Santa Paula July 16
We Are A People Of Our Time
The word of God, may the Lord add his wisdom and understanding to our interpretation of his word today.
How will we be remembered?
It is what our scriptures are talking about this morning. We’ll take a quick look at our scriptures they come from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 28, versus 16-20. They are the Great Commission.
In order to understand how these scriptures impact our lives today we need to look at a few different aspects of the scriptures.
We’ll start with the scriptures themselves.
Jesus died on the cross. As evening was approaching and the Sabbath was about to begin Jesus’ body was taken down and placed in near by temporary tomb. A stone was rolled to seal the tomb entrance and two guards were stationed beside the stone at the insistence of the Pharisees to prevent theft of the body and claims by Jesus’ followers of a resurrection.
The sun sets and the Sabbath begins.
The morning following the Sabbath Mary Magdalene and Mary are on their way to the tomb to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. As they are approaching the tomb an Angle descends, there is an earthquake, the stone rolls away and the guards are frightened and run away.
The Angel tells both Marys that Jesus has risen and will meet them in Galilee, as he had told them. They turn and start running back to tell the Disciples and they run up to Jesus. They fall down to worship him but Jesus lifts them up and tells them not to be afraid and to go and tell the Disciples that he will meet them in Galilee.
And the now we have this morning scriptures. Jesus stands on a hillside in Galilee surrounded by his Disciples and tells them to go out among the nations baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he will be with them always until the end of the age.
That sounds simple and straightforward but in order to understand the implications we need to take a quick look the Gospel of Matthew.
The Gospel of Matthew was written around 70 to 80 Common Era. This places it about 50 years after the resurrection. We know it contains many passages and stories from the Gospel of Mark and additional stories, which came from another written or oral source. Matthew references the Old Testament over 60 times so we also know it was written to the Jewish community to prove that Jesus is the Messiah as promised in the Old Testament. It was written in Greek and was probably written in the area of Syria, possibly Antioch where there was a large Jewish community.
Now we understand the relation to the Jewish community and the purpose, but this concept of evangelism is in many aspects contrary to Jewish attitude. The Jewish approach usually leans toward isolating the community from outside influences rather than bringing others in.
In order to understand this aspect we need to look at what is happening in 70 CE. To do this we go to the Book of Acts, the story of the early church.
Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection Jesus and the Disciples are standing on a hillside outside of Jerusalem. Jesus tells them to return to Jerusalem and they will receive a gift from God. As they stand there watching, Jesus ascends into the sky an Angel appears to them telling them to do as they are told.
They return back to where they had been staying and start taking care of business. The first thing is to replace Judas who had died, and Matthias is elected. The next thing is to wait for the promised gift.
Fifty days after the resurrection and ten days after Jesus ascension they are waiting patiently in the room when suddenly there is sound like the roaring of the wind. A flame appears in their midst, splits into pieces and goes to hover over each person there. The flame descends into each person and there is a welling inside them like they are going to burst when the Holy Spirit fills them and they go spilling out into the street proclaiming the existence of a risen God.
And the streets of Jerusalem are full of people. It is the Feast of Weeks, 49 days after Passover and it is when the Jews present their sacrifices for the harvest of the winter wheat. Everyone who possibly can, comes to Jerusalem to participate in the celebration so there a Jews from all over the Roman Empire who have traveled to Jerusalem to participate.
The visitors see the disciples and their followers spilling into the street babbling about a risen God, and the visitors realize they are speaking in their native tongues. Peter gives a speech and scripture say 3,000 are converted that day and the Church, Christ’s body on earth, is born.
And the church began to grow. Daily the disciples went to the synagogues and Temple telling people about the resurrected Jesus. The Christians began to support each other and reach out into communities to help others and because of their example more people learned about and joined the faith.
It reached a point where more administrative support was needed and so seven were selected from among the believers to provide management of the gathering, allowing the disciples to continue their ministry of evangelism.
One of the seven was Stephen, who got in an argument with the Jewish leadership which resulted in his death. Stephen was taken outside the walls of Jerusalem and stones were cast at him until he died. One of the people present was a Jewish scholar named Saul, who would later become known as Paul and become the primary Christian evangelist to the Gentiles (none Jewish people).
