"Mercy In This Dojo"#87-19
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 5, 2020
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Genesis 37
I didn't get too deep into martial arts, but I did spend a little time in a "dojo." Dojo is a Japanese word. It means the "place of the way." A dojo is an immersive learning space where a martial art is practiced—a martial art like judo, for example. I've learned that a principle that stands behind judo is that the best offense is a good defense. Judo in Japanese means the "gentle way," and judo is called the gentle way because its practitioners, rather than being aggressive, use the aggression of their opponents to defensively defeat their attackers. For example, someone pushes you and you take the force of the push and you turn it into a throw. You use the strength of the aggressor against them.
Now, hang with me, but when I listen to the Book of Genesis, I see God, the God of Abraham, doing something like divine judo. He is using the strength of His opponent to defensively defeat the opponent. Who's the opponent? Who is God's opponent? Remember the mysterious serpent from Genesis 3. Now we're not told exactly what he is or why this snake can talk, but we do know at least two things. First, we know that he is God's creature and, therefore, he's under God's authority and power like the rest of creation and, second, we know that somehow he has contorted himself to become God's opponent. And likewise, when he deceived Adam and Eve, they became contorted into God's opponents, but God—Father that He is—refuses to treat them strictly as opponents.
Instead, He treats them like wayward children, but He declares war on the serpent. He says to the serpent, He, that is Eve's offspring, "He will crush your head and you will strike His heel." God declares war between Eve's offspring and the serpent's offspring. Now what does that mean? War with the serpent's offspring? What's God talking about? Is He talking about stomping out the next generation of baby snakes? Well, snakes give me the willies too, but God's not talking about snakes. What's He talking about then? We get a clue in Genesis 4. Cain, Eve's first offspring becomes jealous of his baby brother Abel. Abel's the golden boy.
Cain is angry because he thinks God's playing favorites with Abel, and Cain is filled with jealousy. He's filled with malice. He is filled with venom against Abel and against God. He becomes God's opponent, and God warns him. He says, "Cain, sin is crouching at your door, and its desire is for you." I've been there. You've been there. You know what that's like to be resentful of someone who gets privileges that they haven't worked for. You know what it's like to be jealous of somebody who gets perks they haven't earned. You know what it's like to be resentful and angry and even murderous towards another human being. You know what that's like because you have been bitten by the snake, and so have I. We become God's opponents.
Now, maybe that is a strange idea to you to think of yourself—to see yourself as God's opponent. I'm not against God. I haven't murdered anyone. Well, you don't have to be a murderer to be God's opponent. See, the only thing that serpent has to do to turn you against God is to get you to believe, to get you to believe that you get to decide what is good and what is evil for you. And then the serpent, he can get you to pursue what you think is good for you and to be proud when you think good things come to you and to be angry and bitter when evil things come to you, and resentful when good things go to other people. That's all the serpent has to do to turn you against God.
See, we become God's opponents when we stop trusting God to be the judge of good and evil for us. We become God's rivals and we, unwittingly, sometimes we attack God's good order and harmony and His creation. And that's why God does this divine judo against us. I was talking with a friend about this analogy between God's way and judo, and he said that the better analogy is aikido. I said, "Okay, tell me about aikido. I don't know anything about aikido." Well, it turns out aikido is a little like judo. You use the force of the attacker against them, but aikido is distinct because aikido is concerned for the wellbeing of the attacker.
In aikido, you take measures, you take steps not to hurt the person who's attacking you. You immobilize them. You'd neutralize them, but you are concerned about their wellbeing. And I said, "That's right. That's what God does to us." That's what God's doing to you because you are God's enemy, but it's not you so much as it is sin inside of you. You've been bitten. Your nature, my nature, all human nature has been so corrupted and ingrained in sin that we become enemies of God by association. And so what's God going to do? How is He going to crush the serpent in you and still save you? He does some kind of divine judo or aikido or whatever you want to call it: some kind of merciful martial art.
