July 8, 2012
Gospel: Mark 6:1-13
1st Reading: Ezekiel 2:1-5
2nd Reading: Corinthians 12:2-10
The 4th of July is something we can all get behind. Who wouldn’t want a day off work on a warm summer day? Who doesn’t like picnics and parties? Even if you don’t agree with everything our country is doing, we still love our country and appreciate our freedoms. And add to that a number of bright explosions in the sky, and you’ve got the perfect day. Aren’t fireworks amazing with all the power of the lights and sound, the whizzing through the air, zigzagging, popping, glittering! It is truly a display of power.
On the 5th of July I read a story about Depoe Bay that didn’t have a fireworks show because of the danger to sea birds who leave their nests because of the noise and return to find that predators have ruined their nests and eggs. I also heard an interview on the radio with Portland’s new fire chief and she mentioned the impact on pets and veterans with PTSD. We had a new perspective of it this year with a baby finally going down for the night at 11 pm, 3 hours later than usual.
I began to wonder whether it takes more power to have a fireworks display or not to. Maybe there was more power in their putting someone else ahead of themselves, than in all the loud booming fireworks that the rest of us shot off.
“Power” is the theme for this Sunday. I see a common thread about power in all the readings for today, but before I go into that I first want to talk about why the subject of power might matter to us.
Power is kind of a scary topic for a lot of people. It might especially be for meek Lutherans. It is for much of society who sees a lot of misuse of power in government or who associate power with power over, or abuse of power by dictators, or corporations, or doctors, and so on. I’ve learned a lot about power in the Metropolitan Alliance for the Common Good, or MACG, power is simply the ability to act. It is the ability to get something done. It is a tool that can be used for good or ill.
Churches used to be a powerful force in our communities. I have often heard people lamenting the times when Sundays were sacred and Wednesday evenings were reserved for church night. Soccer practice was held other times. The church has lost that automatic power. A pastor was given more authority and perhaps respect. That could be good or bad depending on how that pastor used that power. Now I have to convince you of what I am saying. And I’d rather you asked questions and thought for yourselves rather than do what I say anyway. In the same way, the greater world needs churches to prove that they are worth supporting. Pastors and churches have to earn that respect. Do they give back to the community? If I give my volunteer hours and money to a church will they use that power to make this world better? This kind of scrutiny is good for us because it helps us see what builds up the kingdom of God, what is doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with our God, which is our mission and purpose.
I also think we experience a lot of powerlessness in our lives. And these readings help remind us not to give up in those moments but that God can work with that. God can bring something powerful out of a situation of rejection and helplessness. God did that with Jesus on the cross and does that often with us, especially when we work together with others and share our power to get something done, like we have with the pantry and like we did with the Domestic Violence Survivor House.
The readings are all about power. The first reading is about the power of God. God reminds Ezekiel that he is just a little mortal human being. God is so powerful, that even though the people won’t listen, God is going to keep hounding them until they do. And we know that eventually they get it, since this writing from Ezekiel makes it into the Bible. Although God may seem weak since the people don’t listen, God is loving and persistent, and triumphs.
In the reading from 2 Corinthians, Paul is writing with authority that he can’t claim for himself, but he hopes that his readers will bestow on him. He’s just a little servant of God with no power of his own. Yet Paul has something to say to the people in Corinth, so he’s trying to convince them to listen to his important message. He wants to be powerful in their view so they listen, understand, and act accordingly.
Paul is talking about the power and authority that comes from God. It isn’t the kind of power that compels people to do whatever God wants or Paul tells them to. It isn’t the kind of power from the Roman Empire where people and nations obey Caesar or they get annihilated. It is the kind of power that is shared. It is the kind of power that takes a risk and reaches out a hand in friendship. It is power with. Because whenever you reach out a hand in relationship you can get rejected, it is a kind of power in weakness. It is a power that says we can do this better together. It is a more difficult kind of power than power over if you are the one in authority.
Now we come to the Gospel for today. Jesus comes to his hometown. He’s already shown that he can heal and feed people and speak with authority. Yet nobody in his hometown is open to that power. Jesus isn’t going to force them to be. He’s not going to use power over. He wants power with and they are unwilling and they lose out.
Then Jesus teaches the disciples how to have power with. They go out in pairs, supporting one another, modeling cooperation. They don’t bring so much they are self-sufficient. They are going to need the people they meet. They are going to need to build bridges and share power in order to survive.
They are going to have mixed success. There will be some people who reject them. In a power with situation, you put out your hand in connection and relationship and some people accept it and others spit in your face. When the disciples are welcomed, then Jesus encourages them to stay until they leave. Good advice for any of us. And when they are rejected, no skin off their noses. They can go on their way. No sense in making a big deal out of it. As a result of this approach, many people were helped.
The power of God stands against the powers of this world. There are a lot of powers at work in our world. Some of them are for good, but a lot of them hurt people, too. People have lost power in a lot of ways as they lose their jobs and then their homes. People get sick. People are sad and grieving. We work more hours. We are torn in a million different directions. Our school class sizes keep growing while our education budget gets cut every year. All of these powers are putting pressure on us.
Jesus came redistribute power, to empower those who were on the fringes, who didn’t have enough to eat and who were barely alive and who no one would listen to. That’s what we call justice—redistributing power so it is more equal. The church is a place where we redistribute money which is one indication of power. If you remember last week we had a lesson about sharing our money so that the one who had much, didn’t have too much and the one who had little didn’t have too little. It is about stepping in and using our power as a buffer in people’s lives, so that when the pressures of the world come crushing down, we help deflect those pressures. For example, when people meet the pressures of unemployment, they can continue to live and feed their children because of the food pantry. And best case scenario, the churches help get at the root causes of hunger so someone never gets into that situation in the first place, which is what I‘ve seen with the campaign to get rid of payday loan businesses. It is about restoring health so that people can be contributing members of society, which Jesus tries to do in today’s Gospel reading. It is about making sure that people have enough to eat, that they have a say in their communities, that they share power across all lines.
We use a power-with model because of who God has been for us. God decided from the very beginning to let people make up their own minds. God could have created a world where we all obey. But God gave us free will. God didn’t want to make us worship and acknowledge him. God wanted a real relationship with a feeling, thinking person. So here we are. God chose power with rather than power over. God wanted a relationship, someone to collaborate with and share with. Sometimes he reaches his hand out and we spit in his face. God reached out to us and we crucified his son. God has a weak spot for humankind, but God’s power is made perfect in weakness.
Any of you with children can understand. It might be easier if your children did everything you wanted and liked all the same things as you, but then they would just be you all over again. How boring would that be? Instead, you humble yourself to who they are becoming and let them develop and wonder in the beauty of it—the utterly frustrating beauty of this whole new person that you can’t control, but who you can have the most interesting relationship with and learn from and see yourself reflected back in.
Our God is powerful, so powerful that he can take a risk and be vulnerable. God’s power is made perfect in weakness. God’s power is love which does not compel or force. We are God’s people and our power is also love. Let us not lose heart when we face rejection or the daunting task of redistributing power, but let us instead use that power with others around us to make our neighborhood more like God’s Kingdom everyday.