“My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” I remember singing this refrain at church camp with deep admiration and pride. I was young, maybe 8 or 9, and I loved doing the body motions that accompanied the song: flexing my arm muscles, and nodding my finger back and forth at the impossibility of God being thwarted in any way. There was no villain in all the known universe that could go toe to toe with my God, the divine Man of Steel. God loyalty was real for me as a church camp kid. Don’t mess with the cosmic Christian bodyguard, his biceps are the size of Jupiter. Which is to say, don’t make God mad, you won’t like God when he’s mad.
I admit this image of God was thoroughly male and barbarically violent. But at Ganderbrook Christian Camp, immersed in the macho culture of the Pemaquid cabin, it was the only God available for me to absorb. A God who can do anything! All powerful! Almighty! Do you think he comes in an action figure?
I will confess that I still wish for a God who makes Lou Ferrigno look like a limp piece of lettuce. I still take pride in God as the most powerful force in the universe–right up there with He-Man and the Incredible Hulk. I still desire a God who is an iron pumping, ripped, action hero who beats up bad guys and has to shop at the big and tall store for his T-shirts (T-shirts which read “I eat ninjas for breakfast”). My child-like insecurities that have now reached adult size dysfunctions still hope God’s testosterone fueled five o’clock shadow requires a hedge trimmer to keep under control.
There’s a lot of comfort walking alongside a God who carries a big stick, flosses his teeth with the cedars of Lebanon, and plays golf with erratics (those are glacial boulders BTW). This God is truly amazing. This God does impossible things. This God can drown a fish, or punch a Cyclops ‘between the eyes’, or do a wheelie on a unicycle, or win a game of Connect Four in three moves.
You have to understand, it’s an intoxicating image. Do you know what a strong, almighty, all powerful God can do? He can right all our wrongs. He can give out some vigilante justice, old school style–knock some heads together, poke a couple eyes out, tighten a few nooses, let ’em swing in the wind. A strong God is the God of the winners. And when you are an everyday Joe (no offense Bosch), or an average grade schmuck whose loss column is a few numbers higher than his win column, you want such a God in your corner.
Don’t think for a minute it was easy to hear. Peter spent his whole life reading Kind David comic books. ‘King David’–anointed by the all powerful God. ‘King David’, who toppled juggernauts, who got all the girls, who danced naked in the streets, whose name was repeated in the songs of lesser men. Peter dreamed about David, the king who always won. All Peter’s life Rome pushed Israel around like a shopping cart. But when David had been alive things were different. Not only was Israel not pushed around under David’s reign but the great king wielding God’s power stretched the boundaries of a united Israelite people wherever he wanted. Peter’s parents, his siblings, his rabbi, had all told him, “One day there will be another, just like King David, who the strong, almighty, all powerful God will anoint, and he will sit on the throne and reign in God’s kingdom forever and ever. He will be a potent miracle worker like Elijah, and a loan voice in the wilderness commanding authority like John the Baptist. He will nimbly wield a sword few soldiers can even carry. And Peter, do you know what a strong Messiah can do? He can right all our wrongs.”
No wonder Peter was first to have his hand up when Jesus asked the question “Who do you say that I am?” Peter responded, “You are the messiah.”
Messiah is a anglicized Hebrew word designating a king or a high priest who was traditionally anointed with holy anointing oil. The anointing oil was a symbolic representation of the almighty God’s selection. If you were Messiah, the anointed, you were the all powerful God’s selected one.
There were many ‘messiahs” in the Hebrew Bible. But all of these messiahs only made things better for a time. A more permanent solution was needed. So the prophets began to speak of a final chosen one, a Jewish king from the line of David, who would one day sit on the throne of God’s kingdom and whose rule would bring about a messianic age of global peace. This final messiah was no temporal fix, no band aid patch, no mere mortal. The final Messiah was cosmic in scope. He was strong, almighty, all powerful and there was nothing this Messiah couldn’t do.
So when Peter made his confession everyone in the room stopped talking. They’d all read the same super hero comic books and seen the same action movies. If Peter was right then the stakes just got a lot higher. Suddenly the hopes and ideas of the people for this itinerant rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth grew from minor political victories, individual healings, and a new ethic, to an entirely new existence where everything is reordered, made perfect, and every wrong that was ever committed is made right. Suddenly Jesus’ collar got a little tight, his inseam and outseam started to split, he lost a few buttons of his shirt, and he stood a foot taller. The gamma radiation was turning him green.