He sent His Son to wear the human robe, to wear our flesh, to become our flesh, to become sin. And God damned sin in our flesh in the crucifixion of Jesus, and God, when He raised Jesus from the dead, He gave His Spirit so that we could become His children, so that we would trust Him, so that we would say like Jesus, "Not my will, but Thy will be done." The cross of Jesus Christ is God's merciful martial art. At the cross of Jesus, God took the aggression of evil and He flipped it on its back. At the cross of Jesus, God used the force of evil to defeat evil, and when you are baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, God begins to work this merciful martial art on you.
He is putting to death the sin that is still in you so that the real you can come to life. And He's doing it because He loves you. He's concerned for your wellbeing. He wants to help you, and so this is what is happening to you. You ever ask God, "What are You doing? What is happening to me?" This is what He's doing. He's working His merciful martial art on you: the art of the cross on your life. If you read the Bible, if you meditate on the Bible, you will get a vision for life in God's dojo. On this program over the next six weeks, we're going to be listening to one episode in the Bible, the last episode in the book of Genesis.
It's about Jacob, and I invite you to read it on your own, to listen to it on your own, and then come back and listen with us next week. As you do, ask yourself, "With whom do I identify?" Maybe you identify with Jacob. Jacob is a fighter. Jacob has been fighting since he was in the womb. He came out grappling with his brother, and then later he steals his brother's blessing from his father. He skips town, and he goes and lives with his family on his mom's side. He sees a beautiful young woman there named Rachel. He falls in love with her, and he asks permission to marry her from her dad. Her dad grants permission, but then on the wedding night instead of Rachel, he gives Leah into the tent, and it's dark.
Jacob can't see. One thing leads to another, and now the deed's done. He's married to Leah and he's got to work another seven years to be able to marry Rachel. And now he's married to two jealous sisters, and they are manipulating him to have a contest to see who can have more children. They both give him their maid servants to be his wives. Jacob, the manipulator is getting manipulated. Jacob wakes up, and he's been flipped on his backside, and he's got four wives and twelve sons and a daughter. Jacob is learning. He is learning how things work in God's dojo. This struggle between God and Jacob is literally acted out in Genesis 32.
God comes in human form to fight with Jacob and Jacob's winning for a little bit, but then God does some kind of wooshy fingerhold, and Jacob's going to walk with a limp for the rest of his life. And this is when God gives him his nickname. He starts calling Jacob, "God-fighter." In Hebrew it's pronounced Israel, and maybe you can relate to Jacob. Maybe you're angry with God. Maybe you're asking, "What are You doing to me, God?" Well, step into the dojo and fight Him, grapple with Him, grab hold of God and say to Him, "I will not let You go until You bless me." Maybe you can relate to Israel the God-fighter, or maybe not. Maybe you relate more with Joseph, Jacob's 11th son. Joseph is a white belt.
He doesn't know how things work in God's dojo. He's got big dreams. He's naive, he's idealistic, he knows he's the favorite, and he wears it proudly. But poor Joseph, he is going to get thrown around and flipped on his back. God's going to let Joseph struggle with the reversals of this world with the chokeholds and the arm bars. God is going to let evil have its way with Joseph, but evil will not have the last word because Joseph's life—like your life and my life—is life hidden under the cross of Jesus Christ. Maybe you can relate to Joseph or maybe not. Maybe you could relate more with Joseph's 10 older brothers. I hope you don't relate to them too much, because these guys are thugs. But before you judge them, remember that they'd been thrown in and tossed around, too.
They know they are not their father's favorite. They are not the son of the only wife their father ever loved. They are the offspring of someone else's power struggle. Can you blame them for being bitter? Maybe you can relate to them. Listen to these excerpts from Genesis 37.
"Now Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojourning. Jacob lived in the land of Canaan, and this is the account of the family line of Jacob. Joseph, Jacob's 11th son was a young man of 17 years, and he was tending the flock with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought to their father an evil report about his brothers. Now Israel, that is Jacob, he loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he was born to him in his old age. And Israel made for him an elaborate tunic, a many-colored robe. And when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated Joseph and they could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, 'Listen to this dream I had. Look, we were all out in the field binding bundles of grain and look, my bundle arose and stood upright, and all of your bundles gathered around and they bowed down to it." And they said to him, "Well, are you going to be king over us? You actually going to rule over us?'
