“Power to the Powerless”
by the Reverend Doctor Peter W. Allen
Hingham congregational Church, United Church of Christ
February 4, 2018
Isaiah 40:21-31, Mark 1:29-39
Jesus hadn’t really broken onto the scene yet. He was still in his home province of Galilee, a backwater region well to the north of Jerusalem — the holy city that was the center of the universe for Jesus and his people.
The Temple was in Jerusalem and it was like any place with status. Because the it was not only a political, military, and financial center, but a religious one as well, the people who lived and worked there felt spiritually elevated.
These days, in Manhattan, the residents there know that Wall Street makes their city the financial capital of the world.
And, like any place that considers itself a capital of anything, the communities beyond them become the butt of jokes or the object of pity. We here in Hingham sometimes, unfortunately, can develop an attitude about some of the towns surrounding us. I’ll leave that there. You know what I mean.
Here at the end of the first chapter of Mark, the author tells us that Jesus and his very first disciples go to Peter and Andrew’s house. There, Jesus finds that Peter and Andrew’s mother has a fever. Maybe she has the flu.
As you know, the flu can be deadly, as it has been for many this season. Even if there were a flu shot back then, Peter and Andrew’s mother would not have been able to afford it.
That’s because the disciples that Jesus called first were fishermen, not the kind kind of fishermen with big trawlers with massive nets and rumbling diesel engines that we see around the South Shore and South Coast of Massachusetts.
These guys has small wooden boats, mostly propelled by oars, maybe a small scrap of a sail. They hauled their nets by hand. And they were poor. The smelled of fish guts and sweat and they had no status.
And this was Jesus’ A team!
The crowds who followed him through the dusty streets of nameless villages and into the synagogues and down to the lake shore and out into the wilderness — they were even worse off.
They were the desperately poor. Those without a profession or even a menial job. They were the homeless. They were the women who had no choice but to sell their bodies. They were the lepers and others with horrific diseases that pushed them to the edges of — or completely out of — society. They were the mentally ill. The physically disfigured and disabled. The drunks. The traitors who worked for the hated Romans. The criminals.
And yet, and yet… These were the people to whom Jesus says he came to minister. They were his top priority.
Peter and Andrew’s mother is a woman. She has even less status than her fisherman sons. And yet the author of Mark makes a point of telling us that she is the first person Jesus heals. The very first.
And isn’t that great? Isn’t that just what we want from our God? A compassionate Messiah who will restore hope to the hopeless? A Savior who will gather those who feel completely lost and reconnect them with their Creator and to community? A Jesus who will give power to the powerless?
And yet, and yet… We wonder, because we are human, we wonder. Where does that leave us? I mean, you did get up and shower and dress yourselves to come to church. Many of you took the time to feed your kids and get them ready and got yourselves here on a Sunday morning when you could have been doing any number of other things.
As anyone would, you may be wondering, as I am, What does this mean for my life? Am I one of the powerless? And before we even finish asking ourselves that question, we know the answer.
Some of us in this room really haven’t experienced much powerlessness in our lives and others of us are very well acquainted with it.
The next question is also natural: If I am not among the powerless, did Jesus come for me, too?
Some answers to that question are challenging, but all of them are good news, I believe.
First though: Power and powerlessness take many forms.
Take the issue of women’s rights. The Me, Too movement has gained incredible momentum over the past several months. Every day, we hear of another powerful man stepping down from — or being forced out of — a position of authority because of his destructive behavior of one kind or another
Now, many women, including many of you, are in positions of power. Some of you have power over men in your workplace and in other places. Any yet, in general, women still have less power than men.
And of course, race… and physical abilities… and intellectual capacity… and sexual orientation… and so many other factors can determine how much power a person has in this life.
And our power, perceived or actual, matters a lot. It can determine friendships, life partners, education, income, sense of safety and well-being, and much more.
So, if God prefers the powerless, where does that leave those of us who don’t feel powerless, but still need God? Still need support and meaning in our lives?
Well, thankfully, God’s love is not like a pie. There are not a finite number of slices available. There is an infinite supply of compassion and wisdom from God. A startling abundance. Enough for everyone and then some.
Those of us who feel we are the ones with a comfortable amount of power or control over our lives just have a few things to remember.
First of all: Let’s be sure to share the power we do have. Being a voice for the voiceless is a great place to start, as is giving or raising financial resources for those in need. But sharing power is something more than just being generous with our money and our things. It means stepping back and making room and supporting,
If we have power, especially in an institutional setting or a family or a business, we can create spaces where those who feel powerless can be empowered.
For years, I’ve been hearing about the importance of creating safe spaces for people, especially vulnerable people. The other day, though, I heard a great phrase that totally turned my head around on this issue. Someone said to me, Instead of creating safe spaces, let’s create brave spaces. That way, the most vulnerable among us will not feel like victims, but rather will be empowered to speak and act with courage, even in scary situations.
If we have power, we can help create these brave spaces, and partner with Jesus in empowering those who feel lesser than. What might it mean to create a brave space here at church or in any setting? Let’s talk about that.
Secondly, if we feel we have power, its easy to fall prey to the myth of invulnerability. Like a seventeen-year-old boy, those of us who have even a little bit of power can fool ourselves into thinking that nothing bad can happen to us. And yet, it’s true, isn’t it, that all of us have known sadness and failure, pain, disappointment, and loss? We hate to admit it, but all of us need support sometimes.
In Jesus, God comes to us with a word of comfort and of hope, perhaps especially when we deny the fact that we need it.
At the end of our story in the Gospel of Mark, the morning after he heals all of those people, everybody is looking for Jesus. Peter finally finds him praying on the outskirts of town. And Jesus tells Peter that he must be going.
His role is not to stay in one place, but to be on the move, going from town to town… to tell stories, to heal the sick, and to cast out demons.
And we have choices. When he comes to us in our own distress, will we have the humility to accept his help? And when it’s time for him to go, will we try to keep him for ourselves? Will we stay where we are, comfortable in our own privilege?
Or will we join with Peter and the others in empowering our neighbors and head off on the adventure of a lifetime?