With Stephen’s death the Christians felt Jerusalem was no longer safe and so they left the city. They went to Jewish communities through the Roman Empire, which at this time covered all of the lands from England to Iran and northern Africa to the Straights of Gibraltar.
There had been Jewish communities developing in cites through the Roman Empire since the return of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile in 538 BCE, but that is another story. Suffice it to say at the time of Jesus, there were probably more Jews living in Rome than in Palestine.
The result was that wherever these new Christians went they found Jewish communities. From Antioch to Alexandria to Rome to Corinth and they began to tell their brethren about the risen Jesus and the things they had seen him do.
It was at this point that Christians, they called themselves The Way, turned from a Jewish cult located in Jerusalem into an international religion.
And so we have a heritage of evangelism from the first day when the Holy Spirit entered the people at Pentecost, all the way planting missionaries in locations around the world.
The Commission Jesus gave the Disciples on that hillside in Galilee is just as meaningful for us today as it was for them 2000 years ago. The question is, how are we doing?
And so for the next few minutes I’d like you to think about how we are doing on our Commission and I’m going to share a slide show with you.
This is the Avebury Stone Circle, located in the Southwest corner of England in the Cotswalds. The circle is one mile in diameter. There are 98 stones averaging about 40 tons. They are huge as you can see with us standing there. There are two inner circles. Notice the sheep standing in one of the smaller circles.
What is impressive is the sheer size. The stone circle is built on a fairly level plane but before the stone circle there is a barrier rim. This is an earthen mound about 20 feet tall which encircles the stones. This is followed by a five foot deep moat inside the barrier. Then we have the stones erected. They estimate the builders moved about 250,000 tons of earth to created the rim and moat. This work was done with Stone Age/Bronze Age technology. The laborers used antlers for picks, stones and sticks for shovels and woven baskets for hauling the dirt to the top of the mound.
6,500 years ago these people were hunter gathers with the beginning of agriculture, planting some grains and herding some livestock. They would have lived in small villages, with no central leadership.
What impresses me is they organized for this massive undertaking of energy and resources to build this circle of stones.
It would have been impressive. About three feet underground is chalk. So everything would have been white, with the stones, the rim, the moat.
I walked around the rim following the well worn path. There are corridors of stones leading into the circle from all four directions.
We do not know what they did here. We do not know the purpose, but we see the results 6,500 years later.
I could tell you that it was a mystical experience, but it was not. There was some mysticism associated with the area, which probably had more to do with it being overcast and drizzling rain than spirits in the air.
I left Avebury with a profound respect for the dedication of the circle builders. I could see from their efforts that they were true believers.
They were a people of their time and this what they did. The stone circle had to have had some significant spiritual importance to them for the expenditure of this much energy. They are gone but the results of their efforts still remain.
This is Castlerigg Stone Circle in the Northwest corner of England in the Lake District. It is not nearly as big as Avebury only about 100 feet in diameter and the stones, 40 in the outer circle and 10 in the two inner circles, are not as big, with the largest 16 tons and 7 feet tall.
I could not find where the stones were quarried, but I do know they were moved to the top of this hill, and we walked up this very steep long hill with to get to the top.
Again like Avebury we do not know why it was built or what function it served, but standing beside the stones you could sense the effort it took to move them and the resources a group of people thought were worth expending.
They were a people of their time and this is what they did. We have the evidence of what they thought was important to their lives.
The Colosseum Outside:
We have come forward about 4,500 years and this is the Colosseum in Rome. It is just plain big 615 feet by 510 feet and 157 feet tall. It had seating for between 50,000 and 80,000 people and according to engineers had the ability to empty through its many doors in a matter of minutes.
It was built between 73 and 79 CE. Remember the Jews revolted in Palestine in the late 60s CE. The Roman soldiers were thrown out, but they came back in 70CE to plunder Jerusalem and level the Temple.
All of Jerusalem’s wealth and about 100,000 prisoners were taken back to Rome and the Colosseum was built in six years.
The inside arena was 287 feet long by 180 feet wide with a 15 foot wall surrounding it separating the events from the audience. It has a floor built over two stories of preparation rooms and chambers. It took 400 people moving around props and people using 36 trap doors to make the games work.
