Primary Text: Ephesians 3:14-21
Gospel: John 6:1-21
When I read over these assigned Bible lessons for today – lectionary readings for today – the theme of power comes to me. Perhaps it is because I am feeling so powerless.
If you are like me – at least two aspects of life today are contributing to this feeling:
First reason for feeling helpless –
The hot dry days:
- crops burning up,
- many farmers – no crop this year,
- needing to sell off livestock – no feed, no water.
Forest fires – unprecedented number of fires and today July 25,
- not yet considered peak of forest fire season.
- record heat – never before in Canada – Lytton BC
Pacific Coast – under repeated heat domes
- marine life – die along coast – stench of death.
- Salmon crop this year may not survive, waters just too warm.
Second reason for feeling helpless – reports of unmarked graves – Indian Residential School sites – Western Canada.
- children just never accounted for.
- Wounds opened for aboriginals; shame for the rest of us.
The letter to the Ephesians turns into a prayer: 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his spirit,
17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
The prayer continues: 18I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Power can be a dirty word. “It’s all about power” we say – with negative connotations – referring to some dissension: be it home, church, government, international affairs.
Can we do without power? Clearly not.
Lord Acton, 19thcy British historian famous for saying: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We can appreciate how Lord Acton could come to this conclusion, but it goes counter to our Christian message to the world about power, as I will try to proclaim here today.
True – since recorded time – we humans have been dealing with realities of living together on this one planet – how to live together successfully.
Power – who has it? Is it used benevolently or otherwise?
Power: Biblical understanding: The one and only God created this world, made we humans in God’s image; gave us a special function: to have dominion over things.
Dominion, in other words — Power! Genesis Chapter 1 Creation Mythology.
- Yet Bible contains many stories of abuse of power.
- Abuse of power still going on.
This summer – coming into focus – perhaps as never before: climate change is real, no longer undeniable – human impact on the environment is real. A surprising number of people in power – deny reality of climate change.
United Church Moderator’s statement on Residential School Burial Sites –
“… We acknowledge that our role in the residential school system and colonization is an abuse of power through our Christian faith.”
- The Right Rev. Dr. Richard Bott
Our Judeo-Christian idea of divine energy, divine power is not a disconnect from other world religions. As keeps resurfacing when I come before you, a chapter of my past is a time in India. While there I was invited to meet Indira Gandhi – Prime Minister of India of the day. As she shook my hand I got the impression she wished she had been able to go home early and not attend one more social function! But she, India, the world is so much richer for having had her father – Mahatma Gandhi. He never abandoned his Hindu roots. But he certainly felt a kinship with Christianity – and he had the respect of many of his Christian contemporaries.
In 1931 Gandhi proclaimed to the world: “There is an indefinable, mysterious power that pervades everything. I feel it, though I do not see it. It is this unseen power that makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that I perceive through my senses. It transcends the senses.”
Isn’t this what the letter to the Ephesians is on to …”I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power.…”
Yes, this God-power, this power that comes to us – beyond our own resources, beyond our own mustering, comes to us via God’s Spirit… is how we Christians try to express it.
Further, the Bible’s way of talking about this pervasive energy, power: “the Kingdom of God.”
Pretty much every Sunday when we gather for worship we pray the Lord’s Prayer:
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven.
Remember – John’s Gospel – Jesus and Pilate – head to head – confrontation leading up to Pilate having Jesus crucified. We see two kinds of kingdom, and two kinds of power – full display Jesus says to Pilate
(NRSV John 18:36)
“My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
King James Version – unfortunate translation – “My kingdom is not of this world”. Sounds like – my kingdom is all about going to heaven so don’t bother about anything worldly.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus’ Kingdom is not from this world but it is certainly for this world. That is why – each week we pray – the Lord’s Prayer…
Thy Kingdom come on earth, as in heaven.
The Kingdom comes from heaven, but it is designed to take effect on earth.
The Bible suggests – alongside each other are two kinds of realities. So, what is the crucial difference between the two sorts of kingdoms, the two sorts of power?
Well, in our midst – is God’s kingdom. That power is in our midst. It is meant for us. But it is deceiving. It is deceiving because it doesn’t impose itself on us.
Worldly power – is willing to use force, willing to use lies, willing to manipulate.
