Jeremiah 17:5-10; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26; Psalm 1Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher who was born in Germany in 1844. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor, but he rejected Christianity …
Jeremiah 17:5-10; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20; Luke 6:17-26; Psalm 1
Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher who was born in Germany in 1844. He was the son of a Lutheran pastor, but he rejected Christianity during his student days and became an atheist, if not an agnostic. He wrote several books on philosophy and one of the last books he wrote in 1888 was entitled The Anti-Christ, a title which he applied to himself, which is pretty scary if you think about it.
It may also be worth noting that Nietzsche suffered a complete mental breakdown from which he never recovered a year after he wrote this book. Nietzsche held a natural selection theory to the development of man, and therefore believed that the development of man should have been the continued progress of humans moving towards more powerful attributes of survival, like strength and power, along with the rejection of weak attributes, such as pity for the poor and disabled. Nietzsche believed that these weak attributes should be eradicated in the development of a superhuman.
In his book, The Anti-Christ, Nietzsche defines “good” as “all that heightens the feeling of power, the will to power, power itself in man.” He defines as “bad” “all that proceeds from weakness.” He therefore saw Christianity as a religion of pity instead of a religion of power.
The only figure in all of the New Testament he had any respect for was Pontius Pilate. Nietzsche was scornful of Jesus as he sarcastically referred to him as “God on the cross”. Nietzsche condemns Christianity because he believed it devalued everything he valued — power of man, strength of man, the ability of man to be a superman. Here are some quotes from his book:
“Pity preserves things that are ripe for decline, it defends things that have been disowned and condemned by life, and it gives a depressive and questionable character to life itself by keeping alive an abundance of failures of every type."
“There are days when I am haunted by a feeling that is blacker than the blackest melancholy. I have a contempt for humanity. I despise the people I have been fated to call my contemporaries. I feel suffocated by their filthy breath.”
“Christianity remains to this day the greatest misfortune of humanity.”
Nietzsche believed that the people who did best in the world — the powerful, the strong, the supermen of this world — they were the real winners. They were to be the supreme example that all men and women should strive to be.
Which of course brings me to the gospel reading for this week. Luke begins this story with the words “Jesus came down and stood on a level plane.” Isn’t that an interesting way to think about this passage? It is truly incarnational. God came down and stood among us on a level plane with us. He lived among us, spreading the word and spreading healing and exuding power. And He tells his followers:
Blessed are the poor;
Blessed are you that are hungry;
Blessed are you who weep or mourn;
Blessed are you when you feel hated, excluded or persecuted;
In other words, not just poor in things, but poor in spirit. Blessed are you who feel unworthy, weak, or who are in despair.
Jesus therefore is the polar opposite of Nietzsche. He would tell those who were secure in powerful positions - You who think you are something, you are not. He had no special regard for kings and rulers and persons of strength in this world. He healed the sick if they came to him. He made friends with sinners and tax collectors. He kept an eye out for the outcast, the children, the widows, the weak and disabled.He had no desire to make friends with Herod, the chief priests, the Roman leaders who were happy with their position and status.
He realized that if you are happy with your position and status here, it could very well blind you to the suffering world outside your door, and it could very well blind you to the world beyond—the kingdom of heaven.
So who is right? Jesus or Nietzsche?
Which brings us to the portion of the letter we read this morning that was written by Paul to the church in Corinth. Paul was apparently dealing with the same philosophical debates in his age. Is there a resurrection? Is there a heaven? Is there a God? What is the moral code?
And Paul looks at the same cross that Nietzsche looked at. But where Nietzsche sees a man who claimed to be God, dead on a cross, Paul sees God on cross dying as a man. Paul in awe sees God on a cross, dying for us, and Paul also knows that the cross is not the end. Paul writes:
"If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.""
Paul, and the apostles and the hundreds of other men and women, had seen the risen Lord, and that changed everything. It wasn’t the cross that made the final difference in his life. It was what happened afterwards. It was the resurrection that made all the difference to all of those believers.
Resurrection shows the ultimate, infinite power of God. It is the power of healing, and it is the power of re-creation. And it far surpasses anything that even the super-ist of all supermen can do or achieve or maintain in this world.
In this world no man can ever stop death, or prevent death, and so God uses this worldly reality to demonstrate the power of the truer reality of heaven. We cannot stop death, we can barely prolong it at best. God on the other hand, in a twinkling of an eye, not only overcame death, he used it, turned it into the doorway to heaven.
Because not just one life will be resurrected, ALL will be resurrected. And that knowledge gives us heavenly strength, and heavenly power.
I recently received a copy of the book "Therefore I Have Hope" written by my friend Cameron Cole. Cameron is the youth minister at the Cathedral Church of the Advent in Birmingham, and he was my daughter Sadie’s youth minister while we were there. In his book, Cameron describes what he calls he calls his Worst, as in the worst fear he had as he was traveling through his life. Here is how he defined it:
"My Worst was likely the same as that of many parents: the persistent fear that my child would die. But my Worst had a second layer for me. As a youth pastor, I worried that my faith did not possess enough fortitude. . . I feared that if my Worst occurred, I would lose my faith. I would turn my back on God and walk away from Christianity, and, consequently, my spiritual failure would shatter the faith of hundreds of students to whom I had proclaimed the promises of Christ for over a decade.""
Six months after our family left the Advent for seminary, we received the tragic news that Cameron and his wife had tragically lost their son. Cam was a healthy happy 3-year-old boy who died in his sleep one night. What Cameron call’s His Worst had happened. In his book, Cameron writes this about that first moment after his wife told him of the death of his son:
"The first half of my dreadful daydreams had become a reality. . . . Here was the point of departure between God and me. Here was that moment when my faith would crumble. In my imagination of doom, here was when I would curse God, resign from ministry, and pursue a life of self-interest as a bitter, faithless man. But the Lord put a word in my mouth that surprised me. When Lauren delivered the tragic news, I said to her 'Lauren, Christ is risen from the dead. God is good. This doesn’t change that fact.' God gave me faith and hope while I stood squarely in the middle of my Worst.""
The Old Testament lessons and the psalm for today speak of trees by a stream with roots in living water. When we are rooted in the living water of God, the Holy Spirit of God, His strength and His power runs through us and among us. Making us a people of hope and power and love and might.
When we are rooted in Christ, the Holy Spirit of God himself gives us the grace we need to face every circumstance that comes our way. It is the living water of God himself that sustains us and ultimately strengthens us to face our Worst, to face our tragedies, to face anything that this earth and this life can throw at us. And so in the end in God’s strength, in God’s power, we can overcome the world.