They estimate 4 to 8 events per year, sometimes each event lasting several days. And when we talk about staging, this was real staging. They would create a jungle for the wild animal hunts, complete with trees set up as props and animals such a lions and tigers and bears, and camels and elephants, and the animals native foliage imitating the terrain of distance lands of the empire. There is general consensus that northern Africa, north of the Sahara desert, was decimated of all large animals because they were caught and shipped to Rome for the games.
This was full time work for literally hundreds of people. Why go to all this effort? Because they had to.
In 70 CE, when the Gospel of Matthew was written, 20% of the Roman population was homeless. About 50% of the Roman population was slaves. The gap between the haves and have nots was greater even than it is today. Achieving financial and social equilibrium and leveling usually came with violence, and so the rulers and elite of Rome needed a way to keep the citizens of Rome in hand.
When there was a great victory or special holiday, they would hold Colosseum events. The day started with the parade and execution of prisoners, followed by wild animal hunts, a break for lunch, and then the gladiator, the professional athletes of the day, fights.
Imagine if you were a 15-year-old child sitting in the seats and suddenly a giant tiger appears from nowhere out of a trap door and is hunted in a staged jungle before your eyes. To know that that tiger came from a distant land, which is a part of an empire to which you belong must have been thrilling. To see prisoners marched around the rim of the arena and know that your army is responsible for defending you from these barbarians or bandits has to give you pride and a willingness to support the government.
The Colosseum was the ruling classes propaganda machine. It demonstrated to the people of Rome how powerful the government was through its structures “look at what we can build”. Its events demonstrated control over other countries “our army sweeps all before it and we bring animals from the far corners of the earth”.
They may look like us. There is much of our legal system and government which come from them. But we are not like them. They were a people of their time and circumstances.
Stand on the second floor of the Colosuem across from the gift shop, and you see Constantine’s Arch.
This was built by Constantine to commemorate his elevation to Emperor of the Roman Empire in 325CE. Constantine’s mother Helena was a Christian, and I’m sure is partly responsible for Constantine’s support of the Christian Community. Constantine was influential in the Edict of Milan in 313, which made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, and after he became Emperor he made Christianity the religion of the Empire and all other religions were cast aside.
He is also responsible for settling the discussion on the nature of Christ, God and the Holy Spirit as defined in the Nicene Creed, but that is another story.
The reason I have him here is in the two little pictures. Up until this time the Emperors had been gods. Everybody knew it because they were selected to rule by the gods. Statues of the previous Emperors are about normal size, or maybe slightly larger.
That changed with Constantine. Constantine was not a god, but he also wanted you to know he was more important and powerful that you. It is propaganda in play again and statues of Constantine and those Emperors who followed him were made larger than life to remind the people that he was bigger and more powerful than everybody else. The statues told the populace that God may be up there, but I am down here and I have control.
He was a person of his time and circumstances.
Saint Marks is simply massive. There has been a church on this location since 828 CE and was finally finished into it’s current form about 1500 CE. It is 251 feet by 205 feet. The dome on the outside is 141 feet tall and on the inside it is 92 feet tall.
It has been the Venice Cathedral since 1807. Before that it was the private chapel of the mayor of Venice.
I loved it. Unfortunately we were there in the rain. Venice floods when it rains so we walked through water and fought the crowds to get inside. They estimate the tour boats bring in about 50,000 people per day from the mainland plus the cruise ships, which dock every few days. Everybody wants to see Saint Mark’s Square and Saint Mark’s Cathedral, so it is crowded, but worth the effort.
Once inside you can see the walls are decorated with the Bible stories and pictures of the saints. This picture is from the second floor and over on the right is Saint George slaying the dragon. We saw Saint George everywhere, because the pictures are symbolism and Saint George is a symbol of good winning against evil.
This is the feudal period. The Catholic Church functioning as both political government and spiritual guidance has replaced the Roman Empire. The Dark Ages has ended and commerce and education are on the rise. Europe had turned into a land of fiefdoms and city-states. Guilds were on the rise and this is what people did.
They poured their efforts into building very impressive cathedrals. The inside is covered with gold glass tessaerae mosaic which is a thin layer of gold between two pieces of glass and attached to the walls. The bible stories are mosaics worked into the gold walls.
Although big, to keep the appearance of power and control, the church is an old style known as Romanesque Architecture, in this case Italo-Byzantine.
They were a people of their time. It is what they did, build to the glory of God.
