Posted by: dacalu | 10 June 2018

Love over Power

Today, I had the privilege of worshiping with St. Stepehen’s Episcopal Church in Seattle. Here is the sermon I shared.


Prayer for the Day

O God, from whom all good proceeds: Grant that by your inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by your merciful guiding may do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



1 Samuel 8:4-20, 11:14-15 (Israel asks for a King)

Psalm 138 (“When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me.”)

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 (“we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen”)

Mark 3:20-35 (A house divided cannot stand, and the unforgivable sin)



Wouldn’t it be nice to have a king?
I don’t know about you, 
but sometimes I look at our government
and I think about the foolishness of the President,
the inefficiency and incivility of the Congress,
the sometimes-arbitrary decisions of the Courts,
and I say, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a king?”
It would be nice to have someone raised to govern,
	who felt a moral obligation to serve the whole country,
	someone smart and kind and thoughtful,
	who didn’t have to pander to business or the electorate.
Then, of course, I remember that we’ve tried kings 
and they rarely work out well.
They pander to business and the aristocrats and the masses.
They are not reliably smart and kind and thoughtful.
Our system of President, Congress, and Courts
	was set up for precisely this reason.
If you give too much power to any one person,
	they will be tempted to abuse that power,
and so we make a point of taking greed, stupidity, and inefficiency
	and spreading it around.
Still, the whole circus can get tiring,
	and even today,
	we say to ourselves,
	“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a king?”

For some reason,
	when we see abuses of power,
	we look to greater power for a solution.
I’ll bet you all know the story of Robin Hood,
	who defended the common people
		from the terrible Sherriff
		until Good King Richard came back from the crusades.
The real King Richard was not that good,
	but the story is powerful.
We see these stories all the time.
	Daddy Warbucks in Annie.
	The true king in Tolkien - again and again.
	Dumbledore in the early Harry Potter movies.
You didn’t know the king was paying attention,
	but he was, and now he’s stepping in 
		to reward the good and punish the wicked.
Americans aren’t too fond of kings,
	and so we’ve largely replaced this trope of Royal intervention
	with the Cavalry
	or peace through superior firepower.
But we still have the same mindset.
	Fight fire with fire.

I confess, this has been a very popular mindset in Christianity.
	God is the king of kings and lord of lords.
And that is a good thing, in some ways.
	Earthly powers are not the only powers.
It is a bad thing when we worship God
	because of God's power.
It is a bad thing when we think that God is simply a bigger tyrant.
That, after all, means worshiping power.

God is not a Mafia Don who rewards loyalty and punishes disloyalty.
Christianity is not “fire insurance.”

No. No. No. No. No.

Christians know that there are other things to value, better things.
God is not power; God has power.
God is love.

Despite all claims of omnipotence –
	and I do think of God as omnipotent –
	God consistently refuses to overwhelm us with force.
God makes the rain to fall on the righteous and the unrighteous.
Jesus consistently refuses to overpower those around him.
	He did not take up the sword,
	even when they came to crucify him.

Our readings today tell us that we don’t have to listen to the priorities of the world.
We don’t have to want what other people want.

We can choose to use our power for the sake of love,
	and not spend it acquiring more power.
We can live for the sake of loving.
	And we can build our societies around
	love of God and neighbor.
Too often we succumb to fear,
	and try to scare others to make us less afraid.
Too often we succumb to doubt,
	and make others doubt themselves, so we feel better.
But, fear cannot drive out fear.
	Doubt cannot drive out doubt.
If we want to escape fear and doubt,
	greed, stupidity, and inefficiency,
	we must turn to something else.

Norton Juster, author of the Phantom Tollbooth, put it this way.
“Since you got here by not thinking, 
it seems reasonable to expect that,
in order to get out, 
you must start thinking.”

Christianity works the same way.
It is a new response to an old problem.
It is a change.

The Israelites wanted a king.
	They wanted pomp and circumstance.
	They also wanted a military leader to make them feel safe from their enemies.
The Israelites complained.
	“All the other nations are doing it.”
And God’s responds like a good parent.
	“If the Philistines jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?”
To which the Israelites say “yes.”
It didn’t turn out well.
The Israelites responded to violence with violence,
	fear with fear,
	inequality with inequality.
And, for the most part,
	they got exactly what we would expect,
	more of the same.

The people in Corinth were worried about success.
	I suspect they wanted clearer rules about how to behave,
		whom to trust, and how to order their community.
	I suspect they also wanted proof of God’s power
		through physical success.
	If God is a great king, why does he not shower us with favors, 
		as Earthly kings do?
And Paul responds by saying that God does shower us with favors,
	but not, perhaps, the ones we expect.
	God grants us repentance and reconciliation.
In the words of Galatians, God gives us
        love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
	goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Those may not sound like the solution to problems
	of power and insecurity.
They are not the traditional solutions,
	but they are far more effective.

“Even though our outer nature is wasting away, 
our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 
For this slight momentary affliction 
is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, 
because we look not at what can be seen 
but at what cannot be seen”
Don’t worry if you are not doing well by earthly standards,
	health, wealth, and popularity.
They are valuable, 
	but less valuable than faith, hope, and love.
You don’t have to want what other people want.

There has been some debate about the unforgivable or eternal sin
	mentioned in the gospel reading.
What is it that cannot be forgiven?
In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus says this.
“Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins 
and whatever blasphemies they utter; 
but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit 
can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”
I do not know, but I think he had this in mind.
The Gospel begins with a simple message of repentance.
The world may be unsatisfactory.
	We may be in debt.
	We may be in conflict our neighbors, in conflict with ourselves.
	We may have sinned and fallen short – by our own standards.
And yet, we can change,
	we can choose to do different things,
	we can choose to value different things,
	we can become new people,
if we first accept that God can change us.

Christianity offers us something genuinely new,
	a chance to value ourselves less
	and others more.
It is not just changing our circumstances,
	But changing our very selves.

I’m not the only one to find the world unsatisfactory.
	We know that the priorities of the world are messed up.
	We know that the pursuit of health, wealth, and popularity
		and above all the search for ever more power
		leads to violence and conflict.

The Gospel is much like the first of the 12-steps.
	You must recognize that you have a problem
		beyond your abilities
		and accept that God can solve it.
	You must accept that Jesus and the Holy Spirit
		have the ability to fundamentally change you for the better.
Those who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit,
	the spirit of Jesus,
	denied his power and his goodness.

But here’s the catch.
	We must accept that God solves our problems in a new way.
	It does not involve overwhelming force.
	God is subtle and sophisticated.
		God works through us.
		God works through our weakness and our frustration.
We don’t have to want what other people want.
We don’t have to want the same things we have wanted all our lives.
In many ways, the world is messed up.

I do not imagine my imagination is sufficient to fix it.
	I trust that God’s imagination is.
	And so, I pray for God’s imagination.
I do not trust in my own faith.
	I trust in yours, and ours, and in God’s faithfulness.
	And so, I pray for faith.
I do not love love as I ought.
	But I love the God who works love in me,
		and in you, and in the world.
	And so, I pray for love.

“the Spirit helps us in our weakness; 
for we do not know how to pray as we ought, 
but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 
And God, who searches the heart, 
knows what is the mind of the Spirit, 
because the Spirit intercedes for the saints 
according to the will of God.”

We don’t have to want what others want.
We don’t need a king to solve our problems,
	even a heavenly one.
What we need is a new heart, and a new soul, and a new faith,
	to see God,
        who is everywhere,
	working right here.

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