Hih lai pen ka sanggam pa in Sermon evaluation (out going student teng) ah Feb. 1 2012 ni aa sermon a neihna hi.
Mark 15: 34 “..., my God, my God why have you forsaken me?”
Let me begin with the actual fact in Burma: When Burma was under the rule of British, many people thought that if Burma got Independence there would be peace, harmony, no suffering and discriminations in the country. Many people fought, struggled, suffered and gave their lives for Independence. But after Burma got Independence from British rule in 1949, the same sufferings have been continuing and facing difficulties in political, social and religious scenario even today.
Every religion speaks about suffering, especially in Buddhism there is suffering is one out of the FOUR noble truths in Buddhism. There are many examples which could be found in the Bible that there is suffering and God allows his people to experience sufferings. But God is with his people and observes their sufferings, though we think that God leaves us alone or God has turned away from us. At this kind of struggles, is God really with us or leave us alone whom we call Emmanuel? And is there anything that God’s plan behind human sufferings or struggles?
For this morning reflection I have selected this passage to encourage everyone, whenever we face difficulties, sufferings, and discouragement in life. Based on this passage I have entitled our morning reflection as ENCOUNTERING GOD AMIDST STRUGGLE.
Different scholars have given different date and purpose to the gospel of Mark. Some scholars suggest, it was written sometime between 40-65 A.D., for Church father Clement of Alexandria, it was written at Rome when Peter was alive and completed after his death between 60-70 A.D., others likeJ.A.T. Robinson proposed 65-75 A.D., and other scholar like J. J. Weeden dated 80 A.D. The commonly accepted date is between 60-70 A.D., which depends upon the record of Peter’s death. The purpose to write Mark is given differently by different scholars. Some say it is to refute the false teaching of Christology and Christian life. Others say to refute Gnostic (R. Martin). A. Stock argues that the purpose was to persuade the reader to identify with Jesus in his suffering. Considering the place also different from each other, some say it was written at Rome, Galilee, and southern Syrian. The author is believed to be John Mark, who was not the twelve disciples of Jesus, but at his mother’s house Christians sometimes met. Probably it was there Jesus and the twelve disciples ate the Last Supper together.
Shall we discuss this verse briefly. I’m sure we all are very familiar with this passage, its context and where it was spoken and by whom. In the synoptic gospels, this passage can be found only in Matthew and Mark, not in Luke. This passage is the only saying of Jesus on the cross recorded by Mark. In this passage the loud crying of Jesus expressed the profound horror of separation from God. “Cursed is the one who hangs on the cross” was a statement which Jesus had long been familiar. Biblical commentators say that Mark quoted from Psalm 22:1, where the Psalmist says ‘my God, my God why art thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?’ The natural explanation is that while Jesus suffered as a ransom for many (10:45), while he bore the sins of the world, God could not be with him. Jesus experienced abandonment by God and the torment of the sinners, for he died and was literally abandoned not only by his disciples but also by his father. The other view is that the prayer of righteous man under assault from his enemies, and the cry does not indicate a sense on abandonment and hopelessness on Jesus` part. But to take one view against the other would be to miss part of what Marks’ intends here.
Jesus was beaten, mocked and hanged on the cross. As a human being Jesus felt that God left Him alone and says that My God, My God why have you forsaken me, though Jesus foreknew what would be happened to Him. There is no other record in our Bible and only at this time Jesus felt God’s forsakenness. In the suffering of Jesus we perceived Jesus is entering into and participating the terror of morality; Jesus identifies with the suffering and the dying.
The question of ‘Why?’ is the most intriguing problem when one encounters with struggles and pains. Human beings cannot obviate the question ofwhy especially in times of struggles. Job’s heart-rending cries are a good reminder. Even Jesus was not immune to it saying ‘…my God, my God why have you forsaken me?’
To say encountering God in struggles is nothing but a paradox to our human mind. The underlying assumption is that struggles are often understood or misunderstood as the absence of God from the human realm or point of view. The feeling that God is absent at the time of struggle is the foremost conclusion of every human mind. To think otherwise is just impossible. It assumes a distinctly negative character.
Struggle is a common experience of humans, and arguably also of animals. Why it exists at all. And on such a scale, is by no means clear. Although struggle is a mystery to the secular mind, it poses a moral problem for the theist, and particularly for the theist who believes a God who is good, beneficent and omnipotent. There can be many explanations to the struggles one is going through; moral, spiritual, physical and social. However, the afflicted lot finds no explanation for the struggles undergoing. Human struggles raise the fundamental question of theodicy. How can God be just and righteous in the midst of struggles and pains of His people?
We shall have two implications for our understanding of God and humanity; (a) God who struggles with us, (b) Human struggles as an active participation with God.
(a) God who struggles with us
The Bible pictures a profound characteristic of God that is ‘God who struggles with human’. There is the struggle of Israelites at the hands of the Egyptians. Both the suffering and the Egyptian oppression are real, but Yahweh is aware of both. ‘I have observed their misery, heard their cry, indeed I know their sufferings’ (Exodus 3:7). God suffers when his people and the prophets suffered.
