Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Power Potentials

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From the Pulpit
(Creative Commons Image by Matthew Paulson on Flickr)


There is no end to power’s deception and corruption.

While we don’t need the Bible to corroborate that statement, we seem rather content when it does. The levels of power gone awry narrated in the gospel lesson this Sunday from Mark could be a soap opera or primetime television show at its best. If you need to find an illustration for this passage so as to “bring the sermon home,” well, then the dimensions of human brokenness manifested in Mark 6 have not been fully appreciated.

When power usurps mercy. When power demands drama. When power manipulates and connives and only looks out for the self? Well, there is power in its most destructive form.

Given the issues of these last weeks in our world, this story from Mark has now become one of those texts that on Sermon Brainwave we say, if you are not preaching on it, you can’t read it out loud. Why? Because it’s all about power misused. And the wielding of power for the purpose of destruction has been more than potent lately. Damaging. Demoralizing. Debilitating. Demeaning. Desecrating. Discriminating. You can’t read the story of John’s beheading and then preach a sermon on another supposedly safer text. Because the story of John’s death is power at its worst. And this is the kind of power that has to be called out from the pulpit.

Why? Because we all have the potential to dismiss the origin of destructive power -- a lack of recognizing one’s starting point. Where you start determines your end.  What controls you?  Domination or dignity? Self-service or true service to the other? Self-protection or honor? For Herod? He starts from self-preservation. For Herodias? Pleasing the other. For the mother? Who knows. And that’s scary. There’s the rub -- the starting point of your power matters. Because look where they all end up.

If you cannot articulate the seat of your power, that you have it, that you know what to do with it, then your power will have the potential to disempower. If you do not know the starting place of your power -- and whether or not it comes from love and dignity and honor and glory -- then abuse of power is just around the corner. And a letter of call is no justification for yielding power unchecked.

Friends, I am tired of the kind of power that has no regard, none at all, for the other. The power that seems to act as if disregard for the other is acceptable. The power that dismisses the loyal for the sake of the new. The kind of power that is reckless and relentless and ruthless.

I am tired of the power that overlooks potential and possibility in favor of trends. I am tired of the power that thinks it has all the answers and that those around it cannot contribute to the potential of the whole. I am tired of the power that does not listen. I am tired of the power that marginalizes conversation. I am tired of the power that thinks dialogue and discourse will lead to change when change is only perceived as a new sense of where we can locate control.

Serious talk about power and how it’s used and misused? Well, my hunch is that it would be welcomed from the pulpit -- a place of assumed power talking about power in ways that might even call into question your own. Power potentials on multiple levels.

Because here’s the thing -- how does our God manifest power? God’s power has as its end the hope of approach, the hope of relationship. God’s power is outside of itself and not turned inward. God’s power is for the sake of love.

This becomes the litmus test for power, does it not? When power’s starting point is money, the bottom line, rules, control, competition, manipulation? That’s not power. That’s bullying. That’s abuse. That’s nothing else than one getting one’s way.  That’s force. That’s coercion. That’s narcissism. And that kind of power leads to a head on a platter.

A rather grotesque image, yet, if we are honest, full of truth. How many times have you felt like your head has been served on a platter as the result of all of the above? That what you stand for, what you believe, your thoughts, your ideas, your aspirations, your truth, your sense of justice, your commitment to mercy, your dedication to preaching the truth of the Gospel, rather than celebrated is objectified on a silver serving dish for the world’s mocking?

We are simultaneously drawn to and repulsed by power. And that convergence, or juxtaposition, if you will, is worth some contemplation this week. These past weeks have indicated that there is no lack of illustrations to help us negotiate and contemplate this issue of power and I trust deeply that you will know what specific concretization to bring to your sermon for your people. People wonder about power, want it, misunderstand it, have been the recipients of its generosity and the objects of its negativity. It takes a biblical imagination, it will take you, to offer an alternative and corrective, to be a conversation partner about the nature of power for the sake of providing something different than the world, to invite an alternative way of thinking about power so as to prevent it from being the one-sided perception it is now.

So this week? This is the week to come clean with your own power. How you use it. How you think about it. Because, and you do not need me to remind you of this, you have a ton of power. This is not meant to scare you. Not meant to intimidate you. It’s meant to encourage you to consider what it means that the power you have is not rooted in yourself but in God’s love. You have a power that comes from a starting point that is rare in this world. A starting point of truth and mercy. A starting point of grace and dignity. A starting point of regard and respect.

And this, my friends, is the kind of power that will truly save the world.

Karoline

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