Saturday, July 30, 2016

How Did We Get Here? That Which Endures

THAT WHICH ENDURES                                        7/10/16

Isaiah 35, II Timothy 2:8-13


This summer we are asking the question “How did we get here?”  The “we” is 21st century post-modern Christians.   To answer the question we will survey the broad themes of western civilization through the lens of Scripture.


Our story started out in the pre-written world of Oral History.  We learned that humanity is about more than surviving.  Two weeks ago, we looked to Classical Greece, and found the idea of wisdom together.  Today, we look at Rome, for that noble pursuit of that which endures.


Rome is the longest lasting empire in the Western story, with almost a thousand years of life.  Like all great life, Rome was not without its warts, and some of those warts can provide caution to the United States in its leadership position in the world today.


Rome was founded by two men named Romulus and Remus.  One was an exiled prince, and one was a thief. Roger Osbourne writes that this mix of nobility and aggression becomes the DNA of the empire.


We see this at the height of Roman power, one third of the empire lived as slaves, almost 2 million people.


We see this in the wars of expansion, an unsustainable pattern of having to conquer more lands in order to support and feed a growing population.  One million Gaul’s are killed in one campaign.  Rome was often engaged in conflict, and biographer Edward Gibbons wrote that “Rome conquered the world in self-defense”. 


Yet there was also an effective communication within the empire.  Roman Roads connected the empire.  There was always opportunity to work yourself up the chain, if you were willing to adopt Roman values (as they say, When in Rome…).  Local customs were tolerated as long as they didn’t interfere with Rome’s agenda. There was a successful administration of partnerships and treaties within the empire, at one point over 150 treaties in place.  Rome was historically, the largest professional organization the world had ever seen. 


The story of the Roman Empire and expansion was, from a human perspective, a story that endured.   Rome was excellent at finding things that worked and borrowing them for their culture.  Our example this morning is of the Aqueduct. 


Latin for “Water way” an aqueduct would transport water to key locations throughout the empire.  Until Rome perfected the aqueduct, civilizations were largely successful to the extent they could rely on local water resources.  The water resources dictated the size of the town.  As Rome grew, (there were a million people in the city of Rome in the 1st century), they needed more water.  They called upon a pre-existing method of building aqueducts.  Often underground, sometimes in the form of large bridge-like structures multi story and supported by curved columns, aqueducts followed the landscape to deliver water, except when the landscape got in the way, and that is when Roman engineering worked the landscape to keep the water flowing.   At their height, there were over 400 miles of aqueducts leading to Rome.  And these aqueducts brought in over 300 million gallons of water to the city every single day.  They provided for Roman bathhouses, gardening, latrines, fountains, private homes, and commerce.  The Quintus Marcius aqueduct, cost 180 million Roman coins, about 720 million dollars by today’s standards. 


The story of the aqueduct was fascinating, in part because of the efforts of maintenance required.  There was surveying, health tests, experiments in efficiency, inspections, upkeep, security, regulations for access and licensing fees.  If a mountain was in the way, Rome moved the mountain, or at least part of it.  We still see these marvelous feats of engineering standing today.  And yes, a few of them are still functioning.   


The story of Rome offers many lessons, good and bad, in contributions to society that stood the test of time.  But their story is far less enduring than the message of Scripture.   This message of Scripture is what gathers us together, and keeps us together today.


We turn our attention to that which endures.  We will lift up three ideas:

1.     The Lord’s work endures

2.     The Lord’s promises endure (the images of Isaiah 35)

3.     our participation (rooted in Christ) endures


The Lord’s work endures.   When we see the word endure in the Bible, connected to the Lord, here is what we find:

a.     God endures forever.  God’s nature and character are eternal.

b.    the most common phrase is found in the Psalms:  God’s love endures forever.  In fact, in Psalm 136, the phrase is used 26 times as a refrain to the witness of God’s saving work.  With each verse, the people would sing back:  God’s love endures forever.

c.     God’s name endures forever. 

d.    God’s fame endures forever.  Psalm 135:12 proclaims “Your name LORD, endures forever, your renown, LORD, through all generations”

e.     God’s word endures forever.  “The grass withers, and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8)

f.      God’s throne endures forever.  The Lamentation Book in Scripture ends this way “You LORD, reign forever, your throne endures from generation to generation” (5:19)

g.     God’s promises endure forever.


