Recently in The New York Times there appeared an article that was both funny and fascinating at the same time. The headline for the story read, With Lenin’s Ideas Dead, What to Do With His Body? The story centered on what to do with the body, the physical remains of Vladimir Lenin, the founder and former leader of Russia from 1917-1924.
You may remember that Russia was once ruled by a monarch known as the Czar, and the last of those Czars was killed as part of an overthrow of the Russian government led by a group known as the Bolsheviks. Lenin was the leader of that movement and became leader of the country until his death in 1924 at the age of 53. In honor of their fallen leader, the Russian government sealed Lenin’s embalmed body in a glass mausoleum so that people could file by his grave and pay their respects.
That must have been viewed as a fitting way to revere the man who forged the doctrines by which that country was run. For about 70-years the movement started by Lenin resulted in the creation of a political and military superpower known as the Soviet Union. That nation was the rival of the United States for a period of time known as the Cold War. Hostilities between our two countries lasted from the end of World War II until the fall of the Soviet Union on November 9, 1989. That was the day the Berlin Wall that symbolically divided the east from the West was torn down, and that was the day when the great Soviet Empire began to unravel.
When I was growing up in the 1950s and 1960s we lived in daily fear of being attacked by atomic weapons launched from the Soviet Union. We would practice getting underneath our desks at school as protection from the blast of the rockets. My former congregation, St. Paul Baptist Church in Montclair, New Jersey had been designated as an air raid shelter and had been stocked with supplies to provide for people if an attack were to take place. The whole world was living on edge as a result of the constant tension between the two superpowers; the Soviet Union and the United States of America.
You may remember the Cuban missile crisis of 1962 when the Soviet Union attempted to set up missiles on the island of Cuba; just 90 miles south of the state of Florida. For about two weeks, the world may have come closer to total annihilation than at any time before or after in the history of the planet. I cannot count the number of movies and TV shows that centered on the great danger that the Soviet Union posed to our country and to the rest of the world. Even though Lenin was long since dead, the political ideology he established controlled nearly one-half of the land and half of the people on the face of the earth. At the heart of that vast empire was the city of Moscow, and at the heart of the city of Moscow was Lenin’s tomb where his actual embalmed body was on display every day.
Our country has also tried to honor and remember its first and greatest leader; George Washington. The center of our nation is called Washington, D.C. in honor of George Washington; and at the center of that city is a structure known as The Washington Monument. It is one of the most recognizable buildings in the country. There are, however, two great differences between Lenin’s tomb and the Washington Monument. First, Washington is not buried in the Washington Monument; he was buried at his home known as Mount Vernon in Virginia. Second, no one ever tried to preserve the body of George Washington. A copy of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are preserved under very thick glass at the Smithsonian Museum, but not the body of George Washington. However, to this very day, 81 years after his death, the body of Vladimir Lenin remains on public display.
However, things have changed in the world in the last 20 years. Today, Russia is no longer a Communist country. The teachings and speeches of Lenin are no longer being taught in schools or heard on Russian radio and TV. That entire era of Russian history, which they once thought would last for 1000 years, is now slipping into history and obscurity. The only thing that remains in public view that points back to the fall of the Czar and the eventual rise of the Soviet Union is the body of Vladimir Lenin that remains on display in its glass mausoleum. That leads to the headline in The New York Times that read, With Lenin’s ideas dead, what to do with his body?
What first struck me about this article was the fact that at the heart of Communism was the principle of atheism or the denial of the existence of God. Lenin and all of his successors – from Joseph Stalin to Nikita Khrushchev to Leonid Brehznev to Mikhail Gorbachev – accepted the idea that God did not exist, that faith was foolishness and that religion was a crutch for the weak. How strange it is that the man who said there is no God is now dead; his ideas are now discarded and a debate going on about what to do with his dead body.
