium. This was done to sacrifice to other gods besides Athenia. So let’s say you walk past the “mayor” of the town and he is getting ready to give a sacrifice. He asks you what god you worship and you say the God of the Jew the God of Heaven. He would say okay let us sacrifice to Him also and you say no we can’t I don’t believe in those gods. The mayor will be flabbergasted because you will anger the Gods and risk the whole city. But you have become cross cultural but there is more.
There was a mound of dirt at the entrance of the “county hall” and there was a hearth burning in it with fire dedicated to the goddess Hestius. It was believed that fire came down from the gods to mount Olympus for the people and it burned there continually. So one day a group of people carried a torch to mount Olympus from Priene to light the torch and brought it back to light the hearth. This is what was used by all the locals in their home for heat and cooking food. They did not have matches or lighters. It was also believed that the fire would wash away all offenses to the gods. But guess what the people following the one true God did not have a fire in their house. That would be honoring the goddess Hestius. No heat or cooking of food and a lot of cold cuts to eat. They had no fire because they were living for God and it was a sacrifice they made.
The early believers came and showed God in flesh.
They lived in community.
It was a community where every god promised a good life. What did the one true God followers bring to this hellinistic community? Nothing, but the love of God in flesh and a totally different way to live. A cross cultural way to live.

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