Real Power Reversed

Real Power Reversed*

October 25, 2020

By Pastor John Partridge

Deuteronomy 34:1-12       1 Thessalonians 2:1-8    Matthew 22:34-46

Our current focus on the upcoming election has many of us thinking about power.  We think about who has power in our system, how that power is distributed, and whether the people in power use it well or poorly.  Often, during campaign speeches, press releases, debates or 30 second sound bites, modern candidates seek to corner their opponents, goad them into saying something stupid, or trick them into saying things that will alienate their supporters.  And it may not surprise you to discover that these tactics are not new.  In today’s scripture readings, we find the political leaders of Jesus’ day doing exactly those same things.  But God isn’t playing by the rules of human culture, society, and politics.  God has plans that upset the halls of power, unseat the powerful, and reveal that the rules of real power are completely reversed from our human expectations.  We begin in Deuteronomy 34:1-12, as God honors a promise made in past generations, makes a new promise to future generations, and the torch of power is passed from Moses to his successor, Joshua.

34:1 Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land—from Gilead to Dan, all of Naphtali, the territory of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev and the whole region from the Valley of Jericho, the City of Palms, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried himin Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak, nor his strength gone. The Israelites grieved for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days, until the time of weeping and mourning was over.

Now Joshua son of Nun was filled with the spiritof wisdom because Moses had laid his hands on him. So, the Israelites listened to him and did what the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 who did all those signs and wonders the Lord sent him to do in Egypt—to Pharaoh and to all his officials and to his whole land. 12 For no one has ever shown the mighty power or performed the awesome deeds that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

God had promised the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and Moses sees that land from a distance as the descendants of Abraham are about to cross the Jordan River and take possession of it.  At the same time, God tells Moses that his descendants are included in that promise even though he himself will not be among the people to cross into that new land but will die and be buried in Moab.  But before his death, Moses laid hands on Joshua, blessed him, and passed on to him the blessing of God and the spirit of wisdom that God had given to him.  But, and this is important, despite the blessing of God, and the spirit of wisdom that Moses passed on to Joshua, no prophet in Israel was ever like Moses had been.  No one ever had the kind of power that Moses had, or was able to perform the mighty deeds that Moses had done.  Moses was believed to be the pinnacle of all God’s prophets.  No one who came after him, regardless of their great acts, was ever seen as reaching that status.  But Jesus turns that status quo on its head.

In Matthew 22:34-46, Jesus has a conversation in which the Pharisees attempt to goad him into saying something stupid and in that conversation, Jesus turns the tables and completely upsets the conventional wisdom of political power.

34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

41 While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”

“The son of David,” they replied.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord:
  “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.

The Sadducees and the Pharisees were rival political factions, much like our present-day Democrats and Republicans, with some significant religious differences thrown in as well.  Although they sometimes worked together, there was no love lost between them.  This passage begins with the Pharisees hearing how the Sadducees had been embarrassed by Jesus when they had tried to trick him and so, naturally, they decide to set a trap for Jesus as well in an attempt to succeed where the Sadducees had failed.  But much as he did with the Sadducees, Jesus deftly evades the trap the Pharisees had set, expertly answers their question, and then turns the tables by asking them a question that they can’t answer.

Remember the conventional wisdom that no prophet had ever done the things that Moses had done.  Then recall that Jesus had been performing miracles (or soon would) that even Moses had not done.  And then take note that the conventional wisdom about Moses had also been applied to King David, and from there into a general rule of thumb that no child was ever greater than his father.  So that, according to conventional wisdom, no ancestor would ever be as marvelous, or as devoted, powerful, godly, or as holy, of David.  And so, Jesus asks the Pharisees that if this is so, how is it that David refers to the coming Messiah, who must be his descendant, as “Lord.”  The Pharisees, of course, are caught in their own trap.  Jesus has revealed that the conventional wisdom about power is wrong and if the Pharisees agree, then they contradict their own teaching.  But if they disagree, then they contradict scripture.  And that is why the passage ends by saying that the Pharisees could not say a word.  They were trapped.  They were stuck.  And no one dared to ask Jesus any more questions.

The coming of Jesus was a disruption of the status quo, and overturned the conventional wisdom about power, authority, and many other things.  Jesus performed miracles that even Moses couldn’t perform, he pointed out that when the Messiah came, even the great King David would call him Lord and recognize him as greater than himself.  And with his death and resurrection, Jesus upset the conventional wisdom and understanding of death itself.  But as we look deeper into the teaching of Jesus, we begin to understand that the entire structure of real power was being upset, overturned, changed, and redefined. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8, we discover that the Apostle Paul modeled these changes as he, and his missionary team, lived and worked among the Greek church in Thessalonica.

2:1 You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority. Instead, we were like young childrenamong you.

Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.

