Take Courage: a message for Charlottesville

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 NIV

“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” – John 16:33 NRSV

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 KJV

Like many of you, I woke up to news of a white supremacist rally in  Charlottesville Virginia.

And as I woke up I was trying to find the right response. The liturgy often helps. So for a while I repeated the line from the Eucharistic prayer that goes “We cry out for the resurrection of our lives when Christ will come again, in beauty and power, to share with us the great and promised feast. Amen! Come Lord Jesus”

That works most of the time for me, but not this time. It didn’t quite seem to fit (although it is certainly true).

John 16 then came up as my morning devotions. At first, I was reading that first translation above and I thought “Trouble!” That’s the word! Take courage because Jesus has overcome the trouble. Then I checked other translations and found out that Jesus is referring to persecution. Strike two.

But then I went back and actually looked at the Greek. The word there in Greek that gets translated as trouble or persecution is  thlípsis. In biblical and church writings  thlípsis is used as a metaphor for persecution, but its meaning in the wider Greek world was this:

properly, pressure (what constricts or rubs together), used of a narrow place that “hems someone in”; tribulation, especially internal pressure that causes someone to feel confined (restricted, “without options”).

2347 /thlípsis (“compression, tribulation”) carries the challenge of coping with the internal pressure of a tribulation, especially when feeling there is “no way of escape”

Pressure, confined, without options, no way of escape. Now that exactly describes what the news is showing.

We’re without options. Only violence is left.

We’re under pressure from all the changes in the world and there doesn’t seem to be any way of escape.

People are being hemmed in by torches.

It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t use the usual gospel refrain of “do not be afraid.” In stead he says  tharséō – “take courage.” That word,  tharséō, is only used in the New Testament as an imperative; a command.

Take courage, for this evil is weak in the face of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Take courage, for even if there were a million men and a million torches Jesus has overcome the world.

So, brothers and sisters, we have the promise. The promise That this world, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, belongs to Christ and not evil.

And we have our command, our orders: take courage.

Take courage and remember your baptismal vow: to work for justice and peace

Take courage and remember 1 John chapter 4 verse 20: Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars.

Take courage and remember Christ has overcome the world.



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