Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
August 26, 2018
O.T.: Psalm 84, N.T.: Ephesians 6:10-20, Text: Ephesians 6:12
Jean Twenge is an associate professor of psychology at San Diego State University. In 2006, she wrote Generation Me. In her challenging work about today’s young people, Twenge defended labels naming different generations. She said, “Like it not, when you were born dictates the culture you experience. This includes the highs and lows of pop culture, as well as world events, social trends, economic realities, behavioral norms, and ways of seeing the world.”
What has the younger generation seen during the last 25 years that has molded and shaped its identity? They’ve seen a group of radical Islamists use the power of hate to attack America. 911 exposed those who use hate’s power in the name of God to generate fear.
The younger generation has seen powerful entertainment moguls manipulate youth culture so teenagers will spend without realizing habitual spending brings debt. As these teenagers married, they faced predatory lending practices that resulted in loan defaults when the market collapsed.
Younger generations have seen energy executives falsify account ledgers in a scheme to defraud investors. They’ve experienced the fallout from our nation’s largest banks bundling worthless securities in credit debt obligations that generated a global recession. They’ve been the collateral fallout from Washington’s leaders who permitted such practices.
Generation Me has grown up under powerful men and women in labor, management, and government who pursue short term goals at the expense of long-term stability in wages and benefits. In short, they have seen the power of me in the Baby Boomer Generation.
This younger generation has been taught to be all they can be with few role models who taught the social limits of self-empowerment. They’ve been deeply hurt by power-wielding adults from the original me generation – the Boomers.
This younger generation is at the vortex of a spiritual war over the use of power. Power can make life better when it’s limited by ethics that are concerned for the welfare of all people. Power is dangerous when it’s used to bend people into submission to benefit the powerful. Too many social leaders seek short-term benefits that reward themselves at the expense of others.
This is the world’s way. Worldly principalities use power to advance themselves. Organizations of people employ power to preserve internal peace and defend themselves – whether it’s a nation, industry, or the Church. We’ve seen that in the recent attorney general’s Grand Jury Report.
One type of power used by the world is force. Another type of power the world uses is deception. Force imposes the will of an elite group on the rest of us. Even in the name of the people, force is used by leaders to defend their right to lead. What’s happened in Syria in recent years is the Alawite minority hangs on to power at the expense of a Sunni Muslim majority.
Deception is the means by which the abuse of power is justified by hiding self-empowerment. Deception promotes the appearance of social benefits when in fact it benefits those in power. Karl Marx’s utopia was deceptive.
On the other hand, the English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, wrote that without power to preserve social order and human rights, society degenerates into a state of lawless chaos. Everyone is at war with each other. As Charles Darwin claims, civilization collapses into a survival of the fittest. The powerful survive. Everyone else gets lost in the pages of history.
We live in a world in which power is the great spiritual battleground. It’s the battleground for the soul of our younger generation.
Last Sunday we discussed the Apostle Paul’s appeal to God’s wisdom for Christian life. God’s wisdom creates personal and social boundaries for Christians. God’s wisdom is known to us through Jesus Christ’s teachings.
When it comes to the use of power in the world, Christ presents clear boundaries for Christians’ encounter with worldly powers and principalities. Christ defines power totally different from the world.
Today’s reading from Ephesians 6 has been interpreted by many Christians throughout history to accept worldly power as a method to protect Christianity and Christian values from the forces of evil. They suggest force is justified by the Apostle Paul’s call to be “strong in the Lord, mighty in His power.” A more careful reading will reveal something quite different.
In John 19:36 Jesus declares to the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, “My kingship is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my disciples would fight . . . But my kingdom is not of this world.” Jesus taught not only a powerful Roman military governor about God’s power. He also taught His disciples at His trial about the boundary around using God’s power.
Jesus renounced force as God’s instrument of power. Christian strength doesn’t come from applying force. Christian strength comes from unity with Christ. The more you and I are like Christ, the more strength we acquire.
Jesus didn’t use force to resist worldly powers. Jesus didn’t permit His disciples to use force. That’s why they didn’t fight to defend Jesus. Jesus’ resistance to worldly force lay in His love for those who persecuted Him.
Jesus taught His disciples in Matthew 5:44, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Paul later wrote to the Church in Rome in chapter 12, verse 14 what Jesus had earlier taught His disciples, and then displayed on the Cross, “Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse them.”
Here is where strength in the Lord is the boundary for Christian living. It takes tremendous unity with Christ to live with Christ-like strength to love those who persecute us through their use of power. Christ-like strength bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Such strength requires complete submission to Christ’s love. Christ’s strength becomes our own.
There have always been powerful voices attempting to distance Christians from Christ. Some occur within Christian schools of theology who say Christ’s ideal is impossible in a world of power-brokers. Paul Ramsey talks about Christ’s love ethic. Christ’s love ethic raises our conduct and decision-making to a higher standard than that of the world.
Christ’s love alone saves the world. When Christians care about others’ welfare, we are strong in Christ’s power. We see the greater picture of the benefits of God’s love. Short term fixes to social and economic problems become exposed as powerless when we take time to consider long-term consequences of life without God’s love.
Strength in Christ comes from faith in God. Faith in God saving the world doesn’t need worldly power to force submission to His purpose. Faith in God’s power doesn’t fear those who try to force submission. Faith in God looks long-term to what genuinely helps those in need – a new life in Christ. Faith in God’s power helps Christ’s disciples be gentle and kind, loving and self-sacrificing for others’ salvation.
Christ’s lesson in Godly living will help a younger generation live beyond the results of power brokers who are threatening the future of our children and grandchildren. Strength in Christ helps younger generations resist the battle for the survival of the fittest that power brokers fight. Faith in God enables all generations to love our neighbor despite the difficulties we face.
Strength in Christ comes from Christ’s truthfulness about who God is and what God is doing in this world to save it from worldly corruption. Christ told the truth that God’s power lies in His mercy. Christ told the truth, that God’s purpose lies in His compassion. Christ told the truth that God’s plan is victorious over powerful forces that threaten peoples’ lives. When we’re strong in Christ, we tell the truth without fear. Our truthfulness disarms those who think otherwise. The genuineness of our faith in Christ’s truthfulness generates fearlessness that can’t be overcome by worldly power.
Power brokers in this world use deception to disarm the Church’s confidence in Christ’s truthfulness. Worldly principalities propose the America can thrive without a vital, public faith in Jesus Christ. Worldly powers seek to discredit the Church’s strength in Christ by publicizing the public failures of those Christians who submit to the world at the expense of their walk with Christ.
Friends, for every unfaithful act committed by Christians that discredits Jesus’ Christ’s truthfulness about God’s mercy, God’s compassion, and God’s victory, there are millions of Christians who daily show Jesus Christ’s truthfulness through random acts of kindness, random acts of love that are never reported, never make the headlines, and rarely are acknowledged in world headlines.
When we show Christ’s mercy, Christ’s compassion, Christ’s truth, we’re victorious over those who deceive the world that life can be happy without Jesus Christ. Christ is the source of righteousness, and goodness that heals the world.
Strength in Christ comes from being righteous – being compassionate to all people, being innocent of wrong doing towards other people, being willing to offer your life for others so they might have life. Christ-like righteousness validates itself by the goodness it shares with others that can’t be denied by worldly forces.
Worldly power may temporarily appear to win the day. On Good Friday it appeared the powers and principalities of this world had succeeded in defeating Christ. But Easter exposes the inherent fallacy in believing worldly power is greater than God. Christ’s gospel of peace prevailed. The spiritual war ended with an unconditional surrender by the powers of this world to Christ.
Our younger generation is being led to believe that acting in self-interest is the only way to survive in this world. Our younger generation is being taught to look out for self-interest at the expense of others.
Jesus Christ presents the alternative world view – the world view that offers the only hope to the world. Christ’s power is the only one that saves.
Keep strong in the Lord, friends –
Have faith in God’s power
Trust in Christ’s truthfulness
Live by Christ’s righteousness
Keep the boundaries of Christ’s wisdom that future generations may know the source of our fearlessness in the spiritual war that is being waged for the soul of the world’s youth.