Message preached ,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Ephesians 6:10-20
Order of Worship
Last Sunday, as we prayed together the Lordís Prayer, I left out one line. Does anyone who was here recall which it was? ... "Deliver us from evil." ... I could try to fool you into believing I did it on purpose, but that wouldnít be the truth. Actually, our worship leader, Rich Wheatley, had challenged us earlier in the service not to repeat the Lordís Prayer as if it were a mournful dirge - as we often seem to do. He also encouraged us to each speak it out, not just following the leader, but rather praying it vibrantly from the heart.
Well, last week, as the pastoral prayer shifted from just my voice to all our tongues united, I took up that challenge to speak this prayer Jesus taught us as a prayer full of life. I didnít do what I often do, which is step away from the microphone and put my voice into the background. I usually do that to emphasize that this is the congregationís prayer, not just mine - to put myself to the side. If the truth be told, I also often do so in fear that I might forget a line.
Which is exactly what happened last week. I didnít realize it, though, until at least seven persons told me so after the service. Of course, who among you spoke that line anyway, even though I omitted it? Seems the second part of Richardís challenge, to not just follow the leader, was a bit of a stretch for all of us, wasnít it?
"Donít just mindlessly, heartlessly follow the leader," thatís the challenge - not just for worship, but for life. Of course, a great deal depends upon who that leader is, upon the quality and character of the leadership. There are all sorts of leaders out there, you know, and Iím not just talking about the most obvious ones. Sometimes these leaders are intangible - like a group mentality that seems to guide people around like a pack of wild dogs. In other instances this leader is an idea that moves people to do what they might not ordinarily do. Some ideas are better than others, arenít they? In this country, we happen to believe that democracy is a pretty good idea. There are other ideas that we might find questionable, though.
"Donít just mindlessly, heartlessly follow the leader," thatís the challenge. There are all sorts of leaders out there, vying for our allegiance, wanting us to follow them wherever they may lead. Some are downright evil. Thatís a much easier statement to make in the aftermath of September 11th, though we need to be careful when we speak it. Evil doesnít just exist in some distant country, among those who speak a different language, or follow a religion other than our own. Evil exists in our own mind and heart. Actually, that evil within may be the more difficult to deal with.
"Deliver us from evil." That line from the Lordís prayer packs a wallop. Those are words not to be left out intentionally, thatís for sure. Of course, in praying them we arenít releasing our own responsibility to struggle against evil, whether it lies outside ourselves or is encamped within. Rather, we are praying for the resources we need for the struggle, and for true leadership to emerge in us. That is, as we pray, we are turning toward our real deliverer, and claiming - neither mindlessly nor heartlessly - that the One who delivered Israel out of their bondage in Egypt long ago is the One whom we will follow through whatever stormy sea lies ahead. Primarily, this "deliver us from evil" is an "inner" struggle.
Speaking of "struggles," I had my eyes opened last month. You see, like most folks in the West, when I heard the Muslim word "Jihad," I assumed it was synonymous with taking hostages and terrorist acts. "Holy War," is what I thought it meant, a violent concept - an idea - ripe for abuse by radicals who claim to follow the prophet Mohammed. I learned, instead, that the word "jihad" literally means "struggle," and that it has many expressions, none of which support terrorism.
There is within Islam many types of "struggles." One, for instance, is the "Jihad of the Hand" - putting faith into action by doing good deeds. And then there is the "Jihad of the Heart" - the struggle to make faith a spiritual force. There is the "Jihad of the Tongue" - the struggle to spread the faith. And, of course, there is also the "Jihad of the Sword" - but this is the struggle for self-defense.
"Jihad," I learned, is primarily a battle within oneís self, the struggle for self-improvement... The greater Jihad in Islam, contrary to what those like Osama bin Laden may say, is the struggle within. Khaled Abou El Fadl, professor in the school of Law at UCLA, says that "Islam is in need of an (inner) Jihad, to examine itself and marginalize those who have used Islam to justify terrorist acts." (-1-)
When I learned this, I realized that in this regard, Islam and Christianity have something in common. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the believers in Ephesus, was (in effect) calling them to a "jihad." I toyed with the idea of titling this sermon "An Inner Jihad," but thought better of it. Words can easily be misunderstood, canít they? Maybe thatís why Iíve been so reluctant to jump on the bandwagon of those who speak of prayer as "spiritual warfare." I can recall conversations with brothers or sisters-in-Christ whose faith language literally dripped with military imagery and terms. Sometimes, as we prayed together, I wondered if we were praying to the same God.