There is also the suffering love of Christ mediated through the cross. Christ not only suffered for his people but also suffer with them (Act.9:4-9; I Cor. 12: 26-27 the experienced of Paul: Why are you persecuting me?). He is the high priest who can sympathize with our weaknesses (Heb. 4:15, cf. 2:18) as also share His sufferings (Rom. 8:17; 2 Cor. 1:5; 1 Peter 4:13). Jesus humbles Himself to be with us in the lowliness of our struggles and needs, in order to save us from it, not to grieve that lowliness into the world as its final goal. All sufferings are not always the result of sin. At time,
suffering results in encountering God who suffers with us.
Walter Kasper writes, ‘ the hidden presence of God in Jesus Christ is the manner continued in his presence in the brothers and sisters of Christ, especially the poor, the lowly, the sick, the persecuted, and the dying’(Mtt.25: 34-36). Therefore, theologically the hiddenness of God does not refer to God’s absentness rather God’s presence in amidst the alienations of the world. In the death and resurrection of Jesus the reign of God is present under the conditions of the present aeon; God is ruling in human weakness, wealth in poverty, love in abandonment, fullness in emptiness, life in death.
God in struggles raise the question of the being of God. God is impassible. This does not mean that God is impassive and cannot feel, but God in struggles show the image of God (often unknown) whose struggles, is in pain and grieve. God is not the one who has left us alone to be on our own but God is the Emmanuel- God with us. Interestingly the process theology sees human struggles as contributing to God’s ongoing development.
Christian theology confesses a God who is Emmanuel (God with us). It is in Christ Jesus, God became involved in the struggles of humanity in a tangible manner. Christians proclaim that to live human life shaped by the pattern of Jesus’ life and death is to encounter in the fragments of our history the very mystery of God among us. This theological stand makes it amply clear that human struggle does not mean absence of God rather God struggles along with human beings against the tyranny perpetuated by the evil forces.
(b)Human struggles as an active participation with God
Etymologically the word “struggle” is an active word not passive. It can mean ‘An energetic attempt to achieve something’. Human struggles should not be seen as demeaning and humiliating. Though from the perspective of power it is demeaning and humiliating and there is perpetuation of injustice. From the other perspective, human beings those who are struggling, it is an act of participative justice, participative, because God is active in the struggles of human beings.
God acts in the active participation of his people, in this sense the popular saying “heaven helps those who helps themselves seem to be quite reasonable”. Gandhi’s undergirding philosophy was that God is encountered in our active resistance, not passivity. For him struggles purify both the causes and effects of the sins (corporate), and to build the moral and spiritual energy-store to appeal effectively to the wrongdoer for conversion to Truth in community with the victims. Suffering is the mediation of Truth in history and its practical hermeneutic act.
God is encountered in the struggles, indeed God is. It is in the active participation of His created image that God acts. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that God’s participation is equally dependent on human participation. God always acts but the onus (burden/responsibility) lays on the human participation. It is the duty of human beings to accept the anguishing situation as well as possibility, to integrate and transform it into a positive element of our own self-fulfillment, so that we take a personal decision for God in their ruinous situation and that situation gives our decision a depth it would otherwise lack. It is in such active participation of human struggles that the Christian hope too finds its radical definition. In its most radical form Christian hope is born precisely amid the experiences of negativity, darkness, and injustice in which human beings cry out in protest; this
cannot go on. In the indignation, lament, and active resistance to which these negative contrast experiences give rise, the eyes of faith can detect the power of the spirit of God at work on behalf of the future of humankind and the cosmos. In Jesus suffering, God is at work with the human Jesus. As fully human being Jesus suffered and struggled for the sins of human being that we may be able to attain salvation.
The first Baptist missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson, sailed for India from Salem, Massachusetts in February 19, 1812 along with his newly married wife, sponsored by Congregationalist American Board of Commission for Foreign Mission. Judson became Baptist while he en route to Asia. When he reached India the British governmentin India forced him to go to Burma and he sailed again to Burma. During his missionary carrier he faced a lot of difficulties, financially there was no support, he lost his first wife and son, and later his second wife. He was in imprisonment for 17 months. Because of his struggles, active participation and afford, God was with him and after 6 years MaungNaw was converted as the first seed. Judson translated the Bible into Burmese while he was in imprisonment, which is the best translation of the Bible in Burma. His struggling missionary endeavour in Burma forced the formation of the American Baptist Missionary Society. It is only because of his struggles and active participation with God there is light in Burma today. He gave his whole life for God and his dead body for the fish of the Ocean. His dead body was buried near Andaman Island.
As the outgoing students, all other friends and the teaching staff of our college, you and I may be struggling in our lives; financially, physically, academically and in our future ministry. Sometimes the struggles enable us to listen, to reflect, to re-examine our lives, to renew our old commitments and to make new ones. Being in struggle does not mean absence of the God but as noted God is encountered in struggles and calls us to get involved in the human struggle along with God. Thus, we encounter Him in the midst of struggles.
Encountering God in the human struggles does not stop us recognizing the power of God in the human struggles but it calls us to a radical discipleship which Bonhoeffer beautifully portrays in his book The Cost of Discipleship, he says, ‘When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die, it may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow Him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world’.
Bonhoeffer further states, ‘Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ’. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood for God, but omits Christ as the living son. There is trust in God, but not following Christ.
This radical discipleship calls us to actively participation in human struggles. It is not only in this active participation in the human struggles that we witness the “Living Theology” as envisaged by M. M. Thomas. It is the active participation in human struggles which is the radical discipleship that pushes to the way of action. Christian faith affirms that God has acted radically in the human history through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, human beings are called to follow Christ by participating in the human struggles because God is encountered in human struggles.