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  • Hallfold 22 October 2006

    Mark 10:35-45
    Isaiah 53:4-12

    Where is the power, Who has the most power? - and we look at pictures of George W. Bush, Osama Bin Laden, Anti-war protesters, Barbara Bush, Tianaman Square tank man, Madonna and David, Bill & Melinda Gates with Bono on the front page of Time magazine - and discuss power. 

    The power of Jesus was to Kneel at the feet of his friends - and we sing of that moment.

    Living with Power - how do we live with power, how do we define power:-

     - the ability to impose one's will on others, even if those others resist in some way.

    "By power is meant every opportunity/possibility existing within a social relationship, which permits one to carry out one's own will, even against resistance, and regardless of the basis on which this opportunity rests."
    Max Weber, Basic Concepts in Sociology - see 

    I've always been fascinated by power, as an historian and as a sociologist I have studied it - the way it has been used, the way it has been abused, as a person who has exercised power I've wondered about the ways I've used power in my own life.

    As a Police Officer I was given some enormous powers, even staying within the law the power to arrest someone, the power to enforce the law, the power to use violence when necessary is immense. The position, the uniform, meant that I could force people to act in ways that I could not do without. One incident that comes to mind was outside Burnden Park one evening, I knew that the away fans had been released behind me, but across the road stood all the homes idiots - those just waiting for a fight, there were other police officers around but no one seemed to be doing anything - so I just walked towards this crowd and told them to get moving - and in one movement they all turned  and began to walk towards town - and for a moment I thought Wow!
    But at other times I had no power at all - sitting with a mother whose child has just been killed, filling out crime reports when you know that very little will or can be done to find the people responsible - and even in so many mundane situations - taking a phone call one day from someone demanding that I remove the car parked on the road outside his house - it's in his place and has no tax - and trying to explain that I didn't have the power to do that and however much he shouted at me that he paid my wages - he didn't have the power to force me to do something I didn't have the powers to do!

    As a Minister, people see me as someone with power - someone who has special access to God, someone who can make decisions on behalf of the whole church community, someone whose word can enforce change. The first time I was really aware of that was when I asked the question, "Why do the Choir all crowd into the Ministers Vestry before the service?" and the next thing I knew they weren't doing so any more -  "Because the Minister say's so". I can set the agenda at meetings, I can decide who will be invited to lead worship, I can decide themes and the general pattern for worship and other activities. Yet my power is limited by what the congregation will agree to or accept - the church chairs are not laid out the way I would prefer, we do not meet often enough for Bible study or for prayer - and so quite properly within a church community no one person - whatever their position can impose their will upon others.

    We often think of power in terms of force, strength - but there is also power in non-compliance, in silence and like all forms of power it can be well used or abused. I remember doing a course called Sources of Spirituality. We were looking at the book "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker and two of us were looking at the power relationships in the book, we discussed the various characters, where they imposed power, where they sought liberation.  One of the issues in the book was the way in which a minority white community had dominated the majority black community and so in opening up the discussion to the whole group we tried to show how a minority can grab and keep power by only letting a minority of the group join in the discussion - ignoring or interupting those who had not been chosen - and we could have done it if the chosen people had played the game - but they didn't.

    A couple of weeks later we had begun to look at Rienhard Niebuhr's "Moral Man and Immoral Society. We needed a volunteer to read up the relevant chapter and lead the group, and waited for those who had so far contributed nothing to step forward - but it was one of those staring at the feet moments and I found myself very reluctantly, very angrily being landed with leading another session. Yet I found myself looking at Niebuhr's ideas about non-violent resistance and in particular his views on silence as power. 

    Firstly, as compliance - when we say nothing the status quo is maintained, those abusing power are not brought to task, injustice is allowed to flourish. 

    On the other hand silence can be a form of non-violent resistance, when we use it to register our disapproval - an abstention from a parliamentary vote, those who refuse to even politely applaud a speaker, those who refuse to an answer an interregator, those who maintain dignity in the face of abuse - well used at the right time - it can render those in power powerless.

    But silence become coercion when it is used by the lazy or manipulative to ensure that other people are the ones taking the risks or being subjected to extra work. Those who never volunteer, those who never contribute to a discussion - but later complain about decisions made, those who are quick to take but not to give, those who believe that in saying nothing, doing nothing they can't be blamed when it goes wrong.

    So what is Jesus saying about power?

    He was asked,  "Who is the greatest?" and he has challenged ideas about belonging, brought children before them, talked about service, about losing life, he has pointed to the outcast and the vulnerable he has questioned assumptions about wealth as blessing and now he suggests that to be able to sit in the positions of power, to be great - you must serve, be a slave to all and give your life as a ransom for many.

