There are times when we are faced with something bigger than we can handle. And I know that statement runs opposite of the line “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”…But sometimes that statement does not match our experience. Sometimes that statement feels like an encouraging bumper sticker on a car that is being towed to the junkyard.
Sometimes, yes, sometimes…we are faced with things that we CANNOT handle. But hope can still give light to our existence when our past, present, and near future times still appear as dark and murky. This hope does not minimize the pain of our current struggle, but it gives us the strength and nourishment that we need to get through our struggles.
I believe that God is on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent. This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God.
I remember sitting with my parents a few months ago at their place watching an old Christian movie about David and Goliath that was almost two hours long, and it was only and solely about the big fight. It was the cheesiest, most drawn-out movie I have ever seen.
But Goliath was a bodybuilder. And David was a twig.
The Philistines were an established nation and force. And the Hebrew people were just starting out.
So when the Philistines offered to forgo the big battle in exchange for a champion vs. champion fight — the Hebrew people were tempted, but they remained silent.
No one wanted to fight Goliath. They would rather die in a big battle than die at the hands of a man who probably had the most gruesome rumors spread about him.
David stepped up to the plate, and those around him probably thought he was being sarcastic…but he wasn’t. This crazy shepherd boy who plays the harp actually wants to fight a bodybuilder who could have torn him limb from limb.
David’s faith motivated him to overcome his fear, and it drove him to face his demons because he had the God of the underdogs and the oppressed with him. He knew that God was on his side.
Goliath fell victim to an inexperienced and ill-equipped boy with a slingshot because of the power and compassion of a Mighty God who stepped into a situation that an entire nation could not handle.
Facing giants isn’t a new theme for Judaism or Christianity. It is riddled in our history as an integral part of our identity and our relation to God.
We do not worship God because we want our best life now. We worship God because God is worthy of our praise, even when we are facing giants, or in the deepest of valleys.
The Judaic/Christian faith is an honest faith. The Psalms are full of celebrations and laments. It’s not all rainbows and smiles — and I like that. It is life-giving, hopeful, but it also lets us mourn, grieve, cry, and even get angry. Therefore, our faith cannot be reduced to an encouraging bumper sticker on a car headed to a junkyard — as if all hope is lost when life hits us hard— our faith is more like the family and friends who surround us and support us after the wreck.
The Apostle Paul is an important influencer on the Christian faith, but he can sometimes be an intimidating character to imagine. There are times when you’d want to invite him into your living room for a nice chat, and maybe so that he can encourage you, and there are times when you’d like to leave him at the door. He’s kind of like that family member who gives you some tough advice that you really don’t want to hear in the moment, but then later you realize how right they were in that advice, and how their roughness around the edges was motivated by their intense desire to see you succeed and grow.
Paul wasn’t like a TV preacher with a shiny suit, and a Mercedes. What he said to those who were suffering was born out of his own experiences as one who had previously caused much suffering, and as one who currently suffers for the very message that he was presenting to the church.
In 2 Corinthians 6:1–13, Paul writes of all that he has gone through in his pursuit of God, and in the pursuit of spreading his message. He lists that he and his peers went through “beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger”, but he also maintains that unrelenting hope that we’ve been talking about. He writes, “We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”
A beaten man who had been thrown into prison on multiple occasions continues to seek and follow God because hope was no longer a manufactured emotion, but an implanted sense of direction to lead him through his calamity.
As a Christian, no figure brings me greater hope than Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Gospel accounts. So much of how we should treat one another, how we are to understand Gods love for all (including ourselves), and to what great depths God was willing to go in order to redeem a broken world, is found in the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The Gospel of Mark is an intriguing read. In it we find Jesus who is equally concerned about the people’s spiritual and physical needs — but Mark focuses on spiritual warfare and power, unlike any other Gospel account.
In the first few chapters, you find story after story of Jesus performing exorcisms; literally casting out demons. In Mark 3:23–30, Jesus gives this INCREDIBLE explanation of why he is doing it; he said that when a person breaks into a house, he binds the strong person of the house so that he can gain control of the house, and take what he wants. He is saying that by casting out demons, by binding the devil, he is debilitating the effects that the powers of evil have — Christ is taking over control of the house.
The people, who were formerly demon-possessed, used to be outcasts of society; their family disowned them, they could no longer go to the temple, and the religious folks gave up on trying to help them. But now they were free from the strong man that bound them, and they were free to escape their calamity and shame. Christ took over the house.
After this, Christ spends some time teaching parables — stories — that explain the importance of faith amongst, and despite of, the reality of turmoil and struggle. It is only fitting then, that the author of Mark places the next scene in the middle of a stormy sea.
The wind is howling, the waves are crashing, and water is beginning to get into the boat. The closest followers of Jesus on earth are scrambling to keep the boat afloat while Jesus is sleeping on a pillow — as if nothing was happening.
Frustrated, they woke up the one person who may know what to do, and they asked him, in pure panic, “Don’t you care that we’re drowning??”
Jesus arose from his slumber and ordered the winds and the sea to be still.
All was calm. The boat remained afloat. And these followers of Jesus were left scratching their heads as they wondered who this man really was…the man who had control over the winds and the sea.
Jesus demonstrated power and authority over the storms of people’s lives, and the storms that would cause them to lose their lives. Christ took over the house.
There are times when we feel like those early followers of Jesus in the boat on the stormy sea — we cry out to God and we desperately ask: “Don’t you care what is happening to us?? Wake Up! Move! Do Something!”
And there are times when we observe others going through turmoil, shame, abuse, oppression, persecution, prejudice, and heartache, and we cry out to God with those same words.
But it is in times of destruction that renewal can most clearly begin to formulate in our vision — like a dead-looking tree in winter that begins to bud in anticipation of spring. We may see the leaves and the flowers, or maybe we won’t — but we now know that that tree is not dead. All Hope is Not lost.
And when we realize this great hope that we had to have implanted within us, we are then called to share the source and the sustenance of that hope with those who need it most.
In remembering the words at the beginning of this message:
God is a God who is “on the side of those who struggle with things that they cannot handle (Psalm 9:9–20) because God has experienced human pain and emotion to the fullest extent.” This calls us to stand with those who are hurting, broken, and oppressed.
“This then necessitates the belief that God stands against those who oppress others; those who intentionally do harm to children of God.” This calls us to stand against the powers of evil in this world — to bind them and gain control for the Kingdom of God.
We may not be able to handle things on our own, but we have an ever-present God, and an ever-expanding support network to hold one another up.
“God is on the side of the weak, the sick, the poor, and the oppressed. And God sends out others to wade into brokenness and to point to when all things will be made new.”
Hope is already, and Hope is yet to come. Amen.