Meanwhile, the ideas of Jesus Christ – the one name that Lenin hated more than any other – are more popular than ever and there is no debate about what to do with His dead body because three days after His death God raised Jesus from the dead. The Soviet Union has been dismantled but the church of Jesus Christ goes marching on. The words of Karl Marx that were at the heart of Lenin’s beliefs are little more than a lesson in 19th and 20th century history. Meanwhile, the words of the Bible are printed in every language on earth. Those words are read and cherished by people all over the world. In fact, while I laughed and chuckled when I read the news story about Vladimir Lenin, I woke up this morning with my mind stayed on Jesus.
I mention this news article to you, because there are many people who are inclined to put their faith in the ideas and beliefs of men and women just like themselves. Then that person dies or their ideas go out of fashion, and people are left trying to figure out what to believe in next. The lesson from Paul in our text today is for us to put our faith in a person and in principles that have already stood the test of time. Paul tells us not to get caught up in such passing ideologies as communism, or socialism or fascism. All of those ideas and their proponents have come and gone. Instead, we should cling to those things that Paul set forth when he was alive. At the heart of Paul’s message is this statement; “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
That is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible; our strength comes from the Lord. You and I can endure the trials and hardships that intrude into our lives, not because we are strong enough to bear them, but because our help comes from the Lord. We can walk through the valley of the shadow of death and not be afraid; not because we are in charge, but because the Lord is with us and our strength comes from the Lord. Today I want to urge you to establish and maintain a close and abiding relationship with God through Jesus Christ, so that when your life comes up against the obstacles, setbacks and challenges that we all must face you will have one great assurance; all my help comes from the Lord.
Let me draw you back to the words of that headline and the two things it points out about the difference between Vladimir Lenin and Jesus Christ. The first thing that article said was “Lenin’s ideas are dead.” There is no great mass of people who continue to study and live by his teachings. There is no great mass of people who turn to his writings or speeches when they are trying to figure out how they are going to live their lives every day. Lenin may be a name they know, but it is not a message they love and trust and cherish.
Now consider Jesus Christ; for the last 2000 years people have been turning to and praying to and clinging to Jesus as they have sought to make decisions for their lives both great and small. How many times have you heard somebody say they are going to take some problem to the Lord in prayer? How many times have you said you were waiting for the Lord to show you the way or give you a sign or lead you where He wants you to go? Unlike Lenin, the ideas of Jesus are not dead. They are not the stuff of history; they are the lamp unto my feet and the light unto my path that guides my life every day.
Is there anybody here today who is ashamed to say that you seek to know the will of God by putting your faith in His son, Jesus Christ? Is there anybody here today who is willing to say that you read your Bible because you want your life to be pleasing to God? Is there anybody here today who still believes that the teachings of the Bible are true and relevant and will stand forever? That is where I am today; I say along with Isaiah 40, “The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the word of our God shall stand forever.” I say, along with Paul in
What philosophy or ideology has captured your attention? If anything has become more important and more informative to you than the gospel of Jesus Christ, you need to listen to Paul today. Paul says, “Whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice.” The things taught to us from the Bible are not outdated or passé; they may sound a bit old-fashioned, but they have outlived all the shifting philosophies and opinions of people whose names are now little more than footnotes in history.
Think on and do the things taught in scripture. In a world of racism and warfare and gun violence and immorality, think on what is noble and pure and lovely. Last October in churches all over America, Christians observed something called “Porn Sunday.” People in churches were reminded that one-out-of-five Christians have an addiction to pornography. That means they are drawn to X-rated movies, Internet sites and magazines. It also means they are drawn to sex clubs and topless bars where nudity is present and where sexual acts are performed. I know people whose marriages ended because of an addiction to pornography. I know that people in America spend more money purchasing pornographic material than they do on all professional sports combined.
This is not just a problem for non-believers. This is a problem for every church in the country; people are hooked on pornography just like they are hooked on drugs or alcohol or cigarettes. There is only one way to break an addiction, and that is to get the object of that addiction off your mind and concentrate on something else. Paul says, “Whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable or praiseworthy, think on and do those things.” You cannot watch an X-rated movie while you are thinking on the things of God. You cannot go inside a topless club or watch sex acts on your computer if your mind is stayed on Jesus. Not only are the ideas of Jesus not dead, those ideas still have the power to break the addictions that grip our lives.
