The Rev. Peter M. Carey
Sermon – July 8, 2012
St. Paul’s Memorial Church
Last week, in an attempt to escape the heat and pick up some muffins for breakfast, I stopped by the Great Value grocery store in Crozet. As I parked, I saw the newspaper boxes lined up in front of the store. On the cover of the Hook was a picture of an empty chair and the headline read, “the power issue.” Next to the Hook the Daily Progress proclaimed, “Powerless in Charlottesville.”
Our last few weeks have certainly been dominated by questions of power. First, of course the ouster of President Sullivan with all the continuing drama and an amazing gathering of support for her from every segment of the UVa community. Almost as soon as there was some temporary closure to this story, the storm hit, and our attention shifted to an entirely different notion of power. My family only had power restored on Thursday night, and we are still waiting for clean water and Internet, phone and cable.
During most of the last four weeks, a dominant thought for me has been about the restoration of power. While we were away, Lisa and I followed the goings on here via Twitter and Facebook, and the plethora of articles, postings, and prognostications kept us more or less in the loop about what was happening. During this time, I kept thinking about how President Sullivan might be able to be restored to her position of president.
More recently, of course, my focus has been upon the restoration of power at our home. We diligently followed the postings from Dominion Power about where they would be working each day, hoping they would get around to our little street in Ivy.
The feeling of being “out of power” is one that is uncomfortable for many of us, living in the developed world, we come to rely upon such things as clean running water, lights that turn on when we flick the switch, and quick access to information across the internet. In addition, the feeling that competent leaders such as President Sullivan could be forced out by what looked, at times, like a major conspiracy leaves us feeling that goodness itself is on shaky grounds.
In these times of temporary powerlessness, we long for the feeling of continuity, we long for consistency, we long for control.
Jesus, himself, may have experienced a feeling of powerlessness when he returned to his hometown. After performing grand miracles on two shores of the Sea of Galilee, and in the middle of the Sea, itself, he could perform “no deed of power” among his friends and family from his youth. At first they were “astounded” at his teaching and healing, but then feelings of skepticism and doubt dominate.
Jesus himself experiences this time of weakness, of not having full access to the power within him. In this moment of powerlessness, we see something of the full humanity of Jesus. In this moment of powerlessness, we see the strength of Jesus as he first calls the 12 and then sends them out and empowers them to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and anoint the sick and heal them.
Paradoxically, Jesus finds strength in the midst of weakness – of course foreshadowing his work on Good Friday, accepting ultimate weakness in order to bring salvation to the world. On the cross, Jesus’ action is “kenotic” and self-emptying, so that the world might be filled with the love of Christ. Jesus also models the way that we are to live not solely for ourselves, but for others.
Paul, too, has much to say about power and weakness in his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians. This letter is full of paradox and seemingly inconsistency, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” It seems that Paul has happened upon a deep truth, that when we enter into deep humility and selfless love, we access a deep power – deeper than the power to restore a university president, and deeper than electrons buzzing across wires and into AC units. We get confused at times about power, not unlike Peter when he tried to defend Jesus with a sword when he was being arrested in the garden. Jesus said, “those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” in order to remind Peter, and us, that the power of Christ is something deeper, and stranger than the power of force, the power of political machinations, and the power of electricity.
“So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.”
“Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for where I am weak, I am strong.”
In our everyday daily lives, we can fall into the rut of forgetting where power really resides; we can forget that our own lives are gift to us, and that the deep power resides with God. This is the “old magic” that Aslan reminds Lucy about in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. The deep and abiding love of God is the power on which our lives depend. Paradoxically, like Paul, when we accept our weakness, when we “get out of the way,” God’s power and love fill us, inspire us, and enliven us.
“I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” ~Psalm 121
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~Romans 8.38-39
We are reminded in no uncertain terms by the grand story of God as it is recorded in the Bible that we are mere stewards of God’s power. We are reminded at the beginning of this grand story that God spoke, and there was light. We are reminded at the end of the story of scripture of the new heavens ad the new earth, and that all things will rest in the love and power of God. “Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”