Lording It Over Them

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“But Jesus said to them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves.'”

                                                                                                      Luke 22:25-6

“Na-na-na-nah-nah!”  The old schoolyard taunt has been echoing in my ears this week, as the new US administrtion produced a record number of first week executive orders.  A friend of mine from the Order of St. Luke, a religious organization to which I belong, emailed me this week.  He is from Canada, and he asked with some degree of disbelief if this was all legal.  “Can the US president make laws without going through Congress?” he asked.

TV commentators from the pro-Trump side reminded listeners that these were all things Trump said during the campaign that he would do if elected.  And now he has been elected, and he is following through on camapaign promises.  But I have to admit, the speed with which he is turning out executive orders – a new record for the number of orders signed during the first week, almost feels like the schoolyard taunt.  “Na-na, look what I can do!”  He’s got the power and he’s gonna use it!

The Gospel lesson from Luke reminds us that the purpose of power is not to “lord it over” others, but to serve them.  Thomas R. Hawkins, a contemporary writer on Christian leadership, distinguishes between “power over” and “power with.”  Jesus certainly exercised power, but it was not power over; for him, power was exercised with and for, not over.  He mentored and taught his disciples, not lording it over them, not demanding.  He chose humility over pride and self-sacrifice over self-aggrandizement.

In the Gospel of John, Pilate is considering whether or not to order Jesus’ crucifixion.  He warns Jesus that he, Pilate, has power over Jesus.  But Jesus responds, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  (John 19:11)  That warning reaches much farther than ancient Palestine. It suggests that power, political or otherwise, is not an excuse acceptable to God for actions that contradict God’s mission.  Time and agian the Bible tells us what is expected of us: to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8); to witness by our lives to Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8); to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and care for the sick and imprisoned (Matthew 25:31-46).  The Bible is adamant in its call for leaders to exercise justice with mercy, to seek righteousness with compassion, and to care for the least.  This is the purpose of power – to do God’s work of love and justice, to work with God for the good of the people.  In both Old and New Testaments, God calls for leaders who will care for the people – all of the people, not just those who are well off or fromthe right party or belief set.

As we move forward with a new administration, let us offer our prayers for our nation and its leaders, but let’s also demand accountability, and direct our leaders to exercise power with not power over, power that supports not power that undermines, and power that seeks to work for the good of all the people.

Prayer:  Almighty God, from whom comes all power and authority, I pray today that you will work in the hearts of leaders everywhere to teach them to use their power in ways that build up, not tear down.  May they exercise power for the good of all the people they govern, not just the few, not just those who agree with them.  Help leaders to care for the sick, to lift up the downtrodden, to bind up wounds caused by intemperate campaign language.  Let those who hold power use it to serve and to support as Christ taught his followers to use the power you granted them.  All for the sake of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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Rowboats and Sailboats

Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of imagehosts.                                           Zechariah 4:6b

Are you a rowboat or a sailboat?  I recently read a description of churches distinguishing between rowboat churches and sailboat churches, and I think the analogy can be applied to people as well as congregations.*

A rowboat person takes stock of the gifts and talents God has provided, rolls up their sleeves, and says, okay, it’s time for me to get to work.  They are grateful for what God has provided, offer thanks, and then step forward to add their contributions.  They assess, can I do this.  If the answer is yes, They work hard, stay focused and get the job done.

A sailboat person, however, has a different approach.  They don’t pick up the paddle and start moving the boat forward under their own power in the direction their paddling takes them.  No, they set their sails to catch the wind of God’s Spirit.  Yes, they have to put up the sails and tend the tiller, but they leave room throughout their life for God’s Spirit to be present.  With God involved, they are always attentive to the way God is setting the direction of the wind and providing for forward momentum on God’s path, because when they move with the wind, they go farther and faster.

Sometimes, we get caught up in acting like rowboats, choosing the direction, working up a sweat trying to get where we want to go.  We listen for God’s call, and then decide if we’re equipped to do that.  If we decide to move forward, we’re grateful for the boat and our strength, give thanks to the Lord, and then forget about God as we start rowing.  Prayer becomes the bookends of our lives – maybe a short morning prayer or devotion, then a day of hard work followed by a short prayer at bedtime.  God set a direction, we waved goodbye, and headed out from port.

