374) The Easter Triumph– Now and Not Yet

From Let Me Tell You a Story, by Tony Campolo, copyright 2000
    There are those who say that evil is so overpowering that our efforts to combat it are futile.  There are pessimists who contend that there is no way we can drive back the forces that seem to dominate our society.  I disagree!  During World War II, a group of heroic men and women in France formed an underground movement that struggled against the domination of the Nazi powers.  If you had been able to talk to them, you might have questioned the seeming futility of their efforts.  You might have said, “How do you think you can overthrow the Nazis?  Together, you are nothing but a ragtag army, poorly equipped and overwhelmingly outnumbered.  You don’t stand a chance against the tyrannical forces that control your nation.”
 
    They might have responded:  “You don’t understand!  While we struggle against the forces of evil that now dominate our nation, there is a huge invasion force being assembled across the English Channel.  No one knows the day or the hour when the signal will be given.  But one of these days, it will be given!  Then, a huge armada of ships will come across the channel and invade our country.  We will join with them and they will carry us to victory!”     (page 197)
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     Oscar Cullman, a Swiss-German theologian who lived through World War II, gave us a clarifying analogy for the Second Coming.  He pointed out that in every war there is a decisive battle that determines the outcome of the war.  After this battle, there is no question as to what the future holds.  That battle establishes defeat or victory.  Gettysburg was such a battle in the Civil War.   Waterloo was such a battle.  And in World War II it was the battle on the beaches of Normandy.
 
     After Normandy, there was never any question as to what the outcome of the war would be.  Once the Allies had established a beachhead allowing troops and arms to pour onto the continent, the fate of the Nazi armies was sealed.  Nevertheless, it should be noted that more Americans died following that victory than died in battle prior to it.  That victory, which was so decisive, did not immediately end dying among the Allied forces or suffering among the European people.  The decisive battle had been fought and won on D-Day.  But it wasn’t until V-Day (the day of the final victory when the German army surrendered)– which was a long way off– that the end of suffering and death would come.
     In his analogy Cullman makes the point that the death and the resurrection of Jesus was the decisive victory that wiped away all doubts about how history would end.  After the resurrection, Christians could shout, “Christus Victor!”  Christ was triumphant!  The forces of darkness were defeated.  Satan was overcome.  But between God’s D-Day on Easter Morning and that point in history when Christ returns, which will be God’s V-Day, there will be suffering and pain and death.  The struggle goes on!  But even as we continue the struggle, we do so as people of hope.   Knowing that the decisive battle has been won, we struggle against the forces of darkness with the full awareness that victory is inevitable.  We wait for that victory!  We wait for that hour!  God’s D-Day assures us of God’s V-Day!  (pages 198-199)
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I Corinthians 15:51-52  –   Listen, I tell you a mystery:  We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed– in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet.  For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. 
 
I Corinthians 15:56-58  –  The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God!  He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm.  Let nothing move you.  Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.   
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    EASTER PRAYER, 1766, by Samuel Johnson (1709-1784):  Almighty and most merciful Father, before whom I now appear laden with the sins of another year, suffer me yet again to call upon Thee for pardon and peace.  O God! grant me repentance, grant me reformation.  Grant that I may be no longer distracted with doubts, and harassed with vain terrors.  Grant that I may no longer linger in perplexity, nor waste in idleness that life which Thou hast given and preserved.  Grant that I may serve thee in firm faith and diligent endeavor, and that I may discharge the duties of my calling with tranquility and constancy.  Take not, O God, Thy Holy Spirit from me; but grant that I may so direct my life by thy holy laws, as that, when Thou shalt call me hence, I may pass by a holy and happy death to a life of everlasting and unchangeable joy.  Amen.

373) Putting God on Trial

     

     Gunter Rutenborn  (1912-1976)

     Following the horror of World War II the nation of Germany faced a tremendous burden of guilt.  What went wrong with our nation?, they wondered.  Who is to blame for these terrible things that Germany unleashed on the world:  unprovoked aggression on weak and innocent neighbors, a world war, the slaughter of a whole generation of their young men who died as soldiers along with countless civilians, and the attempted extermination of the entire Jewish population of Europe?  Who was to blame for this terrible agony brought to the whole world?