The Lord’s promises endure.   This is important to remember.  When we read in Scripture of judgment, God will keep his word.  When warnings are given to the wicked to repent, his promises will one day come to fruition.  But this is also true of God’s promises of provision and salvation.  They also remain, even when not seen or experienced.  They are still true, and will always be true.


I hope you listened to Isaiah 35.  These are promises in images that excite our imagination, and deepen our hope. 


This past week included some very hot days.  Recall how hot you felt outside this week.  And imagine someone coming to you and saying:  It won’t be long before this same spot provides refreshment, or this same spot is a frigid place.  Winter seems far away now, and we aren’t quite ready to think about fall though we might open our arms to its weather.  But we know these things are coming.  Summer doesn’t last forever.


But when Isaiah proclaims the Lord’s word:  he speaks to landscape that is far more permanent.  The deserts will be glad.  He doesn’t say, hey place that has had a couple of warm days, be glad.  Isaiah speaks to the desert: established as parched land.  Isaiah speaks to wilderness of joy, to dry lands seeing the glory of flowers, to blind people seeing, to deaf hearing, to those weak and fearful standing on promise, to lame leaping, to mute shouting, to streams taking over the desert, to pools replacing burning sand and bubbling springs emerging out of thirsty ground. 


Isaiah gives an image of a highway (and mind you, that image doesn’t excite any of us if we think of being stuck in traffic), but the Way of Holiness will show itself, void of folly, wickedness and ravenous beast.   What is the Lord’s promise?


“The redeemed will walk on the Way of Holiness, and those the LORD has rescued will return.  They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads.  Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away” (35:10)


Our participation (rooted in Christ) endures.  There is an old song “Only what you do for Christ will last”…and that sentence is supported by Scripture.  Mind you, your work for Christ can be varied:  it can be a smile to a neighbor, it can be a sacrificial gift, it can be speaking the truth, or challenging the systems of this world, or announcing good news to people, or praying with someone who is sad, or cooking meals or just being there. 

When our words and actions are rooted in Christ, that is, done for his glory and honor, our participating joins an everlasting story.   Last week, I wrote some reflections for the East Bethany church, my first call, celebrating 200 years.  In them, I declared that I would stand before God and give praise to God for each person from that congregation, stand and name their names in praise.  It is true:  all of life can be an offering of praise to God.


I want you to listen to a passage from Scripture whose context is about financial giving to a hurting and hungry congregation that Paul is collecting money for.  But as you listen, I want you to think about more than money, think about your words, your deeds, your purpose, all that you are, your emotions and thoughts and prayers from the heart.  Think about how they, when offered to the Lord, can help bring Christ’s life to the world.


(read II Corinthians 9:6-15).


Our life, when lived with Christ, can bring glory to God, and can have eternal consequences.


Paul encourages Timothy and Timothy’s congregation:  If we died with Christ, we will also live with him.  If we endure, we will also reign with him.


Paul also warns the church:  If we disown him, he will also disown us.  We are strongly cautioned to avoid faithlessness.  If we do not have faith, God’s faithfulness will remain, but will we experience it?   God’s promises cannot fail.  God’s work cannot be undone.  God will be faithful.


Just like the aqueduct existed before Rome, but was made better by Rome, the cross was also a tool of the empire that existed before Rome, but used more fully by Rome.  Yet, this human device for torture and punishment was ultimately redeemed by God through Jesus Christ.  The cross brings life to the world, through the forgiveness of sins.  In closing, as Christians, we are to connect these two familiar tools of Rome.  Despite human intentions, the cross brought God’s victory to the world.  We can be right with God because of the cross of Christ.  We then, are to be an aqueduct of good news.  We are to share Christ’s water of healing life with the world.  It is not our life nor healing that we offer, but Jesus Christ’s.  We are simply the stone or concrete, or ultimately flesh and bones, by which it travels to its needed audience. Direct the good news to the people:


The Lord endures.  His works endure.  His promises endure.  And in Christ, we can join that which endures.  All praise and glory to God! 




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