But God wants more for us.  God’s desire is to be in communion with us, to share the load in all we do, to fill our sails and help us set a direction by which we can go farther.  To become a sailboat, however, we have to be attentive to the wind throughout our journey, sensitive to shifts in the wind, looking for the new things God is doing, and always seeking to be faithful.  Prayer is no longer reciting words – it is seeking God and resting in God’s presence, doing our part but always aware of God’s leading, trusting the Lord.

Who will you be today?  A rowboat, thanking God and then intent on getting through the day by yourself?  Or a sailboat, tacking as needed to keep God’s Spirit filling your life and sending you forward?

Prayer:  Spirit of God, fill my life today.  Keep me always running before the wind, depending on you for direction and looking to stay focused on your presence every moment of my day.  Remind me again and again that apart from you, my accomplishments are empty.  With your power in my life, however, I can be an on-going  witness for the love and grace of God.  This I ask through Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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*The analogy comes from Joan S. Gray’s book, Spiritual Leadership for Church Officers, Geneva Press, 2009.

 

Power vs License

 

image“For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Years ago our family used to drive by a house in Wayne that we called “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea.”  It was a huge house, with its rear facing the road we drove on.  The house had originally been just a really big house.  But at some point a new owner took over, and decorated the back yard.  There was a pool, a colonnade, and more statues than I could count.  It looked like someone had said, “I want to show how much money I have so buy one of everything!”  It was incredibly ostentatious, and our family made it a fame to see who could call out “Nouveau Riche on Chelsea!” first as we drove by.

Money and power – two things that as a child I thought, if you got it, you flaunt it!  Got money?  Then let the world know!  Got power?  Then show it off!  It seemed to me as a child that someone who had money or power could do whatever they wanted, and if they didn’t do what they wanted, then they obviously didn’t really have enough money or power.  After all, wasn’t the point  to be able to do whatever you wanted to do?

Then I grew up.  As a parent, there were things I wanted to do, things I had the power and the money to do,  but I didn’t do them because I voluntarily limited myself for some reason.  Maybe I didn’t do something because it would hurt someone I cared about; perhaps I restrained myself because I wanted something else even more.  And sometimes, I held back because I had no need to show off money or power.  Of course, I didn’t have the kind of exorbitant money or power that the owner of that house must have had, but I certainly had enough to do what I wanted.  But I restrained myself.

Paul reminds us that a spirit of power does not mean doing whatever we please.  God’s gift of power comes most clearly when it also comes with a spirit of self-discipline.  Like the person who could sit at home clipping coupons and never work (not me!), like the corporate CEO who could tell people to jump and their only response would be “How high?”, some people have power and money but don’t feel a need to show it off to the world, but are content to balance power and money with a spirit of self-discipline.

It occurred to me that many people who feel the need to blatantly exercise power or spend money are people who are trying to convince themselves of their own worth.  They base their sense of self on how others see them.  If others cower in the face of their power, they know they are powerful.  If others are impressed by their spending, they feel rich.  I had a babysitter for my kids years ago who always felt it was important to tell me how much her mother had paid for every outfit she wore.  I got tired of her monologue pretty quick – she didn’t last long as our babysitter.

As Christians, our worth doesn’t depend on how others see us; our worth comes from God. God loves us, therefore we are worthwhile.  Not the other way around – we are worthwhile therefore God loves us. No, we derive our sense of worth from the love that God gives us, from our awareness that we are frail, sinful humans who are loved anyway by the author of creation.  And that gives us the ability to exercise power with self-discipline.  We don’t have to show off our money; we don’t have to make people jump in order to know we are worthwhile.  We know it because we know the Lord.  And that knowledge gives us both power and self-discipline.

Prayer:  Your love, O God, transforms me from sinful a human being to a beloved child of the king.  Fill me with the power of your presence; let me exercise that power with self-discipline and love, as your son, Jesus, did.  Amen.