As we continue to examine spiritual maladies in our Sunday message series called, Holy Triage, we turn this week to the problem of control. The fourth-century saint, doctor, and bishop of the Church, Augustine of Hippo, wrote a famous autobiography that outlines his sinful youth and eventual conversion to Christianity. In what are known simply as, The Confessions, he admits that for too long he attempted to find joy in worldly pleasures and addresses God openly and honestly: “You were with me, and I was not with you. The lovely things kept me far from you.”
Many of us could write the same story. Preoccupied with temporal affairs, distracted by earthly pleasures, caught up with worldly concerns, God often takes a back seat. We convince ourselves that it’s the result of simple negligence symptomatic of our busy, rushed, and chaotic lives. We don’t mean to ignore the one who breathed life into us, saved us from our sins, and longs to give our lives meaning and purpose; it’s just an honest mistake.
But the truth more often is that our inattention results from the desire to control our destiny rather than surrender to God’s will. At the lowest point in Jesus’ life when he knew that he soon would be arrested, beaten, and killed, he cried out to his Father from the depths of despair. In the Garden of Gethsemane, “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. And he said, ‘Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will’” (Mark 14:35-36).
The Lord’s response to the uncertainty that awaited in his darkest hour was to surrender control to God, a far cry from the demands of James and John in this weekend’s gospel reading. The two disciples “came to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you’” (Mark 10:35). Turns out that what they wanted was absolute power represented in the ancient near eastern world as being seated in places of honor on the king’s right and left-hand side. When Jesus asks whether they can drink from his “cup,” a metaphor of surrendering to a destiny controlled by God, they too easily agree in order to finagle the outcome they desire.
Indeed, surrender is a word that has many negative connotations. Songs and sayings that tell us to “never surrender” resonate deeply with us. However, when it comes to the Christian faith, surrender is absolutely necessary. We surrender to God who is, in all ways, more powerful and stronger. We surrender our ways for his ways. To learn more about the problem of control and how we can overcome it, tune in to this week’s message at church or on our website.
--Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson