Saturday, July 30, 2016

How Did We Get Here? Beholding Beauty

Beholding Beauty                                                        7/31/16

Isaiah 61, Romans 8:18-30


flowers, sunsets, walking along the towpath, the river, birds chirping, the shore, mountains           These are beautiful things.


Struggle, hard work, weeds, dandelions, relationships,

These are also beautiful things.  Or at least they can be.


Have you ever thought about dandelions?  Why do we work so hard to get rid of them?  Think about the effort and resources involved with eliminating dandelions from our yards.  I wonder what God’s perspective is on this matter.  Can’t you easily imagine God saying:  “I have a great idea, I’m going to sprinkle within the grass some pretty yellow flowers.  Their seeds will bring children gleeful laughter and play”


I’m not here to change your dandelion policy.  But I am here today to remind us it is our job as Christians to be on the forefront of beholding beauty.  For God is, among other things, perfect and holy, and that is beautiful.  The Psalmist sings that we are to ‘gaze upon the beauty of the Lord’ (27:4)   Our God, ‘has made everything beautiful in its time’ (Eccl. 3:11).



This summer we have been asking the question of the Church:  How Did We Get Here?   We’ve looked to some way that Western Civilization has lifted up values from Scripture at different times in its story.  So far, we’ve considered these biblical ideas:  the human story is more than survival, wisdom, enduring themes, good news, and community.  Today, we look at beauty. 


There was a period in the story of Western Civilization called “the Renaissance”, which takes place in the 1300-1500’s AD.  This word is a French word developed in the 1800’s which means “rebirth”.  Starting in Italy, there was an era of profound and beautiful contributions in the disciplines of painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, literature and philosophy.


During this time, many artists reached back to classical models of Greece and Rome, rather than medieval world. They looked to the classical world and adapted these themes to their age.


On the intellectual front, it is during the renaissance that the

Humanists grow as a movement.  But, the first humanists were Christians, believers reacting to the middle ages idea of withdrawing from the world, by suggesting you can be faithful to the Lord in the world, engaged in good and building society.  This made sense in a quickly growing urban society.   


It is only later that humanists in the enlightenment deconstruct faith. 


One of the best jobs for Christians is to behold beauty, because what we offer is the truth that God is beautiful and creator of beauty.  We can place beautiful things in their proper context:  in relationship to God.


Today, we lift up two passages of Scripture that announce beauty, and invite the Lord’s people to behold beauty, to lift up beauty in this world and invite others to find God’s will for their lives, which can grow beauty in any person willing to trust in the Lord.


In Isaiah 61, prophesied around 680 years before the time of Christ, we see God’s plan for Israel, and the world.  The beginning of this prophesy is important for another reason other than today’s sermon:  it was quoted by Jesus Christ to describe his ministry.  In fact, after he reads this passage from the scroll in his hometown of Nazareth, he boldly declares to his townspeople that “today, this passage is fulfilled”.

Today, I am going to re-read the Isaiah passage in four movements.  I am going to offer a title, and then read the passage again.  I invite you to behold a beautiful God’s beautiful vision for a beautiful humanity:


What God will do for his people:  (vs 1-3)

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
    and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of his splendor



How This Transforms the World:  (vs 4-6)


They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the Lord,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.




The far reaches of God’s Story:  (vs 7-9)

Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.

“For I, the Lord, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations

    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”



Understanding ourselves in light of God  (vs 10-11)


I delight greatly in the Lord;
    my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
    and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
    and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up

    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations.



To go back for a moment to this idea of the far reaching effects of God’s story, let us look to one of the great figures of the Renaissance:  Filippo Brunelleschi.



Born in 1377 in Florence Italy, Brunelleschi is most famous for the dome of Florence cathedral, and his development of linear perspective.   His self-defined goal for his work was to “reinforce Christian spiritual reality”.   This religious foundation allowed him to be influential in several realms of thought and invention.  He was truly, pun intended, “a renaissance man”.


*His linear perspective thought was the leading voice for 500 years.

*His perspective thought also helped the advancement of modern science,  Galileo called upon Brunelleschi’s linear perspective ideas

*he creates the first renaissance architecture in Florence with specific reference to classical Rome.

*he invented and patented a hoisting machine for the bricks needed for the Florence Dome, over 4 million bricks moved, as buttresses were

*he was also granted the first patent for a river boat

*he is the inventor of hydraulic machinery

*he contributed to the theatre of the church, including artistic renditions of angels that would fly over the audience



What a fascinating man, who when placing his pursuit of truth and beauty, had a wide sphere of influence, and changed the course of history.  


These things are possible, and beautiful, when bringing honor to the Lord.


Paul, in his teaching to the Romans, reminds believers that not only do people look to God’s people to announce God’s hope and goodness, but also the creation is waiting for God’s children to be revealed.


We have the promise of glory that will far outweigh any suffering we endure.


We serve a creation that waits in expectation for the sons and daughter of the Lord to do the Lord’s will in this world.


We are to be patient as we pray, as we work, as we behold beauty, and announce the Lord’s majesty to the world.


We are to let God’s Spirit, in Scripture:  The Holy Spirit, to teach us how to pray, and how to behold beauty.  The Spirit helps us in our weakness, and points us toward God’s life.


God is at work.  He is working for the good of those who love him.  He is working in those he has called for his purposes.  God has predestined believers to be conformed to Christ’s likeness.  Those that God has called, God will justify.  Those he has justified, he will also glorify.


God’s character is beautiful, and so is his work.  It is amazing to consider the grace of the Lord:  that you and I are people that God is working for good.  That is a beautiful thing.


It is so beautiful, that our job is to listen and obey, in every aspect of our life, in every thought, word and deed.  Then, your story, when connected with God’s story, becomes quite beautiful.


The Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.   (Isaiah 61:11)

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