Genesis 25:19-33, Acts 5:12-32
July 10, 2011
I think I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite movies of all times is one called “Shadowlands.” It’s a movie about the great 20th century theologian and author C. S. Lewis, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins. And at one point Lewis was in class with his students at Oxford where he taught, and he challenged them in debate by saying “Fight me. I can take it!”
I say that because I really think the same thing about God. I think God likes a good scrap. I think he wants, not a shallow, surface relationship with us, but a deep vibrant one. I think he wants a relationship with us that at times might contain some tense exchanges. He called David a “man after his own heart,” and that isn’t because David always did the right thing. I think it’s because David, even in his times of trial and failure, knew how to pour his heart out before God!
In many places the Bible shows us that God had some deep, intense, relationships with many people. And some of those people were, shall we say, “colorful characters!” In a number of stories, including the one we read today about Jacob, God was dealing with people who are, frankly, scoundrels. Jacob can easily be described that way. He was a feisty, ornery, self-serving, conniving, scoundrel! And he wasn’t alone in that description. And for some reason – that’s beyond me – God has often chosen to deal with such people! When Jacob first convinced his brother Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of soup, and then later when he cheated him out of the family blessing, God could have stepped in and straightened out what seemed an “unfair” situation. But again, for some reason, he didn’t. Did you ever wonder about that? (I know I do!)
The more I think about it, the more I think that maybe God deals with such people because they are more “alive,” somehow. Think about this. Maybe you’ve known someone who was elderly or who had a illness that was life-threatening, but they were so feisty and ornery that they just kept going. Have you ever known anyone like that? It’s almost as though that “attitude” kept them alive. Maybe that kind of “feistiness” gave fight to their life. I don’t know for sure, but Maybe there’s something to that!
If you’re a Star Wars fan, maybe you remember the scene where Princess Leia was trying to “put off” the swashbuckling, yet debonair Han Solo, who had taken a “fancy” to her. And at one point she gets angry and calls him a scoundrel. And he says, “Scoundrel? Scoundrel? I like the sound of that!” Are there any scoundrels here?
Sometimes I think that kind of boldness is important to God. Sometimes I think he wants that intensity of a relationship with us, even though it might be a little feisty. At the very least, I think he wants us to be bold in our love for him. In Luke 10, Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Law which said, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your Mind, and with all your strength.” (Luke 10:27) That doesn’t sound very timid to me! That doesn’t sound like just having a “warm fuzzy feeling” about God! Later, Paul would write to Timothy saying that “God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, and love, and self control.” (II Timothy 1:7)
Actually, I’m glad he added that last part! But still, I sometimes think there are too many believers in the Church who are too timid. Too many are afraid to be bold in their faith. They’re afraid to say anything negative about God. They’re afraid of doubting in their faith, because maybe God doesn’t exist. And if they doubt him he won’t exist. Let me tell you, the existence of God is not dependant upon our belief that he does or doesn’t exist! That we have to know for certain!
In saying that “God can take it,” we need to remember that God is all powerful. We can argue with him. We can fight with him. And he can “take it.” If we’re angry, if we’re frustrated, if we’re wondering about his silence, we need to take it to him – directly! We need to learn to be bold and to take the gloves off! And that’s not easy. Often it’s not what we’ve been taught. We’ve been taught “piety” and “humility.” And those things are important. But there is a boldness of faith that we must also consider.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me here! (Please, don’t misunderstand me!) I’m not advocating conflict! And I’m certainly not encouraging controversy or infighting in the church! In fact, a good part of the book of I Corinthians is about Paul’s anxiety over the people’s infighting, against which he warned them! Conflict in the church hurts our witness to the world and mars the image of Christ within us! What I am advocating is having the courage to take our joys, our heartaches, our grievances, and our frustration to God. I am suggesting that we may even be a little “feisty” with him.
