14 July 2024

How do we use power? How do we speak truth to power? What do we do when we are both “power” and “prophet”? These are some of the questions raised by the Lectionary this week. The challenge we face is to exercise the power we have with justice and in submission to the higher authority of God’s Reign, while holding the powers of our world accountable to God’s justice, compassion, equality and good management.

May we be confronted by God’s truth and power as we worship and may we be transformed into prophets who use power well and who courageously and faithfully speak truth to power when required.

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19: David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in two attempts, the second after hearing how Obed-Edom, in whose house the Ark had been left, was being blessed. Then, as the Ark enters Jerusalem, David dances with all his might, but his wife, Michal sees him and despises him for it.
OR Amos 7:12-15: King Amaziah tries to command Amos to stop prophesying, but Amos, who makes no claim to be a prophet, tells the king that God took him from caring for his flock and instructed him to prophesy.

Psalm 24: A song affirming that the earth is the Lord’s, along with all its inhabitants, because God is the one who created it,  but only people of purity and integrity are able to enter into God’s sanctuary. Then, God is welcomed with open gates.
OR Psalm 85:8-13: God speaks peace to his faithful people and God’s salvation is close to those who honour God; God gives good things to those who walk in righteousness.

Ephesians 1:3-14: God has blessed God’s people in Christ, choosing us to be holy and to be adopted as God’s children, and bringing us forgiveness through Christ, in whom we have also received an inheritance. God has given us the Holy Spirit as a down payment on this inheritance.

Mark 6:14-29: When Herod hears about Jesus, he thinks John the Baptist, whom he had beheaded at the request of his daughter (under influence of her mother), has come back to life. After John’s disciples hear of John’s death, they take his body and lay it in a tomb.

The readings today all reflect what happens when realms clash. In the continuing saga of David, the king seeks to bring the Ark to Jerusalem, in a sense building his kingdom on his connection with God’s Rulership, but his wife, Michal, the daughter of king Saul, whom he replaced, finds the expression of his devotion detestable and mocks him as a result. In Amos, the king clashes with the prophet’s obedience to God’s command to prophesy. In the Psalms God is praised as the Creator and “owner” of the earth who calls men and women to come to him in holiness and purity, and who saves those who honour God. In Ephesians the apostle reflects on the new realm of God into which both Jew and Gentile have been invited in Christ, and through which we know adoption as God’s children and the gift of God’s Spirit. Finally, in Mark’s Gospel, human power clashes with God’s power as Herod executes John the Baptist out of his own and his wife’s anger at John’s truth telling prophecies. It seems that the message of the Lectionary this week is about comparing human rulership and God’s rulership. When human leaders become corrupt and set themselves up as the ultimate authority, as in the case of Saul (and, perhaps, represented here by his daughter Michal who had a chequered relationship with her husband, David), King Amaziah and King Herod, then God raises up prophets to speak truth and challenge them. But, when human leaders submit to God’s authority and seek to bring their rulership in line with God’s Reign, as with David and Paul, then they become the voice of God speaking truth to God’s people. The issue, then, is not whether we have power or not, but whether it is exercised under the greater authority of God, for the good of God’s Reign and God’s people. If not, then leaders must expect prophets to come calling.

Global Application:
It is important in any organisation, any nation, and on the global stage, that there are those who will speak truth to power. Leadership must always be held accountable to what are essentially the standards of God’s Reign – justice, peace, equality, compassion, good management, and the good of the people and the planet. The problem is that leaders all too easily get co-opted into the agendas of special interest groups, and that’s why prophets are always necessary. The danger, of course, is that prophets can end up being sacrificed as they come up against power that refuses to change or be challenged, or prophets can, themselves, be co-opted to the agenda of power. This is why we need to remain clear about our primary allegiance to God’s Reign. When we understand our place in God’s Reign in the way that Paul describes it in Ephesians, and when we couple that with the prophet’s sense of call, we find that have both the courage to face whatever conflict or persecution may come from our calls to justice, and the integrity to remain faithful to God’s Reign and avoid the temptations that inevitably seek to dilute our mission. This week, the Lectionary follows up on the reflections of some of the past weeks, in which we have examined our allegiances and explored what real authority means, with a call to remain true to the agenda of God’s Reign and step up to be prophets that speak truth to power in whatever situation we find ourselves.

Local Application:
The big challenge of following Christ in our daily lives and our local situations is that we are all both “power” and “prophet”. We all exercise authority in some situations, whether as parents, pastors or community leaders, and we all have times when we may be called to challenge those who are in authority over us in the interests of justice. In some situations we may even find ourselves playing both roles as we wrestle with our responsibility as leaders and our commitment to the principles of God’s Reign – especially when the two aren’t easily compatible. When it comes to dealing with power, two principles can always guide us at least to some extent. The first is to understand God’s purposes, as described in Ephesians, and our place in it, allowing our belonging in God’s family to become our primary identity. Then, the second principle, is to ensure that, whatever power or influence we may exert, it is always with reference to and in submission to, God’s higher authority. In this way, even when we make mistakes or wrong decisions, we, and those with whom we live and work, can rest in the knowledge that our hearts were right.

You Deserve It
Another Way
In Defiance
Fists And Hands

Hymn Suggestions:
All Hail The Power Of Jesus’ Name
This Is My Father’s World
Let There Be Peace On Earth (Link to YouTube video)
How Great Is Our God (Link to YouTube video)
Every Nation
Undignified (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions:
Justice, Power & the Kingdom