     One interesting response to this question came out already in 1945 in the form of a play written by a Lutheran pastor, Gunter Rutenborn.  The play was called The Sign of Jonah, and it begins with a group of refugees on stage, milling around and asking who is to blame?  Several answers are spoken by people from the crowd.

     Some said the obvious, that Hitler was to blame, who else?  Others said, “No, it was the ammunition manufacturers who financed him.”  Another said, “It was the apathy and blind obedience of all the German people that allowed it.”  Someone else said it was the diplomats of other nations who, in their weakness, attempted to appease Hitler by letting him have this nation and then that nation, believing all his false promises that war could be avoided.

     Suddenly a man comes out of the crowd and says, “I will tell you who is to blame for all this suffering– it is God, God who created this world of pain and allows these things to happen.”  Soon the whole crowd is agreeing and saying with one voice, “God is to blame, God is to blame, God is to blame.”

     God is then brought down to the stage and is put on trial for the crime of creating the world and all its suffering.  To make a long story short, the trial is carried out and completed, and God is found guilty.  The judge then pronounces this sentence: “The crime is so severe that this is going to be the worst of all sentences.  I hereby sentence God to have to live on this earth that he created, and to suffer as a human being.”  Three top angels are then given the task of carrying out the sentence.

     The first angel then walks out on stage and says:  “I am going to see to it that when God serves his sentence He finds out what it is like to be obscure and to be poor.  He will be born in the middle of nowhere in a weak nation with a peasant girl for his mother.  There will even be a suspicion of shame about his birth, and he will have to live as a Jew in a world that hates Jews.  That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”

     The second angel then comes on stage and says:  “I am going to see to it that when God serves his sentence he finds out what it is like to fail and to suffer disappointment in what he does and from his friends.  No one will understand what he is trying to do and everyone will let him down.  Even his closest friends will betray and desert him.  That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”

     Then the third angel says:  “I am going to see to it that God finds out what it is like to feel physical pain.  I will see to it that he dies a slow and painful death with plenty of suffering before the end.  That will show him what it is like to suffer in this world.”

     With that, the stage lights go out and the play is over; and everyone is allowed to sit for a while in the darkness with the realization that God has already served that sentence.  

      God was not, of course, sentenced for any crime by some human court.  But God did willingly and freely take on all that pain and suffering in order to forgive the sins committed by humanity against itself, those sins that marred God’s good creation, those sins that caused the needless suffering.  No, God is not guilty, humankind is guilty, but already, God, in Christ, has taken upon himself the punishment that we deserved, and as Isaiah wrote, “by his punishment we are healed.”  The play was written by a Lutheran minister, so he knew all of that, but he put the story of Christ’s passion in the context of that kind of play in order to speak to a generation of people that was asking those questions about guilt and suffering in a particular situation.

      Jesus did, in truth, experience all that he was sentenced to in the play.  He took our sins to the cross, and somehow, in God’s infinite love and wisdom, it is there on that cross that we receive the forgiveness of all our sins, and in his resurrection, we receive the promise of life everlasting, if we believe in Him.  Believe in Him and you will be saved.

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Job 13:3  –   I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.

Isaiah 53:5  –  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

I Peter 2:24  –  “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”

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A PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY by William Barclay:

O God, our Father, we thank Thee this day that Thou so loved the world that Thou didst give Thine only Son for us and for all mankind.  We give Thee thanks this day for Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord, and for His death upon the cross– that he loved us and gave himself for us, and that he came to seek and to save that which was lost.  Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.  Help us this day to remember, and never again to forget, the love of Him who laid down his life for us.  Amen.

372) Jesus and His Mother

PIETA by Michelangelo, 1498, St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

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From a 2011 Good Friday meditation.

     Sometimes when reading the Bible, I am struck by the power and majesty of the Almighty God, so great and so far above us.  Psalm 8 expresses this side of God when it says, “Oh Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in their place, what is a mere man that you are even mindful of him, and that you even care for him?”  Why, asks the Psalmist, does this great God even pay any attention at all to a little man like himself, on this little planet earth, a mere speck of dust among all the galaxies and stars of God’s immense universe?

