Luke 7: 1-10, 1 Kings 18.
How much power do you have? How much power do we have, as a church? How are you going to use that power? Do you sometimes deny that you are powerful?
Buzz in ways we have power………
We are ALL powerful, in different ways and to different degrees. And we need to use our power well.
How does the Bible help?
God is powerful; we celebrate that in our hymns and psalms:
Splendour and majesty are before him; Strength and glory are in his sanctuary.
God is all-powerful, and, because God is also good, that makes us happy. And it makes us bow down; we are made in God’s image, and we are powerful, but that power is given by God and is subject to God and will, eventually, be dissolved into God’s power. All praise to our omnipotent God.
Our story from the book of Kings gives us a photo of how NOT to use power. Baal is an idol, set up in competition with God and associated with greed and child sacrifice and sexual promiscuity. Baal has a whole heap of prophets to maintain his worship. In the verses before the ones we read, Elijah challenges them to get an answer out of Baal; that is, to pray to Baal to come down and light their fire. He will do the same for God. And the prophets of Baal call on the name of Baal; they shout; they dance; they prophesy. Elijah makes fun of hem. They try harder. They shout louder; they cut themselves with swords and spears to get an answer. Nothing happens. When Elijah does the same thing, he prays once to God, humbly but firmly, and the fire comes.
The priests of Baal misuse power; they have chosen selfishness and violence, corruption and despair over love of the one invisible God of love and truth, unity and hope. They huff and they puff; but in the end their power comes to nothing when pitted against the power of God. How many like them we have in our world today!
But what a lovely story from Luke about the good use or power. The Roman centurion, agent of a brutal occupying power, forced to worship the god of the Romans, yet uses his power for good. He values his servant highly, we are told. And this is a time when masters had huge power over their servants, as we know from the parables of Jesus. He didn’t need to care; he didn’t need to appreciate; he didn’t need to put his reputation at risk by sending for an indigenous healer. More; he loved the people he had been sent to rule, building them a synagogue. He didn’t need to do that! A powerful man who could have used coercion and brutality unchallenged. Yet he recognises the power that is in Jesus, and acknowledges that his own power is useless beside it. Just say the word! I know you will be obeyed. So they don’t even meet. But the centurion is rewarded by the healing he has asked for and by words of praise: I have not found such great faith even in Israel.
So it seems that the good use of power is characterised by recognising, firmly but emphatically, who God is, and by a loving an open attitude to others. It is not about being self important; it is not about trying too hard; it is not about drawing attention to yourself.
So, for us, today:
We need to recognise who God is. God is the source of all power, all life, all goodness. That’s why we always begin our worship with praise. It’s not all about us. It’s all about God, who was there before we began and will be there after our lives end but who includes us and loves us and uses even us.
And we need to have a loving and open attitude to others. The centurion’s servant was way below him in rank; yet he loved him very much. The Jews were the object of scorn to the Romans; yet he honoured them and their customs. Do not be afraid to love those who are divided from us by class or ethnicity or faith. Do not be afraid to reach out to members of the human race who live on the other side of our small globe; the victims of climate change, as we saw in the stories of flood victims from Christian Aid last week; our Christian brothers and sisters under persecution. Do not be afraid to pray for your enemies, the children who join Islamic State and those who control them, and to imagine and pray for a better world. Do not be afraid to be seen with people who are different and to work together with them.
DO continue to work with Citizens – picture 6000 London residents, from babes in arms to the very elderly, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Latins, people whose families have lived here for generations and newly-arrives refugees, mostly not too well off but some quite comfortable, using their power to get Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan to commit to improving housing for ordinary Londoners. That’s what we were part of on 28th April. It’s a good use of power. And we’ll continue to hold Sadiq to account by having regular meetings with him.
The Festival of NonViolence, planned here for November, and for which I hope to apply for funds in the name of St Andrew’s, will be an opportunity to explore our use of power – personal and social – to make for justice without the use of force. I hope you will support it.
All power belongs to God, and he gives power to his followers so that, through us, he can bring creation to fulfilment; through us he can build the Kingdom. As we sang before we heard out scripture readings:
I’m building a people of power And I’m making a people of praise That will move through this land by my Spirit and will glorify my precious name.
Wake up, then, little flock, to your power for good. It is not power for its own sake; it is power for the sake of God and the sake of the world he came to save. Use that power in your daily life; and every morning and every evening, and in every service of worship, return to God and acknowledge that it is HIS power and ask him to forgive any misuse of power and thank him for the good you have been able to do.
True power is not about jumping about and making a lot of noise; it’ about a quiet confidence in God and in the way he is working his purpose out in our lives, in our church, in the world. Come to communion and know that confidence, that faith; and then go, and use your God given power for God’s own purposes. Bless you all!
Revd. Maggie Hindley
Sermon given 29th May 2016.