You may have been an alcoholic; but today you are free of that addiction by the power of God and by thinking on His word. You may have held racist views in the past but today your whole mind has changed because you thought on the things of God. And that power can work in every area of your life. It can break every addiction that grips us, from the silliest to the most sinister. You may not be addicted to sex or drugs or alcohol, but what about shopping or eating or gossiping or lying or stealing or profanity or procrastinating? Have I just knocked on anybody’s door that is in the church today? Are there still some chains that bind you? Are there still any habits that you have dragged around for years that continue to grip you to this day?
Paul tells us those things can be broken. Listen to what he says and makes these words your own; I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength!” Christ’s ideas are not dead and his body is not decaying in some glass-encased mausoleum. He is alive and well today. He has all power in his hands. When you are sick He has the power to heal you. When you are frightened He has the power to encourage and comfort you. When you are confused about which way to go in your life He has the power to guide and direct your thoughts and your steps. You and I can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.
The secret to being successful in life is putting your faith in someone whose teachings and values were cherished and trusted by generations of people before you and I came along. I trust the Bible because, as the old song says, “It was good for Paul and Silas, and it’s good enough for me.” The God mentioned in this Bible brought Moses and the people of Israel out of slavery and across the Red Sea. The God mentioned in this Bible cooled the fiery furnace for three Hebrew boys and locked the jaws of lions for Daniel. The God of the Bible is as old as creation itself and as current as the air we breathe right now.
However, the Bible is important for another reason. It talks about the God who will outlast our lives and serve to inform all the generations that come after us. It is both humorous and tragic when people put their faith in a person whose ideas die soon after their body dies. While I have mentioned Vladimir Lenin to you this morning, there is someone else much closer to this church that fits into a similar category. Right across the street from our church is a building erected in honor of a man named Charles “Daddy” Grace. The United House of Prayer for All People is a movement started by Daddy Grace in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s. His is a story worth telling on a day when we are talking about what is the source of our strength.
Charles “Daddy” Grace taught his followers that he was actually God. He told them that every time the word grace appeared in the Bible it was actually a direct reference to him. He also taught them that he was the incarnation of the Holy Spirit mentioned in the Bible. He even told them, “If you get in trouble with God, Daddy Grace can help you. But if you get in trouble with Daddy Grace, God can’t do you any good.” All over the country there were people who abandoned the teachings of scripture and put their faith in the teachings of Daddy Grace. That is until a strange thing happened on January 21, 1960 when Daddy Grace died. What do you do when your god dies? Where do you turn when the person you had been turning to has been turned back to the dust? That is the problem for the people across the street and across the country that are still following Daddy Grace.
That is not our problem over here, because our strength does not come from Lenin’s tomb, and our strength does not come from dead Daddy Grace. On January 21, 1960 – the day Daddy Grace died – the God we serve was still on the throne. He was still sustaining all of creation. He was still hearing and answering prayer. He was still unlocking other people’s graves and ushering them into his presence where they could live forever in a house not made with hands.
Where do you turn for the help you need each day? Make sure it is somebody whose ideas and whose body is not already dead! I found the source of my strength. How about you? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth. He is the rock of my salvation. He is my bridge over troubled waters. He is my strong tower when enemies come against me. He is the joy and the strength of my life. All my help comes from the Lord. His ideas are not dead and his body is not being preserved in a mausoleum.
I serve a living Savior,
He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living,
Whatever men may say.
I see His hand of mercy,
I hear His voice of cheer;
And just the time I need Him,
He’s always near.
He lives! He lives,
Christ Jesus lives today.
He walks with me,
And talks with me
Along life’s narrow way.
He lives. He lives,
Salvation to impart.
You ask me how I know he lives’
He lives within my heart.
Marvin McMickle is Senior Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH.