Based on 2Samuel 11:1-15, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Power…how would you define that word? Turns out that this is kind of a trick question since the word can be used as a noun, a verb or an adjective. Power can also be calculated scientifically in units of Watts or Horsepower. Additionally, it can be measured socially in the ability of some humans to influence people and situations. We speak about “buying power” in relation to how much our paychecks or retirement incomes will purchase. There is the imputed power that we give to elected officials and people like pastors to act in our best interest – even though that power sometimes gets used to further the powerful persons’ best interest. We even can talk about “power brokers”, those non-elected persons or small groups who run things in any sized group. You may be picturing one or more of those folks in your mind’s eye right now. In fact, you might just answer my opening question of the definition of power as “it’s something I know when I see or experience it”.
In Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire, headed by an Emperor or “Caesar” held sway over much of what was then the ‘known” world. The Emperors considered themselves divine and expected that they would be worshipped as a god. They had absolute power and (in many cases) were absolutely corrupt. Rome had the most powerful and adept army of its time and ruled via the Pax Romana which stated that there could only be peace through victory. Subjugation and integration of conquered peoples was the norm, and as long as the leaders of the beaten people swore allegiance to Rome and paid their full taxes on time, then there would be peace. The Roman Empire was so powerful that a Roman citizen could travel anywhere in the realm freely and safely.
While it is true that the Roman Empire was powerful, it was also doomed to failure because it was a human endeavor. All human empires eventually lose their power and influence and succumb to the next wave of human rulers. While human empires will continue to rise and fall, one influential force is always in power – that is God. Our scriptures this week show us the intrinsic weaknesses of human power and the glory of connecting ourselves to our higher power. Whether it is King David misusing his power with Bathsheba or the Apostle Paul praying that the believers in Ephesus would discover the strength and power of God’s unconditional love, or Jesus showing true power by healing and feeding many thousands through his love, we come face-to-face with the reality of God’s great love being the true power that moves us and the universe. Let us go to God now in thanksgiving for God’s true power of love…
The story of King David’s misuse of power with Bathsheba is well known. In light of the #MeToo movement, it has taken on a reassessment and renaming for what it really was – sexual misconduct, rape and pre-meditated murder. Kings enjoyed absolute power and with great power comes great responsibility. King David was totally irresponsible in his use of power and would rue the day that he looked down upon Bathsheba. This “great King of Israel, beloved of God” proved that he was at this moment a mortal man with feet very much of clay. In this way he is relatable to our day and time. King David reminds us of a human truth, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
John’s description of the feeding of the 5000 has Jesus interacting with Philip and Andrew. Jesus was trying to escape the crowds, but they followed him to be healed of their diseases. It is late and Jesus has been on the mountain all day with the Disciples. He has compassion for the crowd and asks Philip where they could buy food in this deserted place. Philip answers practically that they haven’t enough money for even a small morsel for each. Andrew discovers a boy who is willing to share his five small rolls and two fish. Jesus blesses them and enough food is produced to fill all the people and have 12 baskets of bread pieces left over. Now that is the true power of God’s love making a way where humans could imagine no way!
Paul is exhorting in a prayer about the divine and absolute power of God. He writes of the power of the Holy Spirit to strengthen the believers. He prays that the power of the saints be bestowed so that the believers could “comprehend what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God”. Finally, he writes of the power of God at work within all of us to make us truly fruitful for God’s purposes in the world. Paul notes that there is nothing in all creation more powerful than the true loving power of God.
It is common these days for folks to ask the question, “what is your super-power?” and muse with others about their special gifts. With the rise of Marvel and other comic book-based super-hero movies, it is interesting to reflect on our understanding of our “super-powers” versus God’s true power. I have to admit that I wanted to be like Spider Man or one of the Fantastic 4 when I was growing up. Certainly, I have like every person, been gifted by God with unique and special powers. Special powers that are supposed to be used along with God to make the world a kinder, more merciful, more just and equitable place to live. Yet, how often in my life have I only used my special powers to better my own situation instead of the broader community? How often have I let me special powers languish unused while the world goes to hell in a hand basket (as my father used to say)? How often in my life have I invoked the true power of God to change my life situation or that of a friend or loved one? How about you…?
In order to shed some light on these questions, it is good to go back to the Greek and Hebrew (and sometimes Aramaic) words of the original text to get a new insight as to what the writer was trying to convey about the true power of God. The biblical Greek word for power that Paul uses in the Ephesians text is “dunamis” – it is the root word for the English “dynamo” and “dynamite”. Keep this in mind as I quote from Annie Dillard, in her book, “Teaching a Stone to Talk”, she writes, “…Do Christians [Does anyone] have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT [aka dynamite] to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return….” This is the true power of God that Paul writes about and that Jesus models for us. It is an awesome and uncontrollable power that when unleashed has the ability to transform the very world we occupy – and our lives! By-the-way, this is the true power we pray would become active when we recite the “Lord’s Prayer”.
Truth is, we do not understand or truly believe in the true power of God, because most of us have never truly experienced it. Much of the time our faith mirrors that of Philip and Andrew, who could not see past the lack of six months’ wages or the meager five loaves and two fish. We tend to base our living on our own scarcity or even on our own fears of insufficiency. So, we hoard and save and worry and end up living life in small and safe measures. We pull back when we should push forward. We give in to our fear of a shortfall rather than exercising faith in God’s abundance. However, God in the form of Jesus the Christ invites us constantly to go places where we have never been, to do things that we have never done and to be so much more than we can ever imagine. Jesus is always there reminding us to pick up all the leftover, left-out pieces and people that the world lays to waste. In God’s true power of unconditional love, no miracle and no person are ever wasted. In God’s true power of unconditional love, we have been gifted with everything we need to be able to “accomplish far more than all we can ask or imagine”. Let us use God’s true power to imagine and inhabit with God what is God’s preferred future for us all. May God’s grace and wisdom lead us forward! Amen!