2014 04 13 Real Power (Matthew 21:1-11; 26:14-27)
Story: Rahab the Donkey
The rulers of 2 kingdoms were negotiating trade and mutual defence treaties. Abdul first went to Hussein’s kingdom with his personal bodyguard and assistant. Hussein reigned his kingdom with an iron fist. They took a tour with his royal guards and everywhere they went, people obediently cheered them as they went by. Hussein then went to Abdul’s kingdom with a dozen bodyguards and their assistants. Abdul ruled with a careful, thoughtful, gentle hand. On their tour there, their carriage often stopped as Abdul got out to chat with some of the people, listen to their concerns, and have his secretary record those concerns. The cheering was joyful. Back at the palace, Hussein said to Abdul, “I thought I had a lot of power, but I cannot go anywhere in my kingdom without my palace guards to protect me. I see you are able to travel around your kingdom without fear, and see that you have much more power than I.”
My theme for Lent has been power for, receiving and using it. While those who use power over others seem to have a lot of power, those who use power for others have the real power. In the time of Jesus, there were many powerful people exercising power over others: Roman representatives like Pontius Pilate, local political leaders like Herod, and religious leaders like the members of the Sanhedrin. They used their power to execute Jesus, hoping to silence him, and they were wrong. They are remembered because of their connection to Jesus – otherwise they would be forgotten footnotes in history.
The exercise of power over usually considers a goal in mind which is a benefit desired by the power holder, resistance to that goal, and how much power is needed to overcome that resistance. The exercise of power for considers a goal which is usually a benefit for the object of that exercise of power, the resistance to that goal, and how to work with what is there to achieve that goal.
For example, in the past we have chosen to build homes and businesses where we wanted, even in flood zones, and, after considering the challenges, implement changes to the environment to make those homes and businesses safe. Using power for, we would design our homes and businesses to be resistant to floods such as by building them up on stilts so flood waters can go right through, or building them somewhere else..
Wealthy people usually do not like being bothered by poor people. Power over mentalities use one or more of the following strategies: jail them or deport them; force them to live in slums; poor houses; hound them till they find places where they don’t bother us. A power for mentality in Ottawa and Winnipeg led to an experiment in one community with a guaranteed annual income so there were no really poor people. The results included reduced health care costs, better educational results, higher and better employment, reduced crime, and a better social environment for everyone.
Jesus consistently exercised his power for people, was executed for that, and continues to transform the world. Brutal power can cut down a tree; real power grows the tree.
We exercise real power in many ways from good marriages to creating new things. Bill Gates achieved great wealth through exercising in partnership with others the power to create something new and useful.
As a congregation, we are called to use real power, the power for others, to make a difference in our world. The source of our power is the Spirit working through our love and our passion. Our effectiveness depends on several things. One of those is what kind of congregation we are. Congregations usually include four kinds of members: cultists, clubists, disciples, and visitors.
Cultists are there because of a leader or because of their attachment to someone who is there because of that leader. Clubists are those who are there because of what the church can do for them. Their offering is really the membership fee in a club. Their loyalty depends on how well the church meets their needs.
Disciples are there because of the opportunities the church provides for them to serve, to make a difference in the world that honours their relationship with God. Their loyalty depends on how well the church provides them with opportunities to serve.
Visitors are there because they are there to clarify their needs and to then have those needs met. It is possible to be a visitor for many years. In an ideal world, all visitors would become disciples. Not everyone seems to be able to become a disciple, and I don’t know why. Maybe they are not ready to open themselves to that kind of a relationship with God. Maybe they are already helping God’s agenda and do not need that kind of experience of God.
The nature of the congregation depends on who dominates the life of the congregation. If many or most of the members of a congregation leave with the departure of a particular leader, it was a cult. If most of the life of the church is dedicated to meeting the needs of the members of the congregation, it is a religious club. When a congregation gives much to serving others, then it is a real congregation. Most of us are a little bit of all of the types. What matters as followers of Jesus is which is the most important part to us? It is important to a congregation that the cultists and clubists support the disciples.
The more successful a congregation is at pursuing the discipleship role, the more real power it will have in the lives of its members and the difference it makes in the world. Discipleship flows from a relationship with God or Jesus that goes beyond the intellectual level. The passion story goes beyond a story to being an experience, with disciples being drawn into a feeling of unity with Jesus in the story.
In that unity real power flows from the Spirit through us to where it is needed in the world, healing and transforming, growing trees, bearing fruit, creating beauty and joy. Thanks be to God!