Today and tomorrow I will include the rest of the sermon from this past Palm Sunday that I began in Meditation #209 about Sam Childers and Mother Theresa.
Holy Week presents us with a theological problem, a problem that has to do with the nature of God’s power; and that raises the question of what kind of power we should use in the world.
On the one hand, during Holy Week we hear about the weakness and powerlessness of God. Jesus, God’s own Son, chooses to empty himself of his divine power, humbly submitting himself to the power of men. He is beaten, spit upon, pushed around, and then nailed to a cross where he dies; but then in dying, He saves the world. So, some Christians conclude, real power is found in weakness, submission, and humility. Therefore, Christians should not wield the sword or the gun, nor should we ever be angry, aggressive, strong, or forceful. Gentleness with mercy is the way Christians should respond to evil and mistreatment– like Mother Theresa.
On the other hand, at the end of Holy Week comes Easter, and on Easter we celebrate the all-powerful God who conquers everything, even death itself, bursting forth from the tomb leaving the soldiers laying there ‘like dead men,’ and in that way, saves the whole world. And so, as the Bible says, someday every knee on earth shall bend before the power of this great God. Therefore, say some, real power is to be found in confidence, hope, strength, and even aggressive and tough love. We can do all things through the power of Christ, says the Bible verse, and so we can have a positive, can-do approach to life, energetically fighting against the powers of darkness and injustice with a holy strength and with whatever means are available– even if it has to be a machine gun– like Sam Childers.
So the theological problem of Holy Week is also a very practical problem in our daily lives. In Matthew 10:1 Jesus gives his followers authority over evil. But just how is that authority to be exerted– in gentle humility and mercy; or in firmness and strength and tough love? When we look to the Bible for guidance, we see that God uses both approaches.
The God of power and strength cannot be missed in Scripture. That picture of God begins on the very first page of the Bible as we see God creating everything with his mere voice, “And God said ‘let there be light,’ and there was light,” and then on and on like that for seven days– God speaks, and the whole universe comes into being. And we also see that power of God all the way at the end of the Bible, where in the book of Revelation it says, “the all powerful God reigns over everything, for ever and ever.”
This is the God who raises up and who destroys nations, who can cause the drought that causes a famine, and then can the send the rain to end it, who can unleash a plague, divide the sea, make the sun stand still or even go backward, or destroy a whole army. “Is anything too hard for me?” this God says to a wavering Jeremiah, and the Psalmist had to say, “God spoke and it came to be, he commanded, and it stood firm,” or, as we might say, whatever God says, goes.
And this power continues on into the New Testament, especially in the not so meek and mild Jesus, who can give sight to the blind, heal the sick, clear the temple, control the weather, read the minds of his enemies and his friends, intimidate the Roman governor Pilate, and raise the dead– nothing is too tough for him. No wonder the early church said of God in their first creed, ‘I believe in God the Father ALMIGHTY..” ALMIGHTY. King of Kings, Lord of Lords.
However, to believe in a God this powerful in a world like ours is going to cause a certain amount of disappointment and confusion. A firm belief in an almighty God who can do anything is going to make one wonder about a child dying of cancer, hunger caused by corrupt tyrants in nations that could otherwise feed themselves, and earthquakes that kill thousands of people. The Old Testament prophets, strong men of faith who believed in an all powerful God, appealed to this God in their disappointment and despair. Habakkuk is just one example of many, saying in chapter one, “O Lord, how long must I cry for help and you will not hear, or cry to you ‘violence’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see so much wrong, and you sit there and do nothing?” Where is God’s almighty power when it is most needed? Or, some will say, maybe God not so powerful after all. This charge was even hurled at Jesus on the cross, when those who were mocking him said, “If he is the Christ of God, why doesn’t he save himself?” (continued…)
Jeremiah 32:26-27 — Then the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah: “I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?
Habakkuk 1:2-3a — How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Philippians 2:5-7 — In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
Take from us, O God, all pride and vanity, all boasting and self-assertiveness, and give us the true courage that shows itself by gentleness; the true wisdom that shows itself by simplicity; and the true power that shows itself by modesty; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.