     Then, astonishingly, this great and glorious God makes himself very small, and He becomes a little man, and visits this little world in the person of Jesus Christ.  In the New Testament I can read stories about this Jesus, a person like me, someone with whom I can relate.  For example, John 19:25 says, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother….”  His mother.  Well, I have a mother.  And my mother cared for me when I was a baby, just like we hear in the Christmas story about Mary caring for the baby Jesus.  Imagine that, this great God of the universe, as a baby in a mother’s arms.  Then, at the foot of the cross, this mother is still caring about her son, only now her son is a young man and he is dying, and she is heart-broken.  I have done many funerals at which the mother of the deceased is present, and these mothers often say the same thing.  They say, “a mother should not have to bury her own child.”  Jesus, Son of God, is right in the midst of one of life’s greatest human tragedies.

     Jesus is concerned about what will happen to his mother now that his life is ending.  “Dear woman,” he says to her, “behold your son;” and then to John he says, “Behold your mother.”  John will now have to see to the care that Jesus had been, or would have been, providing.  I also know how this goes.  My mother will turn 80 this year.  Several years ago she had a stroke and now needs some help.  My Dad is healthy and is the primary care-giver, and my brothers and sister also help; but there are some things that only I do, and only I know how to take care of, such as seeing to the many doctor appointments and keeping the medications straight.  If something were to happen to me, and I had the time to prepare, I would have to turn over that part of the care to someone else– just like Jesus is doing here.

     One more thing.  It is thought that Jesus died on the cross at the age of 33.  My own son is now 33.  That is really young.  It is not all that long ago he was getting ready to go to the prom at this time of the year, and not long before that I was teaching him to play ball.  Think of the memories going through Mary’s mind as she watched her son die.  Imagine the scene.  Mary looking up at her son, and Jesus looking down on his mother, in their last hours together.  Many of you know what it is like to be spending those last painful hours with a dying loved one.

     ‘Jesus Christ, true God and true man,’ says the catechism.  True God, big enough to create this world and everything in it; and also true man, just like us– with a mother he loved and who loved him, who cared for him, and who now needed him; and with cruel death, interrupting and ending the relationship, as it does all of our relationships.  Jesus, God Almighty; but also our fellowman, our brother, and our friend.  He’s been here, and he knows what this life is like, and he can understand all that we are going through.  I find comfort and assurance in knowing that about Jesus.

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Psalm 8:1, 3, 4  –  O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens…  When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?

John 19:27-29  –  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”  From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Hebrews 4:14-16  –  Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are– yet was without sin.  Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

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A PRAYER FOR HOLY WEEK, by Samuel Johnson (edited from 1775 & 1777 prayers for Easter):  Almighty God, heavenly Father, whose mercy is over all thy works, look with pity on my miseries and sins…  Relieve, O Lord, as seemeth best unto Thee, the infirmities of my body and the afflictions of my mind.  Fill my thoughts with love of thy Goodness, with just fear of thine Anger, and with humble confidence in thy Mercy…  So help me by thy Holy Spirit, that my heart may be fixed where true joys are to be found, (so) that I may serve thee with pure affection and a cheerful mind.  Have mercy upon me, O God, have mercy upon me!  Years and infirmities oppress me, terror and anxiety beset me.  Have mercy upon me, my Creator and my Judge.  In all dangers protect me, in all perplexities relieve and free me, and so help me by thy Holy Spirit, that I may now so commemorate the death of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ that when this short and painful life shall have an end, I may for his sake be received to everlasting happiness.  Amen.

371) The Truth About Everything

   The Crucifixion, Veronese, 1580

     In his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, author Richard John Nuehaus made an amazing statement.  He said, “If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything.”  That is an incredible statement to make, but it is, in fact, what we as Christians believe.  Out of all the days this world has existed, all the days and years and centuries of human history, out of all those days, what happened on Good Friday, when combined with what happened on Easter day, really does contain all the truth about everything– that is, everything of ultimate significance.  Granted, it may not contain the truth about whether or not eggs are good for you, but it does contain all the truth about everything that will still matter to you a hundred years from now.

