Wisdom 1:11. “Let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.”
Isaiah 11:6. “A little child shall lead them.”
Friedrich Nietzsche thought Christianity was a religion for losers. Any religion that exalts the humble and meek saps the moral fiber of a nation. It preserves the feeble and rewards the weak. The rule of nature is survival of the strongest. Nietzsche provides the philosophy. Darwin provides the supporting data. Christianity runs counter to nature. So thought Nietzsche. That’s why he was the favorite philosopher of the Nazi party.
That’s why, even though they don’t know it, Nietzsche is also the favorite philosopher of many Americans and many Christians. Many of the values implicit in our culture owe more to Nietzsche than they do with Jesus Christ. It’s also true about the way we do business in Church. I remember a pastoral letter from a Bishop that bewailed the church’s emphasis on ministry to people with problems. “We need to minister to people in their strength.” How often I have heard that from clergy as they drive off to their next cocktail party? It’s insidious. Many who are most vocal about their allegiance to Jesus are actually the most ardent disciples of Nietzsche.
I’m a loser. We’re all losers. Yesterday I turned 56. I’m tired. There’s too much going on: too many difficult people to take care of; too many battles to fight; too much responsibility. There’s not enough time; not enough “fun”. It used to be fun. But it’s not any more. Forget heaven! I need a redeemer now!
Ultimately none of us has the strength. We are all ultimately weak. We are all ultimately losers. Even Nietzsche! We need a redeemer. We need an image of hope.
Eighteen hundred years before Nietzsche, the disciples were playing the power game. They were young. They were strong. They were ambitious. They were people of character and moral fiber. They were real “men”. It was natural they would compete with one another for first place in the New Age. That was what men did. That was the Law of Life in the locker rooms of Galilee.
The disciples still hadn’t got to first base on the gospel. Just like us, the disciples hadn’t a clue. Jesus’ closest friends still couldn’t get it. The people he had gathered around him to hear the words of eternal life hadn’t changed one little bit. Here he was about to walk the way of the cross and there they were still arguing about who gets to be vice-president of Jesus Inc. Power. Control. That’s all they could think of. I once had a colleague who had the words “knowledge is power” framed on her wall. I saw it again only recently on a sign outside a west-end school. Nietzsche would have loved it. Jesus said “The Truth shall set you free.” The Devil told Bacon to rewrite it: “Knowledge is power.” Jesus was into truth. The disciples were into power.
In the gospel of Mark this morning the truth of Jesus exorcises the demon of power that was destroying the mind of the infant church. Like the prophets before him, Jesus didn’t simply talk, he did. His act was a sign of God’s act. It was part of God’s act. He took a child. You want power? I’ll show you power.
Jesus lifted up a child. It is hard for us unbibled Episcopalians to begin to feel the awesome power of that moment between Jesus and his disciples. By a definite and deliberate “action”, Jesus connected himself to all the prophets before him and to all their hopes. He connected himself to the one’s without power. When Jesus held up a child they didn’t just think “O my! Isn’t that special!” But “O my God! It’s finally happening! Here comes the kingdom!” In that instant, by that action, the disciples saw God’s kingdom breaking into their power-hungry world. It must have been “one hell of a moment.”
You see, Jesus had just talked about suffering. And the disciples knew that Isaiah had prophesied that God’s servant-child would suffer with Israel. (Isaiah 42). Jesus picked up a child and the disciples heard again the eleventh chapter of Isaiah: “Then the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard lie down with the kid; the calf and the young lion will feed together, and a little child will lead them.” (Isaiah 11:6). We just sang about it in our Gospel hymn. O my God! It is finally happening.
In God’s kingdom, the world is turned upside down. God casts down the mighty from their thrones and exalts the humble and meek. God fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty. (Luke1:52) Even now, “The dawn from on high was visiting them to give light to those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death and to guide their feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78).
In the disciples’ subconscious, from the very earliest days of Saturday-school, the child had been linked to the kingdom. And now, at the critical moment, when they were preoccupied with the ways and kingdom of this world Jesus makes them understand for the first time the ways and kingdom of God. “Don’t you see? Don’t you get it? Have you forgotten Isaiah? The hopes and fears of all the years are poured in this child. It’s happening now, even as we speak. As I lift up this child so must you know that the powers of this world are vanquished. As I lift up this child, so must you know that God is lifting up the humble and meek. As I lift up this child, so must you and the princes of this world tremble for your self-serving power-hungry oppression of God’s children.” You want to know why Jesus was crucified? Look no further than his picking up of this child. There’s Jesus message. Plain as day to those who read their Old Testament. We talk a lot about sins and Jesus dying for our sins. You want to talk about Jesus dying for the sins of the world? Nah! If we want to talk about Jesus dying then let’s talk about Jesus dying to fix up greed and cruelty. Let’s stop talking about fairness and let’s start talking about Jesus dying for justice.
By all means, let’s start teaching our children Christian values, but let’s make sure we are teaching them Christ and not Nietzsche. Let’s start by reading them the words of our patron Saint James in his letter to us this morning. Let’s stop teaching them that knowledge is power and teach them that: “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.”