Gracious Power

Loraine MacKenzie Shepherd                                               April 8, 2018

Acts 4:32-35

What does power look like to you? If you were to sculpt power, what would it be? (sculpt cowering, raising hands high, muscling, fist over, hand lifted) Did this last pose of open hands surprise you? Is your immediate reaction to the word “power” positive, as in empowerment, or negative, as in abuse? Because of the many ways that power is abused every day, some of us may be afraid of power in general. Canadians actually have a reputation abroad of giving away our power—we’re too nice and too apologetic.

When I was overseas at a meeting with the World Council of Churches, I apologized for something and a non-Canadian said to me with a look of disgust, “You Canadians are alike!” I’ve never been reprimanded for apologizing before! I was so surprised by this reaction that I’ll never forget it.

Power is a difficult beast. We all need it, we all abuse it in one way or another, and we all shrink from it at times. Perhaps we can learn something about power from the Easter stories.

Our scripture reading from Acts reads, “With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all.” Great power and great grace. What does power look like when we hold it together with grace?

The apostles must have had a good dose of humility in their preaching, as they had only just emerged from their own hiding places after Jesus’ crucifixion. This is perhaps what allowed them to hold power and grace together. They were assured of the grace of Christ Jesus in his forgiveness of them abandoning, denying and even betraying him. And then, the Holy Spirit filled them with courageous power to finally witness to Jesus’ life and teachings.

Those who listened to these words, believed and were baptised also began to experience this gracious power. It gave them two things. The first was the ability to become of one heart and one soul. Unity is a sign of the Spirit’s power working in our midst. We act it out every Sunday when we pass Christ’s peace to each other. This is not a time of welcoming or saying hi to each other. Rather, it is an intentional blessing of peace after we have confessed our sins and been assured of God’s forgiveness. It is a sign of reconciliation with one another.

The second thing that the new believers received when they experienced the gracious power of God was open-handedness. They were generous in sharing what they had with one another so that no one was in need. I like to think that Christian values helped to shape our country with universal health care, old age security, a Canada Pension Plan, and nursing homes. As much as we might complain about them, you don’t realize how fortunate we are until you travel outside our country. We have a lot to improve, but we also have a lot to give.

When I lived in Bolivia and Peru for 9 months, I saw older people with serious health problems begging on the streets. They could not afford medical treatment, there were no nursing homes, they had no income from old age security or a national pension plan. And I decided when I returned that I would never complain about taxes again. Unfortunately, the gap between the rich and the poor in our own country has been widening for some time and the middle class is shrinking. That’s probably why the need for community ministries is growing. That’s the only ministry which we wish would diminish, but more and more people are hungry.

I am so grateful to a growing number of Westworthians who are helping out by donating and volunteering at West Broadway Community Ministry. How many of you either are volunteering or have volunteered at West Broadway? Many of you also contribute to other service organizations as well. I’ve included in your bulletin today a coloured square on which I invite you to write down the names of the various organizations to which you contribute through volunteering or donating. I would like to make a collage of these in the narthex as a way of acknowledging and being grateful for the many ministries we offer not only as a church but also as individuals. We can give thanks and be inspired by this generosity. Please take a few moments write these down and then place them in the offering plate. This is what it means to be open-handed and is a sign of living out the gracious power of God.

There was an Irish saint by the name of St. Kevin of Glendalough, who lived in the 5th century. He was a hermit and lived in a tiny cave, dedicated to a solitary life embedded in nature. There is a story about him that might rival the nature-loving St. Francis of Asisi. St. Kevin was so patient, that he held out his hand to receive a blackbird, which proceeded to build a nest, lay eggs and tend them as they hatched.

A songwriter, who was inspired by this story, asks us in his song, “What does it look like to be open-handed in the world? What might fall into an outstretched palm? Are we willing to look foolish for awhile before our goal of nurturing is understood?”[1]

To be open-handed is to be willing both to receive graciously whatever life offers and to give with abandon whatever we are able to share. The power of open-handedness lies in its vulnerability. A fist is quite a different kind of power of coercion and violence, taking whatever it can get. A tight fist does not receive well, nor does it give generously.

One commentator asked whether we view the biblical Commandments with fists or with open hands. If you view them with fists, you will hear, “you shall not and you must”. If you view them with open hands, you will say, “Here I am.”

On this second Sunday after Easter, we celebrate the gracious power of God that is greater than the power of sin, death and destruction. But it is not because God’s power is mightier. Rather, it’s because God’s power is more vulnerable. And only in open-handed giving and receiving are we able to be transformed with great power and great grace into an Easter people. Amen.

 

[1] Richard Bruxvoort Colligan, “Open Hand.”