I’m being silly of course, but I’m trying to describe what it was like. What comes next was so painful to take in. Jesus sternly ordered them not to tell anyone. And then Jesus tells them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and that the very people of God who the messiah was to lead into a utopian world will reject him, and that those same people will kill him and that after three days the Son of Man will come back to life. Jesus took the comic book and tore it up. He rewrote the script to Rambo. He turned the Incredible Hulk into the incredible sulk. He took that big sword that nobody could carry and he turned it into a cross that everyone who followed him had to lug around until their own lives were lost.
Peter, of course, objects. Nope, I’ve seen the movie, it doesn’t end that way I swear. This is what happens: you win. God wins. We all win. You hulk-out, remember! You shoot ’em all dead! You call on the power of Greyskull! You turn us into a lean, mean, fighting machine. Eye of the tiger! Let’s go!
Peter was almost right. Jesus was about to deliver a knock-out left hook. Peter had no idea however that he was going to take it on his own chin. “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Poor Peter. It’s a raw deal when you can get the answer right (you are the Messiah) and you still are wrong. Poor church. It’s a rawer deal when you get a second chance and still mess it up. Give us easy deliverance we say, a watered down ‘faith only’ in an event that we didn’t see, and in a cherished belief in a better tomorrow that we can’t prove. That’s what it means to be Christian. Lent? What’s Lent? Prayers of confession? Why, what are we doing wrong? Jesus dies? Oh, yea, I heard that, no big deal. It turns out okay come Easter, just hang around through the gloom until the chocolate eggs appear–until then here, read this comic book.
Not exactly. Jesus says it’s not all on him. Surely the cosmic fix for the power of sin in the world is his to manage alone. But the rest of the kingdom’s affairs are participatory. Everyone has a cross. Thankfully 99.99 percent are metaphorical. But don’t hide behind that. The cross will involve real, tangible, felt loss of life. Be warned!
Inevitably we’ll want to know what exactly it means to carry our cross and lose our life. Is it OLC every other Thursday? Is it pancake making at an ungodly hour on Saturday morning? Is it a spiritual state of enlightenment where I rid myself of my carnal desires? Is it getting elected to the church council? We hate it when these kinds of things are left undefined. It makes us nervous wondering what nasty surprise is lurking behind the Christian life’s next blind curve.
The cross isn’t going to suddenly appear around the next bend. It doesn’t work like that. The cross took shape, is taking shape, and will take shape. Right now we are carrying a bit and needing some more. The one we got is a little small, when they drop it in the hole with our body sagging on its cross bar it’s going to break. We got to add to it.
This is funny because we are pretty sure that what we are carrying now is far more burden than we should bear. Yet deep down we know the cross isn’t fully formed, but we resist these kinds of things. We’re in good company. There has never been a follower of Jesus who walked his path to the cross who did not do so protesting all the way. We’re all out of our minds. We are way off script. Mark 8 demands that we put aside our church camp God-pride and comic book faith. We are confessing this morning to go the way that nobody wants to go and to assume a burden no person in their right mind thinks logical or beneficial: suffering, rejection, and death. What happened to being the winner? When do my wrongs get righted? Maybe when they are no longer ours alone.
I can’t tell you what the cross looks like because I don’t know. Pastor is a title. I got it by answering a call and going to school. Justin Bosch calls me it and it makes me feel good. But it doesn’t tell me what a cross looks like. That is a work of sanctifying grace that will take my entire life to learn. All’s I know is that the final shape is somewhere in the direction of a load I’m too weak to carry. It’s in the direction of my protest that I find it. I find it when I run away from glory and might and power and strength. Yes, sometimes you have to run away from the god’s of your youth in order to find the God who saves.
It’s okay Peter. You only gain the cross by taking Jesus’ punch on the chin. “Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Poor Jesse. It’s a raw deal when you can get the answer right (you are the strong, almighty, all powerful Messiah) and you still are wrong. I thought Jesus was supposed to beat everybody up.
“My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do.” And so he chose to die. He chose to travel some high place that I have always said I would not be going, and he followed a way I could never understand. So be it. God is God–almighty, all powerful, and God will right all wrongs–and God will die a criminal’s death on the cross. It makes you want to sing a new song, really. What song do we sing about the crucified God? Maybe it’s time to break into a chorus of: “My God is so small, so weak and so flimsy…but there’s nothing my God wouldn’t do.”