Friday, June 26, 2015

All about Power


I grew up watching He-Man. (Actually, I liked She-Ra better. She was a more interesting character, though I lived in fear that my peers would find out.) He-Man spent most of his time bumbling around as a slacker-in-disguise named Adam. But, when a crisis came, he would grab his sword, point it to the sky, and declare, "By the power of Greyskull...I have the POWER!" And, as lightning struck his body, he was transformed into the super strong, totally awesome hero He-Man. I cannot begin to imagine the number of times I picked something up, pointed it to the sky, and repeated, "I have the POWER!" As a kid, that was the coolest thing I could think of--having all of that power.

Adults rarely point their smartphones or car keys or croziers toward the sky and declare it, but most of us still get the same rush of excitement when we claim power for ourselves. Power is what drives the human race--and I don't mean electricity. Power is the ability to do. It is the capacity for action. We all have it. Some of us are experts. Some of us are physically imposing. Some of us control resources. Some of us hold the respect of others. None of us is He-Man, but all of us crave power. We like being in control. (And, when we don't want to be in control, we like to have the power to declare that it's someone else's turn to be in charge.) There is no escaping it.

Sunday's sandwiched gospel lesson (Mark 5:21-43) is an exercise in power. All of the central characters are exploring power relationships. Jairus is described for us as a leader of the synagogue, which means he was accustomed to a position of power. He was wealthy. He was respected. He was religious. He had control. But then it all fell apart. His daughter was sick. She was dying. And he could do nothing. He was powerless to help her. He approached Jesus and "begged him repeatedly" to come and help her. He was at Jesus' mercy. He couldn't even speed the teacher along and had to wait as he dealt with another supplicant.

The woman with a hemmorage was powerless and had been for years. Although at one time she had enough money to spend on many physicians, she now sneaks around the crowd, not daring to speak to anyone. "If I just touch his cloak," she said to herself. When called out by Jesus after her healing, she approaches him with fear and trembling. She is at his mercy. And Jesus offers it. He declares her made well--saved, actually. She is called his daughter. Jesus gives her back what she had lost.

Who is in control? Who has the power to act? Is our power real or perceived? I have lots of power. Some of it I celebrate, while other parts I am ashamed of. I have the love and support of family and friends. I have a job with responsibilities--formal and informal. By the world's standards, I am rich. As a white man, I have the privilege of being in the dominant (there's a power word) culture and living in a world that, for the most part, gives me what I demand of it. Because of that, I struggle more than others to recognize that all of that power really means nothing in God's kingdom. In fact, as Sunday's lesson teaches us, all my power actually gets in the way of God's kingdom breaking into my life.

Jesus has come to give me life--to give all of us abundant life. Who has the power? He has the power. But I must yield my power-hungry self to the power of his love. That yielding is called repentance. That love is called forgiveness.

At General Convention, we talk a lot about power--about the sins of racism and classism and sexism. As an institution, we have a history of power. We were a church dominated by white male tradition, and we used that to secure a place in the American landscape. But those power structures are changing. Like Jairus, we are discovering that we are powerless--we have been stripped of our control. The world isn't interested in listening to us talk about ourselves. The world wants to hear about Jesus--the one who came to give power to the powerless. Will we be powerless? Will we hold up our hands and prayer books and croziers and declare, "I have no power but Jesus?"

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