Hi this is Pastor Ken and these are my thoughts on a Thursday…The Rocks Cry Out…And the People Are Silenced.
I shared with you in my podcast last week, “Tasty Goodness” that my wife Lynn and I recently vacationed in Rome for a week. We spent one of those days walking to and visiting various churches in the city. These church buildings are nothing like the ones in the United States. For one thing, they are incredibly old. The newest of the churches we visited that day was The Church of Saint Mary Magdalene across the piazza from the rented apartment we called home for the duration of our stay. As I said, that church was the most recently constructed of the day’s stops and had only been in existence for 454 years. The oldest church we walked through that day had been around just a tad longer. The Basilica of Saint Eustace constructed in 715 AD, is a mere 1,307 years old. The others we visited were found somewhere between but all of those were built before Christopher Columbus was considered to have discovered the “New World”
As we walked from church to church exploring one after another, a couple of thoughts captivated my interest. The first was that though these buildings had been constructed in the name of God, they were adorned with gold, art, and statues in such a manner that I could not help but question. Were these buildings assisting the occupants to glorify God? Or on the other hand, had the building and furnishings become the object of the worshipper’s attention? Regardless of the now undeterminable intent of the builders, had they become places of idol worship? These buildings were undeniably strikingly beautiful, and filled with works art. They contained amazing sculptures, ancient paintings, and each had a mural depicting a biblical scene painted on the arched ceilings above. I love Jesus, but I could not help but wonder what the point of all I was taking in was supposed to be. Though I have a real and meaningful growing relationship with the Lord of lords and King of kings, I was in awe of the architecture and the artistry. I was amazed that artists had been able to paint murals, some forty feet wide by one hundred feet long on a curved or domed surface that still looked symmetrically correct from thirty or more feet below. I found myself in awe of the builders, the painters, the sculptors, instead of in awe of my God who was supposedly on display.
As I toured those churches, I wondered if what I was seeing is why the bible instructs us in Exodus 20:3-6; You shall have no other gods before or besides Me. You shall not make yourself any graven image [to worship it] or any likeness of anything that is in the heavens above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down yourself to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me [who do not obey me], but showing mercy and steadfast love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. Was God trying to warn us that if we are not careful we could become too enamored with the beauty of what we have made under the guise of worship? Was He cautioning us that if we do so, we risk transferring the praise and glory deserved by him alone to the artistry of men? It certainly seemed to me as I stood in awe of the works of art and the architectural wonders surrounding me that the danger had been realized. It made me think of Psalm 115:4-8, which speaks of the results of such misplaced worship. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
The second thing I couldn’t seem to shake was a phenomenon that was underway before my very eyes. Outside the churches was an ancient city. The city streets were filled with tourists from around the globe. Thousands of people had come to the city, just as we had to visit, and to experience all that Rome had to offer. One thing that never seemed to cease was the noise. From the moment we left the quiet of our apartment, we were inundated with the sound of hundreds of voices conversing with one another as they roamed the streets. The din was unending. It met us as we opened the door in the morning and was a constant presence throughout the day until at the end of the evening we closed the heavy wooden door behind us, separating us from the noisy street below. Outside there was no place to escape the unending sound of people talking…except in the churches! It was surreal. The boisterous streets were filled to capacity with people. Undoubtedly, many of them were not Christ followers, but many were curious to see the inside of the churches. The Pantheon, one of the most famous of all churches outside of the Vatican, had an endless line of people waiting to enter from morning until late into the evening. It seemed as if the line was perpetually replenished with people desirous to see inside. As we waited our turn to enter, I was shocked as we crossed the threshold at the absence of sound. Few were talking; those who were did so in hushed voices. The same was our experience in the other churches we entered. Just outside the doors it was loud…inside you could hear the preverbal pin drop.
As we experienced this anomaly repeat itself at the entrance to each church we visited, another thought struck me. What I was experiencing was in an odd way the reverse of something Jesus had told the Pharisees during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Luke 19:37-40 records that exchange. Then as He was now drawing near the decent of the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works they had seen, saying: “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the highest!” And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” But He answered and said to them, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”
As I said before, I do not know the true motives of the artisans who constructed the churches we toured, but the purported purpose was to glorify God. I cannot say whether if those buildings were truly created for that purpose or not, but I do know that Human Beings were created in the image and likeness of God. It is not even questionable if we are created to bring Him glory,…we were and we continue to be. The people in the scripture I just referenced were doing just that…glorifying God. The Pharisees wanted them silenced and Jesus simply stated that even if the people were muted the stones would begin to cry out because GOD WILL BE GLORIFIED!
As we entered those churches, the fact that they had been constructed of stone did not escape me. The stones were erected to the glory of God…and as the people left the noisy bustling streets to enter…they became silent. They would have said it was out of reverence. However, wouldn’t true reverence for the greatness of the Living God cause all of us to shout His praises and exclaim his glory, no matter the where we might be?
In Matthew 5:14-16 it is recorded that Jesus said, “You are the light of the world – like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your Heavenly Father.”
So now, living a life that shouts the praises of our God, acting in ways that shed the light of His love on everyone you meet, allow the stones some quiet time and…go be awesome!