Sunday, October 21, 2012

Power Struggles

This sermon was based on the gospel reading from the Revised Common Lectionary, Mark 10:35-45. This was also Domestic Violence Awareness Sunday with an element of healing during Holy Communion.

Equality. It’s a really nice concept. Really. Everyone on the same level, with the same opportunities. It's a great idea.
The trouble is, we aren’t wired for that. We continually try to outdo our neighbors. We want the better cars, salary, jobs, stories, history, fishing tales, etc.
Our society isn’t structured for equality either. Maybe society influences us, or maybe we influence society—you could argue that one either way. But either way, it’s true. Promotions don’t go to everyone…just the best or the most well-connected. Salaries for the same jobs/work vary depending on any number of things. Gender roles are still unconsciously observed and instilled in our children. People still go to bed hungry, while others refuse to take home leftovers from dinner at the restaurant.
This is nothing new…in our gospel lesson, James and John fall into this very temptation. They want seats of honor for their time with Jesus. These two have identified themselves as the most important people in Jesus’ life, and they want Jesus to say so.
Jesus doesn’t.
Jesus doesn’t buy into the power struggle. He says this right/left hand status is not something he grants. He won’t play the disciples off each other in a worldly game like that.
James and John are humbled go back to the group. That’s right! They’re not the only two disciples, either. The other ten hear about what James and John did, and they are hurt and angry, too. I can only imagine them whispering to each other about James and John’s request. Planning to kick them out, ignore them, make them pay for their arrogance.
Problem—that makes the other ten arrogant. Jesus won’t let that happen, either. Jesus understands the nature of humanity—there is nothing one can do to be kicked out of God’s group. Everyone is in.
Jesus checks the egos of the disciples. He reminds them what it truly means to follow him into greatness—be a servant of all. Having authority means using it to promote equality. The lowly are lifted, and the oppressors—those who would use their power for themselves at the expense of others—are overturned.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power.
He overturns tables of profiteers at the temple, stands up for a woman about to be stoned to death, heals blind beggars, defeats the aspirations of a rich man, and today he reverses the egotistical tendencies in his own disciples.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power.
So why do we?
Today we remember that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. We will have an element of healing for anyone who wishes to come forward. We lift up the services available here in Waushara County and remember those here and around the world who have been touched by this type of violence.
Here’s the thing: today we remember that October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. …and we wouldn’t need to if domestic violence weren’t an issue.
We as a society look the other way all the time in this system—by allowing those who use power to get themselves ahead to advance, by ignoring the incidents in our neighborhoods, our culture, and our world that reinforce power dynamics in favor of the powerful rather than the oppressed and marginalized. These behaviors set up a pattern that allows domestic violence to even exist, and so we would need to remember and be aware of it.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power. He also loves us. We are reminded that we live as broken people in a broken world. However, there is nothing too big or too awful that would ever ever make Jesus turn away from us or stop loving us. The love that Jesus shows is absolute and eternal. He works that all of us—all of us—would have life.
Whatever has happened to us, whatever has been done, Jesus still loves us.
We are not abandoned by God. Ever.
The disciples ask the un-askable—to have seats with Jesus in glory. Jesus doesn’t kick them out, doesn’t turn away. The ten other disciples become angry with James and John. Jesus doesn’t kick them out, doesn’t turn away.
Jesus never tolerates abuse of power, and he reminds us we are always loved. Jesus himself is the example of that level of selflessness. He who would be the master of all—God incarnate—becomes the servant of all.
If we are to follow Jesus, we must do that as well. We must realize where we are in the global scheme and how we are using what we have. If we have power, we must use authority we have to lift those who cannot lift themselves. To give up our power to effect equality. To stop the abuse of power by others.
And if we are oppressed or abused, then we ought to be lifted and liberated. We can realize that we are loved by God and should be treated as such.
Equality. It’s not easy, and it won’t always be happy, but it is good. It is the notion that life can be lived with love and without fear. That we are all deserving of that. Sometimes, that will mean realizing where we deserve better, and having the strength to claim that. Sometimes, it will mean realizing that we have more/better than we need, and working to bring others up, realizing we can afford it—even if it means we go down a bit.
As we said, we live in a broken world. It will never be perfect, but it can get better. Jesus came to bring up the low—to heal the sick, suffering, and sorrowful from all that burdened them. Today, we also ask for that healing. In a moment, we will have the opportunity to receive a prayer of healing along with the anointing of oil.
Whatever our cares, burdens, or obstacles to the world, we are invited to bring them with us, think on them, and pray on them. We ask God in Jesus’ name to help us give up those burdens and go over those obstacles. We hold on to the hope that tomorrow will be better than today—that we can heal. We will continue healing from everything from prejudice to physical ailments to mental and emotional hurts to systemic injustices.
Our hope is in Jesus, who sets our example, who holds on to us when we hurt, when we fail, when we try again. Jesus, who loves us and stays with us no matter what, came that we might have life. That life is our hope. AMEN.

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