Sermon for Sunday, January 27, 2019 – “Re-envisioning Power”

Third Sunday after Epiphany
January 27, 2019
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Decorah, Iowa
Rev. Amy Zalk Larson

Click here to read scripture passages for the day.

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace in the name of Jesus.

Our Gospel story today is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. After his baptism, he spends forty days in the wilderness and then, filled with the power of the Spirit, he begins teaching and preaching.

That word, power, captured my attention this week. Maybe because we just watched a massive power struggle unfold in our country with the partial government shutdown. And it isn’t really over, yet. As those in power wrangle, the rest of the country hangs in the balance. It’s been heart- breaking to hear the stories of federal workers impacted by this – people working two extra jobs to pay the rent, people waiting to pick up their medications because they can’t afford the gas for the drive to the pharmacy. They feel powerless in the face of all this, as do so many Americans.

I am grateful that media outlets have been sharing these stories, as well as the stories of the ordinary people seeking asylum at our southern border. We need to focus on these people, on all the not-so-powerful people impacted by our government’s actions.

So much of our attention goes to those in power. It’s easy to get fixated on the actions of leaders like Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, Emmanuel Macron, Vladimir Putin. We do need to keep abreast of what these people are doing and how they are using power. It is good to be concerned about the rise of strongman rulers in many parts of the world.

Yet, our scriptures today direct our attention elsewhere. They also give us a new perspective on power.

Jesus comes, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and says that his power will be used for the sake of those who have no worldly power.

His ministry is for the sake of people who are poor and prisoners, for those who are blind, and all who are oppressed. Jesus focuses his attention on the people that society ignores – people who are viewed with pity if they are seen at all. By fixing his gaze on these people, Jesus says something powerful about God. Jesus declares that God sees all of us – not just those the world sees, but everyone. And God gives special care and attention to those whom the world doesn’t want to see.

The Apostle Paul says something similar in our second reading when he uses the metaphor of the body. That metaphor was used often in the ancient world. Politicians and philosophers used the image of the body to talk about families, households, cities or countries; but they used it to rein- force hierarchy and oppression. The body needs a head, the thinking went, and the head is most important; those who are the hands and feet must serve the head. Every other part of the body should seek to conform to the mandates of the head.

Paul turned this thinking on its head by stressing the importance of each part and encouraging us to show greatest honor to the parts of the body that seem least important.

Both Paul and Jesus call us to join them in turning our gaze away from the halls of power and towards those who live without worldly power. That is where God is focused, that is where God wants us all to focus.

In his preaching and teaching, Jesus also invites reflection on how power is used. Our culture often defines power as achieving our goals, controlling our destinies. You are powerful if you can get what you want, or better yet, get other people to do what you want.

Yet Jesus, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, does not use his power for himself. He doesn’t build himself up or claim power over others. Instead, his power is demonstrated by what he accomplishes for others. He uses his power to set others free, to raise others up.

Jesus call us to use our power the same way. We are to ask ourselves if we are using our lives and our power to lift others up, to make life better for other people.

We can do all this, beloved, because we too have been given the power of the Holy Spirit. We can see others, we can use our power for their sakes because that same power of God, the power that filled Jesus, is at work in us, in you. Filled by the Spirit of Jesus, we are not powerless. We can use our voices as citizens on behalf of those who have less power. We can turn our eyes away from the powerful and towards those Jesus sees. We can use our power to lift others up. As we do, we are also drawn into relationships that heal us and our world. We are saved from despair, we are lifted up as well.

We can do all this because God also sees and loves every part of each of us, every part of you. God sees and loves even the parts you would rather hide – the things that cause you shame, the things that make it hard for you to use your power for others. God sees all of that and gives special care and attention to those hard things.

Beloved, God’s power is at work to tend and work through all of who we are – everything strong and weak and beautiful and shameful within us and within our lives. With that power at work in us, we can pay attention to those without power. We can use our power for the sake of others, for the healing of this world that God so loves.

Let’s take a moment for silent prayer.