     First of all, that truth about everything includes the truth about the human condition.  Good Friday tells the story of a death, and death is that most basic and certain aspect of the human condition.  People are born into different times, with different abilities, and with vastly different opportunities.  Some live only a few moments and some will live for more than a hundred years.  But all die, just as Jesus died on that long ago Friday afternoon.

     There is a second fundamental truth about the human condition, and that is, that there is something wrong with us.  The most basic explanation of the meaning of Good Friday is that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins.  Sin– that is what’s wrong with us.  The sin that is within us is acted out in countless ways– meanness, jealousy, greed, hatred, selfishness, ingratitude, theft, gossip, covetousness, rebellion, lust, adultery, slander, anger– the list could go on and on.  And it has been that way from the very beginning; from the first two people created who were cast out of the Garden of Eden for disobeying the one and only command God gave them, to the first child born who became a murderer, and on down to Genesis chapter 6 where we read that God was already regretting his creation of humankind.

     That story of sin continues throughout the Bible until the story of Jesus Christ, God himself who came to earth to do something about that sin.  And what happened to Jesus?  John 1:11 tells us that, “Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own received him NOT.”  These have to be some of the saddest words in the Bible.  In their sinfulness, the opponents of Jesus killed their own Creator and Lord, the One who had come to be their Savior.  What greater evil and wickedness could there be?  ‘His own received him not.’  And on Good Friday we see human sin at its worst.  Judas, friend and disciple of Jesus, betrayed him.  Caiaphas, religious leader of the people, engineered the execution of the Messiah his people had prayed for centuries.  Pilate, the representative of Roman justice, declared Jesus innocent, and then sentenced him to execution.  How about you?  Have you always been faithful and obedient follower of Jesus?

     Good Friday not only tells us the truth about ourselves, it also tells us the truth about God, God who ‘so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in him will not perish.’  Perishing would be all any of us would have to look forward to in our long range future, if it were not for Jesus.  Good Friday first of all teaches us that there is something wrong with us and the world, and then it tells us that if anything is to be done about it, it will have to be done by God.  We cannot save ourselves.  It has to be up to God to find a way to forgive us of our sins, and to one day again make us into the kind of people he had created us to be.  Forgiveness, and a new heart, and a new life, all won for us by God, first of all on the cross, and then in the resurrection on Easter morning.

     “If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything,” said Nuehaus.  Life and death, the sinfulness of men and the goodness of the Savior, the power of evil defeated by the power of God, Christ in the tomb and then Christ risen for all eternity, the helplessness of man and the salvation of God– it is all there on Good Friday and the Easter Sunday that followed.  The truth about everything, a truth to live for, and a truth to give us hope and confidence even in death.

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Luke 23:33  –  When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals– one on his right, the other on his left.

Luke 23:44-46  –  It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Mark 15:39  –  When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

II Corinthians 5:17-19  –  Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:  that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.

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Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace:   So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.  Amen.  

Book of Common Prayer

370) The Vicar of Baghdad

By John Stonestreet at http://www.breakpoint.org , March 4, 2014

     For Reverend Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest from Great Britain, ministry is anything but routine at his parish—St. George’s Church in Baghdad.  His work involves distributing food and medical care to both Christians and Muslims.  And he also tries to bring together Muslim, Jewish, and Christian leaders in a land rife with religiously motivated violence.

     The statistics are almost unbelievable—I say “almost” because Canon White lives them every single day.  Iraq is spiraling downward into more and more sectarian violence.  On a recent Wednesday morning, just to cite one example, three bombs exploded in Baghdad, killing 20 people and injuring dozens more.

     White says that 1,096 of his parishioners at St. George’s have been killed in just the past five years.  Canon White told Christianity Today, “So many of our brothers and sisters here in Baghdad have been killed, kidnapped, or tortured…  Many of my staff have also been killed.”

     A major target of the violence is the quite old Christian presence.  The number of Christians in this mostly Muslim land has fallen from 1.5 million in 2003 to just 250,000 today, and many of the few who remain are under threat and in deep need.

     Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom notes, “Iraq’s Christian presence is critically important to its peace, democracy, and prosperity.  The Christians are a segment of that population that is politically moderate, educated, skilled and well represented in the professions.”

     For this reason and others, Canon White has chosen to stay and encourage his fellow Christians and work for peace in an increasingly bloody and dangerous milieu.  “We provide for our neighbors because that is the work of our Lord,” White told Christianity Today.  “Everyone who receives help sees the love of the church, and thus the love of God.  Many non-Christians come to our church, and they know that our Lord loves them.”

A six minute interview with Rev. White:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mb6wkLOBEL4

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Hebrews 13:3  –  Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.

2 Corinthians 4:8-10  –  We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned;struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.

Matthew 5:9-12  –  (Jesus said),   “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

I Corinthians 4:12, 13a  –  We work hard with our own hands.  When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly…

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Almighty God, who has taught us through your Son Jesus Christ that those who follow Him may be persecuted; strengthen, comfort and encourage all those who suffer harassment, violence, imprisonment and even death for being followers of Jesus.  We pray for those who persecute your people; may their hearts be turned towards you through the faithful witness of those they persecute.  Protect those who are persecuted and bless their ministries.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

369) C. S. Lewis on Happiness

     What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could “be like gods;” that they could set up on their own as if they had created themselves, they could be their own masters, and they could invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God.  And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history—greed, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery—the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

     God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing.

–From Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

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Genesis 3:1-5  –  The serpent was the shrewdest of all the wild animals the Lord God had made.  One day he asked the woman, “Did God really say you must not eat the fruit from any of the trees in the garden?”

“Of course we may eat fruit from the trees in the garden,” the woman replied. “It’s only the fruit from the tree in the middle of the garden that we are not allowed to eat.  God said, ‘You must not eat it or even touch it; if you do, you will die.’”

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman.  “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.”

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Exodus 20:3  –  You shall have no other gods before me.  (the first commandment)

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Matthew 22:34-38  –  Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together.  One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question:  “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. 

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Thanks be to Thee, my Lord Jesus Christ

For all the benefits Thou hast given me,
For all the pains and insults Thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, friend and brother,
May I know Thee more clearly,
Love Thee more dearly,
Follow Thee more nearly.

–Richard, Bishop of Chichester  (1197-1253)

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That prayer adapted for the Broadway musical Godspell (1971) by Stephen Schwartz:

Day by day,
Dear Lord, of thee three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by Day

Day by Day performed here at a recent recording:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JW_RpWbnJXQ

368) Love and Power in Holy Week (part two of two)

     (…continued)  When you want to get someone to do what you want them to do, you can try and find ways to get power over them.  But that is not the only way.  You can also use ‘authority.’  There is a difference between power and authority.  Those words can be defined in different ways, but this is how I will use them:  by power, I mean the ability to FORCE someone to do something; and by authority, I mean the ability to INSPIRE someone to WANT to do something.

     You can see this in any relationship where one person is in a position of power or authority over another.  Teachers have power over students– power to discipline, power to give grades, and power to fail the student.  For some teacher-student relationships, power is the only thing that will work.  For some teachers it is only about power; and, some students will respond only to power, doing only what they are forced to do to get through the class.  But it can work better than that.  It is a two-way street, and when a student wants to learn, and the teacher is able to inspire in that student a love for what is being taught, then that teacher has authority, and the student will respond by wanting to learn for the love of learning, and not just to get the grade.

     In the military chain of command, officers have complete power over those under them, and there are severe penalties for disobedience.  Power must be obeyed, whether or not the officer is admired or respected.  But many officers have not only power over their troops, but also this authority.  These leaders are also admired and respected.  Soldiers serving under an officer with that kind of authority will often perform ‘above and beyond the call of duty.’  They are inspired to want to do even more than they are required to do.

