This is some writing that I did that inspired a sermon that I preached today..Enjoy!
P.S…Ignore the typos!
It was 1:00 in the morning last Sunday that I awoke. And I became overwhelmed by this deep sense of suffering in the world. The cut to foreign aid in the budget. The famine in South Sudan. The homeless in the streets of Perth. News of friends going through tremendously hard times. And I got out of bed and I just starting writing on suffering, and as I was writing I had the verse from John’s gospel come to mind: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In that section of scripture, Jesus is speaking to His disciples. It’s the night before He is going to get crucified, and tensions are high.
He had shaken the very foundations of all the social and religious institution of His day- and the people behind those institutions wants Him dead because of it. To them He was another rebel trying to start a resistant movement that sought to overthrow them politically and religiously. Now here’s the thing: this world is messed up, and we messed it up when we rebelled against God- and time has passed and the world has unravelled more and more. But the story goes that God has sent someone into the world to rescue this world from it’s own self-destruction- and His name is Jesus. And the people of Jesus’ day believed that God would sent someone to them- but they also thought that this someone would shake this world up by violently overthrowing any nation that resisted Him, and that this person would turn to those hoping for Him and 110% affirm all their religious devotion to God. But along comes Jesus- and instead of challenging the foreign rulers in control of Israel He challenges the religious leaders of Israel. Instead of calling people to observe the Laws of God the way they came to understand them, He told them that the deeper Law of Love is what the Law was really all about, and that their skewed way of doing law observance was actually doing more damage than good. He did things like heal and touch people the religious elite considered unclean to touch- all in all completely sticking it to the man and pretty much saying “Yep, I am bringing God’s Kingdom on Earth…But it’s nothing like you think it is”. And He then tells the people that the way of God’s victory over the world won’t be through violence, but by enemy love. You can see why the religious and political powers wanted Him dead. And so Jesus is with His disciples on the night before He is killed and He is giving them His parting words before He heads to the cross. He starts speaking very clearly to His disciples: He says that the people who hated Him will also hate them, and that He will be going away for a bit and will grieve in this time, thinking that all hope is lost – but then He says these famous words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.””.
The disciples needed to hear these words, because Jesus knew how they would be between His death on Friday & His resurrection on Sunday. Filled with grief, pain, questions (How many of us at relate to that?). Believing that God can overcome all things, and then to bear witness to what looks like a failure. Imagine being one of those disiples-you devoted your whole life to this one person- and I mean you were literally all in…And then they die a violent death. Would you say “I think Jesus has overcome the world!” No! We would of felt like that all we had devoted ourselves to was a sham. Another failed Messiah who failed to bring God’s Kingdom to Earth. Now the story doesn’t end there. But the story was there- there was a Saturday.
How many of us can relate to the disciples Saturday experience? We look out into the world and into our own lives, and sometimes we think that things have failed. So much pain. So much grief. So much sorrow. And we ask God “Have you really overcome?”
I’ll be lying if I said to you that what happens in this world never get’s me questioning the goodness of God, or at least God as an overcoming God…It does. But I also know that such questioning doesn’t actually solve the problem of evil. I mean I could say God isn’t good, but then what? What does that functionally do? It does nothing. It certainly doesn’t create enduring hope in the world. At least if I believe God is ultimately good I can hope that one day God will one day make all things right- that when Jesus returns he’ll wipe away disease, pain, death, darkness, injustice, evil.
But we still experience the disciples Saturday. Just look out at the world. In times like this some of us cry “How long, oh Lord?!”. How long will famine destroy whole nations? How long will sickness destroy families? How long will the ideologies perpetuate terror? How long will our health- in whatever form- betray us? How long Lord will governments feel contempt in having a global annul budget of military arms of close to 1.2 trillion dollars in the midst of extreme poverty (Something we can end with about 30 billion dollars annually)? How long Lord will we turn a blind eye to the ways we contribute to this mess? Lord, how long? How long.