I’ve always said, God would rather have an argument with us than be ignored. He’d rather we challenge him and voice our concerns and doubts, than to be treated as though he is fragile, and that if we disagree with him, he will cut us off and look the other way, or that if we doubt him he will pop out of existence. That’s nonsense! God is the creator of the universe. Isaiah tells us that “He does not faint or grow weary” “His power is unsearchable!” No. In fact, it’s the other way around! “Those who wait for the Lord will renew their strength. They shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint!” (Isaiah 40:28-31)
So fight God! He can take it! But let me clarify what I’m saying just a bit more. I’m talking about fighting God in the sense that we open our hearts to him, that we bring our complaints to him, that we maybe even get a big angry with him. But there’s a difference between that and fighting against God. There’s a difference between that and opposing God, fighting against his plans, and battling against something that he’s trying to do in your life or your world.
There are plenty of examples of people doing that in the Bible. Jonah is one. An remember what happened to him! The story we read today about the religious leaders in Acts is another one. We need to be aware of the times when we might be fighting against God. And we need to recognize that if we are fighting against God, we can’t win!
In our story from Acts, we have this account of the trial of Peter and “the boys.” And this is one of those passages we rarely read with the intensity of emotion the story carries. These religious leaders were furious! They were beside themselves. They had arrested these guys and told them – officially – not to preach in the name of Jesus! And they defied them! So they arrested them again and they threw them in prison, only to have them escape – supernaturally. And instead of running away, they went back to the Temple and started preaching again! And in verse 33 it says, “When they heard this they were enraged and wanted to kill them!” Have you ever been so angry you wanted to kill someone? That’s pretty angry, isn’t it! And these aren’t an angry mob of barbarians. These are the religious leaders. These are the most learned and educated people in that society!
Well, in the midst of their anger, one of the Pharisees, one of the most respected members of the council, stood up, ordered the disciples to be taken out, and he somehow managed to calm them all down enough so he could speak. His name was Gamaliel. He was probably the teacher of Saul, who would become Paul. (And by the way, I have to wonder if Saul was present that day!)
Well, Gamaliel then makes this statement, which we in the church have always seen as being very wise. And I hope that we in the Church still take to heart! He gives them a little history of the people they had seen in their lifetimes who said they were “someone.” Either that means they claimed to be the Messiah, or at least were some kind of false prophet who lead people astray. And in each case, he pointed out how their following came to nothing. And then he said, “Leave these men alone. If what they are doing is of their own plan, it will fail. But if what they are doing is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, and you might even find yourselves to be fighting against God!”
That’s the thing we have to watch. We can fight God. We can argue with God. But ultimately we have to listen to God. We need to be in that vibrant, sometimes ornery and feisty relationship with him, but we need to be sure we are hearing him and following what he wants, not what we want. We might pray and plead with him, telling him our desires and our needs, but in the end we need to be strong enough to say “But thy will be done, Lord.”
If we do that, we will be in good company. Remember Jesus in the garden. He was pleading with God so fervently that sweat like drops of blood fell to the ground. “Let this cup of suffering pass from me. Nevertheless,” he said, “not my will, but your will be done.” That’s perhaps the greatest example of what this message is about.
So don’t be afraid to bring your strongest desires, your deepest hurts, your most private fears before God. David did. Jesus did. God wants you to, also. And by the way, he knows them, anyway! So, know that he knows. Acknowledge your weaknesses. Admit your failures. Open yourself to God’s infinite mercy, and his steadfast love. But also be careful of fighting against him. No matter what you wish for with him, no matter what you tell him your desires are, learn the peace of saying in the end, “But thy will be done, Lord.”
In pouring your heart out before God, you’ll find a growing relationship, and a much deeper fellowship with your creator, the one who knows your heart!
Lord, you do know us better than we know ourselves. Help us to open ourselves to you, to share our needs and our desires, but also to find the peace in following your will, not ours. Draw us closer to you, and enfold us in your fellowship and your love. For this we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.