All too often the person or state – whoever, whatever, has one aim – to satisfy his/her/its own needs, his/her/its own passions.
But, power from “on high” is driven by love.
To learn about God power and the difference between God power and worldly power – we go to the foot of the Cross.
God power does not impose itself on us. That is why this kind of power is equated with love. We talk about power of love.
Did you notice in today’s Gospel reading – toward the end of the reading of the miracle of feeding of the five thousand – Jesus using the boy with five barley loaves and two fish to feed everyone, with food left over. The people are excited. This is the one we’ve been waiting for – they exclaim with profound excitement. Let’s put him in power: overthrow the present rulers – get Jesus instated.
v.15 “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him King,- he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)
Why? Because – his kingdom is not of this world. It is for this world.
But he will not allow himself to be made king using force.
Our power symbol is a cross. Worldly ways of power can and do their thing.
It happened to Jesus. He got crucified.
But he was raised from the dead.
Are we able and willing to see the Cross as our symbol of power? It means we will use sacrificial love as the way to go.
We will speak truth to power.
We will stand up for what we believe to be right.
We will not forsake a friend who is being wrongly accused.
We will give and give and give some more – even if there is little to no chance of recognition for our effort.
The power you have, I have, to the degree it is healthy – it is ordained, God given. The Bible –give it credit – tries to show examples of healthy power.
Power: to throw it away – is irresponsible;
to grasp for more – is reprehensible.
In all honesty, in reality the power we exercise as parent, grandparent, child, teacher, neighbour, coach, spouse, police officer, doctor, nurse, journalist, on and on – the power we exercise is not unlike the love we manifest…
the power we employ is like the love we offer: not perfect!
It is a mixture of pure God power with a smattering of personal self-preservation, thought of personal gain, and dash of ego mixed in!
But, we use power to bring about God’s Kingdom as we perceive it to be, knowing we live by grace.
The two kingdoms co-exist, are intermingled. Even the term kingdom is tainted with sexism. I have heard term “Kindom.” Here today I use the word “kingdom” quoting Bible and Lord’s Prayer.
Well, we strive to live honourable lives, neither abdicating power entrusted to us or grasping for power to manipulate ourselves into a more advantageous place in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes we relinquish power if we think we are in an unfair advantage – being white, – being male.
Sometimes we call out for power if we feel we are being unfairly treated: calling out for equal pay for equal work regardless of race or gender.
Regarding climate change, to be honest with you, and surely that is a primary ingredient of preaching, I cannot assure you everything is going to be just fine …. that the rains will resume – water levels will return to normal …
But I can and have shared with you the readings of Holy Scripture. I can assure you I feel confident that I am offering you a church that seeks the truth, does not whitewash reality. We – as church – as the body of Christ – can be a community of believers that offers support to one another:
We can work together to discern the true prophet from the false prophet.
We can be a voice that brings truth to power; where fear of consequences of reprisal are dealt with within the context of the Cross of Jesus our Christ.
Some churches have been burned to the ground in the wake of finding unmarked graves of those children who died while at Indian Residential Schools.
Aboriginal leaders are saying “No!” – that is not the way to go.
Truth and reconciliation: first comes truth, then can come reconciliation: not instantly, not easily – and only if the Cross of Jesus is at the heart of the power of making a new day possible.
Maybe the Cross will not, maybe cannot be front and center – but only the kind of love known by whatever faith tradition that knows a love that does not seek revenge – will peace be possible.
Every time you and I gather to pray the Lord’s Prayer, we put ourselves into a renewed covenant relationship with God – to make this world a little better place – a little more heaven on earth.
We pray – thy Kingdom come on earth as in heaven. We know we will never be perfect. We know we need to beware the temptation to corrupt the power entrusted to us – that is built right into our family prayer.
We pray: then we go about our daily lives aspiring to make it so. We give our lives over to God’s service – each of us mobilizing the energy, the love, the power given to us to make this world more like God’s Kingdom. And we live each moment of each day in the context – “For Thine is the Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory.”
We pray, knowing prayer is not an attempt to persuade God to do something God might not otherwise think of. Our prayer is a way to open ourselves to the love of God, the love of God that came to earth in and through Jesus, and is present here day by day – with us in and through the Holy Spirit.
Yes, I’m talking about God Power!
Now to this God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to this God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, for ever and ever.