Message for October 23, 2022
Not very often but every once in a while, I play a game on the computer
called, “Caesar’s Build a Better Rome”. The point of the game is to build an
ancient city from scratch. You start with an empty landscape and a certain
amount of money, and then go on from there building roads, houses, farms,
establishing industries and so on. The game is very challenging too. If there is
not enough food for example, the people will starve, and if there isn’t enough
work then they will riot. There are so many variables that need to be kept in
balance in order to build the city and keep it running smoothly, but the one that
is especially challenging are the gods.
There are five gods in the game. There is Ceres who is the goddess of
agriculture, and Neptune who is the god of the sea and natural disasters. There
is also Mercury who is the god of trade, and Mars who is the god of war. Last
but certainly not least, there is also Venus who is the goddess of health. All five
of these gods have to be kept happy by either building them expensive temples
or else by having expensive festivals in their honour. And if you ignore them,
then you pay the price. Ceres for example will devastate the crops while Mars
will let the barbarians in to destroy the city. For her part, Venus will send an
epidemic, and on it goes. This can be so frustrating. Everything will be going
well and then one of the gods for no apparent reason will mess everything up!
And yet as frustrating as it may be, this aspect of the game certainly reflects
how people in the ancient world perceived their gods and the world around
People in the ancient world always felt as if they lived at the mercy of both
the gods and powers beyond their control. This is however perfectly
understandable. By our standards for example, agriculture was very primitive
and mass starvation was always just one crop failure away. The sea was so
large and ships were so small, that trade and travel were very dangerous. The
barbarians were always lurking at the gates waiting to break in and destroy
everything. And as for medicine? By our modern standards it virtually didn’t
exist. By and large people in the ancient world felt powerless and at the mercy
of forces beyond their control. But while most people felt this way, this was
especially true of those who lived in the Greek city of Colossae.
Colossae had been a thriving port and commercial centre but then the city
had been devastated by a major earthquake. As if that wasn’t enough, the
harbour that they depended upon for trade began to silt up. It almost seemed
as if the city was cursed, and it was at about this time that Paul sent the small
Christian congregation there a letter.
In his letter Paul sought to reassure them. To be sure, they had good
reason to be scared, and to be sure they felt helpless and at the mercy of forces
beyond their control. Even so, they could and even should still have hope.
They could and they should, said Paul, because they were not at the mercy of
the ‘powers’ as Paul called them. They weren’t because they had been
transferred from the dominion of darkness to the kingdom of God’s beloved son.
The powers that they feared weren’t in control; Jesus is! And who and what is
“He is”, said Paul, “the image of the invisible God, the first born over all
creation. For by him all things were created; things in heaven and on earth,
visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things
were created by him and for him. He is before all things and in him all things
Wow! All things were created by and for Jesus! What this means is that
contrary to what the Colossians thought, the gods, the ‘powers’, and the
dominion of darkness that they feared were not in charge. Christ is and
because he is, ultimately everything is going to be okay. But we might wonder
though, what does all of this have to do with us? After all we know that the
ancient gods aren’t for real. We don’t have to worry about the ‘powers’ or the
dominion of darkness; or do we?
The gods of the ancient world of course never existed but even so, the
powers they represent certainly do. We can take Ceres, the goddess of
agriculture, for example. Even with all of our pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers
and the like, we can’t take a good harvest for granted. A farmer sows the crop
and does his or her best to ensure a good harvest, but they are at the mercy of
forces beyond their control such as the rainfall. Will the weather be too dry or
too wet? Neptune, the god of the sea and destructive storms doesn’t exist, but
we are all at the mercy of such as hurricanes, tornadoes, and flooding. All we
have to do is think of the people in the Maritimes or Florida. They were
powerless to stop either Hurricane Fiona or Ian. Mercury, the god of commerce
certainly doesn’t exist but how much control do we really have over the
economic forces that govern our lives? A person can faithfully work for a
company for years and then be laid off. It’s nothing to do with how he or she did
their job; rather it’s the global economy or market forces that are responsible.
Mars, the god of war isn’t real but war and conflict certainly are; all we have to
do is think of what is happening in Ukraine right now. Venus isn’t real either but
concern over health and our health care system certainly is as our hospitals still
cope with the effects of the pandemic. Indeed, it sometimes seems as if we
have so little control over our own personal health. We can try and live right,
exercise and eat well but that does not guarantee that our bodies won’t betray
No, the ancient gods do not and did not ever exist but we, like the people
of Colossae so long ago, are seemingly at the mercy of the powers that they
represent. In the words of one writer:
“Before you dismiss this talk about principalities and powers, ask the question,
‘Who runs our world?’ The politicians who parade about on the evening news?
We think of them as powerful people. But they say that they are victims of
‘forces beyond our control’. When we complain about the fix we’re in, we’re told
‘The economy is to blame’. Ever seen ‘the economy’? It is the power that
determines our well-being, pulls our strings, gives us happiness or misery, even
though you can’t see it. We can’t touch and see ‘the economy’, we can’t touch
‘terrorism’ or the ‘global market’ but these ‘powers’ call the shots.”
Or do they? Paul’s message to the Colossians is still God’s promise to us.
We may sometimes feel weak, powerless, and defenseless but the powers,
whatever they may be, are not in charge. Christ is, and perhaps this is
something that we need to remember right now. As we all well know, our
church family is entering a new stage in its journey with my retirement next
week. Without being dramatic about it, things are going to change and some of
you may well find this intimidating and perhaps even a little bit frightening. What
we must never forget though is that the powers and forces in life that may
sometimes upset or even frighten us, are not in control. Christ is! To return to
the writer I quoted a moment ago:
“There is now only one power we are to obey. That power has a human face, a
face crowned with thorns. The battle has been fought and won. Victory is
assured. Now, let’s get on and live it.”
The battle with the ‘powers’ has been fought and won; victory over all that
would scare us and hurt us has been won. Christ, God himself in the flesh, the
one who died for us, was raised for us, and even now is praying for us, is the
one who is in charge. Truly there is no need to fear either the future or the
powers and forces that seem to threaten or even overwhelm us. There isn’t
because in the end? They really have no power at all, thanks be to God.
We thank you for the gift of this autumn morning and this very season
itself, so different from the other three.
We thank you for all that makes this season so special, and we thank you
too for the special people in our lives; for all that they have meant, mean, and
always will mean to us.
We thank you for this land and nation in which we live, and for the
freedoms we have including the right to vote. As we prepare once again to go
to the polls to choose those men and women who will play such an important
role in the life of our community, grant us the wisdom to choose wisely and well.
We thank you for the peace and security that we have, remembering all
the places, including Ukraine, where both seem to be such a distant hope.
We thank you for our homes, our health, and our medical care, praying for
all for whom such things are so far removed from their daily lives.
We pray this day for all who hunger, both physically and spiritually, that
they may be fed. To this end we pray for the ministry of your church, that she
may truly live as what she is, your Son’s body here on earth.
As we look at the world around us it oftentimes seems so dark and
threatening. We are sometimes tempted to think that sin, darkness and evil are
so strong that they must surely prevail. When we feel this way, help us to
remember who and what your Son is. Help us to put our faith, hope and
confidence in him, remembering that ultimately you are in charge and that all
shall be well.
We ask these things in your Son’s name. Amen
Message for October 23, 2022