In many ways, it’s power that drives our world. You can look at everything that happens with human beings and analyze it on the basis of power. Who has the power? How is being used? Who is being affected by it?
Look at the drama being played out with Donald Trump, for instance. A man drunk on his own power, if ever there was one. Lately, he has taken that power to a new level.
Consider the saga of the Confederate flag. It came to be seen as a symbol of white supremacy by many, and white supremacy has lost its power. So, the flag has come down on the capitol grounds in South Carolina. For those who have strong emotional ties to the Confederate flag, for whatever reason, seeing it come down signifies the loss of power. So, while some are celebrating, others are grieving and angry.
Is power a good thing or a bad thing? We are both drawn to it and repulsed by it.
We all have power, whether we want to recognize it or not. We may have authority, or influence. We may be able to say just the right thing or act just the right way to get what we want. Parents have power over their children. But then, children can also wield a certain amount of power over their parents. Clergy have power. Elected pubic officials have power. Medical professionals have power. Teachers. The hairdresser who comes at you with a pair of scissors in her hand. Customers at a place of business. We all find ourselves in situations where we have power and it’s important that we acknowledge that. If we don’t recognize the power we have, we run the risk of misusing it.
Last Sunday, we read about the beheading of John the Baptist in worship. It’s a story that’s all about power. Herod is motivated by pride; he doesn’t want to lose face in front of his dinner guests. The daughter wants to please others as she first dances for their pleasure and then turns to her mother to fulfill her desire. For her mother, retribution seems to be a driving force. All these varied motivations fuel their power.
Luther seminary professor Karoline Lewis wrote a wonderful blog about power last week:
When power’s starting point is money, the bottom line, rules, control, competition, manipulation—that’s not power. That’s bullying. That’s abuse. That’s nothing else than getting one’s way. That’s force. That’s coercion. That’s narcissism. And that kind of power leads to a head on a platter.
But that’s not the only way power can be used. Within God’s Reign things are different. Mark shows us this in his gospel, if we read the story of the beheading of John along with the story that follows in the text--the story of the feeding of the 5,000. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.
Both stories are about people gathering for a meal. Both are about celebrations. But consider the contrast between feasts. The feeding of the 5,000 was everything Herod’s birthday bash was not. It was outdoors, in the open. It was not offered to the rich and powerful but to people who seemed to Jesus like sheep without a shepherd. The feast Jesus hosted started out with what looked like insurmountable scarcity, with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. But it ended up feeding everyone until their bellies were full and there were leftovers to spare. At this feast, all were welcome. No one checked them at the door before they could get in. And at the end of this feast, no life was taken. Instead, life was given. Extravagant, overflowing, abundant life for all.
That’s the kind of power that Jesus offers. And it’s the kind of power he calls us to practice in the world around us. It’s power that’s extended, not in taking, but in giving. Not in belittling, tearing down, or destroying others to build ourselves up, but in giving ourselves for the sake of the other.
This may not look like power to the world around us, a world that is hell-bent on using power to dominate and control. But that’s not true power, from a Kingdom of God perspective. That’s a fear-based need to destroy others in a misguided reptilian drive toward self-preservation. Jesus’ power was the antithesis of that. He didn’t buy into the love of power; he bought into the power of love.
In one form or another, we’re all given power in this world. How will we use it?
This week, 30,000 Lutheran youth will be meeting for the Lutheran Youth Gathering. These are amazing, life-changing events that the ELCA puts on every three years. They have gotten into the pattern of holding these events, not in big glitzy cities, but they go to cities that are in trouble. Twice in a row, after Katrina, they went to New Orleans. This time they’re going to Detroit. They bring 30,000 people into the city to help the economy, but it’s more than that. During the event, participants engage in service projects in the community. They make a huge difference for the people in the city where they hold their gatherings. Believe me, the city of New Orleans loves our ELCA youth. And the people of Detroit are about to learn why. That’s using power in a Jesus way.
Today, a group of us from Holy Trinity will join forces with people from all around the state for a Moral Monday march in Winston-Salem. When people of faith come together to speak truth to power, that’s using power in a Jesus way.
At Holy Trinity, we support the students and teachers at Merry Oaks elementary school, where nearly the entire student population is living in poverty, and that’s using power in the Jesus way.
When we could make another person pay dearly for the harm they’ve done to us, and we choose to forgive them, the way we saw the families of the victims of the Charleston shooting forgive Dylann Roof, that’s using power the Jesus way.
When we have everything we need and could easily turn our backs on those who have nothing, and we choose to exercise generosity and compassion, that’s using power the Jesus way.
When we could easily hoard our time by only doing those things that are comfortable or enjoyable for us, and we choose to give our time to those who struggle on a daily basis, that’s using power the Jesus way.
How are you using the power you’ve been given?