     Jesus was a teacher and a leader, so think about how Jesus influenced people.  The Bible describes his power over nature, but you never see him exerting raw power over people to force them to do his will.  He had no earthly position of power.  He held no official position or rank.  He was simply a wandering preacher who invited people to follow him– and they did follow him.  Not only the 12 disciples, but thousands followed him around the countryside, just to be with him and hear his words.  Why?  The people were amazed by his miracles, but also, time after time, the Bible says the people marveled at his words, because he spoke ‘as one who had authority.’  Authority.  People were inspired to follow Jesus.  Even Pilate, the Roman governor who had the most power of anyone in the whole country, even he was affected, not by any power Jesus had over him; but by this personal authority of Jesus– and it moved Pilate to try and have Jesus released.

     On one level, Tony Campolo’s principle is true.  In many relationships, on the surface anyway, the one who loves the least has the most power.  That can be true if all someone is after is power over another person.  But on a deeper and better level, it is not power that matters the most, it is authority, this ability to inspire people to want to do the right thing.  In Matthew 28 it says that all authority was given unto Jesus, and that authority has inspired millions to follow him, even unto death.

     There is one more aspect to this story of Jesus and his influence, and that is that God’s miraculous presence also entered in.  Philippians 2:5-11 describes how Jesus gave up the power he had, and then in the end was granted all power.  Verse five says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus, who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing.”  Having given up his divine power, Jesus “made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.”  Then from the position of a servant with no power, Jesus worked to influence people.  Yes, Jesus performed miracles, but first he would pray to God in heaven for the power to do the miracle.  Jesus had given up his power and became a man.  Verse eight: “and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”  Jesus, God in human form, submitted himself to the wicked power of mere humans, even allowing himself to be executed.  But then, after the enemies of Jesus had done their worst and Jesus was dead, God the Father entered in and raised Jesus from the dead.  Verse nine: “Therefore, God exalted Jesus to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

     This is the background to the events of Holy Week.  On that first Palm Sunday, Jesus entered Jerusalem as a hero, honored not because people were ordered to be there, but by people spontaneously responding in love and respect and admiration to this man who spoke with such authority.  “Hosanna in the Highest,” they said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”  Later in the week, Jesus would be crushed by the raw power and wickedness of those who opposed him; and Jesus would not call on any power from above to stop it.  Even on the cross he was ridiculed for this lack of power.  The people mocked him saying, “He saved others, why can’t he save himself?”  Jesus did not save himself, but as the Philippians passage says, he was obedient even unto death.  But then, he was exalted, and that is Easter message of the resurrection, the event and the promise that has changed everything.

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Matthew 7:28  –  When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Philippians 2:1-11  –  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!  Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

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Blessed Jesus, who is ever teaching us by your holy example that we are not living for ourselves alone:  Help us to find the joy and fullness of right living in the serving of you by serving others.  May we help those in need with acts of kindness and mercy, and, may we be given opportunities to bring you those who do not yet know you.  Amen.

 –United Lutheran Church Hymnal, 1917

367) Love and Power in Holy Week (part one of two)

     Todd and Maggie had a big fight and broke up.  Todd, like always, hadn’t been treating her very well, and Maggie told him she wanted to call it quits.  Todd wanted to get back together, but he wasn’t about to apologize, so he tried a different tactic.  He asked out Ellen, Maggie’s good friend, who had always wanted to go out with Todd.  Todd and Ellen went out several times, and Ellen was on cloud nine.  All her dreams were coming true, and she was sure they would be together forever.  Todd however, was just using Ellen to make Maggie jealous.  It was starting to work, he thought, and it wouldn’t be long and he would dump Ellen, and he’d be back with Maggie.  Todd did not treat Ellen any better than he treated Maggie.  He’d pick her up late, ignore her when around others, and would often lie to her.  But Ellen really did like him and wanted to make the relationship work.  So she would put up with the rudeness, make excuses for him, and told her friends he would surely change as time went on.

     The relationship between Todd and Ellen illustrates a principal of human interaction which college professor and Baptist preacher Tony Campolo describes like this:  “The person in a relationship who loves the least, oftentimes has the most power; and the person who loves the most in a relationship oftentimes has the least power.”  Who controls the relationship between Todd and Ellen?  Todd does.  He has the power, and he can do what he wants, because he doesn’t care.  He doesn’t love Ellen at all.  Ellen on the other hand, loves Todd very much, and that puts her in a position of weakness.  She puts up with everything, because in her love she sees Todd in the best possible light, and she does not want that love to be disappointed.  Of course, this isn’t all there is to say on the subject.  Relationships are complex and there are always many things going on all at once.  Other variables might include differing personality types, temperaments, and personal moralities.  And so Campolo says this is oftentimes the case, but it is never the whole story and certainly not how it should be.  But it is true to say that oftentimes “the person who loves the least in a relationship has the most power.”

     Let’s apply this insight to the events of Holy Week.  Jesus, admired by many, but hated by a few, rode into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday and was greeted as a hero by those who admired him.  But Jerusalem was the center of the nation’s religious and political power, and, it was those in power who were opposed to Jesus.  Jesus also had power.  He was the Son of God.  Legions of angels could have come to his aid at anytime.  So it was not a matter of who had power and who did not.  Rather, it was a matter of who would choose to use their power, and how, and for what purpose.  So who loved the most in this situation?  Jesus did, of course, and that love put him in a position of weakness.  He chose to love, and chose not to exercise his power– and you know what happened.

     That is not the whole story; it is not the whole story of Holy Week, and this is not all that psychology has to say about power.  Much more needs to be said.  First of all, most relationships should not be about power at all.  Hopefully, Ellen and Maggie will wake up, and both stay away from Todd until he figures out how to treat a lady with respect and kindness.  Power should not be the primary aspect of a dating relationship, and certainly not a marriage relationship.  People will disagree, and differences need to be worked out, but there are ways to do that without the use of power, such as discussion, persuasion, and compromise.  So yes, the one who loves the least may oftentimes have the most power in a relationship, but both should be striving to love and not exert power.  And in that first Holy Week there was much more going on than which side would win by using the most power.  On the surface, by late Friday afternoon it looked like the powers that were against Jesus had won.  The high priest used all the earthly power at his disposal to arrange for the arrest, trial, conviction, and execution of Jesus; and he won.  Jesus was dead.  But there was more going on behind the scenes.  (continued…)

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Mark 8:31  –  (Jesus) then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. 

Hebrews 12:2-3  –  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 

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O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life:  Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray.  Amen.   –Book of Common Prayer

366) Albert Schweitzer’s Jesus

     

     By the age of 30, Albert Schweitzer was already a world-renowned organist and expert on the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.  I don’t know much about music history, but it is said that his work changed the course of world-wide organ studies and performance.  Also by the age of 30, that same Albert Schweitzer was also a world-renowned New Testament scholar and theologian.  I do know something about Biblical studies and I know that yet today, every seminary student hears about Schweitzer’s 1905 book The Quest for the Historical Jesus.  It changed the course of New Testament studies for a generation.  It is still considered an important work, and continues to be referenced as scholars debate the meaning of the life of Jesus Christ.  Two very different areas of study, and Schweitzer had accomplishments in both areas that would have been worthy of a lifetime of study, assuring him of a place in history in both fields– and all done by the time he was thirty years old.  It was an incredible achievement…  And then, Albert Schweitzer quit his work in both fields, resigned his comfortable position as a university professor, and went on to do that for which he would become most famous!

     At the age of 30, Schweitzer left everything that had brought him international fame, and went back to school, entering medical school as a first year student.  He had done no previous study or work in medicine, and had no previous interest in it.  But he felt God was calling him to be a medical missionary, serving the poorest of the poor in Africa.  So he started over in an entirely new profession.  Seven years later, at the age of 37, he graduated from medical school and headed to the jungles of Africa.  There he started a clinic, used his previous fame to raise money all over the world, and built a huge hospital.  In 1952 he won the Nobel Peace Prize.  Schweitzer lived the rest of his life in West Africa, working tirelessly until he died in 1965 at the age of 90.

     Echoing the message of Jesus, he summed up his philosophy of life in these words:  “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I do know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have learned how to serve.”

     Albert Schweitzer’s earlier passion in studying the life of Jesus was to get at Christ’s central message.  The problem he found in all the books he read about Jesus was that each author would argue that he alone had penetrated behind the many man-made doctrines about Jesus, and finally, he could portray the real man and what he stood for.  But Schweitzer noticed that the so-called ‘real Jesus’ presented in this book or that book always looked most of all like the writer of the book.  Everyone would find in Jesus just what they wanted to find, and it was always someone just like themselves.  If the author was a political radical, he would find in Jesus the prime example of a political radical, challenging the Romans.  If the author was a wise old university professor, he would portray Jesus as a kindly teacher, going around giving wise advice.  If the author was a fire and brimstone preacher, railing against the sins of the flesh, he would find in Jesus the same harsh and judgmental Lord.  If the writer was a gloom and doom prophet predicting the imminent end of the world, that is what his book would say Jesus was like.

     Schweitzer called this whole approach into question, showing clearly that all these so-called historical and scholarly studies were just picking and choosing from the New Testament whatever suited the writer’s purpose.  Most scholars saw the point and agreed, and that whole approach to studying the life of Christ was abandoned, at least for a while.  Schweitzer was correct in what he was against, but then he failed to be for much of anything.  For Albert Schweitzer, the real Jesus was lost in the distant past, far beyond our knowing.  There was still Christ’s call to service, and Schweitzer gave the rest of his life to follow Jesus in that much; but there was in Schweitzer’s theology no resurrected, living, Savior.

     In Matthew 16, Mark 8, and Luke 9 Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do people say I am?”  They, like Albert Schweitzer, had heard many different answers to that question, and replied “Some say John the Baptist (risen from the dead); others say Elijah (sent back from heaven); and still others say that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.”  And then Jesus asked, “But what about you, who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  The Christ, Greek for the anointed one, the Messiah, the one promised, the Son of God.  It would take a week to unpack all what that title means, but it means much more than a political radical, or a wise old philosopher, or a gloom and doom preacher, or even one who calls on us to serve others, as Schweitzer found.  Jesus was all of those other things also, but most of all, like Peter said, he was the Son of God, Savior of the world.  

     And Jesus said to Peter, “Blessed are you.”

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Matthew 16:16  –  Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Luke 1:1-4  –  Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

2 Corinthians 5:19  –  For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them.  And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

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Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

–The ancient Jesus prayer

 

365) Quotations by Albert Schweitzer

Albert Schweitzer

Theologian, Musician, Medical Missionary

Constant kindness can accomplish much.  As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust, and hostility to evaporate.

Do not let Sunday be taken from you.  If your soul has no Sunday, it becomes an orphan.

Example is leadership…  Example is not the main thing in influencing others.  It is the only thing.

My life is my argument.

I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know:   the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.

I have always held firmly to the thought that each one of us can do a little to bring some portion of misery to an end…  We must all carry our share of the misery which lies upon the world.

A man can do only what he can do.  But if he does that each day he can sleep at night and do it again the next day.

Anyone who proposes to do good must not expect people to roll stones out of his way, but must accept his lot calmly, even if they roll a few stones upon it.

Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.

Man is a clever animal who behaves like an imbecile.

The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.  Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.

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I Peter 4:10  –  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.

I Peter 4:11b  –  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. 

Matthew 20:26b…28a  –  (Jesus said), “…Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant,… just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…”

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MORNING PRAYER by Walter Rauschenbusch:  Once more a new day lies before us, our Father.  As we go out among others to do our work, touching the lives of our fellows, make us, we pray, friends of all the world.  Save us from blighting any heart by the flare of sudden anger or secret hate.  May we not bruise the rightful self-respect of anyone by contempt or malice.  Help us to cheer the suffering by our sympathy, to freshen the despairing by our hopefulness, and to strengthen in all the wholesome sense of worth and the joy of life…  Grant that we may look all people in the face with the eyes of a brother or a sister.  If anyone needs us, make us ready to yield our help ungrudgingly, unless higher duties claim us.  May we rejoice that we have been abundantly blessed by you, and are thus able to be helpful to our fellowmen.  Amen.