Some extended history of mild abusiveness have been surfacing in the congregation I am serving. And there are hints now and then of deeper abuses. As a result council asked that I begin to address abuse in some sermons.
The first of these sermons was introduced with our denominations’ historic and ground-breaking survey in the 1990s that, much to our surprise, revealed abuse within the denominational membership was reported at the same or higher levels as in general society. We began to address this as a denomination as soon as the shock wore off.
The first sermon I preached was rooted in Philippians 2:7,8 and Galatians 5:16 with Matthew 4:1-11 and 27: 39-41 in supporting roles. I also borrowed some things I learned through Tony Campolo, who apparently learned them from Willard Wallard, namely the concept that “for love to increase power must decrease”
The main drive of the sermon (in my mind anyway) is that there are two main power dynamics in this world and one of them was never strongly used by Jesus:
Power One is what we might call survival of the fittest, the way of the flesh, the ways of nature – of this world, or the ways of the Kingdoms of this world. It is a form of power that is primarily dominating, coercive and thus abusive and violent. It is the one we know naturally and instinctively, even as humans. It has us wanting to take that power to ourselves. Vulnerability has no place in this system, except to be taken advantage of to advance oneself.
The other is the power of the Kingdom of God, the way of Jesus and the way of the Spirit. It is in direct counter-emphasis to the original one. Jesus repeatedly was given opportunity to use or obtain the powers of the Kingdoms of this World, for instance in the wilderness with Satan, and for another instance on the cross, when people are saying they would believe in him if he healed himself. So why is it that he did what we most likely would not have done if we had access to ‘super’ power? — i.e. let himself be vulnerable to that power? To increase and show love is why.To build relationship is why.
Jesus knows that for love to be shown, Power One must decrease. Think of human relationships like marriage. If strained, the person who really loves and cares has much less power than the one who says and believes “I don’t care.” If that relationship is to balance, the one with the power must become vulnerable and reduce the power they have in the situation. God understands that. We don’t. Not easily.
So, that sermon said Jesus became vulnerable to show God’s love and in dying in that vulnerability revealed the power of God, the power of Love, Grace, Forgiveness, Mercy etc.
When we pull power to ourselves, we will abuse.
For the next Sunday morning I was led to preach on Ezekiel 34, focusing on verse 21. In the chapter I saw that there was a reprimand for Shepherd-Kings, but then also one for the dynamics within the flock. The “Survival of the fittest” Power One dynamics. The same dynamic Paul addresses regarding the Agape Feast in 1 Corinthians 11. And God, through the prophet, says he will intervene himself and level things, not so much the playing field, as much as the power field.
Well, those who enjoy using Power One in the church do not like that message. At all. OK, I’m not comfortable with it myself. It’s scary to recognize the call to the sheep in that chapter. Support the vulnerable, do not butt and boss the weak, etc. The rules of Power One are much easier to figure out, and if you work well under those rules, why change? Well, because the Word says that to live by the flesh is to be displacing the Spirit, that is why.
So, I’m working on it.