At the same time another style of church architecture was coming into being. Wells Cathedral in Wells, England, is 415 feet by 154 feet with an inside roof 67 feet tall. The towers are 180 feet tall.
Gothic architecture made use of the flying buttress. This outside support lets the walls be thin allowing for more windows and light. This architecture design gives a draws us in to the sweeping lines lifting our eyes skyward toward the light of God. It allowed the structure to be part of the experience. In picture of the nave wall are the three levels of arches a reminder of the Trinity. You can see the grillwork as the columns reached for the ceiling. No expense was spared. In the little nooks and crannies of the outside are over 300 sculptures telling various biblical stories. The creation scenes from Genesis are popular as are scenes of the last judgment with Christ separating the saved from the damned.
But there are interesting adaptions. Notice the picture in the upper corner. At the tops of columns there were usually sculptures that told stories. This one in particular is a story about Samson. This is supposed to be Samson wrestling with the lion, but the craftsman did not know what a lion looked like, and they had plenty of sheep in the area and he knew what they looked like, so we have Samson wrestling with a sheep.
They were a people of their time, and they spent time and treasure making sure everybody knew and understood what was important, and keeping the status quo in place.
Bath England. This is another example of Gothic Architecture. The nave is 211 feet long by 35 feet wide and the ceiling is 75 feet tall. There are five nave bays, the central and two on either side so the total width of the sanctuary is 80 feet and 225 feet long.
On each side of the front entrance is the carving of Jacob’s ladder from Genesis with angels climbing toward heaven. But over here on the right see the up-side-down angel. He is in the process of falling reminding us that it is a struggle and we have to be focused and persistent.
They were a people of their time and focused on what they believed was important. We can see the results in their buildings.
This is Manarola, Italy one the five Cinque Terre towns on the Italian Riviera. If you look closely is crowded. Really crowded.
We now have the capability to travel and see new things. We want to learn and grow and expand our horizons. Sometimes we all want to go the same places.
We are changing as a people. We are defining our time.
We have different agendas than in the past. Here are the crowds in the street of Manarola, the train station in Monterosso, and the ticket area in the Vatican Museum entrance.
With the desire to learn more, to experience more, and to be a part of the larger picture we all want to become involved in the here and now. Sometimes the here and now is very crowded, but that does not mean it is not worth the effort.
We are a people of our time.
These are street performers. The floating genie is on the main thoroughfare in front of the Colosseum. The performer balancing on the wire and playing the violin was in Bath, England
Again we have many interests and we are adapting to them.
National Gallery Trafalgar Square, London:
This where we congregate. On the steps. This is early afternoon. By evening the square will be packed with families and couples just hanging out and meeting friends.
We are a social people and we like it.
Six PM in Monterosso. The day crowds to the Cinque Terre have left. All there are the locals and those us staying the hotels. We sat on a bench waiting for our 6:30 dinner reservation and watched the people stroll past.
I’m not sure whether this little girl was leading the dog or the dog was leading, but they were having a lot of fun.
This is the type of scene which gives me hope for us as a people.
And this is the Ventura Beach Promenade and the Daisy Girls during a clean up last spring. They are a sign that people care about our environment and are willing to work to make it better.
Again we are defining our time and what is important.
Best Day Foundation:
This is group of volunteers who work with special needs children. Here they have an obstacle course carved in the beach and each contestant, as they made their way through the course, had two helpers to help them make sure they were successful.
People reaching out to lift someone up. We are able to define ourselves by our actions.
Many Meals Santa Paula First Presbyterian:
These are pictures from our Wednesday evening “Many Meals” program for those in need. Many Meals along with our support of the Sunday morning “Worship in the Park” are examples of how we are reaching out into the community on a real level.
We are a community of believers and this is us reaching out to those in need.
We are a people of our time.
For the last half hour we have been talking about groups of people over the last 6,500 years, from the stone circle builders to the organizations today reaching out to those who need a helping hand.
At no point did we talk about what they said or what they thought. We talked about their actions. They are defined by what they did.
It is what we do today, that will define us tomorrow.
In two generations, people are going to look back at us today and say this is what they did. The people of the future are going to define us by our actions.
Jesus told the Disciples to go out into the world baptizing in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That is the Commission and the orders we have been given. How are those people in the future going to define us?
The good news. We have the power to determine and influence that definition ourselves.