The following post is from my sermon that was preached at Christ Church of Oak Brook on Saturday, March 14th and Sunday, March 15th. This sermon goes along with the sermon series “Power in Your Hands” and is the result of a lot of prayer and collaboration with Rev. Daniel Meyer, Senior Pastor of Christ Church of Oak Brook, the Teaching Team, and Andy Crouch’s book, Playing God, Culture Making.
You may also view the sermon here.
ISIS. Just the word provokes fierce emotions in many of us. Fear. Pain. Hurt. Anger. It’s hard to turn on the news today without seeing the abuse of power ISIS has had in the world. I think we can all agree that ISIS cuts to the heart of the topic of power.
How are we, as Christians, to respond? What are we to think? What can we do?
For those of you who have been walking with us through this series on power, you know that power is a gift from God and it’s God’s intention for image bearers in this world to use this gift in it’s proper place, under the Lordship of Christ.[i] We’ve been talking about power for the last few weeks and we’ve taken a look at both the dark and bright side of power. Power can be used selfishly or it can be used in a way that is life giving to the world around us. For example, we discovered that power goes awry when we use it to serve an idol instead of keeping power under the Lordship of King Jesus. Last week, Tracey walked us through the dangers of privilege as well as the opportunity we have to use our privilege for flourishing. We know that power is a gift, but all too often the misuse of power goes dark and moves from not only personal idolatry, but into injustice. In fact, we get a window into the distortion of power in our text for today. We see the chief priests and elders using their authority to feed their purposes and plans; but we not only get a glimpse of corrupted power, we get a snapshot of how Jesus uses power to bring life, restore, and heal.
Our text this morning comes from Matthew 26:47-56
47 While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him were a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” 49 Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.
50 Jesus replied “Do what you came for, friend.”[A]
Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. 51 With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.
52 “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 53 Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
55 In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. 56 But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
It isn’t difficult to imagine the horrific scene. In the Matthew account, Jesus had just left the garden of Gethsemane from praying. Jesus knew the horror he was about to endure. And moments later, one of his own -who walked with him, sat at his feet, and followed him for three years – arrived with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs. This so-called “follower” of Jesus had betrayed Jesus with the kiss of betrayal. Jesus responds, “Do what you came for, friend.” And in an instant Jesus was seized and arrested. And if you read further in the text we see the injustice and violence that Jesus, our King endured.
Horrific, unjust, corrupted power…
Eerily similar, in the news over the last couple of weeks, we’ve caught a glimpse of the potency of power with the recent martyr of the Coptic Christians at the hand of ISIS. This image is almost too much to bear as we know what the Coptic Christians were forced to endure. When we see this, it breaks our heart and it stirs us to long for restoration. And sadly, this isn’t ISIS’s first crushing blow to Christians. We’ve heard of the reports of raping women, crucifying children, and beheading Christians.
As Christians our hearts are angered and horrified; many of us are outraged. I can imagine that many of us could think of a million ways in which we should respond. But how are we, as Christians, to respond? How did the Coptic Christians respond? Take another look at the picture above. You will notice that it reads, “People of the Cross.” This is precisely the name that was given to them by ISIS. “People of the Cross.”
The cross: A symbol of sacrifice, surrender, love, and good in the face of evil. In fact, when we take a look again at our text this morning, we see exactly how Jesus responded to the violence that was displayed in one of his disciples: Jesus subversively said, “Put your sword back in its place… for all who draw the sword will die by the sword…”
In that moment, the followers of Jesus witnessed Jesus actually follow through the way of non-retaliation and love of enemies to the bitter end. Maybe even some of the disciples were having flashbacks to Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus so boldly declared, “Love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44). In fact, take a look at Luke 22:51, “51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.” In that moment, Jesus embodied the narrative he had so passionately taught throughout his ministry.
Jesus displayed exactly how the gift of power is to be used even in the face of violence and injustice. Jesus shows the ability power has to heal, restore, reconcile, and bring life.
In our text we see a great juxtaposition of power.
On one end: power betrays, mocks, destroys, inflicts pain, and harms. And on the opposite end we see power displayed in the One and True Image Bearer. Power is restored in its proper form and is used creatively to restore, heal, and bring life… even in the face of corrupted power.
In Jesus, power is redefined to turn from evil rather than inflict it. Power is used creatively to love, heal, forgive, and restore.
When we look at this picture of the Coptic Christians in the hands of evil, yes, our hearts break. And we wonder, how are we to respond? When we place our humanity firmly in the humanity of Jesus our King, we get a glimpse in how we are to respond: love, heal, forgive, and restore.
And this is exactly how “The People of the Cross” responded. In a recent interview, the mother of two of the Christians beheaded in Libya was asked what she would do if the violent ISIS members were to show up at her door. Shockingly, she said, “I would welcome them into my home in the hope that their hearts could be opened to the love of God.” And then the General Bishop of the Coptic Church said, “I think as Christians it is our mandate to forgive. It is what we do.”[ii]
It is what we do.
It is what we do.
Do you hear that? It is what Jesus subversively taught, it’s what Jesus did, it’s what we do.
