Hungry For Power
This sermon was preached at Trinity Episcopal Church in Towson, Maryland on July 26, 2015 on the ninth Sunday of Pentecost Proper 12, Year B.
We have some pretty intense scripture stories this morning. We have been hearing King David’s story for the last several weeks, so I guess we should have known this was coming… but still. We tend to remember King David for all the good things he did. But this part of his story was a turning point in David’s life. Everything that came next was essentially his downfall. Remember, Israel did not always have a king. They were tribes before they were a kingdom. But when they were threatened and ultimately defeated by the Philistines, they decided they needed new leadership. They wanted a king “like all the other nations” had kings. Saul was their first king and his story was also one of both promise and tragedy. He was chosen by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel in the hope that he would deliver Israel from the Philistines. But as the story progressed, Saul became increasingly driven by jealousy and anger. When David is introduced into the story he is described as having many favorable traits that would make him a good king— a better king than Saul, and actually worthy of God’s anointing. The Scriptures say again and gain that “The Lord is with him” and more and more people come to love David and think that he should be their king. As Saul continued his downward spiral, he committed senseless acts of violence, he turned his attention to fighting with David instead of fighting against the Philistines, and eventually his story ends with him taking his own life. This is when David takes center stage and we come to know him as a great warrior, a man of prayer, and a leader with wisdom and compassion. First Judah, the southern tribe of Israel, made him their king, and then the northern tribes did as well. David did what Saul was not able to do— he united the kingdom of Israel creating stability and unifying their power. Jerusalem became David’s new capital city. And, as we heard a few weeks go, he brought the Ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, giving it a place of honor. He defeated Israel’s enemies, including the Philistines and then drew them into his kingdom. What was once a loose tribal alliance became a strong kingdom under David. There was stability and control and a lot of centralized power. Mostly, that power was centralized in David’s hands. Power is not an inherently bad thing. Power is defined as “the ability to act.” The trouble comes when there are imbalances of power. When people who have more power use their power over others, for their own self-centered interests, at the expense of others or with the intent of doing others harm. Unfortunately, that is often how we humans use power-- as power over instead of power with or for. Instead of honoring the responsibility that comes with power and considering its effect on others, we often only consider ourselves. We see David fall into this trap of abusing his power in today’s lesson. We hear that it was Spring, "the time of year when kings go out to battle." But “David sent Joab with his officers” and he stayed behind in Jerusalem. We don’t know why he stayed behind, but he did. And then he did some pretty awful things. People have tried to romanticize this next part of the story—what happened between David and Bathsheba; but this is not a love story. This is a story about abuse of power and control. David saw something he wanted and he took it. And then, everyone had to live with the consequences of his actions. He did not deal with the consequences by taking responsibility or telling the truth, instead he tried to cover up what he had done. He continued to lie and manipulate use his power over others to try and save himself. In the end, an innocent man died and Bathsheba was forced to marry her abuser. (We have that part to look forward to next Sunday). Stories like this are all too common. Violence, war, abuse, neglect, and deceit are a part of the human story—of every human story. I would imagine there is something or someone in this story that each of us can relate to. Not necessarily the specifics, but the roles. We can see ourselves or someone we know in these roles, because we are all caught up in the cycles of power and control, whether we want to be or not. Even if we feel we are not caught in them personally, they exist in our environments, in our structures, in our institutions. Whether on the universal level or the individual level, we humans have a really hard time treating others the way we would want to be treated and loving others as our selves. We often seem to think it is a choice- either us or them. To often and with devastating consequences, we choose us. So what does Jesus feeding the 5000 and walking on water have to do with our broken, messed up lives, in which we hurt and abuse each other? If we dwell with these stories for a while, we will discover that they actually have a lot to do with each other. But today I see in them messages about how we use power and how God uses power. We have been reading from the gospel of Mark for the last few months, but today we start a few weeks reading from the gospel of John. And one of the themes of John, is that in Jesus we see the power of God. A great crowd has gathered around Jesus and been following him, listening to him teach. He sees that they are hungry. Spiritually hungry and physically hungry. In the face of great need and great expectation, Jesus asks his disciples, what do you have? They think they don’t have enough. They don’t have enough and there is no way they could get enough to meet the challenge in front of them. But Jesus asks for what they have and when they bring it to him, he turns it into enough. This act of offering what we have to God and letting God use it has miraculous consequences—because somehow everyone gets cared for, everyone gets fed, nothing is wasted, and there is actually enough--more than enough. Even the fragmented, broken pieces are gathered in. This is God’s power at work. How often is our response to see God's power at work, recognize it and want to harness it for our own purposes? The crowd sees the power of God at work in Jesus and they want to make Jesus their King! But he will not let them. Jesus’ power and Jesus’ kingdom is of a different sort entirely. How often do we still not get this? How often do we choose to elevate and follow the King Davids of the world, the King Davids in ourselves? Jesus is not interested in using his own power and strength for his own benefit, but for the benefit of others. He is not there so we can bring him in the boat with us and steer it toward our chosen destination. He will walk on the water out in front of us. The question is will we follow the power of God where it leads? Will we tap into the power of God as it works? What I love about David’s story, is that the Bible remembers his entire story— the great things he did and the awful things he did. His triumphs and his failures. And God was always with him. God did not forsake him. None of us are our greatest accomplishments or our greatest mistakes. None of us are doomed to stay in the roles we are playing now, if they are not the roles that God would have us play. God works with and in people who mess up royally (no pun in intended) all the time. God works with and through people who don’t quite get it, all the time. And thank God for that! Where does your story match up with these stories? Where is God’s power moving in your life right now? These gospel stories give us clues for where that might be happening and where we might want to look. Where are you afraid that you don’t have enough for the task in front of you? Where do you see groups of people using their power together to make positive change for everyone? Where are you looking, and as if in a dream, you are seeing something that you thought was impossible actually happening? Don’t let your mistakes keep you down or keep you stuck. Jesus does not want that for you. Every time anyone in the gospels comes to him and repents, he says to them, "go your faith has made you well!" Go! Move forward in the power of God. Tap into that power that can do infinitely more than we can ask or even imagine. Keep your eye on that power and steer your boat that way. Amen.