Paul begins by reminding the people that his visit to Thessalonica was productive and produced good results despite the abuse that they had suffered when they had previously visited Philippi which is about a hundred miles to the east.  Paul says that even though they had suffered in Philippi, and even though they faced strong opposition in Thessalonica, they persisted in preaching the gospel message.  Paul credits the success of their mission team to the authority that they had been given by God, that they always preached in a way that was humble, honest, straightforward, and honest.  They didn’t suck up to people or flatter them to make them feel important and they didn’t do anything to get rich at the expense of other people. 

Instead, rather than using the authority that they had been given by God and by the church, they used the authority of children, which is to say that they acted as if they had no authority at all.  Paul then compares the method of their ministry to the way that a mother cares for her infant children.  Obviously, the mother has all of the authority, and has much greater strength than her children, but it is her love for them that guides her to use her strength to guide her children and care for them gently, tenderly, and with compassion.

This style of leadership is patterned after the life of Jesus and is a complete reversal of how we normally see power and authority exercised in the culture of the world from before the time of Jesus until today.  For the followers of Jesus Christ, this is a representation of how real power should be used and speaks to us about how we should use our power, and how we should minister to the needs of others in our communities both as individuals and as the church.  Jesus doesn’t say that we can’t have power or authority, but that we should upend the conventional wisdom and use our power, authority, and influence with gentleness, tenderness, compassion, and love.

As we follow Jesus, our patience will be tested.  Our tolerance will be tested.  Our compassion, our will, our strength, courage, compassion, and every other part of our humanity and our mission will be tested.  But, just as Paul and Jesus were tested, we must pass those tests with grace and gentleness so that we are known to the people around us not as the church with an iron fist, but as a people with a loving heart.

I pray that we might be known as a people with a loving heart.

 

You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/VjzbCWP7gao

Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org.  If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online).  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Turning Power Upside-Down

Turning Power Upside-Down

July 07, 2019*

By Pastor John Partridge

2 Kings 5:1-14                       Luke 10:1-11, 16-20              Galatians 6:1-16

 

Have you ever seen a pyramid?  Most of us haven’t seen one in real life, but almost everyone has probably seen pictures of one.

What I’m thinking about is just the general shape of a pyramid.  Do you have that image in your mind?  That shape, the shape of a pyramid, is often used to describe the way that human beings generally run things whether it’s clubs, or unions, corporations, or governments.  There’s a big base that is filled with ordinary people, laborers and worker bees, and above them are the foremen, then managers, then supervisors, then directors, then vice-presidents, presidents, and at the top is the Chief Executive Officer, the CEO.  In governments there are similar structures and at the top is the mayor, or governor, president, or prime minister.  We see this same style of organization in many of our churches, with lay people, pastors, district superintendents, bishops, and in some denominations, archbishops and popes.

But as common as this structure is, we are making a mistake when we assume that this is the way that God runs things.  While I have seen several business gurus preach that it’s important to “flatten” the pyramid and operate with a simpler, less management intensive, hierarchy, God’s system of administration and government has a way of turning the entire pyramid upside-down.  In 2 Kings 5:1-14, we hear the story of the great military commander Naaman, a powerful man who was second only to the king of Aram, but one who contracted a repulsive and incurable disease.

5:1 Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy. Now bands of raiders from Aram had gone out and had taken captive a young girl from Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my master would see the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.”

Naaman went to his master and told him what the girl from Israel had said. “By all means, go,” the king of Aram replied. “I will send a letter to the king of Israel.” So Naaman left, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold and ten sets of clothing. The letter that he took to the king of Israel read: “With this letter I am sending my servant Naaman to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy.”

As soon as the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his robes and said, “Am I God? Can I kill and bring back to life? Why does this fellow send someone to me to be cured of his leprosy? See how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me!”

When Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his robes, he sent him this message: “Why have you torn your robes? Have the man come to me and he will know that there is a prophet in Israel.” So, Naaman went with his horses and chariots and stopped at the door of Elisha’s house. 10 Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored, and you will be cleansed.”

11 But Naaman went away angry and said, “I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. 12 Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?” So, he turned and went off in a rage.13 Naaman’s servants went to him and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!” 14 So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.

It didn’t matter how powerful Naaman was, if word got out that he had leprosy, he was ruined.  People were afraid of lepers.  Leprosy was ultimately fatal, no one knew how it was contracted, and there was no cure.  Lepers lived their lives by begging and were prohibited from being around healthy people.  Certainly, no one would want to be under his command so his ability to lead would be destroyed.  His power was of no use to him against this enemy.  But hope come to him in the strangest way.  Hope comes not from power, or authority, not from the king, but from a slave girl who knows that the prophet of Israel’s God could cure him.  And so, based on the advice of a slave, this powerful man travels to Israel for a cure and then to the door of Elisha’s house.  But here, Naaman’s ego is offended because Elisha doesn’t even come outside to see him and Naaman is told that he should go to the Jordan River, wash seven times, and be cleansed.  And again, his ego is offended because his home country has plenty of rivers, so why should he wash in Israel’s river? 

But he is rescued a second time, by one of his servants who reminds him that he would have gladly undertaken a great quest, or an impossible task, if Elisha had demanded it, so why not swallow his pride and ego and do something simple? 

He does. 