"They hated him all the more because of his dream and because of what he said. Joseph had another dream, and again, he told it to his brothers. This time he said, 'I had another dream and this time the sun and the moon and the 11 stars, they were all bowing down to me.' And he told it to his father as well as his brothers, and his father Jacob rebuked him. He said, 'What is this dream that you have dreamed? Well, your mother and I and your brothers will we actually bow down to you, to the ground to you?' His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept these things in mind.
"Now Joseph's brothers were tending the flock of their father near by Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, 'Aren't your brothers tending the flock near Shechem? Come, I will send you to them,' and he said to him, 'You go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and then you come back and bring word to me.' He sent him on from the Hebron Valley, and Joseph came into Shechem. And a man found Joseph wandering around out there in the fields, and he said to him, 'What are you looking for?' He said, 'I am looking for my brothers. Can you please tell me where they are tending their flocks?'
"He said, 'They moved on from here. I heard them say, "Let's go down to Dothan,"' and so Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan. But they saw him from a distance and before he came near, they plotted with one another to kill him. They said to each other, 'Here comes that dreamer. Come on, let's kill him and throw him in one of these wells here. We'll say some evil animal devoured him and then we'll see what comes on his dreams.' When Reuben, the oldest brother heard it, he said to them, 'Oh, let's not kill him. Let's not shed his blood. Throw him in the well out here in the wilderness, but don't lay a hand on him.' He said this to try to rescue him from them and bring him back to his father. Joseph came and they stripped him of his elaborate tunic, his many-colored robe. And they took him, and they threw him in the well. Now the well was empty; it didn't have any water in it.
"And they sat down to eat bread and they lifted up their eyes, and they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded down with balm and spices and myrrh. They were on their way to bring them down to Egypt. And Judah, the fourth oldest, said to his brothers, 'Hey, what do we gain by killing our brother, covering up his blood? Come on, let's sell him. Let's sell him to the Ishmaelites. Well, let's not lay a hand on him. After all, he's our own brother. He's in our own flesh and blood.' And his brothers agreed. When the Midianite men came by, his brothers dragged Joseph out of the well and sold him for 20 shekels for about a half a pound of silver sold into the Ishmaelites who brought him down to Egypt.
"Now Reuben, he returned to the well, and when he saw that there was no Joseph in the well, he tore his clothes and he went to his brothers and he said, 'The boy is not there. What am I supposed to do now?' They took his tunic, his robe, and they slaughtered a goat and they dipped the robe in the blood, and they brought the many-colored robe back to their father and they said to him, 'Oh, we found this. Look it over. See, is this your son's robe maybe?' Jacob, he looked at it and he said, 'It is my son's robe. Some evil animal has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces.' And he tore his outer garment, and he put on sackcloth, and he mourned his son for many days. And his sons and his daughters came to comfort Jacob, but he would not be comforted. He said, 'No, I will go down into my grave mourning my son.' And his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard." That's where Genesis 37 ends.
You go and read the rest. You come back next week, and you listen and between now and then, here's what I want you to do: I want you to take everything that comes at you, everything that happens to you as God's merciful martial art on your life. This isn't easy because you have experienced some awful things. And you're going to experience more of them, and some of the things that you go through are truly evil, and I'm not giving you some simplistic principle, like "When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade." That's not what I'm saying. What I'm promising is that God promises to bring good out of evil, but I don't know how He does it. This isn't my dojo. And the things that happened to you, just because God brings good out of them, doesn't make them any less evil.
This week, you may experience, you may participate in, something truly evil, evil no less grievous than the crucifixion of God's Son. But if God can bring good out of that, He can bring good out of anything. And so this week, know this. Whatever strikes you, whatever throws you, whatever flips you, or pins you—because of Jesus, because of His death and resurrection—there is mercy in this dojo. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Reflections for January 5, 2020
Title: Mercy in This Dojo
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was a message titled "Mercy in This Dojo."
Mike Zeigler: Did you like that title, Mark?
Mark Eischer: Yeah. Where did that come from?
Mike Zeigler: It's a line from The Karate Kid, the movie, The Karate Kid. It's kind of a play on it.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Mike Zeigler: The mean sensei says, "There is no mercy in this dojo."
Mark Eischer: Ah.
Mike Zeigler: So that's where it came from.
Mark Eischer: But there's mercy in this one.
Mike Zeigler: In this one, for sure.
Mark Eischer: Very good. Want to wish you a belated happy New Year. First program of 2020, here we are.
Mike Zeigler: Hard to believe, a new decade. Yeah, thank you. Happy New Year to you as well.
Mark Eischer: Thank you. And I was thinking, okay, the new decade, 2020. The Lutheran Hour began in 1930, so now we're entering our 90th year since the program first began. What are your thoughts about the longevity and maybe how things have developed over these many years?
Mike Zeigler: Maybe one of the major cultural differences that we have gone through between now and then would be how people seek wisdom.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Mike Zeigler: And I think in the 30s, 40s, 50s, people sought wisdom from the voice of an expert or maybe an authority. Whereas people in 2020 with the advent of the digital age and digital communications, people can search for things very quickly and find information. You don't have to wait for an expert to tell you what to do. And so you could say people seek wisdom in the voice of the community, more so. They're ...
Mark Eischer: Crowdsourced.
Mike Zeigler: Crowdsource it, so they're still interested in wisdom. And so I think that poses challenge obviously for preachers who are sometimes held up as supposed to be the experts on God. And it requires us to think about how we preach God's Word to this culture. If you think about how God's Word comes to us, though, first just 40 different authors of the Bible.
Mark Eischer: Okay.
Mike Zeigler: And then also how His Word comes to us is primarily in narrative, in stories, true stories, stories of events that actually took place, but stories none the less.
Mike Zeigler: And so the Bible's word isn't like a recipe on how to bake cookies or ingredients to have in a perfect life or to build a life. It comes in the form of a story, so it's less about giving instructions on how to do this or do that, but more in revealing the Person who's behind the story, the Lord God.
Mark Eischer: And the God who wants to draw us into His story.
Mike Zeigler: The Word of God is an authority over us, but it's more of a come-and-do-life with me. Come and taste and see that the Lord is good, as the Psalm has said. And that's the power of a narrative. It draws you in, it makes you ponder. You ask questions. It leads you deeper into this relationship with the God of the narrative.
Mark Eischer: What can our listeners expect in the year to come?
Mike Zeigler: We're going to continue with our hearing, listening to the book of Genesis. Genesis is made up of 11 different sections, and we listened up through the 22 chapters before Advent. And now we're going to pick up at the very last section of Genesis, and that's the very familiar story to a lot of people of Jacob and his 12 sons, focusing on Joseph and his adventures in Egypt.
Mike Zeigler: We'll hear from a guest speaker a couple of times. Dr. Dean Nadasdy. He's agreed to be our guest speaker again and potentially a guest who was a professor of mine, Dr. Joel Biermann.
Mark Eischer: Mm-hmm.
Mike Zeigler: Who's going to talk about how do we let stories, the stories of Scripture form our lives and our character.
Mark Eischer: And we should also remind listeners of our daughter podcasts, "Speaking of Jesus," which is a kind of an offshoot from your sermon preaching. And once again, how is that different and how does that help to convey these same scriptural passages, but in a different way?
Mike Zeigler: As you said, it's the same Scripture passage, but it's a community. It's a community of voices who are reacting, reflecting, responding to what they've heard in God's Word. The purpose of that program was to try to speak to this generation that is more interested in hearing from the voice of the community and less in just hearing from a single so-called expert.
Mike Zeigler: And that's been a delight to hear how everybody takes the narrative of Scripture in a little bit different way, and it speaks to them in where they are and what God's doing in their life.
Mark Eischer: Once again, that's "Speaking of Jesus," and you can learn more about that by going to its website, JesusPodcast.org, or look for it on Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts.
Mike Zeigler: Wherever you listen to podcasts. Yeah.
Mark Eischer: Speaking of Jesus, Dr. Zeigler, once again, wishing you the best this coming year and God's blessings as the program continues.
Mike Zeigler: Thank you, Mark. Here's to many more years.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Within the Father's House" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)