Third Sunday of Lent – evening
Sunday 15th March 2020
Lent 3 – evening
Eph 6. 10-20
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power…
What I wonder, constitutes power? Faced as we are with a natural disaster – a pandemic worse than anything we have seen in our lifetimes, the normal definitions of power seem suddenly lacking… Whether you are rich, poor, powerful, clever, influential, a gifted sportsman, a football manager, Goverment Minister, Holywood A lister, – all it seems are equally prone to catch the virus that is rapidly closing down the economic life of our planet!
If I were to ask you to list the 10 most powerful figures in history – who would you include I wonder? Genghis Khan? Hitler? Gandhi? Nelson Mandela? Florence Nightingale? Louis Pasteur? Queen Elizabeth I or her father, Henry VIII? Madame Curie? Julius Caesar? Cleopatra? Tim Berners-Lee?
As soon as we start to list a few names, the problems begin. Should a list of the most powerful be confined to Political and Military leaders? But what about those forms of power that have changed the world but have been exercised not by politicians, but by mathematicians or physicists such as Einstein, or Engineers and Entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates or Jef Bezos? And what about the great artists that have shaped our cultures? William Shakespeare – who coined so many words and expressions that we still use today? Or great composers like Bach, Beethoven or the incomparable Mozart? What about Michelangelo or Picasso?
Now this list does not as yet include any religious figures. So how do we rank Moses or Jesus of Nazareth? Or the Buddha? Or the Prophet Muhammad or Guru Nanak? Should they not have a place?
Which all goes to show that lists, while they have their place, can sometimes complicate matters rather than help us to sort them out!
But what does power consist of? What does the Bible have to say about it?
Well the author of the letter to the Ephesians begins by saying “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.” But then goes on to describe those crafty powers that seem to exist in opposition to God.
And in this context, Evil is identified as the Enemy (capital E); an enemy that infects not just the way the world is, but the whole cosmos. It is like Coronavirus but on a galactic scale! The follower of Christ, the author says, is up against a negative, annihilating force that has a universal dimension.
Now this is neither comfortable nor easy to grapple with. We can accept how evil might be personal, in the sense that it affects individuals. One person murdering another, while horrible, we can imagine. And we know too – if we are honest – how even we ourselves have the capacity to commit individual evil acts. But to comprehend Evil as a cosmic force? That stretches our thinking almost to breaking point.
But when we think about such events as the Holocaust – something that has a dimension larger and more horribly insidious than the individuals who began it? Or in our own history – the wars of religious persecution that ended in the fires of Tyburn and people being burned alive. Or the pogroms of Stalin, Chairman Mao or Pol Pot? Were those cruelties really the result of one individual’s evil, or was there, in some sense, a larger dimension? Or to be more contemporary, the way the Internet has been used to create child abuse on a terrible, industrial scale. Is that the result of individual acts of evil, or is it the evil of a much larger, far-reaching, non-human kind?
It is this that the author of Ephesians has in mind when he tells us to Put on the whole armour of God…
So in the light of this, maybe we should forget lists of powerful people and contemplate instead, when faced with the enormity of evil, the kind of power to combat it that is offered to us by God. In Jesus Christ we are given the sword of truth, the breastplate of righteousness and the shield of faith, and above all else, the gift of love.
So when we are faced with evil on a massive scale – or even a virus that is threatening our way of life and the governance of our democracies, we must pray that those gracious gifts from God will protect and guide us, and pray too that God will give us the courage to enter the battle and do what we can to help each other… even if that largely consists of washing our hands and thinking of our neighbours. Amen.