23 June 2024

How do we understand power? How do we use power effectively and creatively? In what ways does the view of power and authority that God’s Reign offers lead us into true allegiance to God and into lives in which our small contributions make a difference (as we’ve explored over the last two weeks)? These are some of the questions that the Lectionary raises this week, and, in our world of power struggles, they are important questions to answer.

May we learn to embrace the weak, serving and generous power of Christ through our liturgy this week.

1 Samuel 17:(1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49: The Israelites are taunted by the giant Goliath, but the shepherd boy David volunteers to fight him, and defeats by striking him on the forehead with a stone from his sling.
OR 1 Samuel 17:57-18:5, 10-16: After David defeats Goliath, Saul keeps David with him and make him commander over 1000 men. However, Saul begins to be tormented by an evil spirit and grows jealous of David, even throwing a spear at him while he plays his harp.
OR Job 38:1-11: God questions Job and reveals God’s power in creation the world and God’s authority over the elements.

Psalm 9:9-20: A song of faith in God’s care for the poor and weak, and a plea for God to bring down the wicked, reveal to the nations that they are merely human, and rescue the psalmist from his enemies so that he can praise God again.

OR Psalm 133: A psalm in praise of unity between God’s people and the blessing of life that God gives to those who live in unity.
OR Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32: A celebration of God’s unfailing love, and a song of praise for the way sailors have witnessed God’s power in the storms that arise and the way, when they call out to God, the storm is stilled.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13: Paul pleads with the Corinthian Christians that they would accept that the time of salvation is now, and that they would open their hearts to the apostles, because they have proven themselves through committed ministry and faithful service in spite of the terrible suffering and difficulties they have endured.

Mark 4:35-41: Jesus asks the disciples to take him across the lake in their boat, but as they sail across, with Jesus sleeping in the boat, a storm breaks out. In their terror, they wake Jesus and he calms the storm, causing them to wonder who he is.

For a more in depth commentary on these readings, check out this blog post at the Sacredise blog.

The question of authority speaks through all of the readings this week, including both the Gospel and its related readings and the continuous Old Testament passage. The journey of David continues in the continuous Old Testament narrative. After last weeks’ account of his anointing, this week we read of how the young shepherd calls on God’s authority to defeat the giant, Goliath, and then is given authority over Saul’s army. An interesting feature of this passage is the difference between Saul, whose authority is threatened by this new leader, and Saul’s son Jonathan, who would be expected to be threatened by a possible usurper of his throne, but who loves David selflessly and devotedly. In the Gospel, the question of authority is raised through the story of Jesus calming the storm. Here Jesus is shown to have access to the authority and power of God not just over people, sickness and evil spirits, but over the natural world as well. Both of these passages reflect on authority as power or strength or “dominance over”. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, however, gives a different perspective on authority. It is in the weakness and suffering of Paul and the other apostles, and their commitment to the Gospel in spite of their hardships, that Paul’s authority is revealed, and it is on the basis of this that Paul calls on the Christians to accept his ministry and his message. The picture of authority is further rounded out by the other readings for this week. In Job, which relates to the Gospel, God’s authority over Creation is revealed, both in the fact that God has laid the earth’s foundations, and in the way God sets the boundaries for the sea (which Jesus “imposed” through his command). In the Psalms God’s authority is proclaimed over the nations (Psalm 9) as the psalmist pleads with God to bring justice and show the nations that they are merely human, and, again, over the sea (Psalm 107) as God both raises up and calms the storm. In Psalm 133 God’s authority is not specifically mentioned, but the blessing of life forever more that God gives to those who live in unity is a sign both of God’s authority over our lives, and of the authority we enjoy together as God’s people. This week, then, we are invited to continue the journey from committing our allegiance to God’s Reign alone (two weeks ago) to recognising the impact that small contributions can have (last week), to living as those who are under God’s authority while also, together as God’s people, exercising authority in God’s name as we bring life and justice to others.

Global Application:
In many developing countries the abuse of power, the corruption in government and the violence between political and tribal factions reflects our struggle to use power for the good of all, and the damage that a hunger for power and dominance can cause. A similar reality is reflected in the often vitriolic and extremely divisive rhetoric that accompanies electioneering in developed nations. On a global scale, the injustices from which the poor and weak suffer at the hands of the powerful and wealthy – including unfair trade practices, debt burdens that far outweigh any stimulus or aid that poor nations receive, human trafficking, and exploitation through policies that extract resources from local economies without sufficient concern for adequate payment or sustainability – hurts us all and contribute to the violence and instability of our world. There is no question, when we place the way power is used and managed in our world alongside the Gospel’s teaching on power, submission, servanthood and sacrifice, that we need a new way to think about and practice power. We need the Gospel to shift our values away from a simplistic and naive embrace of all that is rich, dominant and strong, to recognise the power in weakness, simplicity, generosity and collaboration. We need to learn to share power instead of grasping and hoarding it. And we need to learn that all who are truly powerful operate under a higher authority that enables them to use their power for the common good, and not just for interest groups or individuals. The authority of Jesus which was derived from his submission to his Divine Parent is a challenging example for us, and the destructive power-hunger and paranoia that plagued Saul as he started to lose power is a strong warning. If our world is to find peace and justice we desperately need to face the broken power structures in our nations, our communities, and our world.

Local Application:
We each deal with power relationships on a daily basis – between parents and children, between teachers and learners, between citizens and government, between employer and employee. In some of these relationships we hold power, and in others we don’t. In some we own the “wealth” (be it expertise, opportunity, relationships, material possessions, or money) and in some we are the poor. The Gospel gives us clear challenges about how we navigate these power dynamics, and reminds us that the ultimate authority to which we answer, and which we are called to imitate, is that of Jesus, who always favours the poor and weak. On a personal level, our relationships thrive when we embrace mutuality, collaboration, and service, as opposed to forced submission of spouses or children. On a community level, our organisations, churches, schools and neighbourhoods thrive when we embrace co-operation, collaboration, service and respect, as opposed to separation, legalism, self-interest and stereotyping. It may seem contradictory to say that it is in weakness and giving up our power that we find life and true authority, but Paul’s example reveals the truth of this – as do the testimonies of thousands of Christ-followers since. Perhaps what we really need to learn is more of the David and Jonathan way of relationships and power, and less of the Saul and David. The only way to learn this is to open ourselves to the surprising and miraculous power of Jesus and the transforming message of the Gospel that he preached.

Loving Through The Storm
In The Stillness
Jesus In Disguise
The Call Of Compassion

Hymn Suggestions:
O God Our Help In Ages Past
God Is Our Strength And Refuge
Indescribable (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
We All Bow Down (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions:
The Miniature
Jesus Calms The Storm