We, as Christians, living under the reign, rule, and Lordship of King Jesus do good in the face of evil… Our role, as Christians is not retaliation. But we use power creatively to heal, restore, and bring life. (Note: I’m not making an American political statement on how I think President Obama should respond, but how we, the people of God who live in this Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus Himself, are to respond.)
What can we do with power in the face of evil?
We surrender to the reign and rule of King Jesus and allow HIS creative power to be displayed in our lives. I can’t think of a better example of this than Mother Teresa. Mother Teresa was a surrendered conduit of God’s loving, gracious power in this world. She chose to day by day submit herself to the Lordship of Jesus and creatively use that power to love, heal, forgive, and restore.
One of my very favorite quotes of Mother Teresa is this, ““I am a little pencil in God’s hands. He does the thinking. He does the writing. He does everything and sometimes it is really hard because it is a broken pencil and He has to sharpen it a little more.”
“A pencil in the hands of God….” Wow.
Think about it this way. If I were to lovingly write you a letter and send it to you in the mail, what would captivate your attention when you open the letter? I highly doubt you would respond with excitement and joy over the beauty of the led from the pencil I used to write the letter. I highly doubt you would jump with joy exclaiming, “this is the most beautiful led I have ever laid my eyes on!” Instead, the story, not the pencil, would captivate your attention. You might adore the beauty of the story and be grateful to the writer who wrote the story. You might adore the beauty and creativity of the writer.
In the same way, we are just that: pencils in the hands of God. We surrender to the reign and rule of our King, Jesus. He does the writing; we are conduits of God’s creative and restorative power in this world. God is writing a narrative of a people who are people of the cross who radically respond with love, grace, forgiveness, and restoration. Pencils in the hand of God…
And I sometimes wonder if we have stopped believing in God’s creative and restorative power in this world that can be done in and through His people. I sometimes wonder if we’ve given into the ways of this world on how we should respond to darkness and evil. We leave it to the Governments hands and take no part in stepping into God’s creative imagination. What if Christians all around the world started believing that they, too, are pencil’s in the Hand’s of God…that God is writing a story much bigger than our selves, that God is at work to heal, restore, love, and forgive.
Secondly, we pray. We pray for our government and surrounding nations. We pray that they are given wisdom on how to stop the violent actions of corrupted power. And, we pray for the victims and the martyrs. We pray for strength, courage, and comfort during this time of deep pain.
Third, we forgive. Over and over Jesus passionately taught his disciples that Christians forgive, forgive, forgive, and forgive again. Peter asked Jesus in Matthew 18, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”
22 Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)
Fourth, we can join the movement of grace and restorative justice by overcoming evil with good. Again, we see this exemplified in Luke 22:51 when Jesus responded to Peter’s attempt to retaliate by sword, “No more of this’ and he touched the mans ear and healed him. Jesus responded creatively to restore and heal. It is as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:21, “overcome evil with good.” We, too, can do this in the power of the Spirit.
But let me say that all of this applies to us even right here in Oak Brook and the surrounding suburbs. If anything, I hope you don’t walk away this morning thinking that this sermon only applies to how we are to respond on a macro level to the faces of evil such as ISIS. Joining the movement of grace happens in our homes, in our marriages and families, it happens in our workplaces and how we treat our co-workers. It happens in our neighborhoods and how we treat our neighbors. There are hundreds of ways that you and I can join this movement through the ministries right here at Christ Church of Oak Brook. Stop waiting for opportunities to fall on your lap! Seek them out, pray about them, ask around, lean in to God’s creative imagination and dream.
Finally, allow me to conclude with a compelling story of power used to restore, love, heal, and forgive. In a recent sermon, Brian Zahnd tells a story of the Armenian Genocide, a terrible event where Armenians were murdered under the rule of the Ottoman Turks. 1.5 Million Armenian Christians were murdered, in fact. He tells a story of a Turkish Ottoman officer that forced his way into a home of an Armenian family. Of the family of four, the mother and father were murdered and the two daughters were raped. The army officer kept the oldest daughter as his slave. Eventually, she was able to escape and when the genocide ended, she attempted to put her life back together and become a nurse. Some years later, while she was working in a Turkish Army Hospital as a nurse, a gravely wounded army officer was brought into the hospital. This was the same officer that murdered her parents and raped her and her sister. Without care, he would have died. With his life hung in the balance, she cared for him tenderly and kept him alive. One day the doctor spoke to the army officer and pointed out that he would have been dead without the tender care of the nurse. The officer looked in the eye of the nurse and promptly said, “Have we met?” As she remained silent he asked, “Why didn’t you allow me to die?” And she responded, “I am a follower of the one who said, ‘love your enemies.’”[iii]
We, too, are followers of the one who taught, “Love your enemies…”
“It’s what we do.” It is what we, “people of the cross,” do with the power in our hands.
Let us pray.
[i] Andy Crouch, Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2013)
[ii] Brian Zahnd, “People of the Cross,” Word of Life Church, St. Joseph MO (February 2015)
[iii] Brian Zahnd, “People of the Cross,” Word of Life Church, St. Joseph MO (February 2015)