Thoughts from my readings in For All the Saints: A Prayer Book For and By the Church…
Today I read Judges 8:22-35. Gideon received gold, a lot of gold. Every man placed his gold earrings onto a garment laid out before them, equalling 1700 shekels of gold. Also placed on this garment were other items taken in the spoils of war between Israel and Midian. Gideon then made an ephod from this gold. An ephod was worn by a priest in worship. Gideon placed this ephod in the city Ophrah. All of Israel betrayed their marriage of faith to the Lord God and played themselves the adulteress with this piece of false worship. Gideon and his family also became ensnared by this piece of split worship. The very moment of Gideon’s victory also included the seeds of his very defeat.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about this moment of victory and struggle…
Gideon is victorious, the church is victorious, because faith alone is victorious. But Gideon does not overcome, the church does not overcome, we do not overcome, but God shall overcome. And the victory of God means our defeat; it means our humiliation; it means the scorn and wrath of God on all human pride, on trying to be something. It means bringing the silence of the world world and all of its shrieks. It means the crossing up all of our thoughts and plans; it means the Cross, the Cross above the world.
I have been thinking this week about the shape of Christian victory amidst ongoing struggles against sin and disaster. We never stop needing the cross because our victory is by faith alone. We don’t overcome. We don’t become self-righteous through our own deeds. We receive the victory of Jesus, and God alone will overcome. To cross I must go with my sin.
Last Sunday I preached a sermon about why God does not take our troubles away from us.
Looking at Numbers 21 and John 3 I want to understand what it means for Moses to lift up the bronze serpent and for the Son of Man to be lifted up. Why didn’t God just drive away the snakes from the people in the wilderness. The people repented of their disobedience and they asked God and Moses to forgive them. God certainly brought his forgiveness and strength to the people, but he did not take the snakes away. Instead he told Moses to fashion a bronze serpent and hoist it up on a pole. Then when anyone was beaten and they looked upon the bronze serpent they would no longer suffer the pain of the snake bite.
I think the truth is that God does not want us to only seem him present in our lives when he takes away our troubles but also that he is present and victorious in our troubles. When Jesus is lifted up on the cross we witness the Son of Man suffering all the backwards love of selfishness. He takes that upside down hate and transforms the cross into the presence of his mercy for us in the midst of our suffering.
There are some relationships that we wish would just go away because we are exhausted from trying to figure out how God can be at work in that friendship. I am getting tired of death and dying happening around me. It would be great if God would just stop this pain and make all these troubles go away. Why? Why is the God who is the king of kings not doing this for me?
Truth is I need to be reminded of how to see God present on the cross for me. He is for me in my suffering and pain. I will be stronger when I see him in the crosses I carry in my life. I can never carry these crosses on my own, the burden is too much and the journey is too long. If I know that Jesus is with me in my burden-bearing-crosses, then I know I can carry them.
On Sunday people thanked me for preaching this sermon. It is always encouraging to hear from people on Sunday about the sermon I preached. Some wondered if I preached the sermon for them on Sunday. I wrote this sermon more because this is a message I need to hear for myself. As a preacher, I use sermons to encourage and strengthen both the people and myself.
I will sometimes write a sermon because of what I know other people are going through in their lives. I wrote this sermon because I need to be confident that God is in this world of suffering.