And he is healed.

In God’s calculation, Naaman’s power and authority are useless, it doesn’t matter that he sits near the pinnacle of the pyramid of power.  Instead, his humility and willingness to listen to his servants, and to hear the command of God, however simple, are the things that bring about his healing.

Similarly, even when God gives power to his followers, we are cautioned in how we use it.  In Luke 10:1-11, 16-20, Jesus sends out the twelve disciples plus seventy-two others, and sends them out to teach and to minister to the people.  And, when they return, they marvel at the power that God has given them, but Jesus refocuses their understanding in an entirely different way.

10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.

“When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.

“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Jesus sends out seventy-two of his followers as missionaries to the communities along the route that he would soon visit.  And when they return, they are thrilled to report that the sick were healed, the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and even the demons obey their commands.  But Jesus cautions them all to remember humility.  They aren’t great because they have power.  Jesus tells them that he watched as Satan, the most powerful of God’s angels, was cast out of heaven.  The cause for rejoicing, Jesus says, is not that they have power, but that God has rescued them from sin and death.

Humility is one of the hallmarks of living a Christian life throughout scripture.  We saw in in the story of Elisha and Naaman, we saw it in the story of Jesus and the seventy-two, and we see it as a central message of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia (Galatians 6:1-16) where we hear these words:

6:1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.  8Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. 10 Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

11 See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!

12 Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14 May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.

Paul’s tone in this passage speaks to us in the twenty-first century as piercingly and compellingly as it did in the first century.  If someone is caught in sin, don’t gloat, and don’t parade them through the streets or through the media to bathe them in shame, but instead restore them… gently.  Instead of watching the people around you so that you can pounce on them the moment that they screw up, keep an eye on yourself so that you won’t be tempted and become the person that screwed up.  Instead of piling guilt and shame on people who make mistakes, or instead of watching the people around you struggle with doubt, struggle with divorce, struggle with poverty, struggle with single parenthood, struggle with being a widow, struggle with losing a parent or for caring for an elderly parent, instead of watching each other struggle, carry each other’s burdens.  Help the people around you who are struggling, share their burden, so that all of us can walk this journey a little easier.  Don’t you dare think that you are all that important, especially when you are not.  Test yourself.  Take a hard look at your actions and see if you are acting the way that Jesus acted, or if you are just acting like a selfish jerk.

Paul says that it’s okay to be proud of yourself, but don’t compare yourself to others.  It’s okay to be proud of what you have accomplished or what you have overcome, but it’s not okay to say that you are better or worse than someone else because of it.  And if you are lucky enough to have been able to study scripture, and to have good teachers to teach you about the word of God and the message of Jesus Christ, then don’t be afraid to show your appreciation to the people who taught you, and, in my understanding, don’t be afraid to share what you have learned with others.  Those who have been taught today become the teachers of tomorrow.

I’m not sure what all was going on in that church in Galatia, but Paul is really fired up.  He continues by reminding everyone that we harvest the same things that we plant.  If we plant the things of the flesh, then we will harvest destruction, but if we plant the things of the Spirit, we will harvest eternal life.  Don’t get tired of doing good.  Don’t give up.  Whenever you can, do good to all the people around you, especially to those who surround you in your community of faith because, hopefully, those are the same people that are walking with you and sharing your burdens.

Both in the first century and in the twenty-first centuries, the church was, and is, dealing with people who are using the things of the flesh, things like money, power, sex, drugs, pleasure, and influence to impress one another.  Knowing that, Paul points out that there are people who are trying to use those same tools to impress people and persuade them to come around to their way of thinking, and the only reason that they are doing so, is so that they can avoid being persecuted or discriminated against for being Christian.  While these influential people were far from perfect themselves, they wanted to persuade others to follow them so that they could brag about how many they persuaded.  To them, the followers of Jesus Christ were only being used as poker chips to keep score. 

Instead, Paul insists that the only thing that we, as Christians, ought to brag about is the cross of Jesus.  None of the things that the world uses to brag about, and impress people are worth anything today, nor will they be worth anything on the day of judgement.  The only thing that is worth anything, is the work that Jesus is doing in us through the power of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of the day, the spiritual world doesn’t look anything at all like a pyramid.  Power and influence aren’t important.  Money, and pleasure aren’t worth bragging about.  They pyramid isn’t just turned upside down by Jesus Christ, it’s completely flattened.  There’s Jesus… and then there’s us.  And we aren’t under him, because at the moment we put our faith in him, we were adopted by God as brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.

The only thing we have to impress people… is Jesus.

The only thing we have to brag about… is Jesus.

The goal isn’t to become rich, and powerful, to climb to the top of the pyramid, and live a life that is full of pleasure and influence.

The goal is to discover humility.  The goal is to live, and to love,…

            …like Jesus.

 

 

 


Did you enjoy reading this?

Click here if you would like to subscribe to Pastor John’s weekly messages.

Click here to subscribe to Pastor John’s blog.

Click here to visit Pastor John’s YouTube channel.


 

 

*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org  These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.