    And so some would compete to be the greatest servants so that they can have power - back to our first pictures - our leaders call themselves public servants, servants of a faith, servants of the state, servants of the people, servants of the consumer, - in doing so they seek to maintain the system of domination that upholds and reinforces their positions of power. 

    Jesus sweeps all that away.

    "The words and deeds of Jesus reveal that he is not a minor reformer but an egalitarian prophet who repudiated the very premises of the Domination System: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles. In  his beatitudes, his healing, and his table fellowship with outcasts and sinners, Jesus declared God's special concern for the oppressed"  Walter Wink, The Powers That Be

    "What Jesus envisioned was a world transformed, where both people and Powers are in harmony with the Ultimate and committed to the general welfare - what some prefer to call the "kinship" of God"  Walter Wink, The Powers That Be

    Welcome to the kinship of the powerless, the vulnerable, the frightened, the confused, the diseased, come let us walk together gaining strength from each other, real power comes from God's walk with the lame, the blind, the speechless 
    - the disciples didn't get it, 
    - the Powers can't comprehend it, 
    - sadly, the church has struggled to believe it 
    - can we get it? 
    -can we believe it?
    - can we live it?
  • St. Andrew's & Bamford 15 October 2006

    "What's the cost? What's it worth?

    Who’se the greatest? - those with wealth? and the power and influence to use their wealth? Jesus has challenged ideas about belonging, brought children before them, talked about service, about losing life, he has pointed to the outcast and the vulnerable and still we think that God’s blessing comes in the form of wealth and power and influence.

    The man wanted to follow Jesus - but at what cost? was it worth it? - all his possessions given to the poor just didn’t seem worth it - and so he goes away - goes through life sad - he is looking for liberation - but is not prepared to pay the price. Being rich is not the problem - it is what he does with his wealth and what his wealth does to him that is the problem - it binds him, it possesses him - he is no different to those who are filled with demons, But the cost of healing is too much and values his possessions more than the life Jesus offers.

    Amos has no problem with wealth either - just how it’s gained and how it is maintained - do we trample on the poor? - no? what about cheap clothes, cheap food - at whose cost? is it worth it? Where are our pension funds and savings invested? Do we maintain our wealth with injustice and fraud? Can we walk with Jesus and trample on the poor? - the rich man realises that he can’t and chooses his wealth before the walk

    Good teacher - only God is good - I have kept all the commandments - then do this - how can any of us be saved? All things are possible with God - grace ... undeserved, unearned, love that throws open the gates of the Kingdom to all who will enter - yet for those who hang on to wealth and power and influence as markers of status and blessing it will feel like trying to steer a camel through the eye of a needle.

  • Masseycroft, 2 October 2006

    So pondering on the last line of my previous post I began thinking about the message I might bring to the people of Masseycroft this afternoon. Masseycroft is a sheltered housing complex where an Ecumenical Service is held every Monday afternoon - they are a thoughtful lively bunch with the host of disabilities that you will find amongst any group aged 70+

    Mark 9:42-50
    If we were to take this passage literally what a state we would be in. All around us one handed, one eyed, unipeds - hobbling along the Kingdom Road. (Cue Dudley Moore/Peter Cook sketch? "I've got nothing against your right leg. The trouble is - neither have you")

    These are harsh words by Jesus - and probably not aimed at everyone in the community, but at those whose sin was abusive and caused others to stumble. Yet it has still had me pondering the nature of such a community. Jesus still wants people to have the chance to follow, to enter the Kingdom of God despite their disabilities - and so as we follow there will be those around us whose journey will be a lot harder than simply putting one foot in front of the other.

    It's not the image that the world wants to present. We live in an age obsessed by physical perfection and with the means to  "heal" our natural imperfections. Disability embarrasses us - and yet look at us here - each with our own  disabilities, - age, ill-health, natural lack of certain abilities - affect each of us - some can be seen others can not. 

    Yet think about some of the people chosen by God - the ineloquent Moses, the stuttering, depressive Paul, the reluctant Jonah, the outcast Woman at the Well, the barren Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth et. al. the blind, the lame, the desperate that gathered around Jesus - all called to follow, to hobble, drag, carry, guide, grope, themselves and each other along the Kingdom Road.

    We are a disabled community, enabled by God
    We are an impure community, who are salted by God
    We are a troublesome community, called to live in peace.
    Let us follow, hobbling, crawling, carrying, our way along the Kingdom Road