What Is Our Legacy?Posted: October 16, 2011
Hezekiah is given credit for having been a good King of Judah. Many scholars believe that Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. . .’” was the prophetic word Isaiah gave to King Asa, before Hezekiah’s birth.
Hezekiah listened to Isaiah and the other prophets of his court. He strengthened the Broad Wall of Jerusalem, a portion of it still visible in the Jewish Quarter today, and ordered the construction of a tunnel to bring the water of the Gihon Spring into the City, that allowed Jerusalem to withstand the siege of the Assyrian Army.
If you visit Jerusalem today, you can still walk through Hezekiah’s Tunnel knee deep in water, from the entrance of the Gihon Spring to the Pool of Siloam. Hezekiah is also credited for cleaning up the temple, banishing the worship of the Canaanite fertility gods, removing idols from the temple, and instituting the observance of the Passover. Because he listened to the prophets, he didn’t always do what they advised, but he at least listened, Hezekiah was credited as a good King.
At the end of the story of Hezekiah, however, there was a very curious incident. The King fell ill, so sick, he feared for his life. He prayed to God, and by a miracle he was healed. When the King of Babylon heard of Hezekiah’s illness he sent emissaries with a gift and best wishes for a speedy recovery. Hezekiah welcomed the emissaries and like a dummy showed them his whole treasure room and all of his storehouses. And when the prophet Isaiah heard of this he went to the King and said the Babylonians will come someday to take away all that you have shown them. They will destroy Jerusalem and many of your descendants will be hauled away to Babylon as slaves. But this won’t happen until after you die.
Then said Hezekiah to Isaiah, “The word of the LORD which you have spoken is good.” For he thought, “Why not, if there will be peace and security in my days?” What is curious is Hezekiah’s shortsightedness. Oh, well, so what if the nation will be destroyed at least it won’t happen in my time.
I lift this scripture up because I think many people in our culture share Hezekiah’s shortsighted attitude. Oh, well it doesn’t really matter, because it won’t happen in my time. Oh, well, I’ve got mine, let everyone else, including future generations, fend for themselves.
As I look at Hezekiah’s statement I am reminded of the English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, when he returned from the Munich Conference in 1938, where he sold out Czechoslovakia to Hitler. When he landed in London and got off the plane from Munich he famously said, “Peace in our time.” Of course we know there was no peace. Chamberlain’s sell out of the Czechs only propelled Hitler to invade Poland the next year starting World War II – peace in our time.
Human beings have a tendency to be short sighted. We look to our own selfish enjoyment and comfort in the present, and we don’t consider the consequences of our actions upon future generations. Go ahead and run up the deficit, someone else will pay for it. Fossil fuels? They’ll last until I’m dead and gone. Effects of climate change? I’ll be gone before the Ice Caps melt completely, and Florida is underwater. There are people who are unemployed, without medical care, hungry, homeless? Well, I’ve got mine, let them take care of themselves.
Selfish shortsightedness is irresponsible and unethical. Jesus taught us that we have a responsibility to others as well as ourselves. We also have responsibilities to future generations. As Christians we need to be concerned about our legacy, what will we leave behind for others? Will we leave a mess? Will we leave a polluted environment with all of its natural resources depleted? Will we leave behind an inheritance of injustice, discrimination, and an impoverished middle class? What kind of world will we leave for those who come after us?
I think we also need to consider our legacy as a faith community. Are we going to leave behind a bold and courageous understanding of the faith that reaches out to the needs of people in our community and the world? Are we going to stand as a people of God who welcome everyone? As a faith community will we embrace our better angels sacrificially giving to the needs of others who represent the least and the lost? As the people of God will we share our faith with the unchurched in an increasingly secular world? Will we overcome our natural shyness to actually tell someone else about the difference God has made in our lives? Are we willing to change in order to be able to connect with a younger generation, who are open to Jesus, but don’t like the church?
On a practical level, will we leave behind a leaking roof, dingy classrooms, rotting siding, and crippled heating and cooling units? All of these questions are part of our legacy as a faith community. Will we roll up our sleeves, pitch in, make some sacrifices and claim the high calling of our faith, or will we like Hezekiah say, “Not to worry, it will all be O.K. as long as I’m around. Let someone else worry about the leaking roof. Let someone else be concerned about reaching out and welcoming the unchurched. If the air-conditioning units fail, I’ll just skip a few Sundays in the summer. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Will that be our legacy as a faith community?
As long as we’re on the subject of fixing roofs, I am reminded of a story from a small country church, that had one wealthy member. At a congregational meeting called to discuss the need for fixing the roof, the wealthy member stood up and said that while the ceiling looked cracked he saw no need to commence immediate repairs. At that very moment, as luck would have it, a small piece of plaster feel from the ceiling and struck the wealthy member on the shoulder. The man looked up, then looked at the congregation and said, “I will pledge $1,000 to help repair the roof.” As the man sat down, another larger piece of plaster fell and hit him on the head. The man looked up at the ceiling stood up turned around to look at the congregation and said, “I will raise my pledge to $10,000 for the repair of the roof.” At that point an elderly widow was heard to mumble, “hit him again Lord, hit him again.”
It’s all about legacy. What will you leave behind? And remember the story about John D. Rockefeller’s accountant. When Rockefeller died, he was the richest man who had ever lived – 1.5 billion dollars. And if you adjust his estate for inflation, he is still the richest man who has ever lived. His fortune as a percentage of the GDP of the entire nation makes Gates and Buffet’s money look like chump change. When he died, the reporters asked his accountant how much the old man had left behind. And the accountant smiled and replied, “all of it. All of it.” Believe me, my friends the same answer will apply to all of us.
The question then is legacy. What will we leave behind, when we shuffle off this mortal coil. And our most important legacy is not what we put in our wills or our trust, it’s not primarily about money, but the moral, ethical and faith inheritance we leave behind for others. Each of us will have a personal legacy of acts of kindness, charity, generosity, good will, that others will observe and from which they will learn. Remember a very important legacy to establish is an inheritance of tolerance and forgiveness. Do other people experience us accepting others and forgiving others? “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Especially in this time of acrimony and division, practicing tolerant forgiving behavior is an important legacy to give to our families and our communities. In this time of uncertainty and anxiety and fear, to practice charity and generosity is another important inheritance to give to our families and our community.
Perhaps most important will be the legacy of faith we offer to others as we live our lives in community. In a world where it seems everyone is becoming spiritual but not religious, keeping alive the faith stories of our tradition is an important cultural contribution. Walking with one another in a common faith journey, praying with and for each other as a community is another important spiritual contribution to the future. This week on the United Church Bible Study page there was a conversation about what you all did last Sunday. And in a discussion about religious language one person wrote: I am looking for a similar path that you describe, as far as understanding religious language. I want to learn and understand. I’m at a stage where I am “figuratively” grabbing the dictionary to look up the meaning of the words so that I can think about them, absorb them, decide what they mean to me. . . I am glad to be on this journey with all of you and I try to picture what the end of the path will be like for me.
“I am glad to be on this journey with all of you. . .” that is church at its best. Let us walk with each other in the way of Jesus and create a legacy of faith for others.