There’s these collection of ancient poems- called the psalms- that act like a space where you can just scream, cry, rant, praise, sing…whatever. You can just be your emotional self. And in some of these psalms there’s a space that allows us to grieve, to question, to doubt, to lament. And those despair-ridden psalms were written under similar circumstances to the disciples Saturday experience. They expected God to act one way, and then everything turns to crap- and so they essentially cry to God asking “What’s going on?” and then they spout how they feel. And I love the pslams because they show that even God’s people need to cry, to grieve, to vent, to have a space where they just be okay to not be okay. Oh and by the way… Imagine if more churches made it okay to be like this. Even if there’s a Resurrection Sunday, Saturday is still real.
And yet, at the same time we must recognise that Sunday is real too. That we can have our emotional processing space, but a space that exists in a much larger picture than just the present moment. Jesus says “you will have trouble”- He doesn’t ignore that or brush it aside or water it down. No you WILL have trouble- times will be hard.
We have our own long long Saturday- where Jesus has risen from the dead, but hasn’t yet returned to make all things new yet. And so- like the disciples- we can question everything when we look around us. But Jesus whispers to you & me: take heart, I have overcome the world.
And what was God’s first step in this upside down and inside out way of overcoming the world? Dying on a cross. WHAT! That sounds stupid! And yet, if only we stop & stare long enough to see- do we see the victory of God.
The radical revolutionary of love, justice, and peace for the world was so controversial that they killed him. The one time God becomes man and we kill Him- we can’t handle Him. And evil does what evil does over and over again- bring death, pain, destruction, injustice, darkness, suffering. And Jesus dies a bloody death. But what the writers of the Bible tell us that this actually becomes the place of victory! That it’s this moment that Jesus is the overcoming God. The only weapon evil has is death, and if Jesus is going to overcome evil then He certainly can’t use the weapon of evil itself in a tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye, vengeful way. The way He overcomes the powers of evil is by allowing evil to do it’s worst to Him, exhausting it’s power, and in those moments responding with forgiving love towards His enemies as they crucify Him. The sacrifice of God is that He sacrifices His right to respond to what’s happening to Him by doing what He could of done, which is just killing the crucifiers and scoffers on the spot. We want God to overcome evil in the world? Well we can be evil people ourselves- So He has to find a way of destroying evil that doesn’t destroy us as well- and this is how He does it: He eternally separates sin from sinner and deals with sin in it’s own terms, and in order to do that He must exhaust the powers of sin, and in response show us forgiving love. And in doing so, He breaks the cycle.
But victory over evil cannot be victory over evil if evil had the final say. There is a Sunday. Jesus rose again from the dead three days later and never dies again, to show us that this victory wasn’t just another crushing defeat! That actually evil cannot hold Him down! That the weapon of death is stupid! That evil, injustice, darkness, chaos, the powers, have lost! And that you & I can be caught up in that victory in the midst of our pain & hardship.
People have often criticised Christians saying that it’s all an emotional crutch. I just want to say that, firstly, we all rely on things in life to get us through- those who rely on approval will seek after it at all cost, those who rely on money will seek after money that all cost, those who rely on the next experience will seek after that thrill again and again, those who rely on themselves being successful will never ever slow down and will always be driven to the point of burn out- so everyone has a crutch. But here’s the thing with Jesus…A crutch implies two supporting crutches…But Jesus rose again on two solid resurrected legs! And Jesus burst forth out of the tomb as a sign to the world that He has overcome, and that He declares that what has happened to Him on resurrection day will happen to the whole world one day! That as He was restored and risen again so will this world be restored and made new- a new creation! And yes there is still work to do, and yes this creation isn’t fully renewed yet, and yes there is evil, and there is tough times, and we do need those times to lament and cry- but with Jesus’ resurrection, it’s a sure and true hope that it’s all heading to the renewal of all things at the return of Jesus. That evil, and pain, and injustice don’t have the final say. And that when we trust that Jesus’ resurrection has changed the default ending story to all of human history- one that doesn’t end in despair but ends in hope- then now we can say that Jesus has overcome the world!
Jesus tells us to take heart because there is a hope we can take hold of. We are to embrace this hope for our lives- that this hope shapes us during the saddest of times, during our long dark Saturdays. We embrace Jesus as the overcoming God. And now as Jesus’ disciples you & I- having embraced Jesus as the overcoming God- gives us His Spirit in order to embody Jesus as the overcoming God into a world that so desperately needs hope.
We have been given the sacred task embodying Jesus’ resurrected-fuelled overcoming victory into the world. That we can go out, energised, empowered, & inspired by God’s Spirit, to go out into the world and confront evil head on and say “No!” to evil. “No!” to injustice. “No!” to anything that defaces Gods good world or exploits God’s human creatures.
Now embodying this hope isn’t about us having it all together, and neither is it saying that we can heal the world fully prior to Jesus’ return. No! Embodying this hope means that we follow the one who makes it possible to embody hope in the first place! Jesus has done the rescuing of the world (not us)- we just participate it as His ever-learning, ever-growing, ever stumbling, students, with Him as our ever-graceful, ever-merciful, and ever empowering teacher. And He does the saving, and He will do the final fresh act of restoration in the end- He just turns around and says you & I “Hey, wanna join in?”.
we are all called into the rough & tough vocation of Jesus- who calls us into the dark places, who calls us into the slums, and into the pain- but in order to be a beacon of light. A beacon of hope. To be people who believe that there is a story to our reality that doesn’t end in meaninglessness, that doesn’t end in indifference, that doesn’t end in pain, that it doesn’t end in evil, or death, or injustice. But that end’s with an overcoming God who promises to make all things right. And that we can be people who have a vision towards that end.
So in your job, your relationships, your mundane- Ask God to reveal ways that God’s Spirit can creativily move through you to embody this “God-overcoming-the-world” reality. I truly believe that you can find ways to- whether discretely or explicitly- bring forth a vision of this reality. Even in something as simple as a kind word or a smile that brightens someone’s day.
But a word of caution: let us never think that we implement this victory of Jesus by any other means than the way Jesus does it. Jesus brings healing, He brings restoration, He brings strong words against the dehumanising systems. That’s how He does. And ultimately Jesus overcome the world through a death & resurrection- It was a victory, not through the love of power, but by the power of love. The cross is the ultimate redefinition of what it looks like to have “victory” and do “power”. This means direct us to His ends. So If Jesus wouldn’t do it that way, then if you follow Jesus you ought not to do it that way either.
John Lennon once said “Imagine there is no heaven, it’s not easy if you do. People living for the day”. But here’s the thing: If there is no big picture, why the heck shouldn’t I live however I want? Some people say to help the next generation, and that’s a good motivation. And yet in a Godless universe one day a supanova is going to destroy our world and everything we worked towards will be wiped away anyway- in the ultimate sense of things nothing lasts forever and all that we do, even the best of things, will amount to nothing in the end. Unless there is a God who invites us to a bigger picture of the cosmos, of our universe, of our world- then every good endeavour you do- even the simplest ones- can last forever.
So what is Jesus speaking to you about right now- what is He challenging you to be shaken & stirred up in? What is He telling you to do?
Which story of reality do we trust in? Are we going to choose to believe that this Jesus is just another dead rabbi? Or are we going to trust in a bigger picture of our world- one with an overcoming God? Because depending on what story you lean into as the true story will determine how you face this world. Without this hope, during hard times, one might be able to find people of solace, but one won’t have an enduring hope that stretches for all of eternity. Without God, you might do good things, but that’s certainly not the same as being part of something bigger than yourself that’s heading towards a direction larger than yourself and larger than cosmos itself. And by the way, it’s very easy to forget the bigger story in our day-to-day. Jesus says that He said all those things to His disciples so that they may have peace- what words does Jesus want you to hear so that in Him you may have peace?
Jesus is inviting us to trust in His reality- that He is the overcoming God. So that in the middle of the pain- that’s real, and heavy, and horrible- He says to us: take heart! For I have overcome the world. And may we- by God’s Spirit- embody this Overcoming God into the world-that (as one preacher says) “In the face of injustice; lament, laugh, sing, dance & act like Love can raise the dead.