Befriending Power – Pastor’s Reflection (November 20, 2016)
Kingship elicits thoughts of power, and in these touchy post-election days we may not welcome them. Abuse of power hardly counts as a new thing under the Sun, but recent decades have demanded that we name its extent and variety. American history has taken shape as a series of reactions to domination and, with varying degrees of success, we have targeted monarchy, dictatorship, slaveholding, exclusion from
voting, unregulated labor practices, discrimination in housing, employment, and public services. But in recent times we have had to face the abuse of persons at close quarters; in churches, in offices, on campuses, and at home.
Understandably, we check power with law. To this impulse we may credit the federal structure of our republic and the system of checks and balances that obtains at every level of its government. Further, we may add the variety of legislation that protects the civil rights of groups and individuals. Our discomfort with power may inspire us to use images of kindness and gentleness to domesticate the might of Christ: but this does not do justice to His kingship, which possesses a power both unqualified and unqualifiable. He does not comfort us by blunting His power but by making us safe within it, so that we befriend our own power to be like Him.
All of this becomes visible on the Cross. Christ crucified has not lost his power, but has used it fully. He helps us to perceive this truth of his Passion on the night before, when He washes the feet of His disciples. That the leader tends to the follower is a self-emptying (Kenosis), but this counts not as loss but as complete fulfillment. In Christ crucified is the naked power to love in an unqualified fashion and this attaches completely to God’s power to create and sustain life Christ, in His humanity retains the power, even when dying, to seek the good of those alienated from God, and we can glimpse in Him God’s power to bring life into existence and sustain it.
What we can learn from this is that whenever power is used to dominate it falls far short of its
potential, but it reaches that potential when it enables the thriving of the other, and this is to love
completely. Faith teaches us to receive this love with ease. We come to befriend the power of God, and not fear it, when we recognize that our seeing, hearing, thinking, even breathing, in the present moment
happens because of God’s continuous exercise of His power. Here we discover that our claims of
self-sufficiency are never strong as our constant dependence on the power of God, and the realization offers no humiliation, but rather the joy of realizing that we are truly loved into life.
This truth releases us from fear of our own power. If we are held in life by God’s power for good, we also share in that power. Created in His image we possess something of His capacities, and so we must befriend our own power for good.
It is important to note this since our first impulse toward holiness may be to check ourselves out of a healthy suspicion of our own potency. So we keep our noses clean and our mouths shut. We expend great energy in not offending our companions and in not embarrassing ourselves. Our instincts rest on the clear record of our missteps and those of others.
But Christ comes not to quench our power but to release it and direct it to the thriving of others. He knows this will accomplish good for them and happiness for us as it is happiness for Him. This happiness begins in us when we recognize the people who are vulnerable to us and we choose not to dominate, that is intimidate, seduce, manipulate, or exclude them.
On Thanksgiving we may look around the table and recognize those most vulnerable to us. These are the ones we can easily hurt, but also release and raise up. Over the pumpkin pie we will have the capacity from Christ to speak the encouraging word that sets another free for holy risk, or may choose the cutting word that will hold them fast to past mistakes. If we choose the latter course, our power remains
untransformed and theirs remains shackled. Choosing to befriend our power over our beloved will prove a happier use of our mind than meditating on how they can hurt or help us.
Recognizing the truth of power in that domestic place demands deep honesty. Befriending that power takes the Kingdom of Christ out of the pages of the Gospel and plants it in your home.