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Built to Last: Prepared for Struggle
August 22, 2021*
By Pastor John Partridge
How old, is old?
When we think of antiques, or national monuments, or other things built by human hands, how long do we expect things to last?
We live in an era when we’re surprised if anything lasts for more than ten or twenty years, and we’re impressed by old farmhouses and barns (and churches) that have lasted for more than a century. But as I was thinking about a few other well-known monuments around the world, I started looking up some dates and I put them in sort of a chronological order. The Eiffel Tower was built between 1887 and 1889 for the 1889 Paris World’s Fair was supposed to be temporary and dismantled afterwards. Most of the Great Wall of China was built between 1300-1600 AD, though parts are much older. Heidelberg Castle was built in 1214, Windsor Castle in 1000, British Parliament has existed, in various forms, since 1295, and England as a nation from 959. Hadrian’s Wall was constructed across northern England during the Roman era as protection from the Picts, and about the same time, the world saw the construction of Masada, the Colosseum in Rome, and so many other Roman artifacts. The
Western Wall, also known as the “Wailing Wall,” in Jerusalem also dates to the time of Jesus and some of the foundations found on the Temple mount can be dated to David and Solomon in 1000 BC. The Great Pyramid of Giza is over a thousand years older and was built around 2500 BC, and Stonehenge is older still because we calculate that it was constructed over time between 3000 and 2000 BC.
But do you know what they all have in common?
They weren’t easy.
You don’t just slap together a few boards and some sheet metal and expect it to last for a hundred, or even for a thousand years. When you intend for things to last, the construction of those things takes thought, planning, preparation, hard work, and sweat.
And you know what else those things have in common?
They all stand witness to the world that endurance isn’t easy. Every one of those monuments from the youngest to the oldest has witnessed the struggle and upheaval of human society, and have endured countless thunderstorms, lightning bolts, fires, floods, earthquakes, sandstorms, crawling vines, insects, and everything else that mother nature could throw at them. They stand as witnesses that life is hard and not everyone, or everything, is prepared to endure for the long haul.
And it was the long haul that David and Solomon were thinking about when they planned and built the first Temple in Jerusalem. But what they were building was more than just a building. We rejoin the story in
1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43.
8:1 Then King Solomon summoned into his presence at Jerusalem the elders of Israel, all the heads of the tribes and the chiefs of the Israelite families, to bring up the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Zion, the City of David.
6 The priests then brought the ark of the Lord’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim.
10 When the priests withdrew from the Holy Place, the cloud filled the temple of the Lord. 11 And the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple.
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven 23 and said:
“Lord, the God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below—you who keep your covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly in your way. 24 You have kept your promise to your servant David my father; with your mouth you have promised and with your hand you have fulfilled it—as it is today.
25 “Now Lord, the God of Israel, keep for your servant David my father the promises you made to him when you said, ‘You shall never fail to have a successor to sit before me on the throne of Israel, if only your descendants are careful in all they do to walk before me faithfully as you have done.’ 26 And now, God of Israel, let your word that you promised your servant David my father come true.
27 “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 28 Yet give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy, Lord my God. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence this day. 29 May your eyes be open toward this temple night and day, this place of which you said, ‘My Name shall be there,’ so that you will hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the supplication of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.
41 “As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name— 42 for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm—when they come and pray toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.
God promised David that there would never fail to be a successor on the throne of Israel if his descendants would continue to walk faithfully with God. God was building the foundations of a building, but also the foundations of a nation, and a faith that was intended to reach every tribe, every nation, and every people on the face of the earth. And in the Gospels, we find God fulfilling his promises to David, and revealing his greatest outreach to the people of the world… but it wasn’t always easy, and not everyone was willing to put in the effort that it required. In John 6:56-69, Jesus says…
56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Just as God had promised, Jesus was the descendant of David who would walk faithfully with God, and would sit on the throne of David, of Israel, and of God forever. But not everyone could bring themselves to believe. Following Jesus was going to be hard. Following Jesus was not going to make anyone rich, or powerful, or popular. And when they saw that, many of Jesus’ followers bailed. They quit rather than committing themselves to the hard work of really following and shaping their lives after Jesus. But there were a few who saw who Jesus was, and they knew that there was no other way.
But even for those who stood by Jesus, their lives didn’t magically become easy and without pain or trouble. All but one of the disciples of Jesus, all but John, would be executed or murdered while they were doing the work of Jesus and sharing the message of the Gospel. And even though John died of old age, he too had been tortured, imprisoned, and died in exile on the island of Patmos. Paul’s life wasn’t any easier. Although he wasn’t one of the original twelve, Paul dedicated his life to following Jesus and to sharing the stories of the Gospel message, and he was also, repeatedly, tortured, chased out of town, imprisoned, and ultimately was also executed for his faith. But during one of his times of imprisonment, Paul this advice to the church and to anyone who would answer the call to follow Jesus in Ephesians 6:10-20:
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.
I want to pull out a few key phrases that I think are important to the context of what we’ve been talking about this morning. First, “Be strong” but not just trying to be strong by relying upon our own strength, “be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.” Second, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood…” tells us that it is not the people around us with whom we fight, but we fight against principalities (governments), against powers (kings and other government officials), and against unjust systems that are subverted by evil. Third, that we must arm ourselves with all the protection that God offers so that we can stand firm, stand our ground, and live without retreating from the enemy. Fourth, never stop praying. And finally, note that Paul says that he is “an ambassador in chains.” He is writing to the church from prison, and he begins by reminding them that even though they may not be in prison at that moment, that life, for all of us, is going to be a struggle. When we read scripture, we remember that we shouldn’t be surprised when life is hard, we should be surprised when life isn’t hard. Some of Jesus’ own followers quit because, while they loved the good news, they didn’t want to hear the bad news. They didn’t want to do the hard work that comes with following Jesus but that has been God’s message all along. The Kingdom of God has its foundations deep in the Old Testament. God is building his kingdom, and he is building our lives, to last forever.
But endurance is never easy.
If we are going to follow, we must be willing to do the planning, preparation, hard work, and sweat. We will need to rely upon God’s strength working through us. We will need to fight against governments, against officials, and against systems that are corrupted and subverted by evil. We must arm ourselves with all the protections that God offers so that we can stand without retreat. We must never forget to pray for one another and for all of God’s people.
And we must always be…
…prepared for struggle.
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.