It is so easy for words to be misunderstood. Look at Christian history and you will find many examples of actions we would today describe as terrorism. In the crusades of the middle ages, European warriors heard in these words of Paul a call to battle, and so they went to the holy land to slaughter Jewish and Muslim infidels, and thus rescue Jerusalem. I read somewhere that many of the knights who took off on this holy quest were troublemakers back home, and sending them to Palestine brought some peace to the kingdoms of Europe. How different is that from Arab countries today who are glad to be rid of their young radicals, hoping that theyíll do their damage somewhere else?
There are some inner struggles that need to happen within Islam, just as there are inner struggles that need to happen within our own faith. We need to be just as careful as our Muslim friends that our words are not betrayed by those who might use them contrary to what our true leader taught. Before we get caught up in all the military imagery of swords and belts, body armor and marching boots, we need to be clear that this is an inner struggle, and that the "enemy" is not flesh and blood. Most important, we need to be fully aware - with heart, soul, and mind - who we are following, who is our leader.
Please note, it was the same person - Paul - who wrote these words to the Ephesians about putting on the whole armor of God, who also wrote to the believers in Philippi (on almost the next page in most of our Bibles), about following their true leader, Jesus. "Have the same mind as Christ Jesus," Paul told the Philippians. Look to Jesus, who didnít jump into battle with weapons blazing, but rather let go of his status and became a slave, taking up the cross and dying (Philippians 2:5-11). Such an inner struggle, having "the same mind" as this Christ, is about releasing power in such a way that Godís real strength is revealed.
The word "Islam," as brother Ellis Shenk recently informed us, literally means "submission to the will of God." Are we, as followers of Christ Jesus rather than Mohammed, submitting ourselves to Godís will, what God desires for this world? That is, are we letting go of our own inner need to grasp and hold onto everything we can get our hands on? Are we releasing our need for power or prestige or position? Are we thus "seeking the mind of Christ," as our Brethren forebearers put it? If we are not, we are powerless when it comes to the real inner struggle.
If we donít "seek the mind of Christ," and let go of what needs to be released as he did, then in this spiritual struggle the "truth" we wear as a "belt" around us isnít going to be Godís truth. If we donít seek the mind of Christ, the "righteousness" we put on as a "breastplate" wonít reflect the relationship we have with God, bought and paid for by the blood of the Lamb on the cross. It will only be self-righteousness. If we donít seek the mind of Christ, the "gospel of peace" these swift "shoes" help us to carry wonít be Godís Shalom/Peace, and it wonít be good news to anyone, either. If we donít seek the mind of Christ, our "faith" will protect us no better from the arrows of the devil than the crosses which the crusaders wore on their armor as they slashed and burned their way through the middle east long ago. And speaking about the mind of Christ, Godís "salvation," which Paul spoke of as a "helmet," wonít fit over these thick heads. If we donít seek the mind of Christ, it wonít be Godís "Spirit" as the power behind this "sword."
There is power, and there is real power. My friend Russ Keat recently wrote me a 9 page email. Thatís not unusual for Russ. Responding to one of my previous sermons which is posted on the Internet, he encouraged me not to look away from ground zero in New York. You see, he put in 3 days there following September 11th doing underground search and rescue. Russ descended into "hell," and he found God there ahead of him - which, if you know Russ, thatís been his experience in other situations. (read his whole email)
Two jetliners were turned into weapons of destruction, powerful enough to bring down the tallest buildings in the world, leaving behind a wasteland. "Yeah, I saw power and the results of it," he wrote. "But that did not emanate from God." ... "If evil is a force in the universe," he said, "it intends to be powerful. It sure was on Tuesday with the market cornered on power. My sense now is that God does not (intend to be powerful). God intends to be a graceful, nurturing presence." Thatís what Russ wrote, sharing example after example of where he saw God at work, and where God used his own (e.g. Russí) heart and hands, even at ground zero.
"(Godís) grace is sufficient for you," the apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth, "for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9) This is the same guy who wrote to the Ephesians about putting on the whole armor of God, and to the Philippians about seeking the mind of Christ, who released his power and thus saved the world. Itís all about inner resistance to evil.
Brothers and sisters- letís not forget, letís remember that line in the Lordís prayer. Letís pray it ... and live it, that our God of grace and glory might pour out real power for the facing of this hour, for the living of these days. Amen.
1. National Public Radio, Morning Edition, 9/18/01, by NPR Religion Correspondent Duncan Moon. More on Jihad can be found in a piece on "The Greater Jihad" by Shaykh Taner Ansari, at www.islaam.com, on the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement site, and an encyclopedic entry on the "About Islam and Muslims" website.
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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